Category Archives: Music

Robyn Hitchcock: Beaming in Classic Songs from Another Dimension

Love the shirt: Robyn Hitchcock at Columbia City Theater, August 2014. (photo: Tony Kay
Love the shirt: Robyn Hitchcock at Columbia City Theater, August 2014. (photo: Tony Kay

I’ve seen Robyn Hitchcock play at least five times since I first became a fan some 27 (yipes!) years ago, but for the last decade I’ve been guilty of having taken the very prolific, one-of-a-kind English singer/songwriter for granted. After seeing him play Columbia City Theater last August, that’s a mistake I’ve vowed not to make again. He returns to Columbia City Theater for a live set this coming Monday, March 16 (tickets, $22 in advance, are still available). Do yourself an enormous favor, and catch him if you can.

To these ears, Hitchcock stands as one of rock’s great troubadours. He essentially does with lyrics what Salvador Dali did with paint, capturing the absurdities, horrors, and wonders of life, love, and the universe with surreal brushstrokes that—outright weird as they sometimes get—always maintain an affecting core of universal truth. A lot of musicians play-act at boundless creativity and eccentricity: for Hitchcock, it’s as unaffected and natural as breathing.

His career as a rock musician began in the late 1970s as lead singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter for The Soft Boys. Hitchcock firmly established his MO with the band—classic English rock songcraft wedded with sometimes strange, sometimes hilarious, always devastatingly effective lyrics. Hitchcock struck out on his own beginning with 1981’s Black Snake Diamond Role, and he hasn’t stopped since.

After establishing a dedicated cult with his solo work, he and his second backing band The Egyptians landed a major-label deal with A&M Records. The first release during that flush of success, 1988’s Globe of Frogs, introduced a lot of people (myself included) to the man’s unique world view and gift for indelible melodies.

Globe of Frogs bowled me over when I first heard it all those years ago, and I listened to it obsessively for months. Hitchcock’s brilliance didn’t form in a vacuum, of course—he’s openly acknowledged Syd Barrett’s influence on his knack for vividly-bizarre lyrics, and his melodies largely draw from Beatles-style harmonics and Dylan-esque folk—but he lent his own distinctive signature to those familiar elements. Insidious melodies abounded (try not to bounce your head happily to the jaunty, endearingly goofy “Balloon Man”), but the rest of Globe of Frogs was musical painting of the richest variety.

The record’s title track, with its sparse exotic percussion, spectral piano, and Hitchcock’s elliptical but evocative words felt, literally, like stepping into some mysterious, secret world. And unconventional as his lyrics were, they often hit with bracing directness. In the eerie sea-shanty/dirge “Luminous Rose,” he croons a line that remains one of the most profound strings of words I’ve ever heard in a pop song: “God finds you naked and he leaves you dying/What happens in between is up to you.”

After experiencing that record, Hitchcock’s back catalog and successive releases persistently occupied my stereo for the better part of a decade. Most striking about all of those efforts was how he was able to easily switch back and forth between trippy psychedelia (“The Man with the Lightbulb Head”), sterling pop (“So You Think You’re in Love”), and fragile British melancholy (the achingly gorgeous “Autumn is Your Last Chance”), touching on an array of classic influences without being subsumed by them.

Hitchcock’s muse has remained incredibly consistent over the years. After migrating from A&M to Warner Brothers in the ‘90s, he set up camp with indie label Yep Roc Records in the early 2000’s, and catching up with the lower-profile but still great albums he’s released in the ensuing decade-plus has represented some of the most rewarding music-nerd catch-up I’ve ever experienced. His voice—a singular, reedy tenor that swings between angelic sweetness, the impish playfulness of a truant British schoolboy, and a sometimes eerie deadpan—hasn’t aged a day, and his latest long-player The Man Upstairs combines Hitchcock’s still-sharp original songs with some well-chosen covers (his spare acoustic version of the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” will make you swoon). The album, like so much of Hitchcock’s work, feels classic and timeless in equal measure.

