by Andre Gjefle
Last semester I wrote an article regarding the decline in Whitworth’s music scene. This article was before the famous all-ages Empyrean was closed because the owners just weren’t making money. From playing in many local venues over the last couple years, I know, just as well as the venue owners, underage shows don’t bring in the dough. Even if they bring in more people, the bar is the money maker. However, in true indie fashion, it isn’t about the money. And yet, it is about the money. If the venue can’t make money to support itself, it can’t pay the band, and further, can’t even book the band. Something has to give, and for Spokane, it was its most popular all-ages venue.
Music is something that everyone in general, and the youth especially, value. We listen to it when we’re sad, when we’re happy, when we need a pick-me-up, when we’re sleeping, when we’re doing homework, when we’re driving, when we want to dance, or when we are simply doing nothing at all. For a lot of us, music is a constant part of our lives. I think that because of universality of music, it is important that the youth have an opportunity to engage and be a part of the music scene, which is definitely difficult when your town’s music scene is relatively non-existent. Art in all forms is a way for kids to escape, and as we all know, sometimes you just need to get away. Music in this regard has been a relatively untapped source. Many are turned off of going to music for comfort because they are not musicians. However, if kids were exposed and introduced to music, they would find that the catharsis musicians experience while playing, can be the same as someone who is just listening.
An inspiring book was brought to my attention by a writer from another publication who read my previous article. The book is called “In Every Town, An All Ages Manualfesto.” In this book, author Shannon Stewart, co-founder of The VERA Project in Seattle writes, “It is easy, and even clichéd, to make the argument that music is a universal language that permeates everyone’s experience. It’s also true”(xi). Growing up in a neighborhood where her three options for past times were either sports, God-related activities, or drinking, drugs, and gangs, she openly admits that if you didn’t belong to the first two, the latter was your only option.
Stewart understands the importance of music, especially for the youth. Bursting with energy, our youth need an outlet, and they don’t all need the same one. Her book is a guide to everyone, no matter what your age, on how to create a creative and successful environment for more than just music. She breaks down what it takes to harvest, promote, and create a music scene. Projects such as The VERA Project are dedicated to understanding and working with the youth, without trying to cash in.
We put a lot of blame (me too!) on our cities, our counties, our states, for not providing the youth with other outlets, for not supporting music venues, and for blaming venues for violence, drugs, alcohol etc. However, Stewart takes a different stand with her book and instead puts the ball in the youth’s court. By creating this guide to get involved with music, she is empowering youth (and adults!) all over the nation to make a change. All of a sudden, the ball is in the youth’s court, and they can do what they please with it.
I say go Stewart! If anything is going to change the music scene in any town, the answer is to be proactive. If you can create a space that is a safe environment, is affordable for young kids, and college students, and also treats the bands right, you can be successful. I know it’s easier said than done, but it isn’t impossible either. Creating a venue is one step, while harvesting a music scene in your town is another.
In order for a music scene to flourish, the environment, as aforementioned, must be conducive and inspiring to other artists. You’d be surprised how much talent goes unnoticed at Whitworth, and how many people lock themselves in the practice rooms in our music building so that no one will hear them. Once a place is established, then other people can start getting inspired to share their talents as well. Even with the Empyrean closing, there are still many ways to get involved and support the music scene. A good first step is to branch out your musical tastes, and support local bands, go to a show of someone who you have never heard of. A music scene depends on musicians as much, if not more, as it depends on the people.
You can get a copy of “In Every Town” at http://www.theconnextion.com/aamp/aamp_index.cfm or at the local independent bookstore!