Local Art News
NORTHWEST FILM FORUM REVEALS LOCAL SIGHTINGS OPENING & CLOSING NIGHT EVENTS, NEW PROGRAM LAUNCHES, & OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
* Events that are $15 or less
John Baxter is a Switch Hitter
Does one’s sexuality define us? And what does it mean to belong to a group? Those are some of the questions at the heart of a new play based on a gay softball tournament and the actual events (that occurred in Seattle) when a team from San Francisco was accused of having too many straight players. There’s plenty of camp and charm here but “the trial”—when the accusations fly and one of the ballplayers (Adam Standley) recalls the heartbreak he endured after coming out to his father and being rejected—is totally absorbing. I also want to point out how almost every arts organization talks about valuing diversity but Intiman walks the talk: Take a look at who is on stage in this production. Part of the 2015 Intiman Theatre Festival.
If you go: John Baxter is a Switch Hitter, Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, Now through Sept. 27 (Tickets start at $20)—F.D.
Pop up on the Plaza: Celebrate the Life of Octavia Butler *Gabriel Teodros and Walidah Imarisha
This very special event will kick-off with a hip-hop set by local artist Gabriel Teodros and then continue with a discussion and celebration of the life and legacy of Octavia Butler. The first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur Genius Grant, Butler continues to inspire new conversations and art. Gabriel Teodros and Walidah Imarisha, editor of the collection Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements, will discuss the intersection of science fiction and social justice. While you’re feeling inspired, get some book recommendations from a librarian and peruse their pop-up offerings.
If you go: Pop Up on the Plaza, Central Library plaza, 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 26 (free)—N.C.
Matilda the Musical
Let’s say you’re a girl named Matilda whose parents call you “a lousy worm” and huff disapprovingly whenever they see you. You seek revenge in the form of, oh, glue on the inside of your dad’s fedora. And you also throw yourself into dozens and dozens of books, eventually spinning marvelous stories of your own creation. That’s the plot in a nutshell, minus a very sweet and shy teacher (who Matilda adores) and a horrible (but very funny) headmistress who Matilda well … you’ll have to go see the show to find out. Based on a Roald Dahl children’s book and winner of four Tony Awards, the lyrics aren’t always easy to make out (Is it the sound quality or the children’s voices doing an English accent?) But, the scenic design and the terrific choreography—on swings, on a trampoline, on scaffolding—is worth the price of admission.
If you go: Matilda the Musical, 5th Avenue Theatre, Now through Sept. 6 (Tickets start at $35) –F.D.
Out to Lunch concert series *
This series of concerts is an ideal lunchtime activity, and there are two great ones going on this week. On Thursday, 10-year-strong jazz/funk fusion band Industrial Revelation will play City Hall Plaza (600 4th Avenue). The group has earned both the Stranger Genius award and Earshot Jazz Golden Ear Award. On Friday, lunchtime music fans at Lake Union Park can catch a whole different brand of funky in the form of Eldridge Gravy & The Court Supreme. The Court Supreme is a 13-piece funk factory, and it takes every last one of them to keep up with Eldridge Gravy, the eccentric and charismatic lead singer. Plus, he’s got a voice that rivals any contemporary soul man (yes, Alan Stone, I’m talking to you). The group’s hilarious video, “Hey Big Freak” captures their party-ready vibe perfectly. Skip to minute three if you aren’t amused by the silly faux-rap preface at the beginning and want to get right into the funk. It’s pretty hilarious, though.
If you go: Out to Lunch concert series, noon to 1:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at City Hall Plaza & Aug. 28 at Lake Union Park (Free)—J.S.H.
KEXP Concerts at the Mural: Ha Ha Tonka, Country Lips, Evening Bell *
Thematically, country music is clearly the most appropriate genre for an outdoor show. Farming, hunting, fishing, off-roading, shooting and a general connection to nature are lyrical constants for any musician who sings with a hint of twang or an Americana croon. Country often rejects the material and mental quagmires of urban living in favor of a more rural, down-to-earth way of doing things. This particular three-act show doesn’t actually take place in the country, but it does, at least, take place outdoors— at the Mural Amphitheatre directly under the Space Needle. Appropriately named Seattle band Country Lips plays second. They are a modern country band whose influences skip a generation backward. They don’t take cues from many of the ’80s and ’90s era country fixtures like Garth Brooks or Toby Keith. Instead, they draw more from the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and bluegrass/folk influences that go back even earlier. They are clearly a group of old souls living in modern times. They’re opening for Ha Ha Tonka, a country rock group out of Missouri that have a (somewhat ironic) southern flavor to their music. Another local group with a country slant, Evening Bell, will play the opening set at 5:30 p.m.