He also delivers one of the best live shows you’ll ever see. Hitchcock usually plays solo sets, and he’s capable of summoning up all the richness of his most psychedelic work with nothing more than his voice and an acoustic guitar. Best of all, his onstage banter alone merits the price of admission. Expect stream-of-consciousness tangents that include everything from minotaurs to giant irradiated astronauts, and blasts of hilariously pointed socio-political commentary. Once you see him onstage you’ll be hooked, and here’s hoping that unlike me, you’ll never take Robyn Hitchcock for granted.

Local Musicians Find a TV Audience on ‘Band in Seattle’

The Gods Themselves on Band in Seattle
The Gods Themselves.
The Gods Themselves.
The Gods Themselves.

The Gods Themselves take to the Victory Studios stage. (photo: Tony Kay)

Astra Elaine holds court, Collin O'Meara bashes out the beat. (photo: Tony Kay)

Damion of The Gods Themselves. (Photo: Tony Kay)

(photo: Tony Kay)

THE FAME RIOT's Liz Scarlett gets all Guitar Hero. (photo: Tony Kay)

Shazam Watkins and Liz Scarlett, THE FAME RIOT's resident wallflowers. (photo: Tony Kay)

(photo: Tony Kay)

(photo: Tony Kay)

(photo: Tony Kay)

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Band in Seattle recently began shooting for its second season, and the scrappy locally-produced show’s become an engaging regional music sampler in the year-plus of its existence.

There are plenty of ways to see quality video footage of local bands playing live, but Band in Seattle offers up its wares in charmingly old-school fashion on CW network affiliate Channel 11 every Saturday night at 11:00 p.m. Whether by accident or design, the show’s programmers have demonstrated a knack for cherry-picking a wide cross-section of Seattle musicians nicely uninformed by trends: A durable blue-collar rock band (Gunn) or a sharp old-school soul ensemble (Funky 2 Death) may not hold much flavor-of-the-month cache, but it’s great to see them getting exposure in the same venue as hip-hop futurists Kingdom Crumbs. In another nice touch, all of the bands showcased weigh in on their music—and on balancing the mundane necessity of day jobs with their art—in mini-documentary wraparound segments.

Season 2 started strong with a great showing by noir-pop chanteuse Prom Queen, and last Friday Band in Seattle taped a segment featuring The Gods Themselves and THE FAME RIOT (their caps, not mine) at the show’s usual haunts, Victory Studios. The performance space sported great acoustics and a comfy retro layout that made it feel like a party at your cool uncle’s bachelor pad, replete with free beer courtesy show sponsors Naked City Brewery.

I never miss a chance to see The Gods Themselves play live if I can help it, and their Band in Seattle session cemented that resolve. The band’s debut record was, simply put, my favorite local rock release of 2014, a beyond-cool amalgam of post-punk starkness, caveman rock throb, and thick psychedelic funk wrought from a deceptively minimalist three-piece lineup. Live, TGT delivered a no-bull yet elastic sound that thrived on unlikely synergy: They hefted some serious rock muscle behind B-52’s-style new wave on “Last Chance for Love,” primal garage-rock stomp behind epic goth (the towering “Thunderbird”), and an unexpected vein of soul amidst the serpentine snarl of “I Am the President.” Thanks to the sharp sound mix, the call-and-response interplay between lead singer Astra Elaine’s versatile purr and Damion Heitnschel’s Joey-Ramone-style bark came through loud and clear.

Speaking of loud, Tacoma outfit THE FAME RIOT came fully-equipped with plumage so gloriously garish it woulda made the most shameless hair-metal band blush, and that’s a significant part of their charm. Frontmen Shazam “Tea Time” Watkins and Liz Scarlett ladled on plenty of showmanship to go with their teased hair, sequins, and circulation-constricting stretch pants, playing their rock-star roles to the hilt and lending an extra layer of humor and flash to their slick and catchy pop. Contrasting electro-disco with smeared-lipstick decadence isn’t a new concept, of course—British bands like Dead or Alive and Sigue Sigue Sputnik ruled dance clubs back in the ancient analog days of the 1980s—but damned if these T-Town imps don’t work that combination like conquering heroes. If the seemingly spring-loaded audience reaction at their Band in Seattle session was any indication, there’s potential for some serious mass-appeal method to THE FAME RIOT’s madness.

The Gods Themselves/FAME RIOT episode of Band in Seattle should air sometime in the spring, and the show continues to film new episodes throughout March and April, with plenty of worthwhile local bands in tow. Tickets and more info are available here.

