Although it sits right next to the bustling arts hub of Seattle, the north end and Eastside have a dearth of music venues given its large population centers.
Seattle has long been associated with national musical acts including the rock pioneer Jimi Hendrix, the roaring grunge scene of the 1990s and more recently a bustling electronic music club scene, which is home to the longest running drum and bass weekly in the nation. However, that energy hasn’t seemed to make its way to the Eastside.
One of the most iconic venues to pop up in recent years was Kenmore’s Capps Club, which opened its doors in 2016. It closed briefly later that year only to re-open after changes to its menu and services were made. The venue had room for 400 people and was slightly smaller than Seattle venues like The Crocodile or the Tractor Tavern and attracted acts like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and several local bands. It was the only dedicated music venue on the north end.
Michael Henrichsen is a member of Nite Wave that played at the venue frequently. They’re an 80s cover band that’s been around for seven years and Henrichsen said the club provided a great place for them to play.
“We had great success there as Nite Wave, we played there on a quarterly basis,” he said.
The club shut down earlier last December with no official reason given. The owners of the club were contacted for this story but did not respond to requests for comment, though Henrichsen said there was a good turnout for the club.
For local bands like Nite Wave, there’s not many options outside of Seattle for landing gigs. Henrichsen said McMenamins in Bothell hosts music, but due to its corporate structure it can be difficult for smaller bands to get their foot in the door. Other venues like Fall City’s Raging River Saloon have stopped booking music.
Lyle Geels runs the Raging River with his wife, and said after 17 years they decided to stop offering live music last December. He said they weren’t bringing in enough people to cover the expense of paying the bands.
“Finally, at the end of December last year, we said that’s it, we shoulda done it three years ago,” he said.
There are large venues in the area like Marymoor Park or Chateau St. Michelle that bring in large touring acts. However, landing gigs at these venues are often times out of reach for many smaller acts.
Keith Kelly is part of another local cover band called Past Curfew. They have performed extensively in the area but the small number of venues hosting live music has been a challenge. Kelly pins the blame on high commercial real estate prices, which in turn drive up rents. Small venues feel the squeeze and are forced to close or become more risk averse when hiring entertainment, Kelly said.
The high cost of living in the area and a lack of disposable income and time may also factor in for many younger music fans who would otherwise spend some time buying drinks and listening to music. Many older people on the Eastside have children and opt for cheaper forms of entertainment, like watching movies at home when they can find some down time, Kelly said.
However, Henrichsen said things are looking better than they were a few years ago with clubs like the Parlor Live in Bellevue deciding to book musical acts. He thinks there’s the drive and demand in the area to sustain an organic music scene, though he said it takes a lot of time and effort.
“It’s certainly there, and you’d think with the amount of players that are around the area … that perhaps there’s things that are rumbling and in the works,” Henrichsen said.
Smaller bands might have to wet their feet in Seattle scenes and venues before getting booked on the Eastside, he said. Booking conflicts for touring artists can be a stumbling block too, as many large booking agencies try to space out their shows both in time and location. This means if there’s a large venue in Seattle like The Crocodile or Nuemos that wants to book a touring act, the same band wouldn’t likely book a Bellevue date on the same tour.
There is some silver lining though. Boone Helm runs marketing and booking for the Parlor Live, a billiards hall turned comedy club that now boasts a live music venue, which was converted from a night club that has been booking music recently.
“I think we’ve been king of moving in this direction for a while now, we’ve kind of dabbled in it,” he said of live music. “…We think that Bellevue for certain is somewhere that we could take advantage of that.”
The club has been booking bands sporadically, but recently decided to try and bring in live music every Friday and Saturday night starting in a few months. Boone believes Bellevue could support the Parlor Live as a music venue, which boasts a capacity of around 300 rivaling Seattle venues. People who live on the Eastside would support a venue close to home, he said. Helm said they’ve already seen success on nights where they had the right mixture of bands, dates and crowds.
“We’re kind of giving ourselves that time to figure out exactly what we want to do with that space,” he said.
The Lime in Kirkland has also faithfully been booking musicians and shows no signs of slowing down.
While the Eastside is a long way from having a major music scene, if more venues follow suit, Eastsiders could soon see more options closer to home.