the bird

This Day in Seattle Music History - The Ramones Rock The Olympic Hotel

Today's the anniversary of the first time the Ramones played in Seattle. When they rolled through in March of '77 to promote their second album, they'd just been screwed over on ill-chosen gigs in Bremerton and Aberdeen. Thankfully, some enterprising local punks with an eye toward much greater things took a chance and suggested an all-ages Seattle show. The result became legendary. Booked in the totally posh Olympic Hotel's Georgian Room...currently advertised as the "only downtown Seattle dining option offering traditional afternoon tea service"...the Ramones pulled off an epic show. Connections were made. Everyone got paid. Halfway across the country, I was in elementary school. Nonetheless, I can imagine what an effect it had on the 400 to 500 lucky punks who were downtown that Sunday night.

Not that long thereafter...and 40 years ago this past Sunday...Seattle's gestating DIY punk scene got its first real (albeit short-lived) venue. The Bird. Even though it only hung on at 107 Spring St. for three months before getting booted into a more vagabond floating life around Seattle, promoters started thinking big(ger). It wasn't long before Seattle would get Larry "The current (Unofficial) Mayor of Georgetown" Reid's gallery/club Roscoe Louie in Pioneer Square, the U District's Rainbow Tavern (at 722 NE 45th St. next to the Blue Moon) would become a room with pull, and a Jewish bingo hall previously named the Talmud-Torah would be rechristened Seattle's most influential big room, The Showbox. Others followed. Inspiration(s) ebbed and flowed. The story continues...

That Ramones show, those evolving venues, the punks who were figuring out they could link up what had been a long-ignored cultural outpost here in Seattle with the broader national story: these are just a few of the pieces that fell into place for what would become the massively over-exposed grunge era here in Seattle. For me, searching for those layers and hunting for puzzle pieces across Seattle's landscape is an endlessly fascinating hobby. Maybe you can join me on a tour sometime soon to check out what's out there and worth pursuing? The stories themselves bring me great pleasure. But seeing where they actually unfolded? That's the best part.

As an aside for location nerds who (like myself) are always looking for the backstory, don't forget that the Olympic Hotel is also on the original site of the University of Washington dating all the way back to 1861 (previously called the Territorial University of Washington before statehood arrived in 1889). There's a plaque out front. And it's worth looking across the street at the ruins beneath the former Rainier Square mall and the oddly exposed base of the Rainier Tower (designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the former World Trade Center in NYC). So many layers of downtown Seattle stories, so little time.

I should thank Peter Blecha's research for and Steven Tow for his book "The Strangest Tribe" for whetting my appetite to explore more of this amazing chapter in Seattle's history. It surely didn't seem like it at the time, but those few phone calls to promoters back in the 1977 continue to reverberate up through the current moment. Amazing how culture can do that for a place, doncha think?