Jeff Gilbert: The Lifer

The owner of the Feedback Lounge didn't make West Seattle home, the neighborhood made him.

While it’scommon knowledge that many high-profile musicians have made West Seattle home, including members of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney, Feedback Lounge co-owner Jeff Gilbert quite possibly has the deepest roots in both the neighborhood and the Seattle music community. Though he was born on the Olympic Peninsula, he moved to West Seattle as a young teen in 1980 and hasn’t left.

“This is where Seattle still feels like Seattle,” says Gilbert. “It’s the same place it was all those years ago.”

Certainly some things have changed in Gilbert’s world. Penny Lane, the record store he worked for in his formative years, is now Easy Street Records. KCMU, where he first fell in love with broadcasting as the host of heavy-metal specialty show Brain Pain, is now KEXP. The Rocket, where he got his start in print journalism, is long shuttered. Pain in the Grass, a free concert series he founded, booking everyone from Tad to Sir Mix-a-Lot at the Seattle Center’s Mural Amphitheater, is no longer free, takes place at the White River Amphitheater, and is owned by mainstream rock station KISW.

But don’t cry for Gilbert; he’s anything but stagnant or sorrowful. Though he can’t claim immunity from the occupational hazards that accompany rock and roll (“My liver looks like SpongeBob SquarePants,” he quips), he still has an impressive head full of frizzy, long blond locks and plenty of ambition. In April 2009, he opened the Feedback (6451 California Ave. S.W., with partners Matt Johnson and Paul Larkin, and instantly created a landmark destination for rockers old and young in his neighborhood.

“We opened with $154 left in our bank account,” he says, “but we’ve made it work.”

The walls are lined with an overwhelming assortment of Northwest and national music memorabilia, from Soundgarden set lists to gold records from Megadeth and framed photos of Ann and Nancy Wilson in their younger years. In a nutshell, it’s a Hard Rock Cafe that doesn’t suck.

“During the build-out, people kept asking us what our theme was,” explains Gilbert. “I had been collecting stuff since I was a teenager, and I figured why not hang that Who poster from 1964?”

Perhaps the most covetable treasure is Gilbert’s collection of hundreds of old concert-ticket stubs—Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, etc.—which are locked securely under double-pane glass in the bar’s auxiliary serving area, the Whammy Bar. “When [customers] see those stubs and remember going to the same show, we instantly have a bond with those people. I love that.”