For months now, Seattle’s live music industry has been crawling out of hibernation about as fast as your favorite slowcore band on tranquilizers. As local clubs plot their gradual reopenings ahead of a June 30 lift on capacity restrictions, it could still be a while before the local music scene is firing on all cylinders.
However, not everyone is waiting on them to start the post-pandemic party.
For the past five weeks, a couple hundred music fans and bar-hoppers have flocked to a series of pop-up parties behind Fremont’s LTD Bar and Grill. Dubbed “Fremont Fridays,” the block-party-esque get-downs, replete with local vendors and an outdoor bar, feature a rotating cast of Seattle musicians rocking a DIY stage made out of a recycled parade float.
“This thing is so epic,” says organizer Marshall Hugh, the upbeat rapper who fronts Fremont Friday’s anchor band the Marshall Law Band. “It’s literally the most counterculture Seattle thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
With few Seattle stages up and running, the rain-or-shine Fremont Fridays have quickly become Seattle’s hottest (or at least most visible) parties since the lockdown, helping usher in the return of live music during this transitional period. The community-centric events also aim to give unproven artists a chance to showcase their skills and potentially earn a more prime-time set through an open-mic jam that starts around 6 p.m.
The weekly bashes keep a relatively loose format, with several solo artists (mainly rappers thus far) blitzing through a series of mini sets before the night’s two primary acts take to the portable stage. Local jam band The High Council headlines this week, followed by Seattle indie rock faves Smokey Brights on June 25. Somewhere in there, Hugh and his jam-funk/hip-hop brigade usually slip in at least a short set of their own.
“I got such a busy summer and so much stuff going on, I’m relishing the opportunity to just be at an event,” Hugh says. “Eventually the boys come and get me — ‘Hey Marshall, go on stage.’ I’m like, ‘Ah man, c’mon! This is like my fourth show of the week.’ ”
He’s not joking. With the local music scene largely stalled or forced online, MLB has been the busiest band in town during the pandemic. Last summer, the crew became CHOP’s de facto house band, performing nightly for weeks in the heart of Seattle’s protest zone that made national headlines. But after CHOP dissolved, the good-vibing squad found a way to spread its messages of come-togetherness and unabashed positivity beyond Capitol Hill.
At a rehearsal last October, the week before dropping “12th and Pine,” its debut album directly inspired by their time in CHOP and the George Floyd protests, the band was brainstorming ways to push the album with live shows on ice. Noticing an unusually sunny forecast, Hugh had an idea.
“I was like, ‘You know what we need? A parade float,’ ” he says. “Knowing me — I always say a bunch of wild stuff — but they laughed extra hard at me on that one. To be honest, it pissed me off. I was like, ‘Wait, why are you guys laughing that hard?!’ ”
The next day, Hugh phoned someone who worked with the Fremont Arts Council to see if it had a spare float from its annual summer solstice parade that he and the boys could flip into a mobile stage. Lo and behold, they had one that was initially built for a traveling circus and was on its way to parade-float heaven (aka the scrap heap).
“We all went down to the junkyard to check it out,” Hugh says. “It was kinda beat up, but we were looking at it like, ‘Ah, ain’t she a beaut!’ ”
After a week of replacing floor boards, laying carpet and slapping on a fresh coat of paint, MLB was trailing its roving jam-mobile — affectionately dubbed Jellybean — all over the county. The float itself cost Hugh just $1 and some elbow grease, and for the past seven months or so, it’s enabled the band to play a series of pop-up and impromptu shows everywhere from Alki Beach to Duvall.
That bargain-bin investment’s already paying dividends. Through DIY resilience and a little sweat equity, Marshall Law Band has defied the odds as one of the few Seattle bands to significantly raise its hometown profile during a year when there were depressingly few opportunities for local artists to do so.
Subsequently, as live music returns to more formal (and stationary) stages, MLB has also been tapped for some of Seattle’s choice reopening concert series. After a May headlining show at the Museum of Flight, the band has another headliner at Neumos on July 17, plus a pair of opening slots during the Neptune Theatre’s comeback run (July 24 with Kassa Overall) and ZooTunes (July 25 with Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio) — opportunities the band hadn’t gotten in the past.
Despite the plum venue engagements, it will still be a busy summer for ol’ Jellybean, with a calendar full of dates booked around King County, including those Fremont Fridays, which look to continue through Aug. 20.
“Best dollar I ever spent,” Hugh says.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date Smokey Brights are scheduled to perform.