Gone Country: Seattle Venues
A weekly column about all things country.Posted by Chris Green
A guest post by SSG Music writer Chris Green
Like rock music, country music is strongly associated with live performances in venues ranging from the largest stadiums to the neighborhood bar. Whether it’s an intimate set of sad country songs with nothing but a performer and their acoustic guitar or a full band tearing it up on stage with the addition of bass, drums, fiddle, pedal steel and banjo, the live experience is something that cannot always be well-replicated by CD’s or MP3s.
The good news for any new or experienced country fan in our neck of the woods, is that Seattle (and the greater Pacific Northwest) often features good shows in a variety of settings. In fact, the majority of live music stages in town, including those loosely associated with specific genres, have country performers at least occasionally. The genre’s local appeal is broad enough for good attendance at shows by both local and national touring bands.
Here’s our rundown of some of the best places to catch live country music in the upper Pacific Northwest.
Bars & Smaller Venues
Greenlake’s The Little Red Hen is the closest thing to a “traditional country bar” that you’ll find in Seattle. The Hen has live music 5 days a week (with Karaoke taking over on Monday and Wednesday), always draws a good-sized, diverse crowd on weekends, and features a very cheap $3 to $5 cover. While the average band booked at this venue isn’t nearly as captivating as others, when that needle in the haystack is booked, there’s simply no better place to experience live country music in Seattle.
And if two-stepping to live music is your game, The Hen has no serious competition. The large wooden dance floor in front of the stage never seems to have a shortage of dance partners. And if your boots are a little dusty, they have free dance lessons before the show on Tuesday nights. On a final note, The Little Red Hen is the only significant Seattle club that more-or-less exclusively features country.
Only a few miles away, and with a completely different vibe, is Ballard’s The Tractor Tavern. The Tractor is a popular Ballard Avenue live music locale that hosts regular shows. While the Tractor showcases performances of various musical genres, country-related sets are definitely common. And for artists associated with various flavors of country including alternative, outlaw, Americana and neo-traditional, The Tractor is among the most popular of Seattle tour stops. The typical line up will feature several performers, which allows for a variety of music flavors in the same night. In addition to original performers, the Tractor also books the occasional cover band, like the Johnny Cash tribute band Cash’d Out. Due to it’s popularity, the Tractor often sells out for more popular performers. Advance tickets are available at a variety of locations, including local record store, Sonic Boom. Square dancing is also available every other Monday.
Just a short walk from the Tractor are two smaller live-music bars, the Conor Byrne and Sunset Tavern, both of which feature plenty of country performers. Over in Fremont, the High Dive’s full calendar always includes plenty of twangy acts.
Venturing down to South Seattle, Slim’s Last Chance Chili Shack’s evening schedules often include country, sometimes mixed with other genres (such as at their recent all-day “Hillbilly Headbanger’s Ball” which, as the name suggests, featured a half-country/half-heavy metal lineup). While it attracts a good crowd on the weekend, the weeknight schedule can sometimes offer the opportunity for an extremely intimate experience – I was once lucky enough to see Hellbound Glory play a 2 hour set for an enthusiastic midweek audience measured in the single digits!
Even venues strongly associated with other musical styles put on the occasional cowboy hat. For instance, the nominally punk club the Funhouse and all-ages punk/metal hangout El Corazon get in on the action sometimes. On September 1st, the Showbox Sodo will be the setting for Hank Williams III. After easily selling out the Showbox Market on multiple previous tours, Williams III is expected to have full turnout.
Here’s a clip of Seattle native son Bob Wayne spinning a tall tale at El Corazon:
Large Venues and Special Events
While a great deal of our live music coverage at SSG Music focuses on local and emerging artists appearing in small and mid-sized bars and theaters, the biggest-name stars in mainstream country music also visit the Seattle area, packing in the crowds at places such as Key Arena, the WAMU Theater, and Qwest Field. Even the area’s casinos will occasionally book a classic performer, with this year seeing both George Jones and Loretta Lynn playing to gambling crowds (and those of us with old souls, of course).
When the brief summer outdoor concert season rolls around, country fans are definitely not left out. This summer’s ZooTunes series at the Woodland Park Zoo recently hosted Steve Earle and is looking forward to Rosanne Cash on August 29th. On the East side, Redmond is home to the annual summer Concerts at Marymoor series, which has brought such artists as Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch. And the beautiful Gorge Amphitheater (home to the Sasquatch! festival) recently launched a new country event: the Watershed Country Music Festival, a new country tradition for the Northwest. The all-star lineup for Willy Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic was a personal, and very memorable, Gorge show for me a few years back. There are even some gems at small municipal parks such as when Texas legend Ray Wylie Hubbard opened up the free summer concert series at Kent’s Lake Meridian Park.
This overview is hardly a complete list of all the places where country music is played live in the Seattle Area. But, if you keep your eyes open (and follow our live music coverage of course), there’s no telling where you might see something you like. Even a late night visit to a Ballard convenience store could yield some surprising musical entertainment: