The Hat and the Hart

After leaving religion, Davidson Hart Kingsbery puts his faith in music (and Hattie's).

Hattie’s Hat is a time-honored institution, cherished as much for its architectural history as for the famous faces who’ve crossed its threshold and downed a beer. It’s a relic from old Ballard, boasting the neighborhood’s first-ever tile floor, the remnants of which are almost 100 years old, along with a carved wooden bar that’s even older, rumored to have been hand-crafted in France. It’s where Ryan Adams fell off a barstool stone drunk, where Neko Case worked in the kitchen, and where Adams’ then-bandmate, Phil Wandscher, met Jesse Sykes and formed their band The Sweet Hereafter.

When Davidson Hart Kingsbery started hanging out there, his marriage fell apart. But it wasn’t Hattie’s fault. It was the cat’s. Kingsbery, who recently released his debut LP, Two Horses, on Ballard’s Fin Records, grew up in a strict Christian Science home. “I was in it pretty heavily,” he said. “I hung out with the Mormon kids because we both kind of had the same rules: no sex, no drinking, no smoking, you know. We would have a pretty mild time on the weekends.”

As a child, Kingsbery suffered debilitating breathing problems that, because Western medicine was strictly taboo, went undiagnosed and untreated. As a result, he turned to arts and music—instead of sports—learning piano, cello, drums, and guitar. It was only after Kingsbery left for college, away from the home he shared with his pet cats, parents, and sister, that he learned he was severely allergic to cats.

“It was a devastating realization that I didn’t have to go through all that pain and suffering,” he says. “It could have easily been prevented if it was just checked out. I’m not even sure I knew pet allergies existed because I was taken out of all health classes, like biology and chemistry. As soon as we started to talk about diseases, or blood cells or human health, the teacher would be like, ‘OK Hart, you can go home now,’ so I didn’t learn a lot about things like that.”

After attending the only Christian Science college in the nation, The Principia in Elsah, Ill., Kingsbery was already married to the first girl he dated there, before he was convinced religion was holding him back. The couple moved to Seattle in 2003. Shortly thereafter, their marriage crumbled.

“My divorce came quick,” he says. “I started playing music and getting into the music scene out here, having beers and staying out late once in a while. Not really behavior she was used to, but it was new and fun for me. It was pretty clear she didn’t want to be part of it. But I think some marriages end up that way, whether religion plays a part in it or not.”

After splitting with his wife, and formally distancing himself from the church, he recruited a friend to play drums and found a bass player. The three formed Kingsbery’s first band, Hart and The Hurricane, and soon added piano player Ben Strehle. The group was together for about four years until it faded away. “But we played a lot of shows and got to know a lot of bands.”

One of those bands was Brent Amaker and the Rodeo, the “new wave country” outfit that shares with Kingsbery’s group keyboardist Strehle and drummer Bryan Crawford. With his renewed perspective on life and music—music he claims he’ll be writing “til I die”—Kingsbery keeps a bit of wisdom the bandleader shared with him in his pocket. “He once told me you can always play country music no matter how old you are.”

Kingsbery soon found a regular gig at Hattie’s—as the house band for the venue’s “honky tonk” Thursdays, a role he’ll reprise on Aug. 23—and discovered a tight-knit music community he had never known before. “That was a really great gig for us because it was a residency, and everyone knew we were going to be here.”

With dancers attending—and drinking—reliably each month, Hattie’s owner, Max Genereaux, gave Hart a thank-you gift. “We like him so much here we gave him his own hook for his hat,” Genereaux said. Indeed, a gold-plated plaque inscribed with the words, “Reserved for the hat of Davidson Hart Kingsbery,” sits just below a hook reserved for Kingsbery’s trademark accessory, a Stetson Silverbelly, a gift from his dad. Kingsbery is the only person to receive such an honor at Hattie’s.

Even after leaving religion, Kingsbery maintains a loving relationship with his family. “They’ve always encouraged me to be myself. When I was into Kurt Cobain and grew long hair and wore cardigans with weird T-shirts and looked like an idiot, they let me play my drums in the living room and let me record my music there. They’ve always been really good about supporting me as an a musician.”

It’s an unconventional upbringing that’s worked in his favor; Kingsbery and his band have a deal to record another LP with Fin Records (just a few doors up from Hattie’s) at Wallingford’s Jupiter Studios in September. Both of his parents have come out to see him play. “My mom came to one of the shows and got hit on by a couple of older guys who offered her a drink. I think it made her really uncomfortable,” he mused. “But she got through it.”