If you go: KEXP Concerts at the Mural: Ha Ha Tonka, Country Lips, Evening Bell, Mural Amphitheater at Seattle Center, Aug 28 (Free)—J.S.H.
Last week for Outdoor Movies *
Summer’s end is upon us, meaning goodbye tans, insane lines at ice cream shops and time spent on patios. Many summer movie series around town will also conclude. Head to Fremont or Marymoor to see The Lego Movie (raved about by everyone), The Neverending Story at Cal Anderson, or the quintessential outdoor film The Princess Bride at Magnuson. “Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme…” I’ll be at King’s patio on Friday for bobsled time. The Ballard bar will be showing a double feature of Cool Runnings and Bring It On; if attention wanes, there’s always Skee-Ball and an unbeatable happy hour ($3 for a well or a brew from their great selection).
If you go: Outdoor Movies, Various locations, Aug. 28 and 29 (Often free)—N.C.
NEPO 5k Don’t Run *
After 5 years, the eclectic and feisty arts event known as the NEPO 5K is coming to an end. So this is it; your last chance ever to course a 5k route– from Hing Hay Park in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District to NEPO House on Beacon Hill–that’s dotted with some 70 artists, musicians and performers. So much creativity topped off by food trucks and beer at the finish line.
If you go: NEPO 5K Don’t Run, Hing Hay Park, Starting time is noon to 3 p.m. Aug. 29 (Suggested donation: $15. Free for children)—F.D.
Seattle Cider Company’s Second Anniversary Party
The Seattle Cider Company, the first cidery in Seattle since Prohibition, has enjoyed immense success in the last couple years with their 16-ounce cans of cider not only showing up in markets across the state but in nine other states as well. To celebrate, the cidery will be hosting a special party at The Woods tasting room in SODO, a space shared with Two Beers Brewing. For the party, The People’s Burger food truck will be onsite and TWENTY taps will be dedicated to cider, including their special barrel-aged ciders and collaborative creations (featuring Theo Chocolate and Mystic Kombucha, among others). My personal recommendation: Their complex and summery Gin Botanical cider.
If you go: Seattle Cider Company’s Second Anniversary Party, The Woods Tasting Room at 4700 Ohio Ave S. 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 29. Ciders and snacks for purchase.—N.C.
Rocky Votolato *
Over his 20-year-career, Rocky Votolato’s has proven himself incredibly consistent, making him one of the defining voices in the Northwest indie and folk scenes. Up here in the rain and gray, these two disparate genres share certain qualities: A propensity for melancholy, lyrical complexity, and sparse, subtle musical arrangements. Damien Jurado, Neko Case, Elliott Smith, Colin Meloy and Benjamin Gibbard are other key figures of this style, but Rocky Votolato is (unfortunately) not always thought of alongside these celebrated figures. Honestly, his newest album—2015’s Hospital Handshakes—achieves a level of emotional sincerity that neither Death Cab for Cutie or The Decemberists, supposed paragons of that style, have been able to achieve in years. A lot of Votolato’s new songs have a faster pace and higher energy than his stripped-down earlier work. Since he’s performing with a complete band this week, audience members will get to witness them in their full splendor.
If you go: Rocky Votolato, The Crocodile, Aug. 29 ($15)–J.S.H.
You’ve heard of fair trade coffee–the idea to promote more equitable business practices for coffee growers in developing countries. Well, in Seattle, what many call “The City of Music,” a fair trade music movement is underway.
Fair Trade Market Seattle (FTMS) is developing the means to address issues that affect the music community, said Nate Omdal, a local musician among those spearheading the organization.
“Hopefully, as we progress, we can comprehensively cover money and wage issues, but for now there are myriad immediate problems that can be fixed,” he said.
FTMS already has reached a simple but effective agreement with 25 music venues, including the Seamonster Lounge (the first to sign the agreement), Nectar Lounge, both Showbox venues and the Royal Room. The agreement stipulates that the music employer will provide a written agreement outlining terms of the night’s business and supply the best sound support possible. If the night’s pay is based on revenue, the employer will provide a receipt at night’s end. The employer also agrees to openly discuss any issues resulting from the engagement with FTMS and anyone else involved.
Once the agreement is signed, venues receive an FTMS sticker to put on their door, indicating the partnership.
“As we establish our brand regionally and nationally, we hope to link all of the Fair Trade Venues together in a sort of ‘Safe Tour Schedule,’ ” Omdal said.An attempt to ease the load. Credit: City of Seattle
The initiative has been so well received that the Seattle City Council recently voted unanimously to support it. It even dubbed May 20 as “Fair Trade Music Day.” Other supporters include 91.3 KBCS, 4Culture and numerous local musicians.
