Shuttered Seattle nightclubs are facing hard times, but one venue that seems determined to squeeze lemonade from pandemic lemons is Columbia City’s eclectic Royal Room, which late last month launched its delightful — and, of course, entirely virtual — Staycation Festival. The festival streams at 7:30 p.m. Sundays from the club and Wednesdays from musicians’ homes all over the world, through Aug. 9, and is accessible at Live Concerts Stream and The Royal Room Facebook page.
The concerts are not only a treat for fans, they offer a welcome way for musicians to earn money at a time when that has become difficult. Though tuning in is free, the streaming sites offer donation options that have been bringing in substantial sums, ranging from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand dollars per show. The Royal Room is giving 100% of the proceeds to the artists.
The club can afford to do this, in part, said Wayne Horvitz, the pianist and composer who co-owns the venue, because it draws support from a nonprofit organization, the South Hudson Music Project, formed by the club’s owners in 2016 to help sustain The Royal Room through grants and donations. Even more importantly, he said, The Royal Room’s landlord, the Royal Esquire Club, has been particularly flexible about rent.
“Without their cooperation, we probably wouldn’t be able to stay in business,” said Horvitz, who preferred not to share further financial details.
The Staycation Festival was originally planned as a live event for 2021 to showcase the mix of jazz, pop, folk, electronic, experimental, improvisational and classical music that seems to thrive in the South End, where many artists who play The Royal Room live. But when the pandemic hit, Horvitz decided to kick off the event this year.
“A lot of people are here in the city in August,” he said, “so that’s where Allison [Au], who used to book the club, came up with the name. But then obviously when all this happened, the meaning of the term was amplified exponentially.”
Indeed. The Staycation Festival got underway Sunday, May 24, but really hit its stride Sunday, May 31, with a rare duo appearance by Horvitz and his wife, vocalist Robin Holcomb. Bookending their Americana-themed concert with Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times,” the pair captured the current somber, mournful mood of the nation.
The Royal Room always makes room for edgy, experimental music and its solo strings show Wednesday, June 3, was a case in point, featuring some exquisite cello improvisations by Peggy Lee, the brilliant Vancouver, B.C., musician who happened to be in Australia at the time.
Coming up this Sunday, June 14, is a duo show by guitarist Don McGreevy and keyboardist/trombonist Steve Moore, who play in the doom metal band Earth. If that description scares you off, check out McGreevy’s recent album, “Aichmophobia,” a gorgeous, icily serene exploration of six- and 12-string guitar textures.
“It’ll just be really beautiful, airy, atmospheric music led by melodies,” said McGreevy of the upcoming show, and added that a follow-up to “Aichmophobia” will be released later this year.
Watching streams is a lot different from experiencing live music in a club. There’s no applause, for starters, which can be a little deflating when a piece rises to a climactic finish followed by utter silence. Most streams use only one camera, too, which can feel flat, and home streams from phones can be raggedy and poorly lit. On the other hand, as Horvitz pointed out during his recent show with Holcomb, there are also no “noisy jerks at the bar.” Another added plus is that you can watch these concerts over and over, and back up if you missed something. The fact that they are streamed in real time, as opposed to being archived like an old YouTube video, also lends some of the frisson of a live show.
But whatever its advantages or disadvantages, it’s probably time to bite the streaming bullet. The Royal Room Staycation Festival is taking some of the bite out of that bullet and giving musicians some sorely needed income, as well.