When it comes to a mind-blowing local music scene, it’s safe to say that we Seattleites know we’ve got it good. From nurturing legends such as Quincy Jones, Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix in the mid 20th century, to serving as the birthplace of grunge, to bringing Sir Mix-a-Lot and Macklemore to mainstream radio; Seattle has a long, vibrant history that has given it a bit of a reputation for musical innovation.
While some jokingly say that “it’s in the water” that surrounds our comparatively small city – and with new local musicians making a splash nearly every time one turns around, it may just be true – I believe that a great deal of the success stories we hear on a daily basis are the direct result of the amazing local community that supports those musicians.
Aside from boasting a menagerie of large, beautiful venues throughout the city (The Paramount, The Moore, Benaroya Hall), and small, but equality accredited venues (The Crocodile, The Triple Door, Tractor Tavern), Seattle is fortunate to also have a handful of folks who have dedicated their careers to putting on intimate, exclusive shows in rotating venues across the city.
Over the past few months, it has been my pleasure to make the acquaintance of two such individuals: sisters Carrie and Kristen Watt. In 2008 the duo decided that they wanted to see what happened if they started hosting small house shows around the city. They decided they would invite whom they considered to be the most impressive up-and-coming Seattle musicians (such as Damien Jurado, Allen Stone, Lemolo, Zach Fleury, Shelby Earl, Ivan and Alyosha and countless others) to play in intimate spaces for attentive audiences, and see what happened.
I believe the success of these shows has been far more than either Carrie or Kristen could have anticipated. Not only have every single one of their 200-plus Seattle Living Room Shows, as their business came to be called, sold out weeks prior to the performances, they have also launched an offshoot of their organization called Seattle Secret Shows – which operates much as one might suspect – secretly.
Although I have known about Seattle Living Room Shows for a while through the intimately interconnected world of local music – I am a music enthusiast and singer/songwriter – only last week was I able to attend one of their shows for the first time. Upon arriving, I was overwhelmed by how inviting everyone was. I received hugs from Carrie and Kristen (whom I had never met in person), introductions to several of the regulars, local musicians, photographers, and sound engineers who were in attendance; and was, of course, pointed toward the wine.
The evening consisted of three fantastic musicians: Carson Henley, Melissa Polinar, and Nathan Angelo; and took place in their company’s original space – the basement of Carrie’s Seattle home. The two sisters, along with a handful of dedicated volunteers and staff members, had turned the basement into a quaint, eclectic venue – complete with twinkly lights, sheer stage curtains, sound equipment from the Behringer Center Stage Web Series, homemade red and blue stage lights, and about 100 folding chairs that ended exactly where the stage began.
The music started with a four-song soul-infused set by Carson Henley – a Seattle pop/soul singer/songwriter and classically trained pianist who recently transplanted to L.A. Upon hearing Carson’s opening songs, I was taken aback by both how original and how familiar his sound was – he had a deep, gravelly baritone voice with strong lateral vowels and a pure, clean falsetto that captivated the entire room. I remember feeling similarly upon first hearing Allen Stone, another very successful Seattle musician who collaborated with Carson on his latest album, 100 Hours.
During the course of his set, Carson elaborated a bit on the production process for 100 Hours, which was released in June of last year and resulted in an Independent Music Award nomination for Best Pop Album of the Year. Essentially, Carson was in a bit of a songwriting rut and was low on funds, so he logically decided to allot himself 100 waking hours to make an entire album from start to finish. That included writing lyrics, voicing, and instrumentation; as well as the entire production and mastering process. I cannot imagine that Carson’s team was anything but delirious with endorphins and exhaustion by the end of the process, but Carson said that it was one of the most rewarding musical experiences he’s ever had. Learn more about Carson Henley on his website, and have a listen to his music on iTunes.
Next up was YouTube-gone-living-room sensation Melissa Polinar, who was nationally touring with Nathan Angelo. Aside from demonstrating some serious virtuosity on the guitar, I was very impressed with Melissa’s voice – a conflation of jazz, soul and pop that was ripe with impressive ornamentation. As Music Connection Magazine has boasted, “This artist has a voice that is not only skilled and imaginative, but distinct in its tonal quality, allowing her to take the material to a higher level.” Melissa’s songwriting style was also very striking – a combination of atypical harmonic progressions and complex melodies coupled with a mainstream catchiness. If there was a still foot in the crowd, I didn’t see it.
Aside from her impressive online following, Melissa currently has two singles on iTunes: “Happy” and more recently “Above Water”, featuring Jeremy Passion. Check them out on iTunes, her YouTube Chanel, or on her website.
Last but certainly not least, the man several audience members had traveled from Olympia, Tacoma, and Issaquah to see took the stage: the Motown-infused singer/songwriter, Nathan Angelo. To say that this man is an experienced performer would be a drastic understatement. Although Nathan has been performing and touring with a full band for about 7 years, their absence during this stripped-down set (as is Seattle Living Room Shows’ tradition) neither appeared to affect him in the slightest, nor make his hour-long performance any less engaging. Contrarily, nearly half the audience was singing along with each of his songs, and the entire audience was either snapping or clapping along (perhaps unknowingly) at one point or another.
If you are interested in hearing some great new music that harkens back to the era of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Jackson 5; I very much recommend picking up a copy of Nathan’s Angelo’s latest album, Out of the Blue, on Soundcloud, iTunes, or Nathan’s website.
And of course, make sure to become part of future performances such as this one by checking out Seattle Living Room Shows and Seattle Secret Shows on their website, Twitter, or Facebook. It’s very rare that one gets to see such amazing artists in such small, intimate settings. As Carson Henley nonchalantly put it while waving a chunk of complimentary Gouda at me, “Nothing beats Seattle Living Room Shows – and of course this amazing cheese”.
We hope to see you next time, and thanks for reading.
All photos (except for photo of guests mingling) by Mocha Charlie. http://www.flickr.com/photos/254mochacharlie/