FTMS has established Seattle’s first four Musician Loading Zones outside clubs in Ballard and other neighborhoods. It also has taught classes on how to negotiate fair working agreements.
To help venues with their sound systems, FTMS set up a “healthy” fund to create a “Sound System Diagnostic and Repair Program,” according to Omdal. The program allows organizations to request free sound-system inspections at their venues.
“Once we have a work order,” Omdal said, “we will discuss what work should be done and we will pay for the parts and labor.”
While no one has come out against the initiative, FTMS has received a fair amount of skepticism from club owners, Omdal says. That’s partly because FTMS intends to challenge “pay to play” as well as club (and perhaps even festival) blackout dates, or non-compete clauses. Clubs and festivals, including some major local ones, often make bands sign contracts that preclude playing within a certain radius of a gig for a certain amount of time — sometimes up to 200 miles and 90 days.
“It’s a pretty unpopular business practice among most musicians,” Omdal said.
Seattle, whose chapter was founded in 2012 by pianist Jay Kenney and the late guitarist Bill Charney, is not the only city working to get an FTM effort off the ground, according to Omdal. Other cities working toward a Fair Trade Music chapter include Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and Washington, D.C. The idea came from Portland, but the Seattle chapter has seen the most growth.
Thanks to FTMS, there is a lot of momentum for fair trade practices in the Seattle music scene.
“Many venue owners have expressed relief that an organization is committed to recognizing fair play,” Omdal said. “Especially if that recognition is also coming from the artists they hire.”
The Vera Project is excited to announce The Women’s Creative Industries Forum! Experience presentations and live performances by women who design sound, produce radio shows, make films, and beyond.
URBAN ARTWORKS Presents: THAT’S A WRAP! Come celebrate with us this Thursday: 3-3:30pm: Youth Graduation in front of 12th Ave Arts on Capitol Hill 3:30-6pm: Happy Hour at RGB (family friendly! and fries are on us!)
Local media have recently run stories featuring the 1995 Mariners, whose miracle late-season run carried them well into the American League playoffs. This season’s Mariners are in a comparable position in the standings heading into September, but there will be no miracles this year. The team, regrettably, lacks both the talent and leadership to get there.
The 2015 Mariners entered the season with high hopes. But their hitting, then relief pitching let them down badly. They are likely to finish this year with a win-loss record in the Bottom Eight of major-league baseball. Time now to look to 2016.
The Mariners strengths and weaknesses going into 2016:
Starting pitching: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma (a free agent likely to re-sign in the off-season), Taijuan Walker, Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, Roenis Elias and James Paxton, just coming back from the injured list, form a good nucleus. Pitchers often get sidelined during a season but, from these seven, a five-man rotation should be available throughout 2016.
Relief pitching: A black hole. There is no reliable 9th-inning closer now on the roster and none coming up from the high-minor farm system. If Charlie Furbush recovers from his present sore arm, he will be a reliable left-handed middle-inning reliever. But the bullpen, so strong a year ago, needs a complete rebuild either through trades or free-agent signings.
Infield: Second baseman Robinson Cano and third baseman Kyle Seager are fixtures. Ketel Marte is having a fine rookie season and looks to be a shortstop for the future. Behind him are Brad Miller, really a utility man, and fine-fielding Chris Taylor, soon to be called up from Tacoma. First base will be an open position, up for grabs among inconsistent slugger Mark Trumbo, still promising Jesus Montero, and incumbent Logan Morrison, a favorite of manager John McClendon’s, who has played his way to the bench and is likely to be gone by next spring training. A solid everyday first baseman might have to be acquired via trade if Trumbo and Montero do not show enough bat this September.
Outfield: The present outfield features a left-field platoon of Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez, both journeyman hitters and fielders, center fielder Austin Jackson, another journeyman unlikely to be resigned for 2016, and right fielder Nelson Cruz. Marte could shift from shortstop to center field to replace Jackson but it is more likely a trade or free-agent signing will bring in fresh talent. Cruz, by next year, probably will be better suited for designated hitter, forcing Trumbo or Montero to the bench. The outfield presently lacks speed and range. It could use one or even two aggressive, doubles-hitting, good-fielding newcomers in 2016.
Catching: Mike Zunino is a good defensive catcher but has struggled to stay above .185 at the plate. If he continues to struggle in September as a hitter, the team will need to find a starting-level catcher to compete with him next spring. The loser in the competition would become the backup.
Management: McClendon appears to be liked by his players. He has a fine coaching staff, headed by hitting coach Edgar Martinez, who has made a real difference during his few weeks on the job. You wonder if pitching coach Rick Waits is in trouble with McClendon. The manager, rather than Waits, goes to the mound to confer with pitchers during shaky situations. That normally would be Waits’ job.
