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Where Rickshaws Once Roamed 

by Ben Cater

Lately, it's been hard to find the pulse on the organism we call the "Spokane Nightlife." We are fairly certain that a pulse exists, because we've felt it before, but most of us would like to see a little more proof before our nightlife lands itself on an endangered species list.

Recently, we have witnessed the introduction of many new venues downtown. The emergence of the Big Dipper, Fat Tuesday's, Ella's, the Blvd., the Big Easy, Far West, Talotti's 211 and the Spike demonstrates that we have a community of businesses that see value in booking and promoting live music. The only drawback is that we may not have enough jelly to spread on the bread.

Both bands and music listeners are coping with the dizzying amount of venue options in our downtown core. With four colleges in the area, you wouldn't think there would be any shortage of folks downtown. If only we could just get these students to hit the books a little less and the bottle a bit more -- heh, heh. Although there have been some growing pains, the recent proliferation of music venues is an impressive change for Spokane, especially when you consider that just four years ago it was only Mootsy's propping up our music scene after the close of the Fort Spokane Brewery and Ichabod's North.

While there is an obvious perception of demand for live music, there has been a slight dip on the supply side. A couple of years ago, Spokane saw a dramatic upswing in the emergence of fresh new bands. Unfortunately, some of the best talent has left Spokane for more established music scenes. In the past year, we have said goodbye to Jeremy Hughes, Eric Bergloff, Melody Moore, James Singleton, the Side Project and Horrible Disaster. Sadly, these Spokane standbys are probably more appreciated now that they are gone; for certain, they are missed.

Such losses can really damage a scene. For one, it adds to our already well-documented inferiority complex, as if we are the junior varsity of music scenes. But nobody wants to stand in anyone's way to fame and stardom, either. We are not the city where dreams are realized; we are the place where people dream.

The outward migration of our home-grown talent is not the only thing missing on the nightlife scene. For a while, our far-flung matrix of downtown destinations was admirably aided by Mojo's Rickshaw Service. Never before had bar-hopping been so accessible, fun or enticing. If Spokane has ever had a superhero it was Mojo. His bicycle spandex even made for a pretty decent hero suit. Night after night, he fearlessly protected our nightlifers from the horribly repetitious and monotonous act of walking. Alas, we have not seen our brave rickshaw rider in too long. Maybe we need to shine a big "M" into the night sky and hope he responds to our distress signal.

With so many venues downtown, it's impossible to ignore the competitive nature of the market. Although competition is inescapable, it would be nice to see the venues downtown collaborate on something. It would be good for Spokane to host an event similar to Portland's North by Northwest, in which one ticket gets you into as many shows as you want over the course of a few days. Downtown restaurants and bars have benefited indirectly from events like Hoopfest and Bloomsday. It would be great to see an event tailored specifically for downtown's nightlife scene. An annual event like that would have an enormous potential to grow and would undoubtedly be a boon to downtown businesses. Who knows, an event that would involve lots of bar-to-bar traffic -- it might just be enough to inspire our rickshaw superhero to come out of retirement.

In the meantime, there's no reason to hang our heads. Spokane's scene has always been resilient and still has much to be proud of. Four of our best bands, Burns Like Hellfire, Six State Bender, Seven Cycles and Belt of Vapor are all on the verge of releasing full-length albums. Spokane would be remiss not to honor and appreciate the hard work and dedication that bands like these put into their music. So get out there, Spokane, and see these guys before they are lured away by the lights of some bigger city.

Ben Cater is the owner of the B-Side live music club.

Publication date: 2/04/05

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