The Beginning

KEXP ushers in a new era.

Around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings finished a short set of throwback soul in the courtyard of KEXP’s new home. John Richards, morning show host and de facto station ambassador, took the stage near the swooping eaves of Key Arena, backdropped by the looming Space Needle, and put the day in perspective.

“As corporations take over, dumb down and destroy our freedom in the media,” he said, “KEXP continues to fight back—not only with our programming but with events like this!”

Less than halfway into the 44-year-old station’s grand opening party, already close to 3,000 people had flooded the new space at the northwest corner of Seattle Center. Organizers expected around 5,000 for the entire day; by 9 p.m., as the final notes of Car Seat Headrest’s live set closed the party, more than 12,000 revelers had come through the doors. They endured block-long lines to watch a dozen live performances, eat and drink in an outdoor beer garden, tour the studios and generally celebrate a Seattle-made cultural institution that wields global influence. 

When City Arts visited KEXP last November, the 28,000-square-foot facility was unfinished. Its cubicled administrative annex, live-performance room, record library and DJ booth were complete, ready to begin broadcasting on Dec. 9, but the 5,000-square-foot gathering space—which is the primary area for public interaction and centerpiece of the new home—was but a cavernous shell. On Saturday it was crammed with people from the south wall, which featured concert photography from the KEXP archives and a Chihuly-sponsored lounge area, to the north, where a low, permanent stage hosted bands throughout the day.

In the area between the courtyard and 1st Avenue entrances, Italian espresso-machine maker La Marzocco showed off its first-ever retail cafe. The company has based its American office in Ballard since 2009, and this slick, streamlined kiosk is built as a public-facing shrine to coffee purism. All day baristas pumped out Stumptown espresso drinks with assembly line-like efficiency from gleaming machines straight out of a caffeinated steampunk fantasy. Going forward they’ll work with a different coffee roaster every month to showcase styles from around the world.

Across the gathering space’s concrete floor, which is decorated with colorful, painted stencils, Easy Street Records operated a pop-up boutique. The vinyl-oriented marketplace was a temporary placeholder for a more permanent store still in the works. Also still to come is a beer and wine vendor for evening service in the gathering space to complement ongoing programming that’ll be open to the public.

Around 5 p.m., station director Tom Mara told the crowd that more than 8,000 people had donated $14,640,000 to build the station’s new home. He thanked the station’s four original founders—two of whom, Cliff Noonan and Brent Wilcox—were present (and, according to Mara, stunned at the new digs and the overwhelming turnout). His final words before alt-rock godfather Bob Mould took the stage: “Welcome to day one of KEXP’s new future!” 

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