The manager gets judged by his players’ performance on the field. By that measure, 2015 has not gone well for him. The team has made consistent baserunning gaffes, killing rallies. The Mariners, overall, have not delivered at the plate with runners in scoring position. They have not bunted well or executed hit-and-run plays. Too high a percentage of base runners have been caught stealing. The team also at times has lacked baseball intelligence, both afield and at the plate, not making the right plays in the right situations. Too much carelessness. Periodic lapses in intensity. And McClendon has shown a tendency to stick too long with non-performing players, including notably Morrison and the recently (and finally) departed closer Fernando Rodney.
He also has stuck determinedly with the notion that there must be a 9th inning closer, even when there was none on the roster. Thus pitchers throwing well in the seventh and eighth innings have been lifted in favor of ninth-inning relievers who, time and again, have blown up and cost games.
It certainly is true that players have under-performed. But it is part of the manager’s job to see that they perform up to their abilities. The Refuse to Lose ethic of the 1995 Mariners is not evident in this team. Too often it has been Accept Losing.
General manager Jack Zduriencik is almost certain to depart at season’s end. He came on board with a promise to rebuild the farm system and keep major-league-ready players flowing onto the roster. There is not a single 2015 farm player, with the exception of Marte, who appears ready to step into a 2016 starting position — or even a backup position, with the possible exception of shortstop Taylor.
The team lacks surplus talent to use in trades to fill multiple positions. Already locked into rich, long-term contracts with Cano, Cruz and Hernandez, management is not likely to bid for more than one major free agent in the off-season.
Mariners ownership and upper management have not had a truly solid general manager since Pat Gillick who, like manager Lou Piniella, resigned in disgust. Can the leadership be trusted to hire someone who is an improvement on Zduriencik? Will that replacement, whomever he is, give McClendon another chance? Will the new general manager insist that Martinez be kept as batting coach, regardless of his choice as manager?
Lots of unanswered questions about 2016 after the disappointments of 2015. Barring wholesale brain and heart transplants among present management and players, next season is likely to resemble this season. Let us pray.
Our biweekly City Superheroes column highlights the powerful figures walking among us — with the help of a (usually local) illustrator. This week’s pairing: painter Robert Hardgrave and visual artist Poster Bot.
Given Name: Robert Hardgrave
Other Aliases: Farmer Bob
Superpowers: Can manipulate paint from his paint can into any shape, form or substance on the planet.
First Appearance: Hardgrave started showing his work at Seattle’s Bemis Building in 2004. There, he shared paintings, drawings and his “transplant dolls” —he’d recently had a kidney transplant and saved some of the pants he wore in the hospital during that ordeal. He took toys from thrift stores and cut the pants apart and sewed them onto the toy forms to make the transplant dolls.
Local Haunts: The Varsity Inn on N. 34th and Wallingford.
Archenemies: “I think there should be a place for homeless people to get cleaned up.”
Even Heroes Have Heroes: Jeffry Mitchell, Fernand Léger, Sally Smart
What Small Object Holds Great Meaning: “My sketchbook. I take it with me everywhere I go so I can draw if I need to. It keeps me occupied. I got my first one years and years and years ago. I usually buy the ones that have the grid paper – composition books.”
Origin Story: Born in Oxnard, Calif., where he lived until he was 10 years old, Hardgrave and his family later moved to Arizona, where he spent most of his teenage years. In 1992, he “sold everything” and rode a motorcycle to Seattle, where he worked odd jobs, including busing tables, and drew “a lot.” Hardgrave’s art developed as he spent time on his own hanging out in his room and “working at it.”
Hardgrave says he always is having breakthroughs. One such breakthrough came when he combined paints to form a particular mixture that he quickly learned he could mold, shape, transform and manipulate into any color, size, shape or object on earth. The recipe for the paint’s magical composition is stored safely in his mind. He uses this paint concoction to fight against evil. These days, though, it is a particularly good time to be an artist in Seattle, Hardgrave says, adding that the city’s art scene “seems to be really thriving.”
His Philosophy: “Make the best work you can. But, at the same time, you never make the best work you can because you’re always thinking of something you can do better and then you make the next piece and the next piece. You make the best work you can at that time but you can always do better.”
What’s Next: Hardgrave will be showing some new work (including pieces made from cardboard) at the “Good Neighbor Gallery” on Capitol Hill, Aug. 22nd.
