Playing a Rock 'n' Roll Marathon gives local bands exposure to runners who flock to the races from across the country and around the world.

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You’d think any marathon — by definition, a 26.2-mile run — would be about the run.

But at a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, the spotlight is on the bands.

For Saturday’s inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon & Half Marathon, 45 bands are scheduled to play on 27 stages, one stage for every mile of the route from Tukwila to Qwest Field — plus one at the finish line. The live bands span musical genres from reggae to rap to rock.

A musical veteran of Rock ‘n’ Rolls in other cities said the race can be a big gig.

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“It’s very high-profile, compared to what a lot of the bands usually play,” said Mike Randall, whose Arizona rock band Come Back Buddy has attracted bookings and fans by playing multiple Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons.

“There’s people from all over country, from all over the world, people who get to see you that would never normally see you. That’s a real good thing for bands trying to get known.”

So, how did this happen?

“We wanted to mix music with an endurance sport to create a giant celebration,” said Shauna Buffington, vice president of marketing for the San Diego-based Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series.

“You’re going to get quality music. It’s a nice diversity,” she said. “Seattle has one of the more vibrant music scenes.”

Ten other cities have a Rock ‘n’ Roll — Phoenix; Nashville, Tenn.; Chicago; Dallas; New Orleans; Virginia Beach, Va.; San Diego; San Antonio; San Jose, Calif.; and Las Vegas. San Diego held the first in 1998.

Each race uses local bands. In Seattle, One Reel — the not-for-profit arts presenter behind Bumbershoot and Teatro ZinZanni — picked up-and-coming local bands from different genres.

In booking, they looked among the 300-plus applicants for “accessibility, energy and the quality of the bands,” said One Reel senior programming manager Chris Porter.

High-school cheer squads are also part of the action. And once race day is over, a Saturday night headlining outdoor concert kicks off the Concerts at Marymoor summer series, with Keb’ Mo’ at the park in Redmond. Runners need only show their race bib for free entry.

Seattle’s race has long been sold out, with 25,000 runners signed up. Some runners travel from Rock ‘n’ Roll to Rock ‘n’ Roll, collecting medals (they’re dubbed “heavy-medal groupies,” Buffington said).

For the bands, the key to keeping the runners’ attention is moving through the music quickly and keeping it upbeat, Randall said.

“We stay with high-energy stuff for the runners — ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and the Crickets,” said Randall, whose band Come Back Buddy has played the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons in San Diego and Phoenix.

“Three thousand may run by you at once. They’re all fired up. It’s a real positive atmosphere. It’s a really healthy mentality. Nobody is going to have a bad attitude.”

Seattle’s Adrian Xavier, bandleader of a world-fusion-reggae group, is used to playing in clubs and festivals.

“It gives us an opportunity to warm up and get in a nice zone,” said Xavier, whose band will be at Mile 20 from 8:45 a.m. to 11 a.m. Some bands’ marathon set lengths approach three hours.

“We’ll jam a bit more than usual,” Xavier said.

Ian McFeron, whose roots-rock band has played Bumbershoot and Seafair, is also a Rock ‘n’ Roll newbie.

“We’re kind of close to the finish line, so it’ll be more like a celebratory set for folks finishing, as well as spectators,” said McFeron. “We’ll be cheering them on.”

Hip-hop artist Grynch takes an earlier stage, at Mile 10.

“I’m liable to jump offstage and join in on the marathon myself after the set,” kidded Grynch, a 23-year-old Ballard rapper.

“I’d probably collapse after half a mile, though.”

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or

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