Your Live Music Bets for the Weekend of December 19 through December 21

santa-claus-with-devil-movieIt’s less than a week before Santa does the Down-The-Chimney Shimmy, so the fact that there are some seriously cool holiday-themed live shows going on this weekend should come as no surprise. What may surprise you (and what will surely make your live music choices true agony for the next three days) is how many great non-holiday shows lie in waiting. Consider this heads-up my Christmas gift to you. Happy Holidays, folks.

Friday, December 19 (tonight!)

Dancer and Prancer’s Xmas Extravaganza with Shannon and the Clams, La Luz, The Fe Fi Fo Fums, DJ Brian Foss @ Chop Suey. 21+. $15 at the door. Show at 9 p.m.

In case you didn’t know, Capitol Hill venue Chop Suey becomes the latest local music venue to fall victim to grabby developers come January. That means you’d better get your fix while you can, and this second night of holiday hijinks should be just the ticket. Shannon and the Clams play retro rock that plumbs surf music, rockabilly, and lo-fi pop, La Luz’s swaggering garage-surf remains crucial live, the Fe Fi Fo Fums bash out lovingly sloppy rock that makes the Black Lips sound like Yes, and hosts Dancer and Prancer do the Ventures’ surf-Christmas schtick with irresistible panache. All that, and pictures with Santa, and a DJ set by booking God/former Funhouse Santa Brian Foss? Smells like Christmas-palooza.

Kinski, Spoils, Low Hums @ The Blue Moon Tavern. 21+. $8 at the door. Show at 9 p.m.

Kinski have been kicking around Seattle for long enough (since 1998) to officially be taken for granted, but do so at your own peril. Their most recent full-length, 2013’s Cosy Moments, saw them pounding out some lean and menacing hard rock with vocals, but fans can rest assured that the band’s dreamy/gothy/atmospheric/freaky instrumental soundscapes remain intact–and mesmerizing live. Low Hums most definitely live up to their name, generating a slow-rolling and likewise-atmospheric wall of sound that adds some roots twang to the trip, as if Ennio Morricone’s slide guitar player dropped acid and joined a shoegaze band.

X, The Blasters, Girl Trouble @ El Corazon. 21+. $25 advance/$30 at the door. Show at 8 p.m.

If the words ‘seminal’ and ‘legendary’ didn’t already exist, some rock critic or music nerd would have had to invent them to describe X. The LA punk band influenced a couple of generations of indie musicians by draping a roots-rock canvas over punk rock. They still give it their all onstage and sport an astonishing back catalog. Roots-rock stalwarts The Blasters and Tacoma’s own Mount Rushmore of Garage Rock (Girl Trouble) form a super-powered opening one-two punch.

Funky 2 Death @ Seamonster Lounge. 21+. Free! Show at 10 p.m.

I’m a relatively late convert to Wallingford’s Seamonster Lounge, but it’s a great little scrapper of a venue with decidedly funky leanings. Local ensemble Funky 2 Death have pretty much served as the Seamonster’s informal house band for awhile now, and they’re capable funketeers with a surplus of chops. The grooves don’t come more organic and durable, and when guitarist Jabrille “Jimmy James” Williams begins firing off molten licks you best look out.

Saturday, December 20

Xmas Maximus, Cathy Sorbo, The Candy Cane Dancers @ Darrell’s Tavern. 21+. $10 at the door. Show at 9 p.m.

Last year’s Xmas Maximus Holiday Show provided some seriously good times, serving up plenty of holiday-themed original and cover songs that took plenty of goofball paths (yes, Christmas tunes and prog rock can be combined, if you’re as bent as these guys are). This year’s installment continues the madness, with the best dive bar in North Seattle once more standing in for the North Pole, an all-star cast of local musicians (including singer Barbara Trentanange, who belts out “At the Christmas Ball” below) populating the band, comedian Cathy Sorbo turning the air blue, and the Candy Cane Dancers bringing the burlesque.

My Goodness, Haunted Horses, Chrome Lakes @ Sunset Tavern. 21+. $12 at the door. Show at 8 p.m.

