Seattle's Thriving Small (and Slightly Secret) Music Shows

We've got plenty of big concerts, but these smaller, unconventional venues offer enjoyment in spades
| Updated: November 27, 2018
 
 

When I was younger, all I wanted to do was go to a big amphitheater to hear music. In my high school and college years, I saw the Dave Matthews Band. I loved seeing big concerts so much I even experienced Creed live in Camden, N.J. Now, some 12 or 13 years later, all I want to do is sit with close friends and sip a craft beer at a more intimate music performance.

Lucky for me, Seattle has a flourishing community of small, curated and artful shows. Shows where you can actually see the performer's face and can sing along without feeling like you’re just part of a droning crowd.

One such player on the smaller-scale music show scene is Tobias Cortese, whose musical family includes brothers Dominic and Jared from local band The Jesus Rehab, and sister-in-law Julia Massey, who is a local pop performer. Inside Cortese’s Ravenna home is a basement studio called "The Cortex" where for two years he’s been hosting Caught in the Cortex: small, free shows for slightly more than 50 people.

“My original vision,” says the former KEXP volunteer, “was to throw the party that I’ve always wanted to attend. And it just so happens that I’m related to--and friends with--folks who find that supremely worthwhile.” So far, he's helped promote local bands such as Tangerine and The Hoot Hoots, as well as his own family members' acts. The next Caught in the Cortex show is slated for early February 2015 and will feature Stereo Embers (the latest project from super-singer Robb Benson), and the high-energy Hounds of the Wild Hunt.

The documentary Hype!, about the popularity of grunge in the early 90s, inspired Cortese to create his shows. In the flick, Seattle music producer Jack Endino (famous for working with Soundgarden and Nirvana) says, “When the weather’s crappy, you don’t want to go outside. You basically feel like staying in the house and it’s a very logical thing to want to go down into your basement and, you know, make noise.” 

Over in Wedgwood, David Darr brings a slightly more twang-inspired aesthetic for music lovers with his intimate, acoustic, folk-inspired performances for about 30-plus people. Darr carefully chooses artists to perform in his home, and serves up free snacks and some drinks (though b.y.o. is encouraged!) to guests. There is a $25 door fee to get in, but all of the money is donated to the musician performing that night.

“Musicians will write [me] and say, ‘I’ll be in Seattle to teach a workshop or give private lessons and am hoping to do a house concert,” he says. “Other times, I have contacted folks I wanted to hear and just asked if they were interested in doing a show.”

Darr has hosted around a dozen shows over the years. His first was in 1997. This year, he's put on six, and has three or four slated for 2015, one of which will take place on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, featuring Tim Connell, a Brazilian choro and gypsy jazz mandolin player from Portland in a double bill with Matt Sircely, a songwriter, singer and mandolin player from Port Townsend. 

I say we're so lucky that we live in a city where we can be both audience member and curator (like Tobias and Dave), and not just a part of the crowd.

Want to attend one of these small-scale, slightly secret shows? For Caught in the Cortex, inquire at caughtinthecortex@gmail.com; and for David Darr’s Wedgwood performances, email dsdarr@gmail.com.

Jacob Uitti is a co-founding editor of The Monarch Review and he plays in the band, The Great Um.

 

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