It's rare that a record store could be considered the cultural nexus of a neighborhood. But on a sun-bleached Friday morning at the Easy Street Records Cafe in West Seattle, the disparate clusters of gray-haired ladies, tattooed punks, clean-cut parents, and mop- headed indie kids represent what could be considered a sampling of the neighborhood's population.
For more information on West Seattle Summer Fest, visit www.westseattlefestival.com.
"There's a lot of families, a lot of churches, schools," says Easy Street Records owner Matt Vaughan. "There's a hardworking mentality over here. Plus it's got that small-town feel. I mean, look up and down California Ave.—it's like Mayberry out there."
While it's not news that West Seattle has also been a haven for musically minded folks in search of cheaper rent and peace and quiet (Eddie Vedder and Mark Arm moved out there years ago), it is news that at long last the neighborhood's music lovers are being recognized.
This weekend, the 24th annual West Seattle Summer Fest, which has previously been an affair akin to, well, Mayberry's parade day, is boasting three nights of live music on two stages from the likes of John Doe, Kristin Hersh, and Mark Pickerel, among others.
"We realized it's a whole new community now, it deserves the best summer festival we could give it," says Vaughan, who helped organize the event. "We don't want to lose that hometown feel, but West Seattle is different now. It's experienced a resurgence that is unparalleled in Seattle right now. There's hardly an empty storefront here."
But as much as we can play up West Seattle's younger music community, it can't be denied that an entire generation of older folks remains. How will they take to the same summer fest they've been attending for the last quarter-century being transformed into a rootsier version of the Capitol Hill Block Party? Vaughan has only to look at his Easy Street patrons to see the answer.
"A lot of the old folks out here are pretty hard- edged," he says. "In a way, they're kind of punk rock. When they come into Easy Street, they go for Johnny Cash, lots of rockabilly, just harder-edged older music."
With that in mind, Summer Fest's organizers couldn't have found a better headliner than roots-punk icon John Doe.
"He's rugged and charming," says Vaughan. "He has that punk-rock ethos, but can still write a great love song. In a way, he embodies my personal philosophy, which is, try to stay humble, don't hold on to any extreme opinions, and walk your grandmother across the street, but still go get fucked up at night."
And sitting there at Easy Street, Vaughan's philosophy seems to embody that of West Seattle overall, where ladies in pastel-colored pants are served breakfast by tattooed waitresses, where an on-duty police officer purchases a CD from the hipster behind the counter, and where the old man seated on the stool next to me pushes me aside for elbow room in lieu of saying, "Excuse me."