In a golden age of music discovery, it’s easy to forget how difficult it is to be a musician today. Pitiful streaming royalties and low physical sales force musicians to survive on performances and merch income, essentially living lifestyles already close to untenable even before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, with the virus having stymied prospective tours and shuttered legendary venues (some for good), musicians are desperate for ways to continue making the tunes we all appreciate while inhabiting a city facing an exploding cost of living.
The solutions may be sparse, but Rain City Relief is providing one significant avenue of support. The organization, spearheaded by local cannabis dispensary The Reef and co-organized by the Seattle World Tour Foundation, is raising $100,000 to support Seattle musicians affected by the pandemic. To do this, they’ve enlisted the help of ten rising local acts to put together a series of powerful live performances in a fittingly diverse range of genres. Contributors to the fund will receive these performances as a vinyl record that captures the incredible breadth of Seattle’s musical talent - something that stands to be lost as Covid continues to take its toll.
Seth McDonald, co-organizer of the relief fund, stresses the necessity of such an endeavor. “We’re an ‘indie’ music scene,” he explains, “‘indie’ being short for ‘independent.’ We are not a commercial music scene. To survive and do what you love, you gotta wear a lot of hats.” McDonald, who plays in and manages local hip-hop collective All Star Opera in addition to his organizational obligations, understands this reality as much as anyone. It’s why in 2018 he and the group founded the Seattle World Tour, a week-long concert series featuring a handful of local artists raising money for St. Mary Place.
The Seattle World Tour helped broaden McDonald’s experience as a nonprofit organizer, and its rising popularity essentially led to his role in Rain City Relief, which was founded by cannabis dispensary The Reef owner Adam Simon and marketing manager Jesse Codling. “They reached out about doing this vinyl project,” he recalls. “They saw through our work in the community that we were tapped into not only one subset but a lot of music communities, and that our intentions were rooted in giving back.” After signing on to the project, he reached out to a handful of local acts he encountered through his time with All Star Opera, and the responses were unanimously in support. “I’ve never received reply emails so quickly,” McDonald remarks.
The collection, christened “The New Seattle Sound” for its eclectic scope, is worth remarking about. Though it’s just a taste of what’s buried in the city’s expansive music scenes, it's certainly a well-curated taste. True to its aims as a compilation, the mood jumps around thrillingly: Ariana Deboo’s rendition of “Light” opens the record with a simmering incandescence, which is cut right open by The Black Tones’ rollicking “Ghetto Spaceship” before settling back in with Parisalexa’s passionate melisma. The record’s B-side is even more wild, fluctuating between raucous punk, heartfelt balladry, cerebral rap and swirling exploratory jazz.
The connecting thread between all of these disparate acts is that shared sense of purpose, all motivated by awe and frustration. Before each performance (the videos of which are available to view on the band’s website) each artist gives a quick aside about how the events of the last two years halted their careers. In Chong The Nomad’s case, a long-awaited main stage festival show was cancelled; in High Pulp’s, a make-or-break tour met the same fate. The Black Tones’ Eva Walker recounts a crueler fate, not only coping with the fear and anxiety of Covid’s spread but having to reckon with deaths both personal (in the case of family) and existential (in the case of 2020’s racially-charged police killings).
It would be easy for the stress of the moment to seep into the music and set the tone. What shines through even more is sheer joy, a catharsis embedded in the simple act of making music. Perhaps that’s why some of these performances feel like career highlights: Beverly Crusher push “Don’t Scream” to a new level of chaotic intensity, while Perry Porter seriously impresses with his versatile bars and an elastic flow.
The collection’s three solo piano spots, each in a format defined by a certain vulnerability, resonate strongly. Shaina Shepherd lays down “Lover” with her signature meshing of the recognizable and the outré, while Parisalexa deftly works her voice up and down her register on “Water Me.” Meanwhile, Chong The Nomad transforms her icy, electronic “Undervelvet” into a solitary meditation on honest love that’s striking in its simplicity.
“To have so many of these artists on one project…in my head I thought, ‘There’s no way this is going to happen,” confides McDonald, whose own All Star Opera closes out the record with the intoxicating vibe of “A World Away.” His bewilderment at the serendipity behind the project’s development can’t be understated, especially when it comes to the generosity of its supporters. With an initial goal of $25,000, Rain City Relief had already raised a significant percentage of that sum before one particular titan of Seattle’s musical history entered the fold. “About a week after Christmas, Pearl Jam got back to me and said, ‘We’d like to donate $20,000,’” McDonald recalls, still shocked. “We were just asking for a social media post or something. My wife and I were walking to Pike Place Market and I just about dropped my phone.”
It’s not just fellow musicians that are stepping up. The Reef, for example, is largely underwriting the cost of producing the vinyl, allowing 100% of the fund’s proceeds to go towards its recipients. A number of Seattle institutions, from Lil’ Woody’s to Rudy’s Barbershop, have also designed unique ways to direct profits toward the fund.
And that’s where we come in.
In support of the fund’s goals, Vita is launching our Rain City Relief Blend, available in all our stores across the country. Combining decadent notes of chocolate and cherry, the blend is a sumptuous experience made for fueling your wildest bouts of creativity, music or otherwise. $2 of each bag sold will go directly to the Rain City Relief fund, making it just as easy to donate as our blend is to drink.
Through your purchase, you’re helping fund this city’s struggling musicians - shows, tours, recording, producing, playing, all of it - at the ground level, keeping our city a beacon for independent musicians from all walks of life. Now, more than ever, they could use your help.