All posts by Michael van Baker

Publisher & Editor in Chief [email] [twitter] MvB moved to Seattle in 1987 to attend Seattle University, and his affection for things with Seattle in the name is as yet undiminished. Earlier incarnations have seen him wearing marketing hats at Seattle Opera and the San Francisco Examiner. He wrote for Seattlest from 2005-09, becoming arts editor and editor-in-chief before leaving to found The SunBreak in September 2009.

The SunBreak is Hibernating for the Winter

(Photo: MvB)
(Photo: MvB)

Dear readers and supporters of The SunBreak,

I wanted to put up an official note about the hibernation of The SunBreak for you. As many of you know, after editing and publishing this online magazine for four years, I have decamped to England for graduate school. Sadly, my plan to publish the magazine remotely has proven infeasible (it turns out graduate school is a harsh mistress), and so I’m compelled to shutter the site — temporarily, I hope — until such time as an amicable takeover can be arranged.

If you or someone you know has always wanted to publish and edit an online magazine, why not have them contact me by emailing It’s difficult and time-consuming and not terribly remunerative — great preparation in that way for graduate school. But it is also an invaluable and rewarding service, and The SunBreak’s coverage of Seattle news and culture, I’m happy to say, has gained thousands of fans.

I have to thank those readers who helped make TSB a real voice in Seattle, and to reassure you that I’ve just paid up our hosting fees for the next year, so The SunBreak as a destination isn’t going suddenly to vanish on you. January is a quiet time, usually, in Seattle, so I hope you’ll pardon us for sleeping late, with the hope of returning soon.

Michael van Baker
Editor & Publisher

Seth Kolloen Previews the Seattle Seahawks Season on Your Kindle

Seattle_Pro_Football_Preview“If you’re anything like me,” writes sportswriter Seth Kolloen, “you want to soak up every second of a [Seahawks] season that, according to Vegas, has an 8-­1 chance of ending with a win in the Super Bowl. Hence, this extended preview, which will help us all get the most out of this once-­in-­a-­generation team.”

The extended preview — 15 glorious pages — is now available at Amazon for download onto your Kindle device (or app) for just $0.99. Kolloen says it’s written for the fans, people somewhere between “Is there a game on?” and those who spend the off-season tallying novelty songs about the Seahawks.

The inimitable Kolloen style (full disclosure: Kolloen both writes, and fails to write, for us here at The SunBreak) is apparent in this introductory set-up:

In three years, Pete Carroll and John Schneider have amassed the best talent in Seahawks’ history by eschewing Ruskell-­era measures like veteran-­ness and good-­in-­the-­locker­-room-­osity in favor of size, speed, and strength. The Seahawks have the league’s best young players in almost every position group. From 23­-year-­old Bobby Wagner to 24-­year-­old Russell Wilson to 25­-year-­old Golden Tate, the Seahawks would be awful at Reagan Administration trivia. They are freaking awesome at football.

For the fans, full replays of every NFL game, online. (Screenshot:
For the fans, full replays of every NFL game, online. (Screenshot:

The preview discusses the Hawks’ offensive and defensive schemes, coaching staff and their approaches, the team’s stars and position groups, and includes the season schedule as well, each game with a scouting snapshot:

Week 1: @ Carolina Panthers
Young Cam Newton is surrounded by aging skill players like Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, and Ted Ginn. But the Panthers have a sprightly D led by 2nd-­year LB Luke Kuechly, who was dominant in preseason.

Previewing done, this might be a good time to mention the NFL’s Game Rewind service, as well. Stream every regular season Seahawks game (after it has aired), commercial-free and in HD, for $29.99. Stream all NFL regular season and playoff games, plus the Super Bowl, for $69.99. There are a variety of packages, and billing options. Take a peek.

Huskies Crush Boise State Broncos in Return to Montlake


Members of the Husky stadium construction crew lined up on the field to welcome the Huskies in their run out. (Photo: MvB)

Mission accomplished (Photo: MvB)

The game in HD (Photo: MvB)

Husky QB Keith Price lofting one downfield (Photo: MvB)

New stadium, great old view (Photo: MvB)

Bishop Sankey taking some Broncos for a ride (Photo: MvB)

Husky D (Photo: MvB)

TB Bishop Sankey has places to go. (Photo: MvB)

Husky D wrapping up (Photo: MvB)

WR Kasen Williams about to break open an after-the-catch run (Photo: MvB)

Dwayne Washington tumbling into the end zone for the final Husky TD (Photo: MvB)

Final score (Photo: MvB)

Husky stadium sunset (Photo: MvB)

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For about two minutes on Saturday night, the 71,963 people at a sold-out Husky stadium wondered what kind of homecoming it was going to be. Their quarterback had thrown for an interception, and the 19th-ranked Boise State Broncos were on a steady march downfield.

