Published on July 20th, 2011 | by Daniel Rahe1
The Warehouse: Giving Music A Home
In recent years, it has been difficult to discuss Tacoma music without discussing The Warehouse production company or the concerts it assembles.
While tied to a long history of “underground” shows – quite literally born in a warehouse – this Tacoma-based company is quietly making its mark by turning the notion of “underground” on its head and engaging the community and artists in a bold synthesis of freedom and hospitality. Bands from around the country are beginning to take notice.
The Warehouse has presented national acts like The Head and The Heart in Tacoma, and has repeatedly drawn groups from all around the United States. As the word spreads from band to band, agency to agency, The Warehouse has become an unlikely ambassador for Tacoma’s increasingly viable concert atmosphere and distinctively softer side.
The ubiquity of “indie rock” in pop culture is evidenced by its use in car commercials, by the clothing styles co-opted and tweaked in almost every fashion fad, by the mammoth nostalgia tours of bands like The Pixies and Pavement, by Arcade Fire at the top of the charts. And there’s something about the current Warehouse aesthetic that falls neatly into that ambiguous “indie” category, with the pitch-perfect artwork on their gently weird concert posters and the varied sounds of the bands they work with. Seen that way, it makes sense that people are taking notice of The Warehouse. But that perspective fails to account for the significance of The Warehouse to Tacoma: No one else in this town does what they do. In fact, it may be that no one else in the music business does what they do.
As an organization, The Warehouse is Adam Ydstie, Doug Stoeckicht, and Katie Lowery. Stoeckicht and Ydstie are friends who once shared a 3000 square foot area in an old warehouse and hosted memorable concerts in it, with their friend Lowery joining in the volunteer effort. Then, shortly after being highlighted in City Arts magazine, The Warehouse venue was shut down by their nervous landlord.
Now, their shows are known as “pop-up events”, held in homes, business, galleries, buildings, and garages. In fact, this persistent group of community-driven music lovers has put on three times as many shows outside of “the warehouse” as they did within its four walls. Without a place to officially call home, these shows instead inhabit several ideas thoughtfully and deliberately crafted by Lowery, Ydstie and Stoeckicht.
I met the three of them at Doyle’s on St. Helens. Over beer, we discussed what makes their work so unique. “For the artists, we want to make it feel like home. We do a home-cooked meal for them, serve them dinner and let them relax… We like to say, ‘Let us serve you,'” Lowery says.
Ydstie is eager to elaborate. “We do really try to practice a radical hospitality to the bands and the people who come to our shows,” he adds. “We try to look for housing for the bands.”
“Part of our email to the bands is ‘Are you allergic to anything? We don’t want to cook you something you’re allergic to,'” Lowery said. “One of the craziest ones was Lemolo, because they had one member allergic to dairy, another to gluten, and a vegetarian. They were shocked that we made a meal that they could eat! It’s so important that bands feel welcome when they come here. We feel, ‘You’re doing something for us. We want to do something for you.'”
When you talk to The Warehouse people, it is easy to see why they have done so well and why bands love them so much: they are absolutely, perfectly nice. They are considerate, openly enthusiastic, genuine, well-spoken, and unhurried. While they are endlessly knowledgeable about local music, there is no detectable element of the protectiveness that often motivates enthusiasts – no fear of reaching out to a wider, less “hip” audience. These people truly believe that musical performance is a dialog between the community and the artists, and that both are enriched by deeper interaction.
In the past year, most of the concerts The Warehouse has organized fall into the broad categories of indie rock, singer/songwriter or folk. But Lowery says that there are layers to these shows that are easy to overlook. They are always carefully assembled events that reflect the values of service, community and hospitality that The Warehouse holds itself to.
“We want to bring a good music experience to Tacoma.” says Lowery, “Tacoma always seems to get overlooked when it comes to tours and things from bands. Our hope and goal is to be able to bring good music to the community, and share this idea of artists and fans interacting with each other. We’re doing this because of our joy of music, and we want to bring that to a city we know enjoys music – we want to bring them good music.”
“Even if a band has a show in Seattle the next night,” adds Ydstie, “We’ll have a different experience to offer in the way we produce our shows and craft that concert experience. We don’t go into our shows thinking, ‘What’s the most sensible bill we can put together?’ Instead we ask ourselves, What’s the bill that’s going to create a feeling of artistic collaboration or artistic freedom? We don’t want some rigid timing schedule. We give the bands the time and freedom to do what they want to do, and we encourage them to collaborate with the other bands if that’s something they’re interested in.”
