Seattle Living Room Shows look back on lucky Seven

Cassidy Huff, Levi Ware, and Friends at Crown Hill Center | Seattle Living Room Shows 7 Year Celebration (Photo: Jason Tang)

Cassidy Huff, Levi Ware, and Friends at Crown Hill Center | Seattle Living Room Shows 7 Year Celebration (Photo: Jason Tang)

Believe it – Seattle Living Room Shows and Seattle Secret Shows have officially been treating the Emerald City to personal, wild and sometimes teary-eyed shows for seven years!  Determined to outdo themselves on this occasion, organizers Carrie and Kristen Watt put together a big celebration.  Packed into Crown Hill Center’s ex-gymnasium were no fewer than nine short performances (each by members from a different SLRS alumni band), a full-on show from Grace Love and the True Loves, a raffle, free beer and wine, hors d’oeuvres galore, and a special performance courtesy of the Melodic Caring Project – all washed down before, during and after by live sets from DJ Indica Jones.

Artists included Olivia de la Cruz and Isaac Castillo, Whitney Monge, Ayron Jones, St. Paul de Vence, Naomi Wachira, Ravenna Woods, Mycle Wastman, Vicci Martinez, Mikey and Mattey, The Local Strangers, Levi Ware (of Melodic Caring Project), and Grace Love and the True Loves . . .  Whew!

One of Seattle Living Room Show (SLRS)’s biggest venues to date, Crown Hill Center is an elementary school turned arts function building.  The high-ceilinged gymnasium housing all the action was cozied up by rows and rows of low-strung and twinkling Christmas lights, softly glowing lanterns, free booze and snacks in the back, and an improvised stage and DJ table up front.  The adjoining locker-filled halls outside, old basketball tape over heavily-lacquered hardwood, and an air of anticipatory excitement took one back in time to a high school dance.  Subtract the awkward slow dances from the equation and replace top 40 hits with Seattle’s wealth of kickass artists, though, and it’s a party to remember.

The eleven SLRS alumni performances started the night off.  Each artist performed one song for this “in-the-round” section of the event, taking the audience on a trip through the past and present of living room shows music.

First up was Olivia De La Cruz and Isaac Castillo.  Cruz’s sweet voice sang out a brand new song, “Sunny in Seattle,” while Castillo laid down the kind of fat, chilled out background only a standup bass can provide.  It was an indie tribute to life in our town, Cruz delivering lines like “Sunny in Seattle, it’s an ever losing battle/but as clouds say farewell I give them my kiss” in a wry and endearing tone.  Both artists were barefoot, and practically pranced offstage.

Alternative soul singer Whitney Monge played next – solo with her guitar.  A seasoned street performer (starting out busking in Pike Place in ’07), she’s not afraid to let it all out, and did just that with a brooding number set off by a richly belted refrain about old mistakes coming back to haunt her.  It was obvious from the song’s stark mood and pained emotion that Monge’s has not been an easy journey, but that it’s been a beautiful one.

The audience was next regaled by a performance from Ayron Jones, who opened for B.B. King last year – and just played at Sasquatch – with his blues/punk/rock group Ayron Jones and the Way.  In true blues-star style he shredded his acoustic, channeling Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn.  That was, of course, between verses ensuring us that “I’m in no rush” and a refrain entreating listeners to “Take Your Time.”

Ben Doerr, Lydia Ramsey and a saxophonist from their band St. Paul de Vence, came through to play “Spring,” a sweet romance flavored with Doerr and Ramsey’s harmonies, Doerr’s guitar, Ramsey’s banjo and expansive saxophone solos between each verse.  Like all of Doerr’s music, it was sewn through with the delicate thread of a true heart’s story.  “Spring” is a piece of new music, from St. Paul de Vence’s late 2014 album, Farther Than Light which SMI reviewed upon its release.

The striking solo artist Naomi Wachira took the stage next.  Swaying back and forth in a traditional African dress, she played a nylon-string guitar (uncommon in an amped performance) with a gentle thumpy sound to it, strumming a reggae-sounding South-African influenced tune, inspiring the audience to escape our obstacles by overcoming them, not running away.  Wachira’s music and personality have an open, giving atmosphere – the dark subject matter was brightened by her broad smile and the warm twang of those nylon strings.

“This is a brand new song, it really just got finished being written last night,” said Chris Cunningham of Seattle folk-punk-rock . . . alternative band, Ravenna Woods.  Cunningham’s characteristic delicate and glassy finger-picking started out with an intro reminiscent of The National’s darkly thoughtful lyrics and weighty subject matter (the song’s title is “Dirty Wars”).  That section builds up into a brit-poppy chorus (trade finger-picking for pounded chords) referencing fascist states, power plays and murder, and then settles back into the ‘A’ section for conclusion.  As usual, Cunningham was fun to watch and listen to during his performance, and fun to think about afterwards.