Flash forward to just under five minutes in the game, and the Huskies had racked up 592 yards and 38 points, to a pair of field goals from Boise State. RB Bishop Sankey rumbled for 161 of those yards, on 25 carries. QB Keith Price, 324 yards, going 23 for 31.

It was an achievement and a statement, says Art Thiel, that outshone the new $280-million stadium itself. But that said, Qwest Field has real competition in the decibel arena. Even lay people reading University of Washington seismographs will have no trouble determining when the Huskies score.

Two “smaller” HD screens at the west end are mirrored by the monster screen at the west end. (You’d like to see more stats displayed, with all this screen-power.) Food and drink concessions now come with food-and-drink areas you might well want to spend time in, with a large eastern plaza. Club Husky comes with padded seats, cupholders, and a lounge that people were stopping to take pictures of themselves in.

The SunBreak’s Bumbershoot 2013 Picks

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 3.43.17 PMIt’s Bumbershoot 2013, and as usual, we’re going, laden with equal parts sunscreen and umbrellas. Here’s a quick whip-round of the SunBreakers picks, ranging in brevity from extreme (Kelsey) to exhaustive (Tony). For preparation and #protips, see our other article on surviving the beast that is Bumbershoot.

Kelsey: Saturday: Kendrick Lamar, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, The Physics, Gus + Scout, The Flavr Blue. Sunday: Death Cab for Cutie, Fidlar, The Comettes, Matt & Kim, the writing staff of NBC’s Parks & Recreation. Monday: Allen Stone, Alt-J, Deerhunter, Bellamaine, Sol, Hot Bodies in Motion.

Josh: My main hope for Bumbershoot is that the TWELVE zombie attacks, flashmobs, and Thriller tributes will mark a turning point in Seattle’s zombie tolerance. Let’s round them all up in Memorial stadium, give them a good scrubbing, and hope that this is a successful last stand on the part of humanity.

This year is a lot of “how do you not see” pseudo-nostalgia acts on my must-see lists:

Saturday — HEART: much better to see them headlining Key Arena than a casino.

Sunday — The Breeders: much better to see them on a reunion / playing Last Splash straight through than never at all.
— that they’re playing at the same time as The Zombies doesn’t make anything easier
— the “playing the hit album from top-to-bottom” does make for an interesting pairing with DCFC bringing Transatlanticism back out for its 10th birthday. This in itself is a weird mirror of Gibbard’s Postal Service 10-year reunion this spring. Just wrap your head around both of those albums being released in the same year.

Monday — Superchunk: sad that Laura Ballance won’t be on bass due to hyperacusis, but glad that the band is touring anyway.

… there’s also the matter of the difficulty of getting excited about seeing these non-arena bands that I sort of like trying to make themselves heard in the challenging acoustical setting of the concrete cavernous Key: alt-J, MGMT, fun., Tegan & Sara, Ra Ra Riot, Kendrick Lamar.

Seth!: Charles Bradley: Bradley envelops you in a no-irony zone pulsing with energy, and just does not let up.

Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside: There are bands that make music (think Talking Heads). Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside play music. If you like bands that hold the “meta,” the honky-tonk-esque sounds of SFTSO are for you.

Maceo Parker: Parker played sax in James Brown’s band. He and his band of funk all-stars play what I would call high-energy fusion — probably not your #1 genre, but he’s a tremendous musician and performer and you won’t regret checking him out.

Courtney: Overall, I’m impressed with the Theatre Puget Sound Stage this year, but I’d highly recommend Audrey and Nelson presented by Annex Theatre and written by Bret Fetzer. Hysterical and absurd, Audrey and Nelson is the puppet sex musical of choice to diversify your Bumbershoot experience.