About the Illustrator: Poster Bot is a Seattle-based writer and illustrator. He may be quoted as saying, “The best thing anyone can give to the world is their own view of it.” His point of view, he says, “is often intense, at times insane … possibly even wrong, but nonetheless valid.”City Superhero Robert Hardgrave
* Events that are $15 or less
SAM Remix at the Olympic Sculpture Park
For the second Friday in a row, SAM makes a compelling case as the place to be for an evening of art and music. This time, it’s the always-fabulous SAM Remix thrown under the stars at the Olympic Sculpture Park. On tap: DJs, dance performances, interactive art making, cat videos (Yes, cat videos) and a chance to take in Dan Webb’s latest site-specific installation, Break It Down. Webb, the Seattle artist known for his wildly realistic wood sculptures, has spent the summer whittling down a Douglas fir that needed to come down (for thinning purposes). He’s been carving and carving and will continue to carve until there’s nothing left but sawdust. (The tree’s seeds, by the way, will be replanted into its own dusty mulch.) So this is literally one of the last times to see Webb’s work before it’s all gone.
If you go: SAM Remix at the Olympic Sculpture Park, 8 p.m. – midnight Aug. 21 ($25)—F.D.
National Radio Day’s Seattle Radio DJ Experience *
August 20 is National Radio Day (Who knew?). And the event, which has beenRadio stations across the country will be celebrating themselves (and their listeners) on National Radio Day.
celebrated since the early 1990s, is featuring the “Seattle Radio DJ Experience,” a live broadcast from a pop-up radio station on the plaza at Seattle’s Central Public Library downtown. Local youth radio hosts will do their thing, in support of the power of the medium. (That medium will soon expand to 7 new low-power neighborhood radio stations that will reach 90% of the city’s neighborhoods). Look for an 8-foot art installation: the “Seattle Neighborhood Radio Tower.” And if your schedule just doesn’t allow you to get away, at the very least, tune into your favorite radio station and give them a virtual high five.
If you go: National Radio Day’s Seattle Radio DJ Experience, 4th Avenue plaza at Central Public Library in downtown Seattle, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 20 (Free)—F.D.
Ian Bell’s Brown Derby Series: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Brendan Kiley of The Stranger says that if Dina Martina is the queen of Seattle’s ramshackle bar theater scene, then “Ian Bell’s Brown Derby Series is the crown prince.” The mere evocation of drag comedian superstar Dina Martina’s name is enough to hook me for this night of comedic theater as actors read aloud the screenplay to Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. The screenplay, which relies heavily on the sex appeal of Harrison Ford, will be performed onstage using “only duct tape, cardboard, and silly string” in homage to the film’s liberal use of special effects.
If you go: Ian Bell’s Brown Derby Series: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Re-bar, Aug. 20-22 ($20)—N.C.
14/48 & Nordo: Food Theatre Thunderdome
For years Café Nordo popped up around town, in the warehouse of Theo Chocolate and Washington Hall (among many other places), bringing delighted audiences nights of incredible cuisine and performance, a magical blend of storytelling and theater. Now Nordo has its own brick and mortar “dedicated to the convergence of food and art,” down in Pioneer Square. Each event they’ve done since opening in June has been inspiring but this one looks particularly tantalizing. The culinary geniuses behind Nordo (and other Seattle establishments) team up with 14/48, the long-running theatre event that challenges playwrights to select a theme and then, over just a few days, compose, rehearse and perform a play. In true Nordo fashion, they’ve upped the ante; not only will four separate playwrights be writing and premiering short plays but they will be showcased alongside dinner courses that each feature a randomly selected ingredient. Head to the earlier show for a four-course dinner, or a later iteration with teaser cocktails. Whatever you do, prepare yourself to become addicted to the weird and wonderful world of Nordo. If my pocketbook could sustain it, I’d go every night.
An American DreamNina Yoshida Nelsen, mezzo-soprano; Adam Lau, bass; and Hae Ji Chang, soprano, singing in the summer 2014 workshop for Seattle Opera’s “An American Dream.”
Seattle Opera world premieres a homegrown production about a painful chapter of local history: the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. An American Dream draws from the personal histories of those who were interned. The opera follows the story of the Kobayashis who are forced to abandon their Puget Sound home, a house that an American vet and his German Jewish wife eventually move into. Jessica Murphy Moo wrote the libretto; Jack Perla composed the music.
The production also pulls from a community-wide “digital quilt” that asked the public to weigh in on the one object they would take if they had to flee home. An exhibit in the lobby that assembles more personal testimonies from that period in time precedes both performances. And, following each performance, a talk back with Seattle Opera as well as those who were interned, is scheduled.
If you go: An American Dream, McCaw Hall, 7 p.m. Aug. 21 and 2 p.m. Aug. 23 (Tickets start at $50)—F.D.
