The reborn Crocodile, the storied Seattle nightclub, reopens March 21 with a concert by Hot Buttered Rum with Everyone Orchestra.
Call it the Crocodile 2.0. When the storied Belltown club reopens Saturday with a Hot Buttered Rum show, fans will find a new stage, a redesigned layout and a new pizzeria. The rear paint-splattered wall is the same, though, and if that wall could talk it could speak about the club’s origins in 1991. Back then, grunge was the predominant local music flavor, flannel shirts were hip, Kurt Cobain was leaning against that wall some nights and a downtown club could attract a crowd with only a poster on a telephone pole.
Almost two decades later, the local scene and the business of running a club have changed dramatically, and the Croc seems poised to take advantage of the revolution. Even before the redesigned club opens to the public, it has generated buzz all through its Web site and its presence on social-networking sites — where promoters are Twittering about upcoming shows and fans have followed construction through the blog of Croc spokeswoman Kerri Harrop.
“Only a visit from President Obama and the 20th anniversary of Sub Pop have generated higher traffic on my site,” Harrop says.
In a way, Hot Buttered Rum might be the ideal band to kick off the new Crocodile, because they’re a group made for modern times. They release albums on their own label, freely give away new downloads on the Internet, post their set lists online and use tape-trading forums to keep their audience base strong.
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“At least half the fans at our shows come because they hear about it on our Web site or social-networking pages,” says band member Erik Yates.
The music of Hot Buttered Rum — HBR to their texting fans — is complex enough that it isn’t easily pigeonholed into one genre or label, and Yates himself plays half a dozen instruments. Think of HBR as alternative bluegrass, or a pop-inspired-folk band, where a show might include the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” or a set that seems straight out of the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
“We just do it our own way,” Yates says. “The old paradigm has never much applied to folk or experimental acts anyway.”
When HBR formed five years ago, the idea of trying to sign with a major label never even crossed the minds of the band members. Their first record was a live album, and they sought to grow their audience by extensive touring, which provides the bulk of their revenue. “It truly is possible for bands to do things themselves, and in many situations it just makes sense,” he says. “We keep our operation a little smaller than some bands, but we also know a lot more about our fans than anyone at a record label ever will. We use the social context of bluegrass, where everyone in the audience is part of creating the music.”
HBR formed in California’s Bay Area, and they never played the Croc in its previous incarnation. “We’re excited about opening it up, though,” Yates notes. “We seek to raise the roof wherever we play, so it seems appropriate to do that at a new club.”
That contemporary-bututopian goal is exactly what Harrop and the new Crocodile owners (among them Marcus Charles, Susan Silver, Sean Kinney, Eric Howk and Peggy Curtis) are trying to do with their resurrected local music landmark.
“Doing it yourself is awesome, and not so hard when you put your mind to it,” Harrop says. “I lived through the days of tours organized by dial telephones, Xeroxed fanzines and multigenerational cassette tapes, and I loved that. But, times have changed.”
And so has the Crocodile. Just ask the wall.
Seattle-area music writer Charles R. Cross is the author of seven books. His top three Croc memories? Sam Phillips, Freddy Johnson and Patti Smith.