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City Arts Fest Day 1: The Long Winters

 

Photo by Nate Watters

“My between-song banter is like Bill Cosby B-sides.”

The Long Winters' front-man John Roderick is known to amuse with his musings, and even when he's playing this fact down he's funny. Walking onstage and greeting the audience in a pink shirt, black tie, khakis, glasses, beard, and side-parting, he said he wants tonight's show to invoke “a familial feeling, like we're all in this together.”

“But I am an artist, and that could change at any time.”

Standing solo with an acoustic guitar, he opened with “Seven.” He's not a great singer or a great guitar player, but John Roderick possesses wit, likability, and a magnetism that makes you want to listen to what he has to say.

Roderick then introduced his Long Winters band and surprise guests for this evening, and the School of Rock kids ran on stage to astonished cheers to play the upbeat saunter of “Fire Island, AK.” They were good, much better than expected. Upon finishing, two nine-year-old backing singers double high-fived and jumped up and down. The 12-year-old bass player shyly scratched his nose. Suddenly more kids rushed on stage to play and sub out their classmates who in turn hurried backstage.

“Like most bands in Seattle, I have as many members as possible, so that no-one earns a thing.” Roderick said.

A long-haired 14-year-old lead guitarist in a logger shirt replaced a long-haired 14-year-old lead guitarist in a logger shirt. The new bass player looked no older than 13 and was dressed head-to-toe in bartender black, toting a fully pin-badged strap on his shoulder from which hung a bass guitar almost as big as him. “Blue Diamonds” followed, during which the expressions of the School of Rock students ranged from eyeing their fingers move up and down their fretboards to studied and perfected rock star posturing; eyes closed during the solos a la Santana, looks of Hendrix-esque breathless euphoria as they bent the high notes, and faithfully mirroring Keith Richards' iconic moves while looking a billion years younger.

After a successful rendition of “New Girl” the children scrambled offstage. “The kids have gotta take a break after five songs or I have to pay them double union scale.” Roderick explained. He was then joined by ex-Long Winters vocalist, Harvey Danger front-man, and Barsuk label co-owner Sean Nelson, who wore a neatly tucked-in blue shirt and cool uncool specs. A puff of blond locks erupted from his head in a style halfway between Art Garfunkel and Kid 'N' Play. The pair stood alone, accompanied only by Roderick's acoustic guitar as they sang strangely beautiful harmonies to “Clouds” while resembling a couple of community college chemistry teachers. Looking detached and vaguely resentful, Nelson shared Roderick's humor in the sardonic tones of one who has weathered the horrors of the music business, which stood in marked contrast to the eager and fresh-faced youth for whom entering the music business cannot come soon enough.

As “Shapes” drew to a close, Roderick noted that he was giving the new Long Winters band a chance to finish their algebra homework. “In the spirit of celebration and these good times” he continued, “here's a song about a person in a coma.” The duo played “It'll Be a Breeze.” The School of Rock band came back onstage to play “Scared Straight” and then transitioned into a blues rock jam with the entire class now in attendance. Solo duties were passed around the group. Two teens dueled guitars, bass and drums went at it alone, horns were singled out, and even the youngest kid had a chance to show off his tambourine skills in the spotlight. Not to be outdone when it was his turn, Roderick jammed a finger-tapping guitar solo. The whole cast stayed for the finale, which was one of the Long Winters' best-loved songs: “The Commander Thinks Aloud.” Young and old onstage and offstage sang their lungs and rocked their hearts out, with a familial feeling, like we're all in this together.

In support was Seattle five-piece Campfire OK. Lead singer Mychal Goodweather pounded keys and strummed guitar while wearing smart-person glasses and dressed in Clark Kent-casual. Tattoo sleeves peeked out of his blue fitted shirt sleeves. His saloon piano accompanied bolshy drums, instant-Americana banjos, life-affirming horns, clicking fingers, and clapping. Lots of clapping. Campfire OK's sound worked just fine at Showbox at the Market, but it's better suited for stomping in the spit and sawdust of Conor Byrne after imbibing exactly three pints of Guinness.

Like the ever-ascending Head and the Heart, like the Cave Singers, like the earnestness of Death Cab on a large fistful of anti-depressants, like it or not, this joyful singalong folk has fast become the sound of Nouveau Seattle. It's friendly and intimate, perky and not preachy, and tonight the crowd loved every minute of it. They smiled and nodded along, bopping on the inside. The guy standing next to me passionately played air-drums, lost in the moment. Singer and hipster-pixie Melodie Knight never stopped smiling and was a brushstroke of sunshine. The band's set ended with a hoedown to a high-note bass guitar solo and celebratory drums as they stomped around the stage with Goodweather opening his mouth Muppet-wide to yell into the mic. The audience clapped along to every clap. Campfire OK were humble and thankful and played like they were happy to be alive.

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