Just five weeks after Pete and Brandy Nordstrom’s son, Chet, was born in 2012, the infant had open heart surgery at Seattle Children’s hospital.
Being a Nordstrom, they had the money to pay for any necessary procedure. A wing of the hospital was even named after Pete’s mother, Fran Nordstrom.
He says he was surprised, though, when he found out Seattle Children’s gives the same level of care to every child — even when their parents can’t pay — through its uncompensated care program.
“When you’re there, and you’re watching the way they treat everybody, regardless of their means or who they are, it’s impressive,” Nordstrom says.
Nordstrom and his wife, both musicians, decided to create an annual fundraiser for the uncompensated care program that same year. Since then, the Seattle Musicians for Children’s Hospital event, or SMooCH, has raised over $21 million and has become one of Seattle’s most exciting holiday music events. Last year’s virtual event raised $3.4 million.
At this year’s sold-out Dec. 11 event at The Showbox, alt-rockers Modest Mouse will play a special set of their earlier songs, former BEARAXE singer Shaina Shepherd will perform unreleased soul music she wrote during the pandemic and Josiah Johnson (formerly of The Head and The Heart) will strum his acoustic guitar and sing with his warm baritone voice. Wine and food for VIP ticket holders come from some of Seattle’s top chefs including Taku’s Shota Nakajima and Melissa Miranda of Musang. One hundred percent of the event’s proceeds go to Seattle Children’s uncompensated care fund. A video of the event is slated to be released on KEXP’s YouTube channel in mid-January.
But SMooCH wasn’t always such a big event. The first year, it was held at The Triple Door — a venue with around 300 seats — mainly filled by Nordstrom’s friends and co-workers. (The Showbox accommodates about 1,100 people standing and about 300 to 600 seated.) And most of the musicians (besides Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard) were from Nordstrom’s social circle.
He says he wanted the event to be larger and more sustainable, so he asked for assistance from Megan Jasper, SubPop Records’ CEO, and longtime KEXP radio host John Richards. They agreed to help, and with their music-industry connections, SMooCH flourished.
Macklemore headlined the event in 2013, the year after he became wildly famous with the 2012 release of “The Heist.”
Jasper says she’s been able to use SubPop’s relationships with musicians and managers to ask artists to perform at SMooCH — something they do for free. That ask became easier over the years.
“People know what the event is now,” Jasper said. “I don’t need to explain it to the degree that I used to.”
Nordstrom says Modest Mouse is a “big get” for SMooCH and is excited the band, which was born in Seattle, is performing. But he’s just as excited about Shepherd, a rising figure in Seattle’s music scene. Nordstrom has been wowed by her singing ever since she opened for his band, Stag, a couple of years ago. Her cover of Lee Fields’ “Never Be Another You,” which she’ll perform at SMooCH, was featured in this year’s Nordstrom holiday campaign.
Shepherd said she’ll perform music from one of her quarantine-era projects — songs she wrote when she wanted “a moment of tenderness and reflection,” which she says came out sounding like “family evenings and warm tea and a little bit of soul.” This music is unreleased and will come out in one of two albums Shepherd has planned for 2022. She’ll be backed by well-known Seattle instrumentalists: Ty Bailie (piano), Jeff Fielder (guitar), Rebecca Young (bass) and Michael Musburger (drums).
As SMooCH has grown, so has Seattle Children’s uncompensated care program. In 2020, it provided almost $240 million in uncompensated care, more than double the figure from when SMooCH started.
Dr. Jeff Sperring, the organization’s CEO, says demand for uncompensated care grows every year, including at its clinics in Eastern Washington, Montana and Alaska.
“I think it’s just a great representation of our community in Seattle coming together to really support kids and families when they need it most,” Sperring says about SMooCH.
Though the event has sold out every year, Nordstrom says he doesn’t plan on changing venues anytime soon. He wants it to feel special, with amazing artists performing in an intimate space.
And though Chet Nordstrom still visits Seattle Children’s hospital a few times a year, his father says he’s thriving.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Shaina Shepherd is the former singer for BEARAXE, not the current singer.
This story has been updated to reflect that SMooCH 2021 is on Dec. 11, not Dec 12.