Further evidence of this commitment to cooperation and inclusiveness is seen in how The Warehouse has embraced the “all-ages” concert approach. These three young people still have vivid memories of attending life-changing concerts before they were 21. Instead of clinging to music as a form of differentiation or rebellion, they grew to love music alongside their families. So the sight of children and parents side by side at Warehouse concerts is far from uncommon. There was a three-month period during which venue restrictions kept them from being able to host all-ages engagements, but, as Stoeckicht says, “Something was missing. So, for us, figuring out how to do all-ages shows is a huge deal.”
Though The Warehouse is doing something unique in Tacoma, the company’s goal is not to unseat or replace the City’s standing artistic culture or traditions. “We’ve always operated with the idea that we don’t want to do what everybody else is doing,” says Stoeckicht. “But we want to enhance what’s already happening. There are some fantastic artists in Tacoma that don’t get the right visibility or get treated the best. A lot of what we’re doing is focused on changing that – even for artists coming here from out of town. We want them to have the expectation that they’ll be treated well and with hospitality.” In that way, the group hopes to benefit Tacoma’s audiences, artistic community, and visiting artists.
Adam, Doug and Katie will all readily admit that their operation is somewhat nebulous. But it seems they are on to something, even if they’ve had trouble articulating it. Artist’s Home, a Seattle-based booking agent group, has certainly taken notice. They engage artists for notable Seattle venues High Dive and The Columbia City Theater, in addition to organizing the popular Doe Bay and SlackFest events. The Columbia City Theater has asked The Warehouse to produce a new series of concerts there called “The Warehouse Presents at Columbia City Theater” on the last Sunday of every month, beginning in September. So taken are they with The Warehouse approach, they refuse to book shows in Tacoma through anyone else. Notable bands such as Loch Lomond, Paper Bird and The Head and the Heart are openly determined to maintain relationships with Tacoma’s uniquely helpful production company. “Some of these are bands who can play shows with audiences of 50,000,” says Stoeckicht. “So, to say they’re wanting to work with us again – saying “The Warehouse is a great place” – that’s huge.” Indeed, The Head and the Heart play festivals like Bonnaroo and Sasquatch, and tour nationally with heavy hitters like My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews and Iron & Wine.
Tacoma’s artistic luminaries are catching on, too. The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts will be staging a gala weekend event in October, filling Tacoma’s theaters with music and arts. The Warehouse group has been given charge of the historic Rialto Theater for that weekend – an opportunity with thrilling potential. The Warehouse also will likely participate in musical festivities for Tacoma’s gigantic New Year’s Party known as First Night.
Though well-known in Tacoma, misconceptions about The Warehouse persist. “We are not a church-affiliated group. We’re not putting on Christian coffee-shop kitschy music shows,” Ydstie says, with a vague hint of exasperation. A cursory examination of the group’s production history bears out his point, but for one reason or another – maybe because they held a show at Urban Grace Church on Market Street – the myth remains in circulation. And about that twee indie sensibility their productions often evoke? “Well, we’re not married to it,” Ydstie insists. In fact, The Warehouse put on a hip-hop show in April, 2011, featuring Rockwell Powers, City Hall, State of the Artist, and Scribes.
“That was huge for us,” says Lowery. “Everyone had a great time. We are specifically looking to do more of that in the coming year.” They are searching out ways to expand and diversify, and they maintain close relationships with audiences in an effort to let them determine what future Warehouse shows will be like.
Their eviction from the physical warehouse could have been the end. The loss of the distinctive accoutrement of industrial walls could have been seen as a fatal blow to The Warehouse’s credibility in this town. But perhaps the absence of walls is just what Tacoma’s music culture needed – a metaphorical manifestation of the strategy The Warehouse has almost unwittingly pursued. By reaching out to the community at-large rather than only to a clued-in sub-culture, The Warehouse has transcended decades of limiting “DIY Movement” sensibilities. But, as Ydstie says, they still want a physical home. “Our end goal is not to keep doing these nebulous pop-up shows in various places, but to open a venue that becomes a hub for music, community development and Tacoma’s creative collective.”
To find out more about The Warehouse, and to see a list of upcoming shows, visit their very active Facebook page.