As I inch ever closer toward geezerdom, my increasingly gray beard and I are slowly becoming creatures of habit. There’s one fairly mundane ritual I’ve come to particularly miss since COVID-19 crushed so many aspects of our daily lives — hopping the 8 bus outside The Seattle Times’ South Lake Union office, to go up the hill to furiously slurp a bowl of Ooink‘s divinely unctuous ramen, before rolling into Neumos to catch a premier Seattle band like Chastity Belt, who plays Capitol Hill’s anchor club on July 23 as part of its reopening series.
Come July 1, that will be possible once again when the lifting of COVID restrictions will spur the gradual return of local venues, including the Neumos-Barboza complex, which hosts Seattle music’s biggest reopening-night blowout, with separate shows of all-local lineups in its two rooms. As live music comes roaring back, our hometown artists are stepping into the spotlight, as Seattle music halls from Barboza’s tiny basement environs to the 1,000-capacity Neptune Theatre have lined up local acts for their comeback runs, before touring picks up in the fall.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If the pandemic crystallized anything for me, beyond the elastic virtues of athleisure, it’s been a heightened sense of hyperlocal appreciation. With my ramen-and-a-rock-show combo on hiatus, I found other benign routines to be similarly comforting.
During the pandemic’s most reclusive months — at the height of Costco-aisle hysteria — it was bare-essentials supply runs to provide for only the most basic forms of sustenance: meat, vegetables and beer. Quick loops through my neighborhood butcher and open-air produce market — Bob’s Quality Meats and MacPherson’s — with occasional detours to Georgetown Brewing Co., became an antidote to stir craziness (not to mention, shielded me from the atrocities of the bulk-retail battlefields).
As things loosened up, it was trips to the walk-up window at Lottie’s Lounge for happy hour on Columbia City’s community patio, often coupled with vinyl scouring at Empire Records and Roasters and to-go catfish courtesy of Island Soul.
After startling phrases like “shelter in place” infiltrated our lexicon, the routine act of frequenting local businesses somehow felt like a reclamation of community — a reminder of how vibrant our neighborhoods were just months after one of South Seattle’s busiest business districts became an overnight ghost town. In many ways, it helped me through the past year.
So as the vaxxed-up masses resume more and more activities we took for granted before the mask mandates were a thing — such as going to concerts — I want to celebrate this bizarre and historic occasion with artists from our community.
Back in May, Australian singer-songwriter Indigo Sparke was just a few songs into her opening set during Damien Jurado’s first of 10 shows at Ballard Homestead when she asked the crowd if it was their first time seeing music again. A smattering of nodding heads among the two dozen or so socially distanced fans confirmed her suspicion.
“Yeah, I’m from Australia,” she said of her home country, where festivals sprung up again last fall, “so we’ve been doing this awhile.”
While it didn’t derail an otherwise gripping performance, it was a slightly awkward acknowledgment of a disconnect between artist and audience. On July 10, when veteran Seattle rapper Dave B. — one of our town’s most joyful performers — lights up the Neptune Theatre in front of what should be Seattle’s largest post-pandemic crowd, I want to be able to feel that it means something for him, too. I want to be in it together.
Part of the “magic” of live music is the reciprocal energy between the crowd and the people on stage, and it’s more meaningful to me to cross this surreal threshold with artists for whom Seattle is more than just another tour stop.
Soon enough, I’ll be among the thousands filing into an amphitheater or arena for whatever big name is passing through that week — and that will be special, too. I might get a little misty at first sight of someone hawking bootleg T-shirts outside of the Tacoma Dome or while cramming onto the Link after Seattle’s first stadium show in September.
Until then, catch me at Neumos, the Neptune or the Tractor Tavern, sipping something local. And savoring every minute of it.