In case you haven’t gotten the news, My Goodness crafted what might be the best epic rock record of 2014 with their full-length Shiver and Shake (further elaboration here). Why they’re not filling giant venues at this point is one of life’s true mysteries, so enjoy seeing them in the cozy confines of Ballard’s Sunset Tavern while you can. The strong, stacked bill also includes the drony and scary Haunted Horses, and some potently forceful post-punk from local boys Chrome Lakes.

X, The Blasters, Boss Martians @ El Corazon. 21+. $25 advance/$30 at the door. Show at 8 p.m.

See Friday, December 19, give or take the very awesome stylings of another local garage rock ensemble, Boss Martians, in lieu of Girl Trouble.

Joe Purdy, OK Sweetheart, Sophia Duccini @ The Neptune. 21+. $29 advance. Show at 7 p.m.

Joe Purdy‘s tremulous folk stylings offer the requisite earthy charm, but for my money, the two opening acts make this bill damn near irresistible. Local girl Sophia Duccini‘s sidelong folk songs with pop tinges would impress even if she wasn’t a tender 18 years old, and former New Yorker/current Seattleite Erin Austin lends some powerhouse pipes to her ongoing project/band OK Sweetheart, combining sixties pop, folk, and Muscle Shoals soul to shimmering effect.

Santa Claus @ Scarecrow Video. 21+. Free. Show at 8 p.m.

Before you go to any of the above music shows tomorrow night, you’re cordially invited to visit the world’s greatest video store, knock back a beer, and watch Santa Claus score wacky dust from Merlin the Magician before going mano-a-mano with a devil. My sworn mission to make this bizarre bon bon an enduring holiday classick continues. First ten people receive a suitably bizarre door prize, courtesy of Santa!

Sunday, December 21

Piano Starts Here: A Charlie Brown Christmas @ The Royal Room. All Ages. $5 advance. Show at 6 p.m.

Gigantor, Lushy @ The Royal Room. 21+. No Cover, Suggested Donation $5 to $15 at the door. Show at 9 p.m.

Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas never fails to wrap a warm scarf around one’s heart, so hearing several talented local musicians wending their way through those jazzy chestnuts roasting on an open fire should be a treat. Stick around at Columbia City’s great new-ish venue for what will surely be sterling turns by Gigantor (fab reggae/ska fronted by Lynval Golding of ska legends The Specials) and Seattle’s finest cocktail/bossanova/space-age pop ensemble, Lushy.

It’s a Toss-Up Between Two Great Live Timberfest Acts Saturday Night

Smokey Brights' Ryan Devlin gets anthemic. (photo: Tony Kay)
Smokey Brights’ Ryan Devlin gets anthemic. (photo: Tony Kay)

Two of the best acts I saw at Timberfest last July are each headlining live shows Saturday night. Flip a coin, play eenie meenie minie moe, or invent a Star Trek transporter and hop between both shows. But whatever you do, catch one of them if you can.

Seattle quintet Smokey Brights land at the Tractor Tavern tomorrow evening in support of Taste for Blood, their newest full-length. The record just dropped this week, and it’s the sound of a band that’s corralled a broad, sometimes oil-and-water disparate overflow of influences to exhilarating effect.

What the Smokeys have done is find the through line between scruffy blue-collar rock, new wave, Memphis soul, and shoegazer atmospherics. It’s right there on the title track that opens the new record: Michael Kalnoky’s textural guitar and the rush of Kim West’s synths are cut through by Ryan Devlin’s slurred, ragged voice, and it’s like hearing Bruce Springsteen narrate a futuristic film noir. On “Catacomb,” West and Devlin harmonize with the forlorn beauty of X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe on a goth tip, as Kalnoky’s six-string switches off between colorful soloing and concise post-punk momentum. Sprinkles of psychedelia (“Windjammer”) and swooning folk balladry (“Waiting on a Light”) surface as well.

An unerring knack for melody and hooks keeps these seemingly contradictory plates spinning. The Smokeys’ formidable technical chops never get in the way of a deep soul groove (as on the gorgeous, slow-burning “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”), or an anthemic chorus (“Put Your Guns Away”), and they deliver a go-for-broke live experience. I’ve long given up on predicting a Next Big Thing among Northwest bands, but the combination of adventuresome risk-taking and universal catchiness on Taste for Blood could really reach beyond state borders in a big way, if given the chance.