MvB: Obviously everyone of a certain age will be listening to The Breeders play Last Splash “in its entirety” on Sunday, then guiltily sneaking into DCFC.

But I’m also excited to catch a dyspeptic David Bazan casting a little dark Pooh-bear cloud over the party on Sunday: “Bazan’s most recent album, Strange Negotiations, focuses his energies toward the external, centering on his disappointment in the current state of accelerating American and global social fragmentation.” Sweet.

On the performing arts side, Seattle’s answer to Spalding Gray, monologist Matt Smith, is back with My Last Year with the Nuns. If you’ve ever been an 8th-grader at a Catholic school, this is the show for you. Or, if you know someone who was an 8th grader at a Catholic school, this will no doubt explain a lot. I second Courtney on the Audrey and Nelson puppet sex musical pick — what Bret Fetzer doesn’t know about puppet sex musicals isn’t worth mentioning.

Tony: I’ve heard some grousing about this year’s music lineup, which has me scratching my head with enough vigor to wear away bits of scalp. WTF? From this corner it looks utterly amazing, so narrowing choices down entails as much pain as it does pleasure for me.

Two sets of vintage Brit Invasion vets will play Bumbershoot — The Zombies, and Eric Burdon and the Animals — and they both should be well worth catching. The Zombies’ founding lead singer Colin Blunstone possesses a spectral, airily-soulful voice that sounds exactly like it did forty-some years ago. And with a repertoire of alternately luminous, strange, and soulful songs that’ve influenced everyone from Nick Drake to Elliot Smith to Portishead to that old gasbag Sting, they’re about the most resonant, relevant so-called “nostalgia act” you can get.

Meantime, I haven’t seen Burdon and the Animals live, but Burdon’s sandpaper howl has had a seismic impact on no-bull rock acts like The White Stripes, The Black Keys and local boys Hobosexual — so I’m crossing my fingers for greatness.

Baroness were one of the undisputed live highlights of Bumbershoot 2010, a volcanic metal/prog/psych band that delivers musicianship and full-bore energy in lethal doses. A traumatic tour bus accident almost put ’em out of commission last year, but they’re back with a vengeance. Bring your earplugs and be ready for some whiplash-inducing head banging from band and audience alike.

Saturday night’s 8 p.m. programming offers one of the most maddening dilemmas of Bumbershoot ’13. Do you go for English synth-rock pioneer Gary Numan, without whom 90 percent of today’s electronically-minded acts (including those pasty-faced mopers in Radiohead) wouldn’t exist? The stylings of late-blooming soul dynamo Charles Bradley, who provided Bumbershoot ’11’s most deeply soulful 45 minutes? Or the irresistible, warmly-gruff voice of local folk troubadour Kris Orlowski? Flip a coin — twice — to make your final selection: You won’t go wrong, regardless of the outcome.

Some of the best alt-rock acts of the Gen-X years will be stopping at the Fest this year. If the Deal sisters’ feisty and yummy harmonies remain intact, The Breeders‘ set should be a kick.

Superchunk bring their urgent, yelping indie rock to the Fountain Lawn Stage Monday in the wake of a great new long-player, I Hate Music. And best of all, So-Cal pop punks Redd Kross blow in for a set that’ll be equal parts bubblegum-catchy and fiercely rocking, all in one crunchy sour-candy package (their set at Chop Suey last year blew the top of my head off). Hell, with indie-punk godfather Bob Mould playing as well, it’s like a time warp with Lollapalooza ’92 as the key stopping point.

If you’re looking for music that’ll augment your recently-legalized cannabis consumption, you could do worse than catching Seattle experimental collective Midday Veil, whose already-mesmerizing psychedelia might well sound even more stratospheric after a few Sunday afternoon bong hits. Crystal Castles‘ noisy, trippy electro-pop (and the alien/creepy/sexy/cool charisma of lead singer Alice Glass) should likewise appreciate with similar augmentation.

Two great homegrown soul/funk acts that I’m excited to catch: Allen Stone, whose pipes remain a live force to be reckoned with, and Down North, a groove collective that plays funk hard enough to cut diamonds.

Comic nerds are in for a treat Saturday night with Fantagraphics Follies. This history of Seattle’s most durable underground publishing company comes replete with stand-up comedy from Kelly Froh, a live set by cartoonist Peter Bagge’s band Can You Imagine?, and novelist Danny Bland reading from his book In Case We Die, accompanied by Seattle producing/music maverick Steve Fisk.

