Come Memorial Day weekend, the skinny-jeaned mecca known as Capitol Hill thins out as everyone heads to the Gorge to eat ’shrooms and drink Budweiser in a giant field.
“When everybody leaves for Sasquatch, every direction you look down every street on Capitol Hill, there’s just this tribe of punk-rock kids,” says Brian Skiffington, one of the three main organizers of Rain Fest, a hardcore punk festival that runs the same weekend at Neumos. “It’s the most absurd-looking thing in the neighborhood.”
Born of a desire to recreate the magic of a beloved band’s farewell show—Champion, a Seattle-area hardcore band that said goodbye to its fans in 2006—Skiffington and a few friends began Rain Fest in Tacoma. Thanks to its wild success, the festival was moved to Neumos to accommodate ever-growing crowds. “We’ve had people come from South America, Australia, Japan, Korea, all over. This year we have people from New Zealand, Chile, the UK, it’s just incredible,” says Skiffington.
“One thing that I think sets us apart is that we’ve never had sponsors for our festival,” he says. “We’re not only very appreciative of everyone who shows up, we take pride in that fact that this is something we’ve all created.” That dynamic, he suspects, is the reason Rain Fest has blown up in the global hardcore community as fast as it has.
At its core, Rain Fest aims to reward the many Northwest hardcore bands—oft-considered an isolated community, far from other hardcore scenes like New York or L.A.—for their work by pairing them on insane bills with legends like Converge, Andrew W.K., and 7 Seconds, all of whom are playing this year. “We really try to honor and reward bands in the Northwest who are making that effort,” says Skiffington.
Power, a Bremerton-based hardcore group that claims it wouldn’t be a “real band” without Rain Fest, is also performing this year. We talked to bassist Ricky Hansen about the festival’s impact on his band and on the larger Northwest hardcore scene. (Read the full interview at seattleweekly.com/reverb.)
SW: What was it about Rain Fest that made you think, “Oh, we’re in a real band now?”
Hansen: I just remember people flew in from around the world for the festival, and bigger bands were playing. Not only was I like, “Wow, people are really into this,” but I realized how quickly it had gained credibility over all of two years. That’s all Brian Skiffington, Matt Weltner, and Zack Ellis [Rain Fest’s two other organizers]. I attribute it all to them.
Tell me about the Northwest hardcore [NWHXC] scene.
I think bands here work hard to make a name for themselves—they have to. It’s not like L.A. or New York where you can get your name out by association. You have to bust your ass out here; we’re isolated up in the Northwest.
Is that work ethic unique to the NWHXC scene?
Yeah, we do a lot of things ourselves. I respect a lot of the people from here because we put in the work. Particularly Brian [Skiffington]—he never ceases to amaze me. We’re putting together a benefit show for a friend of ours who recently passed away. Brian got all these local businesses to donate gift cards and services, and I wouldn’t even know where to begin with this stuff. He seems like a big key in the NWHXC scene; everybody knows Brian.
How has Rain Fest changed over the years?
The only thing that’s changed is it’s getting bigger. The thing I like about it is that small-town “friends at a show” vibe I get from it. That hasn’t dwindled at all. It’s not like this festival mentality you see at big fests. It’s just such a good vibe. Everybody’s friends. There’s never been a fight at Rain Fest.
Is there an experience that defines Rain Fest for you?
It’s just sort of this feeling I get when I think about Rain Fest. It sounds corny, but it’s true. It’s the best show we play every year—it feels like a giant party with everyone you know from hardcore all over the world coming to hang out. Also, seeing 7 Seconds, one of the bands that got me into hardcore. I was watching going, “Oh my God, here I am seeing them, playing on a bill with them, and a guy I know booked them.”
RAIN FEST With Converge, Andrew W.K., 7 Seconds, and more. Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9467, neumos.com. One-day pass $30, festival pass $80. All ages. 8 p.m. Fri., May 23–Sun., May 25.