Welcome to Spokane's live music scene, a scene that, we are pleased to report, is showing steadily improving vital signs. In fact, if scene vitality could be measured solely against numbers of actively participating performers -- just check out the list of bands, starting on the facing page -- then Spokane's situation would look pretty damn rosy right now.
There's more to it than that, of course. In fact, an equally promising and closely related development is likely even more significant: the fortuitous rise of well-organized venues, particularly all-ages clubs. This past summer, a pair of soda pop entrepreneurs converted the space behind their East Sprague warehouse into such a venue. In October, the perseverance and devotion of cafe owner Derek Almond paid off with the establishment of secure digs for the Sol & eacute; performance space in downtown Spokane. Local restaurateur Ken DuPree decided to give the live music thing a whirl last April by breathing new life into Fat Tuesday's Concert Hall. There's good news on the 21-and-over side of the equation as well (doubters need only squeeze into the B-Side any weekend night at around 11 pm to verify this claim). The happy result of this increase in scene infrastructure has been an explosion of local performers, notably, young rock bands.
It's simple, really. If there's nowhere in your hometown to perform, where's the incentive for mounting a serious musical project?
"All these garage bands would never get out of the garage," says Sol & eacute;'s Derek Almond. "These people are using, like, 20-watt amps. They have a $200 guitar, and they're trying to make a statement. They need all the help they can get. The last thing they really care about is money. They just want exposure."
If, on the other hand, there are diverse and accessible music venues around town, it's almost impossible for any musically inclined young person with even minor performance aspirations to sit idly on the sidelines. In a very tangible sense, venues beget bands. A multitude of bands increases the likelihood of scene quality and diversity -- qualities that define a great scene.
Says Almond: "We had over 300 people for Disfest [a music festival held at Sol & eacute; last weekend]. It was the best show I have ever done. The police even stopped by just to check it out and had nothing but good things to say."
In July, Roberta Reisdorf and Stan Ashby of Real Soda began hosting shows featuring both local bands and national acts in their transformed pop warehouse. Reisdorf agrees that the creation of stable all-ages venues has been a catalyst for band formation.
"There are definitely a lot of kids out there doing it now," she says. "I mean, every week I get a calls from bands I've never heard of before. I think it has opened up the music scene to a lot of people."
Reisdorf also reports that attendance at her club has been steadily on the rise. Real Soda is currently sponsoring the RAWK Final Four, a competition among local teenage bands (the competition finals are this Saturday night, by the way).
"The Final Four has been insane," she says "Our calendar looks good, we've had good turnouts and we haven't had any problems. More people are becoming involved and more people are going to shows and understanding that this is a great way to spend some time."
In an effort to avoid the pitfalls that have spelled disaster for many local clubs over the years, the partners, from the very beginning, enforced a set of rules (no drugs, alcohol, fighting or in-and-out privileges) designed to minimize trouble and to create a safe, fun environment for everyone.
"We're real strict with our rules," admits Reisdorf. "And there was a lot of backlash in the beginning. Now people are used to them and many are thankful for them -- parents especially -- but so are a lot of the kids who understand why we do the things we do."
Everyone should know by now what can happen when rules are ignored and kids don't make a personal investment in a venue's success.
"Yeah," she says. "We've been there and we don't want to go back."
No one is happier with the thriving all-ages scene than Ben Cater of the B-Side. While his club represents a significant 21-and-over addition to the original live rock scene (joining other consistent live music downtown clubs, Mootsy's and the Quarterhorse), Cater is cognizant of the importance of all-ages venues in the grand scheme.
"There was nothing like that when I was in high school," he says of Sol & eacute; and Real Soda. "I was talking to a high school teacher friend of mine, and he said that, out at Shadle, there's been like four or five bands formed just since those clubs started. That's going to feed right into us."
Though its opening last June roughly coincided with the loss of Ichabod's North to arson, the B-Side has proven itself to be far more than a worthy replacement for the black-and-crispy former hard-rock haven by catering not to any single rock faction but to them all. Jam rockers, rappers, punks, metal heads and emo kids have all claimed the West Riverside club as home turf.
"I've been pleasantly surprised by how much is out there that I wasn't aware of before," Cater says. "I thought I was going to have to rely on out-of-town stuff, but in many cases I find the local bands are better for us."
As Cater notes, all-ages clubs also play an important role in luring national acts into Spokane.
"With the all-ages clubs here, a band from out of town can play Mootsy's or the B-Side one night and go play the all ages club the next night and hit two totally different demographics. It's happening right now. And it's going to happen more and more as people start to clue in."
While the outlook seems cheery, no one involved in the scene (bands, club owners, audiences) has the luxury of complacency. Without continued nurturing, local live music's relatively healthy vital signs could easily flat-line. But why worry about what might happen tomorrow when there are things we can definitely all do right now to secure its continued vitality? Yep, today's resolution should be, as always: If you love it, support it.