KEXP Concerts at the Mural: Sassyblack, Pillar Point, The Coup *
Typically, the shows in KEXP’s annual Concerts at the Mural series have a theme. Last week, they partnered with Decibel Festival to provide an all-electronic lineup. The week before that, the music leaned towards rock and roll. This week’s lineup is a little more eclectic, but still totally excellent. Sassyblack, a.k.a. Cat, who is one half of local neo-soul duo THEESatisfaction, opens the evening. She’ll be playing new solo material that occupies a similar genre. It will likely be a mix of instrumental material and tracks featuring her live vocals. After that the dancy, post-New Wave rock band Pillar Point—also local—will play. The live drums and heavy guitar earn this group the “rock” label, but the keyboard work, harmonies and electronic percussion elements give Pillar Point a bigger, more composed feel that transcends the genre. The Coup, one of the funkiest and most fiercely political contemporary bands, will headline. This high-energy rap/R&B/rock musical collective is overtly Communist, and frontman Boots Riley espouses anti-authoritarian rhetoric with incredible swagger.
If you go: KEXP Concerts at the Mural: Sassyblack, Pillar Point, The Coup, Mural Amphitheatre at Seattle Center, Aug. 21(Free) All ages—J.S.H.
Arts in Nature Festival*
This yearly festival is the work of the Nature Consortium, which aims to connect people, arts and nature. Two days of music, dancing, and activities take over West Seattle’s Camp Long, Seattle’s only campground and so well-kept a secret that I hadn’t heard of it until now. The festival embraces this unique space (which hosts rock climbing environmental education year-round) with each stage directly inspired by its surroundings (Lodge, Meadow, Pond, Glacier). This year, the festival hosts the Museum of Sound, with a separate interactive arts installation in each of Camp Long’s eight rustic cabins.
If you go: Arts in Nature Festival, West Seattle’s Camp Long, Aug. 22-23 ($10/day or $16 weekend pass)
Raw Power *
Last year, local grunge pioneers Mudhoney rocked Seattle to its core when they played on top of the Space Needle. Local radio station KEXP set up this unprecedented and undeniably awesome event. There’s no topping a concert like that, but KEXP has come close this year: On Sunday, yet another rock band will play on the roof of yet another city icon.
The special supergroup is comprised of Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, Duff McKagan of Guns n’ Roses, and Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees. Mark Arm, Mudhoney’s lead singer, will also provide lead vocals for this contingent of titans scheduled for the roof of Pike Place Market. And it gets even better: The group is performing an entire set of Iggy Pop songs—for free. If you’re feeling philanthropic, go to the after party in the Corner Market Building. All proceeds benefit KEXP’s new home, currently under construction in Seattle Center.
If you go: Raw Power, Pike Place Market, Aug.23 (Free). All ages.—J.S.H.
For two decades now, Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock has given voice to the convoluted Nihilistic thoughts that lurk deep in the recesses of most people’s minds. For millennials who found his music at a younger age, he was frequently the voice of rebellion, sardonically questioning the existence of God and sincerity of man. To his older fans, Brock’s songwriting offered insights into the looming dread of mortality and the consequences of seeing life from a jaded perspective.
The Modest Mouse song “Bankrupt on Selling,” off the 1997 album “The Lonesome Crowded West,” played in the background of an episode of This American Life that analyzed the causes of 2008’s Great Recession. Brock’s lyrics—accompanied by rough-hewn modern Americana rock that goes heavy on the banjo and horns—remains astonishingly catchy while grappling with those intimidating philosophical quagmires. This is not music full of easy answers, but of harsh realities that linger on the tip of your tongue. As Brock would put it, “My brain is the cliff and my heart’s the bitter buffalo.” The lyric, also off “The Lonesome Crowded West,” is a reference to the Native American practice of herding buffalo off cliffs en masse to kill and eat them.
If you go: Modest Mouse, Paramount Theatre, Aug. 24 and 25 ($53.50). All ages. — J.S.H.
The average American eats 15 pounds of fish each year, but they don’t buy that much from the grocery. The vast majority of what they eat is in restaurants. And restaurants mainly serve four varieties: tuna, salmon, bass, and cod. Four fish whose popularity puts their very survival at risk.
The sustainability of these fish ranks among the latest causes of Paul Allen. Allen, the Seattle mogul who co-founded Microsoft, owns the Seahawks, and whose real estate company, Vulcan, has developed South Lake Union, has a keen interest in environmental stewardship. Last month, Vulcan’s philanthropic arm launched an initiative called Smart Catch to encourage restaurants to serve more sustainable seafood.
The Smart Catch program encourages a 90 percent compliance with the latest environmental standards, by training chefs on sustainable seafood sourcing and prep, and affixing decals to restaurant doors and menus, alerting consumers to restaurants and specific dishes that meet the Smart Catch goals.
This month, over 60 Seattle restaurants offered a week of Sustainable Seafood menus approved by Smart Catch. Allen’s group signed up some heavyweight chefs prior to launching. Along with several dozen other high-profile restaurants, both the Tom Douglas and Ethan Stowell restaurant groups have gone through the certification process.