Smokey Brights have plenty of help ringing in their record release , incidentally: In what’s gotta be one of the more stacked local bills of the last several weeks, Portland powerhouse Kelli Schaefer and the mighty Ravenna Woods open things up. (Tickets for the 9:00 p.m. show, $12 advance, can be purchased here.)

One of the cultural highlights putting its ink-stained and staple-wounded fingerprints all over Seattle this month is the Short Run Comix and Art Festival, a celebration of this town’s comix and arts community showcasing scores of independently-wrought ‘zines, comics, and small-press books of every stripe.

The Shivas stomp and shout and work it out at Timberfest. (photo: Tony Kay)
The Shivas stomp and shout and work it out at Timberfest. (photo: Tony Kay)

Short Run’s full-on Festival at Washington Hall sports an incredibly cool itinerary (take a look for yourself), so it comes as no surprise that the Festival’s putting on a Saturday night Beach Party-themed concert at the Hall with two terrific regional bands playing for dirt cheap ($5 advance, show at 8:00 p.m., tickets available here). I’ve prattled on ad nauseum in these electronic pages about headliners La Luz, and they’ll surely tear things up gloriously. But dear Lord in silk jammies, do Portland-based co-headliners The Shivas deliver the loud live goods.

The Shivas’ afternoon set at Timber effectively blew the top of my head off, and provided proof positive that a great rock band doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to move you to your core. Like La Luz, The Shivas use surf rock as one of their starting points, but if La Luz are the ice-cube cool leather-jacketed gang that saunters into the party with smoldering confidence, The Shivas are the restless kids who crash through the door and go apeshit. Strains of raw psychedelia careen through their sharp tunes, and in a live setting The Shivas’ guitars twang, roar, and sting like Link Wray and the Jesus and Mary Chain going at each other with broken bottles.

Their fab, recently-released long-player You Know What to Do serves as way more than just fodder for onstage rave-ups, too. The volcanic garage-punk stutter of the title track and the hyper-driven “Manson Girls” fire on all eight cylinders, but much of You Know What to Do consists of irresistibly ragged-but-right pop songs that refuse to leave your head. The hand-clap-driven “You Make Me Wanna Die” and the sloppily-winsome “Strokin’ Off” sound beamed in from a universe where the Ramones and the Crystals play the same school dance, while the narcotically sexy “And On” even throws in some swinging organ and purring male/female vocals that’ll curl your toes. Live, though, you can expect The Shivas’ considerable pop smarts to be goosed by the kind of drum-pummeling, guitar-attacking frenzy from which rock and roll dreams are born.

A Five-Year Fling with The Kills

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Jamie Hince (Photo: Kelsey Kaufman)

Alison Mosshart (Photo: Kelsey Kaufman)

Proof! Note the date and caption. (Photo: Kelsey Kaufman)

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My love affair with The Kills began in 2009. I was a college radio DJ, head-to-toe American Apparel was my idea of dressing hip, and the extent of my knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll started and ended with “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC.

On a Sunday night in May, I rode shotgun to the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. I only knew two things about The Kills then: 1) my good friend and personal music encyclopedia Lex Chase adored them, and 2) Jamie Hince was engaged to Kate Moss – so they must be hip and I should totally wear my Urban Outfitters leather jacket, right?

What’s changed in five years? Not much, besides a sold-out show at the Neptune Theatre, two live drummers, and Alison’s hair color. What hasn’t? That raw, undeniably sexy chemistry.

The Kills opened with two of their most Spotify-friendly hits,“U.R.A. Fever” where phone dials introduce a slinky bass and “Future Starts Here.” A mix of old and new followed, such as “Fried My Little Brains” off the duos first LP Keep on Your Mean Side released in 2003. This is also where their blues and lo-fi garage rock-inspired roots shine.

So how did a girl from Florida and British guitarist steal my heart? It’s quite simple, actually. When 2008’s Midnight Boom came out, nothing else sounded like it at the time. A minimal boy/girl act in a time of excess and Flo Rida.

Last Goodbye” is a melancholic and sentimental ballad – hardly what you’d expect, or maybe even want from The Kills’ final song. Jamie is on the piano, for god sake. Yet it continues to be one of my favorite live tracks. Alison’s vocals take center stage, and as she sings “I won’t forget I swear / I have no regrets the past is behind me” you think that maybe, just maybe, this will be their final US tour.

