by Mike Corrigan

The third annual First Night -- Spokane arts festival in downtown Spokane this New Year's Eve promises more of the good stuff than ever before; more dancing, exhibits, installations, comedy, performance, roving gigantic puppets and clowns. Experience is the greatest of all teachers, after all, and First Night organizers just keep fine-tuning this baby with more cultural offerings and better access for everyone in this here community.

Which brings us to the music -- First Night Spokane music. While the festival in all its many facets is designed to be, above all, family-friendly (no boozing, smoking, drugging, snogging or cussing allowed in any of the performance sites) the live music portion of the festival is far from homogenized. It remains vital and diverse, even challenging at times, and is a fairly representative sample of the kind of talent you're likely to find any weekend night of the year performing out there in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene's many live music venues.

In fact, the number of decent local groups, bands, duos, trios, quartets and solo artists the First Night people got to sign on for the thing this year is simply staggering. To get a grip on the full scope of all the First Night performances and activities, you've really got to pick up a schedule or go to for an online guide. But for small taste of what's out there -- and where -- here's a quickie.

There's a huge teen festival (open to everyone, of course) happening all night (7 pm-midnight) at the Spokane Convention Center, featuring fine local original rock and hip-hop with 10 Minutes Down, Ambeo, Apitomee, Derby, Eloi, Lucia's Grey Dot and DJ Locke. Some other music hot spots include the Bank of America building atrium (featuring reggae from Raggs and Bush Doktor and marimba madness from Coeurimba), upstairs in the Crescent Court (where Soma and Last Word will be performing), the Masonic Temple (Wylie & amp; the Wild West will be kicking it here at 9 pm) and the Ridpath Hotel (where you'll experience The Carcinogens and Jupiter Effect). Don't forget the galleries, either. Most of them (like the Douglas, Lorinda Knight, Post Street and the Kress Gallery in Riverpark Square) have top-shelf live acoustic music on tap (from Abe Kenney, Lyle Morse, Brad Keeler, Don Kush, Jani Gilbert and a host of others) to soothe you in the midst of your orgy of visual arts appreciation.

The Big Easy -- In the so-hot-it's-hott category comes the latest word on the opening of the Big Easy Concert House currently under construction in downtown Spokane right next to the Met Theater. According to Bravo Entertainment (the Boise-based concert promoter behind the project), the much-anticipated entertainment facility will have its grand opening on Tuesday, Feb. 3. Ushering in this blessed event will be none other than America's most infamous southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. I'm not kidding. Skynyrd, which typically plays arena-sized venues, will give their Spokane fans (and they're out there, right?) the opportunity of a lifetime: to catch this legendary group up close and personal in the relatively intimate confines of the Big Easy's 1,500 capacity concert space.

In the coming months -- and presumably, years -- the Big Easy will fill a currently vacant niche in the Spokane live music puzzle: that of a medium-sized live music venue, one with a capacity greater than that of area bars and the Met but smaller and more intimate than either the Spokane Arena or the Opera House. For the last two years, Bravo has successfully operated the Big Easy Concert House in Boise, a 1,000-capacity state-of-the-art concert venue with a rock club feel in the heart of that city's historic downtown. When not hosting shows from major national touring acts, the Big Easy keeps things shaking via its dance club nights and special events.

"It's not a nightclub," says Bravo's Paul Thorntin. "It's really a multi-purpose entertainment center. It's built to be very flexible. Even the stage is portable."

Thorntin says Spokane's Big Easy will surpass the Boise version in capacity, customer services and technical sophistication.

"In Boise, we took an old theater and kind of had to make it fit into the box. In Spokane, we're building the hall from the ground up. I mean, we're going to do everything we wanted to do here [in Boise] and couldn't. It should turn out to be one of the nicest clubs in the country -- if not the nicest."

Having a venue like the Big Easy as such an integral part of the Davenport District will solidify Spokane's power to attract the kind of intriguing live acts that have, in the past, bypassed us for more accommodating clubs to the west and east. Stay tuned to this column for the latest announcements regarding upcoming Big Easy shows.

New Year's: It's Inevitable -- And since there's no stopping it, we might as well enjoy it, right? Well, for adults less than enamored with the thought of spending New Year's Eve with marauding puppets and balloon-sculpting clowns, there are decidedly more electrifying, more edgy, more vaguely self-destructive activities to be enjoyed this night. For that kind of current, you really just need to plug yourself in to the double New Year's Eve party that will be raging simultaneously at Mootsy's and the B-Side. That's right, once again two of downtown's most beloved live rock emporiums are teaming up for the sake of value and safety. For one cover charge, patrons get access to both venues and their highly entertaining lineups. At Mootsy's, Spokane's stellar Latin group Milonga will hold court. Just a few short blocks away by foot or by rickshaw, the B-Side will be buzzing with the punk rock, weird rock, rawk rock, and booty-shaking revival rock of Spokane bands Horrible Disaster, Six-State Bender, Mang and Missoula imports No-Fi Soul Rebellion. Here the beer, sweat and fun will flow in equal quantities. As a bonus, Mootsy's and the B-Side will also once again be offering free limo service between the two clubs for revelers unable or unwilling to make the trek by other means.

Publication date: 12/25/03

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