A smoothly groovy Mycle Wastman made us all laugh with a song about going to the gym . . . and eating fast food, downing desserts and quaffing beer all the way there.  He’s another solo artist – though he often plays with a band – and had a good run on the hit show The Voice in 2012, which evinced his more characteristic blend of pop, soul and blues.

Vicci Martinez lowered the mic (but not the bar) for her performance just after Wastman’s.  “I don’t feel offended. I am short . . . but damn!” she laughed as she fiddled with the stand.  She’s a Seattle pop/rock favorite with a long list of complete albums to her name, evident by her trained voice and immaculate guitar work.  She busted out a sing-along-with-the-car-radio-worthy jam complete with epic sustained high notes before taking off for her next gig.

Brothers Mikey and Matty Gervais wandered onstage next with their usual relaxed attitude.  They’re all about harmony, two warmly clear voices reveling in the thoughtful, post-grad road trip their twin indie-folk guitar strumming conjures up.  Seconds in, the audience was already swaying.

The final “in-the-round” performance was thanks to SLRS veteran performers, The Local Strangers.  Their core duo of Matt Hart and Aubrey Zoli were in full effect, rocking the crowd with a powerful blast of western folk.  They actually played two songs because according to Hart, “We’re ahead of schedule for the first time in show business history!”  Zoli’s voice is a force to be reckoned with – luckily it always treats the audience to a hell of a soulful show – and Hart doubled down on vocals and guitar.

At this point, Levi Ware strode out of the crowd and onto the stage cradling a ukulele and warm words for all his experiences with Carrie and Kristen Watt.  Ware is the co-founder of the Melodic Caring Project.  It’s an endeavor he started with his wife Stephanie that live-streams all kinds of concerts to hospitalized children.  After introducing the project, Ware called not only most of the previous performers up on stage, but also Cassidy Reynolds – a young girl who’s had concerts streamed to her – to sing with him.  Together they all sang “Hey Hey,” a touching song about walking life’s hard roads for and with the love of those around us.

After the whirlwind musical variety show, DJ Indica Jones took his place at the turntables again (he also spun as guests entered) and pumped out a stream of variant jams (think Micheal Jackson, The Talking Heads,  mixed hip-hop etc.) over the crowd.  After a few minutes milling about and loosening up at the bar, the record abruptly switched over to a dirty hip-hop mash-up.  Before anyone could react, a gang of crazy teenagers tore through the audience and broke into synchronized dance in the center of the stadium.  Surprise!  It was a performance by Northwest Tap Connection.  They popped, locked, and essentially tore it up with their tribute to Rhythm Tap before disappearing as suddenly as they had materialized.

Still buzzing from that bombshell, the audience was all revved up for Grace Love and the True Loves.  By this time, the gym was lit only by the layer of lights and lanterns hovering above the crowd and everyone was grooving around.  Jazz, blues, Motown and the drug of Grace Love’s stunningly soulful voice were just what the doctor ordered – if he wanted to fill a room with get-down vibes and dancing of mixed caliber, but great enthusiasm.  Crisp horns, old school Johnny-be-Good era guitar riffs, a sultry cover of Blackstreet and Dr. Dre’s “No Diggity,” and an electric solo played by guitarist Jimmy Jones’ teeth . . . it was all good, and all eight members of the True Loves left everything they had onstage.

Or so we thought.  After a short surprise set by Seattle hip-hop artist RA Scion (who rocked the mic with political criticism and suggestions of mass revolt) the True Loves came back for two more songs: “Love You Down” and “Say What You Gotta Say.” They brought the house down once and for all.

At the end of the show, as happens at most Living Room and Secret Shows, people mingled on and only slowly headed home, seeming to search for someone to thank, and seeming to find it in everyone they spoke to.  Truly, we’ve got Carrie and Kristen to thank for these rare and valuable experiences.  Here’s to seven years of music, straight from the bands to the fans – and where these shows are concerned, right back again.

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Brandon Taylor started writing at some point in the hazy memory of his youth. He remained lost in books and journals until that happy life was interrupted during middle school by a trumpet and a guitar – both of which he continues to play (mostly in secret, composing and recording what he’ll swear are thoroughly broken songs). His love of music born from creating it, Brandon can’t stop listening to and talking with local artists. Moving from Tacoma to Seattle in 2013 only made things worse, and then he started writing for Seattle Magazine and Seattle Living Room Shows. Given the perfect excuse to continue this behavior and “work” as a “journalist” while he’s so disposed, he’s never been happier.