For more than a decade, the Black Lodge has been a staple of Seattle’s underground music scene. A punk rock holdout in a techified South Lake Union, the DIY venue situated next to the Victory Lounge has hosted bands ranging from defunct Washington thrashers Black Breath to local queer country heroes Lavender Country over the years.
The collectively run space has been dark since the pandemic’s onset, but a kindred DIY spirit has plans to breathe new life into the beloved venue.
All-ages pillar The Vera Project has taken over Black Lodge’s reins and plans to reopen the venue this winter after extensive renovations. The youth-oriented nonprofit plans to bring the quasi-underground venue up to code, installing a secondary emergency exit, additional bathrooms, a new sound system and added rehearsal spaces that will be available to young bands for free or at low cost. Vera brass also plan to make accessibility improvements and eventually host 100-plus all-ages shows a year.
“We’re trying to keep it as underground as possible, but also actually making it legal and safe,” says Ricky Graboski, The Vera Project’s executive director. “It’s been such a bastion of the scene almost as long as Vera, it’s been there for 15 years … and we’re mostly hopeful to use it as a model.”
Graboski believes the new venture fusing a DIY punk space with the support structure of an established arts nonprofit like Vera can serve as a blueprint for sustaining DIY venues across the country. Such venues that frequently operate without permits and have provided space for more left-of-center (and less financially viable) shows have faced renewed scrutiny in recent years after a fire during an Oakland rave killed 36 people in 2016.
“The city in a lot of times — we’ve been lucky with Seattle — but they don’t want these types of places to exist,” Graboski says. “They don’t see the value of them being the underlying ecosystem of the entire music industry or how it feeds into the culture as a whole. They just see it as a dangerous space where young people might get hurt. And they’re not completely wrong. That’s why we’re trying to find this balance.”
The Vera Project formally took over the Black Lodge’s managerial duties in March 2021. The scrappy DIY space faced financial peril without the access to funding that’s available to more aboveboard venues. To fund the venture, The Vera Project will draw from a DIY community relief fund it established to help ailing “community-driven cultural spaces” during the pandemic.
Construction is currently underway and once it’s up and running, the Black Lodge’s programming will be “completely youth and community led,” according to a news release, in conjunction with local musicians, Vera leaders and a “collaborative music and arts collective” that will include previous members of the Black Lodge collective.
“The Black Lodge has been an integral part of Seattle’s art and music scene for over a decade creating space for alternative and experimental music to flourish with a focus on community over profit,” said Malia Alexander, a former member of the Black Lodge collective who plays in the band Matriarch, in the release. “This would not have been possible without the tireless effort of volunteers, but this transition to Vera ensures a stable future for the venue and a continued emphasis on fostering a safe, accessible and all ages space for creativity.”
Despite the glassy towers now dominating the once warehouse-y South Lake Union, Black Lodge has been part of the punk-leaning milieu along the neighborhood’s eastern edge. It sits on the same Eastlake Avenue strip as heavy metal den El Corazón and the Funhouse, Lo-Fi Performance Gallery and the Victory Lounge.
Along with news of the Black Lodge’s revival, The Vera Project has launched a pay-per-view event with Defy Wrestling and DIY punk vet Jeff Rosenstock. The rock ‘n’ roll wrestling match was filmed at Vera’s Seattle Center venue earlier this month and money raised will help support similar DIY spaces across the country.
While The Vera Project books its all-ages venue at Seattle Center with few constraints, Graboski says the smaller Black Lodge will continue to host “more hardcore” or experimental shows without worrying about turning a profit. Preserving the spirit of what Graboski calls a “cultural mecca” in Seattle is the ultimate goal.
“Vera doesn’t need to expand. That’s not what we’re trying to do,” he says. “This is more about saving a venue that was going to disappear. … That’s the whole value of our longer-term work on this kind of thing, too. It’s advocacy for all-ages and DIY spaces. They’re dying out everywhere and we couldn’t let one die out in our backyard — especially one like Black Lodge.”