Seattle Loses Its Cool with All-Time-High Lows

NeilDiamond-HotAugustNightFront2This weather update is brought to you, we decided, by Big Time Brewery‘s Sunbreak Blonde, “Just a hint of wheat and the flavor of Mt. Hood hops.” Now on tap at Smith.

For Bumbershoot weekend, as Labor Day weekend is known in Seattle, the weather looks very fine, low 80s with some clouds wandering aimlessly, as they will do. Monday may or may not require bumbershoots, with some showers or just the warm-and-muggy routine we’ve gotten into.

But the big weather news is that Seattle is about to, in KOMO’s Scott Sistek’s words, “obliterate its record for all-time warmest nighttime lows in a month.” All-time in this context means the last 122 years that we have records for. Ridges of high pressure have attenuated the effects of cooling marine flow, plus some itinerant low pressure systems have been hoovering up warm, moist air from the south, resulting in muggy August nights.

UW meteorologist Cliff Mass explains that the mugginess is another way of talking about dew points. “[A] plot of dew point for the past six months, show that we are now ‘enjoying’ the highest values so far this year,” he writes. With little marine air making it in from the coast, or hot, dry winds from eastern Washington, we’ve been having a sous-vide summer.

Mass also points you to a UW study (that he has some questions about) indicating that these nighttime “heat waves” are growing more frequent. The atmospheric mechanism they found operating will now sound familiar: “The records show that nighttime heat waves happen during high humidity, where water vapor in the air serves as a blanket to trap heat.”

The researchers predicted that climate change would inaugurate not just more frequent nighttime heat waves, but keep them around longer as well.

Op-Ed: What About a “Broken Windows” Approach to Traffic Safety?

According to Allstate, Seattle drivers have gotten worse at driving, going only a statistical 7.8 years between accidents. That puts Seattle in 160th place, out of 200 U.S. cities — and meshes with more anecdotal observations. Whereas Boise, ID, is number two, behind the “best drivers” of Fort Collins, CO. What do they know that we don’t?

Okay, we’re not the worst. San Francisco is worse. Newark is worse. Washington, DC, is the worst. But why? People like to displace blame: It’s the hills, it’s the rain, it’s the fact that every single person driving — besides you, of course — is a complete maniac.

But what if the problem is our approach to traffic safety itself? The larger a city, the more likely you are to see people ducking the strictly legal approach to a driving problem, or from ignorance of the rules of the road, innovating a set of idiosyncratic rules.

And there are lots of rules, some of which change on you. Did you know that you’re supposed to merge into the bike lane when making a righthand turn? Did you know that you’re supposed to go around traffic circles counterclockwise? Did you know you can turn left over a double yellow line a) if it is less than 18 inches wide and b) you do not block traffic?

It was in San Francisco that I first saw an instance of triple-parking in the wild. At Seattle’s all-way stops, you’ll often see two cars directly across from each other go — if the car whose turn it is isn’t turning, its opposite number will use its passage as a kind of blocker. It speeds traffic, but does make it difficult to tell who’s next in the queue.

You can count on parking being enforced, along with jaywalking (downtown) and speeding in a school zone, but traffic officers have bigger fish to fry than your U-turn across a double-yellow line while juggling your phone for an important text. Drivers are fond of noting how blithely cyclists zip through stop signs, but when was the last time you saw anyone get a ticket for their rolling stop, or for making that last-minute right turn from the lefthand lane?

It makes me wonder whether a “broken windows” approach to broken traffic rules might be in order. When all you see around you are drivers breaking “little” traffic rules, what is the chance that you’ll give yourself permission to bend a few? The signaling effect of neglect would seem to apply to behavior as well as buildings.

The broken windows theory isn’t about taking punitive action, but about reinstating a norm, so the idea is not to hand out a million nit-picky tickets, but to remind drivers of their responsibility on the road. Perhaps if you were stopped three times in a given time frame, you might be sent to traffic school for a refresher. (Or have to pass an online quiz.) But the goal of the stop in itself would be simply to alert the driver to what they did wrong.

If your first reaction is to imagine all traffic in Seattle coming to a complete halt — well, you’re probably right. Maybe we could just start with Safety Mondays and build from there.