But I’m not sad, rather I think back to that show at the Wonder Ballroom five years earlier. As they exited the small stage, Jamie flicked his guitar pick into the crowd and hit me square in the head. I scrambled on the ground, knowing I’d had my first taste of rock ‘n’ roll, knowing that in some small way, this band had changed my life and whatever I thought I knew about music before.

I still have that guitar pick stored safely in a box, except now it sits next to a Velvet Underground record and a vintage (and much cooler) leather jacket.

Five questions for La Petite Mort, creator of the Dark Cabaret

If you’re one of us who loves cabaret and lean towards the macabre, you could do far worse than spending your Halloween weekend/Dia De Los Muertos at Columbia City Theater for the Dark Cabaret.

Put on by the fine people at Morbid Curiositease, the Saturday night event has an evening of burlesque, belly dancing, sword swallowing, conjoined twins, tarot card reading, and a lot more. It includes burlesque star Cherry Manhattan, pole dancer Holly Bordeaux, music from the Particular Pretzelmen, and more. It was curated by La Petite Mort (who also performs as a hoochie coochie girl).

Wanting to learn more about this near-sold out celebration of the macabre, I e-mailed some questions to Miss La Petite Mort.

How would you describe the Dark Cabaret to someone who hasn’t seen it before or isn’t familiar with your work?

The Dark Cabaret takes a lot of the classic elements from Vaudeville and gives them new life, but all with a more macabre feel.  A lot of shows get stuck on one type of performance, such as burlesque or belly dance.  The Dark Cabarets have a very diverse variety.  They usually have some sideshow, burlesque, circus arts, always live music, aerial and fire if possible.  Each year it has a new theme.  There’s been Voodoo, Love, Grimm tales and this year it’s Circus.

What are your favorite things about putting on the show? Do you have any particularly favorite pieces in the Dark Cabaret?

I love curating all the acts and throwing folks together you wouldn’t normally expect.  Last year Shanghai Pearl did a dark act that included a very visceral aesthetic.  That’s not what most folks would expect.  I give performers of all talents and levels a chance. I don’t think I can pick a favorite other than The Peculiar Pretzelmen.  It’s my husband’s band from LA.  I catch them as they go through each year on tour.  This will be their third year doing the show.  Dark Cabaret is a genre of music.  I discovered them while looking for intermission music for the show so it’s a really perfect fit.

What goes into creating each Dark Cabaret event?

I’m constantly scouting new talent or acts from performers I have worked with.  It’s a never ending cycle, but I do start planning about 6 months out.  I love Columbia City Theater.  I’ve been at about 4 different venues and it’s our home now.  It took years to find the perfect spot.  A few month out I make offers to performers, and then start the full blown marketing campaign.  Then comes the script.  Each one has a varied level of scripting and this one in particular is pretty heavy.  Each show must have a through line and all come together.  Otherwise it gets monotonous.  I wanted a show I would be excited to see.  Not many exist so I made one.  I also am a big proponent of fair pay.  I usually pay the bands and performers more than their minimum.  Art isn’t valued or compensated properly and I’d like to help change that.

How do you keep each event original, so that they are different from each event you put on?

Each show has a different theme and a through line.  There’s a story to it.  The performers are almost always different and their talents are many.  I try to create a time and place and just let the show happen.  Wind it up and let them go.  The show becomes it’s own beast in the best way possible.

What do you have coming up after the event this weekend?

October is my busiest month as a performer.  I’ll be taking some time to recoup and then planning the next couple of productions.  On 12/20 at Columbia City Theater we are putting on a rawkus style Nightmare Before Christmas.  It’s relying heavily on our Mardi Gras format.  It’s all standing room, the band will play the songs live and various performers will pop up as characters from the movie.

Then on Mardi Gras 2/17 The Peculiar Pretzelmen Big Band are doing the most proper NOLA style party in Seattle.  It’s a massive 9-13 piece band and a bunch of performers.  There’s even dancers from New Orleans flying in.  It’s all live music and burlesque.  This will be our third year.  People actually dance all night which is a rarity for Seattle.