“We see Smart Catch as a great opportunity to keep diners engaged, simplify their decisions around seafood, and recognize restaurants that are leading the way in supporting environmentally responsible fisheries,” Stowell says.
With the resources of Vulcan, Smart Catch put together a team of three consulting firms and half a dozen staffers. A budget that’s probably hit seven figures by now. The consulting firms (Fishchoice.com, FlipFish.com and FutureofFish.org, CplusC.com) are doing the “retail” side of the program: sending agents into restaurant kitchens to talk with owners and chefs about ways to best implement the Smart Catch program.
For some, like Duke’s and Anthony’s, it will be relatively painless, since owners Duke Moscrip and Budd Gould, respectively, have insisted on buying nothing but sustainable seafood for some time. For others, the payoff will be harder to calculate.
Also hard to calculate is how effective Smart Catch’s week-length pilot project was, the success of which will determine whether the program is rolled out nationwide. The Sustainable Seafood Week project was run through an agency in San Francisco called FlipLabs. We asked them for metrics: how many diners attended? How many seafood dinners were ordered? The group was strangely hesitant to get back to us or offer specifics, only answering that “thousands” of diners participated. With 63 restaurants and a week of orders, this doesn’t tell us much beyond the fact that at least five of these meals were ordered every night.
Despite this vagueness, Dune Ives, Vulcan’s senior director of philanthropy, pronounced herself “very encouraged by the reception we’ve received” from the Seattle chef community. Said Ives, “We will continue to work with chefs to evolve this program, while retaining its integrity, so that Smart Catch remains a trusted brand.”
By working directly with restaurants, Smart Catch attempts to change the dynamic of how Americans consume the world’s resources of shellfish and fin-fish. It’s not a question of large of small, wild or farmed, so much as pinpointing species that can maintain or increase production without jeopardizing the health of the marine ecosystem. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been in the forefront of this effort for some time, with a campaign to raise consumer awareness of endangered species through its SeafoodWatch recommendations (avoid farmed Atlantic salmon and bluefin tuna, for example, in favor of arctic char or Pacific albacore).
Yet it’s not always clear, from a restaurant menu, where that dish of “seared tuna” comes from. It’s not always a sure thing that the server or even the chef know, either.
Hence the Smart Catch program, and the nifty SmartCatch.fish website. (Betcha ya didn’t know there even was a dot-fish top-level domain. Paul Allen knew.) Slowly, slowly, one plate at a time, one fork at a time, Allen and Vulcan hope to change the way we treat the ocean.
Gary Wegner first noticed the problem in 1991, when a field on his family’s farm west of Spokane produced one-fourth the usual amount of wheat. His father and grandfather attributed the problem to farming on shallow soils, but Wegner decided to dig deeper. Lab tests revealed a surprising result: the soil had become acidic.
Wheat farmers are now seeing this problem across the inland Pacific Northwest. The culprit, as far as anyone can tell, is the abundant use of synthetic nitrogen to increase crop yields, a practice that has otherwise revolutionized production over the past half century. Over time, however, it has contributed to a soil health problem that has farmers worried about the future of farming in the Palouse.
“We’re riding the edge of a crisis,” says Paul Carter, an agronomist and the director of WSU Extension in Columbia County. “We can pretty well nail it down to the addition of nitrogen to our soils for crops. In 1940 or 1950, nitrogen was applied at five pounds per acre. Now, in some areas, we’re up to 100 or more pounds per acre.”
Pullman-based USDA soil scientist David Huggins agrees with Carter, describing soil acidification as a “quiet crisis.” Quiet, because it can be masked by other types of problems and because farmers haven’t tended to look for it. Quiet also because most people aren’t aware of the soil health challenges that farmers face today as a result of increasing pressure to produce more food.
But it is nonetheless a crisis. At stake is the sustainability of wheat farming in Washington. As the state’s third largest commodity crop, wheat represents $1 billion of the state’s $10 billion agriculture sector.
A race to the bottom
Soil pH, Huggins says, is a “master variable” that affects almost everything: soil microbes, plant diseases, the ability of plants to access nutrients in the soil, the effectiveness of herbicides and how long they take to break down in soil—all of which can have an effect crop yield.
“We farmers have used lots of ammonia fertilizer and that use has increased faster than the yields have,” Wegner says. “Some farmers say it’s a race to the bottom. The more you put on to raise yields, the more you have a pH [acid] problem.”
If it gets bad enough, soil acidification can render land unsuitable for growing crops altogether. Farmers near Rockford, Wash., south of Spokane, have a hard time growing an economically sustainable crop of wheat because the soil there has become too acidic.
