A couple years ago, K Records founder Calvin Johnson was on tour with Deerhunter in Australia when the band asked him what his plans were when they were finished. Johnson told us recently that he told them he had a 13-day Northwest tour booked. "Thirteen dates?" they asked. "When we play the Northwest we play two dates: Seattle and Portland." Seattle wasn't even on Johnson's list.
Seattle bands have only tepidly stuck their toes in the "greater Seattle area" circuit. Though Cave Singers and Death Cab for Cutie have each sold out one-off shows in Bremerton and Seattle indie rockers the Moondoggies were recently booked at Bainbridge Island's Treehouse Cafe for April 2, a consistent circuit linking the Seattle scene to west-Sound cities has never caught on, due in no small part to a lack of infrastructure—a consistent venue or booker for such acts.
If Gov. Chris Gregoire gets her proposed budget cuts and the ferry to Bremerton stops at 9 p.m., largely shutting out a subset of would-be showgoers from Seattle concerts, bands are going to have to start making the trek to Kitsap County and beyond more often if they want to reach the region's fans. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Westside concertgoers would appreciate a few hometown shows, and Seattle bands could use the paycheck.
"You can only play Seattle so many times," says Ali Hedrick, who books the likes of Neko Case, The Swell Season, and the Moondoggies at The Billions Corporation. "I like to develop those secondary markets for them. For any band. It can become a good moneymaker for before you go on tour."
To that end, Hedrick said yes to the Treehouse Cafe when they called and asked if they could book the country-lovin' Moondoggies in a venue that, at most, can hold about 250 people. That's just one-fourth the size of Showbox at the Market, the most recent room the Moondoggies played in Seattle.
At $10 a head, the band won't make as much money on the gig as they would playing the larger Seattle clubs they're accustomed to, but Hedrick says they stand to do better at Treehouse than they would on a random tour date somewhere in middle America. "You know people have heard of them on Bainbridge because they're from Seattle," she says.
The Treehouse—essentially an updated pub and pizzeria with a large bar that doubles as a concert space—is one of the more promising installments in what could be a regional circuit. They've been booking bands regularly for a year, and have hosted popular Seattle regulars like Star Anna and Zoe Muth. Other shows on the Treehouse calendar include Massy Ferguson and Kristen Ward.
Hedrick says she hopes to book the Moondoggies a Vashon Island gig soon, and will be looking for alternative stops for her other buzzy Seattle act, The Head and the Heart, once they wrap up their national obligations. Hedrick says she's open to venues in other small-market clubs that can provide a decent PA system, a stage, and something of a guarantee for the band.
"[A guarantee] also helps get a show confirmed," she says. "If they sell this one out, hopefully the next time through we'll charge $15."