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Downtown Redmond's live music vibe
In late October, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels declared an all-out effort to brand his community as “Seattle, City of Music,” a place where musicians can earn a living wage and fans can enjoy a smorgasbord of live entertainment.
Could Redmond be known as a City of Music, too?
Down on this end of SR 520, some business owners and Redmond Arts Commissioners think it’s possible that this fair city could develop a reputation for its live music scene.
NOT SO ODD
The recently opened Oddfellow’s Grill, located in one of Redmond’s oldest buildings, features soups, salads, burgers and live music nightly — with no cover charge.
“We’re going for a Pioneer Square feel, going back to what it was meant to be,” explained John Comstock, who co-owns the restaurant and bar with Jimmy Boyle and Joel Coval. “The room is also proving to have excellent acoustics. I guess this should not be surprising given the building’s musical history.”
The building was constructed in 1903. It served as Redmond’s first movie house, back before there were “talkies,” and later as a meeting place for fraternal organizations such as the Eagles Lodge and The Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Perhaps most notably, it was a swinging dance hall during Prohibition and World War II.
The most recent tenant before Oddfellow’s Grill was Edwardian Antiques. Then the building sat vacant, in disrepair, for a couple of years before Comstock, Boyle and Coval came along to restore it.
They’ve done a nice job, incorporating vintage photos from the Redmond Historical Society and items left behind by the antique dealers, such as pews and stained glass panels from a church in England and an 1880 portrait of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Comstock and his partners also recycled tables from a now-defunct bowling alley in Burien.
An oversized photo of Les LaBrie and his orchestra is one of the visual highlights of Oddfellow’s, since LaBrie, a popular drummer, was like a rock star in Redmond before rock and roll existed.
Hosting live music seven nights a week at present-day Oddfellow’s is “kind of ambitious,” Comstock admitted. It’s taking a while for neighbors to notice the place, but “it’s surprising how many musicians have come out of the woodwork and said, ‘We need this here!,’” he added.
To put it bluntly, there’s been a perception that Redmond is “Dullsville” after dark. But if you’ve been disappointed by the nightlife or lack thereof, you can now be part of the solution. Try checking out the music at local venues like Oddfellow’s as part of your holiday leisure. You’ll likely find something that puts you in a merry mood.
“We started with more jazz and blues and are edging toward rock,” said Comstock. “Red Herring has been our best draw, so far — it’s a group made up of Bellevue and Sammamish business people. They have a good following. Pop-Offs, a three-piece classic rock band, have done well, too. They can even pull off ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which you wouldn’t expect from a three-piece.”
Comstock is a musician himself. He plays guitar and saxophone, as well as having a “day job” as an attorney. He’ll get up and jam at Oddfellow’s sometimes, he said.
And as much as he’d like to sell food and beverages — for instance, there’s a Happy Hour from 4-6 p.m. with half-price food and discounted drinks — he said he’d love for people to come in just for the music, too.
HEART AND SOUL
The addition of Oddfellow’s in downtown Redmond is promising, said Redmond Arts Commissioner and musician Clint McCune, who co-owns SoulFood Books and Cafe with Sara Pelfrey.
McCune has performed around Redmond for about seven years. For the past two and a half years, his band Twirl has had a regular presence on the stage he built at SoulFood.
The family-friendly bookstore and cafe sells coffee and tea (no alcohol) and there’s no cover charge. It hosts open mic nights on the first Saturday of every month and drum circles on the first Sunday of every month.
On Dec. 4, SoulFood, in collaboration with the City of Redmond’s Old Fire House Teen Center, hosted eight teen bands, eight visual artists, two poets and two dancers, in an outreach to provide another all-ages entertainment venue.
Speaking as an arts commissioner, McCune remarked, “The vibe from the city is that they want this to be an arts town ... and are trying to support some overlooked arts. I’m excited about new venues to create a scene here, bring in more bands, more types of music.”
The stage at SoulFood is booked out about four months in advance, he said. And the line-up of talent is very eclectic.
“The stipulation is that you have to play what you mean, you have to believe in what you say and in what you’re doing, no matter what style of music,” said McCune. “We’ve had modern Jewish music, world music, folk, rock, reggae. ... It’s very diverse, just like this community. We’ve had Middle Eastern and Mexican-American performers. It gives people who are new to this area a way to see their arts and allows kids growing up here to be aware of cultural differences.”
His staff records every performance and he plans to begin streaming them online to stay connected with people who’ve moved away or gone off to college.
Rather than viewing new venues like Oddfellow’s as a threat, McCune said another place with live entertainment is “good for creating a buzz.” He’d like the Redmond Arts Commission to fund ways to “shine a light on the music scene,” not just with city-sponsored events but also by publicizing restaurants, bars and cafes that feature live music.
For instance, he admires the nearby Three Lions Pub, adjacent to The British Pantry and Neville’s Restaurant. Owned and operated by proud British ex-patriates, it draws Anglophiles from all over the state and features live music nights as well as other community events.
“Why not tap into that and make this city a real music destination?,” McCune suggested.
Bob Wikstrom, who books entertainment for Redmond Derby Days and leads the Redmond-based band Big Dog Revue, added, “It’s encouraging to see a move toward live music venues in Redmond. ... There’s been fewer and fewer rooms in then Northwest offering live music. For us working bands, the casinos have been a godsend. Most of them feature music seven nights a week. Even though many of us only play on weekends, the casinos usually hire groups that focus on dance music for Friday and Saturday. That keeps a bunch of us working.”
Through his contacts with followers of the Big Dog Revue, Wikstrom noted, “I know there’s interest in live bands here in Redmond. When my band plays in Woodinville (at Big Daddy’s), we draw a lot of folks from Redmond. They’re always saying they wish there was a club they could go to locally. ... From a band leader as well as a Redmond resident, here’s hoping Oddfellow’s Grill is only the beginning.”
HEAR IT HERE
Showtimes and performers vary from venue to venue, so call ahead or look online to see who’s playing when and where in downtown Redmond.
• Oddfellow’s Grill, 7979 Leary Way NE, (425) 882-7800, oddfellowsgrill.com
• SoulFood Books and Cafe, 15748 Redmond Way, (425) 881-5309, www.soulfoodbooks.com
• The Old Fire House Teen Center, 16510 NE 79th St., (425) 556-2370, www.theoldfirehouse.org
• The Three Lions Pub, 8115 161st Ave. NE, (425) 284-3399, thethreelionspub.com