Thirty years ago, Bob Mahler, a soil scientist at the University of Idaho, decided to map the extent of the problem in northern Idaho and eastern Washington over time. He found that since the Green Revolution—which transformed the agricultural industry, resulting in greater wheat yields but requiring more ammonia-based nitrogen fertilizers—soil acidification had dramatically accelerated. Between 1960 and 1985, 65 percent of the soils in that region’s farmland became acidic.
Evidence unearthed by Carter in Columbia County suggests the issue has continued to get worse.Paul Carter.
When Carter arrived in Columbia County in 2005, a handful of farmers were concerned about acidic soil locally. But he began to suspect the problem was more extensive after talking with farmers in other parts of the Palouse.
To explore the issue, he convinced the Washington Association of Conservation Districts to fund a soil sampling study. Carter collected data from 76 farm fields across different rainfall zones in Columbia County and discovered that acidic soils were far more widespread than he had thought. 97 percent of the fields were acidic, with a soil pH below 6. In 89 percent of the fields, the soil pH in the top six inches of soil where seeds take root was even worse, below 5.2.
Most plants are happiest when the soil pH is 6.5. Lentils and peas, common rotational crops for wheat growers, start to get into trouble below 5.6, and wheat below 5.2. Below a pH of 5.0, enough naturally occurring aluminum in the soil is released that it can become toxic to plants, stunting root growth and resulting in yellowing plants that don’t thrive.
Changes in soil pH are exponential. When pH drops by a point, from 7.0 to 6.0, that’s a ten-fold increase in acidity. Going from 7.0 to 5.0 is a 100-fold increase. Some of Carter’s soil samples were as low as 4.2, a nearly 1000-fold jump.
Acidification is relatively easy to reverse with the addition of lime to the soil, which raises the field’s pH. In fact, Carter says, that’s just “about the only thing you can do.”
For farmers like Wegner and Chuck Schmidt of Rosalia, Wash., who have acidic soils, adding lime has been the go-to solution. But the practice comes with a downside: it’s expensive, and that presents a challenge when commodity prices are relatively low.
Depending on the quality of the lime and the amount applied, the price tag for liming a field can be over $400 an acre, according to Carter. For a typical 1,000- to 2,000-acre wheat farm, that adds up quickly.
“We don’t have a lot of options besides lime,” Huggins says. “But we haven’t quite figured out where to put it, how much, and what form to use.”
Knowing these things is critical to ensuring the liming is effective and economical. Simply broadcasting lime across a field doesn’t necessarily get it to the specific area where the soil is acidic, and any wasted effort and resources is a hit to the farmer’s bottom line. Therefore, Carter and Huggins are exploring new methods and equipment to boost the precision of the process.
“In the future,” Mahler wrote in 1985, “an even greater percentage of agricultural soils will require amendment with lime to produce optimum yields of wheat, peas, lentils, and alfalfa.”
The future is now.
It’s possible, Carter says, that farmers didn’t heed Mahler’s warning 30 years ago because soil acidification is not easy to recognize. “Farmers and agronomist who aren’t familiar with the problem are sure it’s something else,” he says, “a chemical that didn’t work right, or tolerance to herbicides, or that certain diseases are worse now.”
Growers in the Palouse haven’t typically tested for soil pH, Huggins says. And even when they have, the results may not have shown a problem, given the way soil traditionally has been sampled.Dave Huggins.
In response to growing issues, farmers and scientists like Carter and Huggins are now rethinking soil sampling techniques. Accurate soil testing, sophisticated mapping, and the measurement of crop yields are the cornerstones of a new approach to farming called precision agriculture. It’s an approach that could help farmers be smarter about nitrogen use. In the long run, it could substantially lower costs, be easier on the soil ecology, and contribute to the overall sustainability of farming. Aided by technology like satellite mapping and remote sensing, precision agriculture allows farmers to apply inputs like fertilizer, pesticides, and lime only when and where they will have the most impact, instead of uniformly across a field.
Applying nitrogen for decades has created what ecologists call a brittle situation. Like a weakened immune system, it has decreased the capacity of the system to be resilient to stresses.
“We’ve gone through a golden age of resource use where we’ve relied on our soil’s natural capital and we’ve basically used a large portion of it up,” Huggins says. “Now, we have to pay much more attention to this resource [soil] in order to keep it functional. We really need to step up and address soil health, and get the word out that it’s important.”
Huggins believes an appreciation of soil health goes beyond farmers and soil scientists. “It goes along with people’s increasing interest and knowledge of where the food they eat comes from and how it is produced,” he says.
If the quiet crisis is to be averted, this interest is vital. lies in raising awareness about the soil we rely on for our food, and in scientists and farmers working together to rebuild resilience into our soil systems.