Last week, we did a full-on sociological experiment to see how crowd participation affects band mood. Vellela Vellela and Point Juncture, WA were in town for four nights at various locales. We made their Friday night gig at the Blue Spark the control group: Spokane's nightlife at its most routine. We made their show two days prior, up at Whitworth's HUB Ballroom, the test group. While both bands played to 10 pairs of eyes and at least a hundred turned backs at the Blue Spark, Whitworth was on its feet the whole time. People were dancing like maniacs, talking, laughing and enjoying one other.
Enthusiasm isn't guaranteed, but it is contagious. At Whitworth, small crowds started gathering outside to watch through the HUB's large windows before eventually trickling in. It packed people in, got them up, got them giving love and getting it in return. The Blue Spark kids, meanwhile, came away scratching their heads.
Norfolk & amp; Western hit the Shop on both ends of their tour last year for the same reason: The place was crammed and ecstatic. Therefore, to say that Spokane's image is somehow out of our hands is just wrong.
A second thing: Whitworth activities coordinator Thomas Ruble has hit on something with the kinds of shows they put on. College kids and under-the-radar bands go together like college kids and artsy posturing. Keeping a steady stream of small but relevant bands coming through generates excitement in the college and the music community at large. Whitworth's approach is exactly contrary to the kind of bands like Yellowcard and Guster that GU blows its funding on once a year. Booking biggish-name bands is fine for appealing to the general student body in short spurts, but the cost/benefit skews way too far on the side of rugby shirts and date rape.
The Vellela Vellela show was packed with smart, sober kids. If GU wants to keep students away from the Logan Neighborhood house parties, they should throw a few decent concerts a month at the COG alongside their Planned Parenthood prayer vigils. It's going to take someone's time, but not necessarily much money. Calvin Johnson played EWU's Kafka Coffee for free last year, turning the Craftsman-inspired ambience into a clown car way past capacity. The point is this: Colleges are important for artists. Young people are the tastemakers. People want to play for us. We need to start using that.