Everett: The Second Coming

This weekend, Fisherman’s Village, the Northwest’s most promising new music festival, lands in downtown Everett. Yes, Everett, that city of 103,000 30 minutes north that you drive past on your way to Bellingham. Fisherman’s locale may be provincial but its lineup is prodigious, featuring 80 of the best bands in the Pacific Northwest. 

And festival founder Ryan Crowther wants you to know that Everett itself is equally prodigious. With the persuasion of a marketing guy—which is his day job—and the enthusiasm of a music nerd—that’s his sideline—Crowther is selling not just the festival but the city that hosts it, the city he lives in. And he’s very convincing. In not so many words, he describes Fisherman’s, which this year is free for the first time in its three-year run, as everything that Seattle’s overcrowded, corporate-funded festivals are not. 

Before I make my first-ever pilgrimage to Fisherman’s this weekend, I talked to Crowther about how he came to embrace Everett and what sets the city and the festival apart. 

City Arts: What’s the origin of Fisherman’s Village?
Ryan Crowther: I started with small management and event curation in 2009 or 2010. It got my brain spinning around what it’s like to be a local artist, and quality show curation versus just having a show. I started working in Everett in 2008 and I lived in Seattle and commuted every morning. I did that for four years while doing PR and marketing for an economic development agency. I had my real job and then I had the music management and event side of my career. Being in the economic development world in Snohomish County, we were doing a lot of events in downtown and greater Everett. And over a four-year period I got more invested in Everett and saw a demand for live music and a gap in the ability to coordinate the local music scene as it relates to bringing touring artists in and organizing and assisting the local music scene and local artists. And that’s the concept that created the Everett Music Initiative in the beginning of 2012.

With those goals in mind, I sat and drew up on a white board in January of 2012 the concept, which included three goals. The first goal was to build Everett’s credibility and accessibility for touring artists to play. The second goal was to essentially find all the artists in the Everett area that were active, that wanted to play, and find all of the resources they needed to be successful here in Everett and also to play larger markets in Seattle and Bellingham and beyond. The third goal was to create an event in Everett that Everett would be known for. And that was Fisherman’s Village Music Festival. 

A short and long-term plan.
Exactly. The first year we looked into how to create consistent shows, and we promoted one show a month. We looked at how we could create a good experience for the people going to the shows but most of all for the artists that were playing. Because we knew that if bands from outside Everett could come and play to a room full of people in downtown and they felt taken care of and had a good experience and walked away with some money, they’d wanna come back.

That’s smart to cater to the bands as much as the fans. That’s an area where, say, Doe Bay and Pickathon excel and where other festivals fail.
Every festival gets to a point where they have to decide, do we choose a genuine, unique artist experience or do we choose simply the audience and their interests?

But why Everett? 
You have to take a look at the landscape of Everett to answer that question. It took me a lot of years to realize all the opportunity that Everett provides. What Everett has that other places don’t, especially larger cities like Seattle, is accessibility. It’s easier to park close to events and easier to walk or ride a bike. It’s easier to buy a house or afford an apartment. It’s easier to go to the beach or the farmers market.

But for me, the most enticing reason for choosing Everett was that it’s easier to make a difference. It’s easier to create impact. It’s frankly just not possible to have that accessibility in larger cities. 

In larger cities you have a larger audience. 
That’s been the hardest part for us. While it’s so much more accessible here, the hardest thing to access is good music. We don’t have the media that Seattle has. KEXP goes out in Lynnwood; around Everett you don’t get KEXP. You don’t have a place to go and look up where all the weekly shows are, a magazine or alt-weekly that’s focused on Everett and the happy hours and the art installations and galleries and music. You just don’t have it. While I talk about accessibility as it relates to quality of life, what we’re working on is the accessibility to art and quality live music. And it’s taken us five years of the Everett Music Initiative to build a sustainable crowd. 

Seems like this is the year the festival should pop, given that people can pay what they want to get in. 
Yes. We worked much more closely with the city this year and came up with the pay-what-you-can model. And that’s a perfect example of us trying to create that accessibility. If we can offer this experience to somebody that reads through a list of 80 bands and knows maybe one or two, to be able to pay $10 or go for free, they’re so much more likely to enjoy the weekend and learn about these great Northwest artists and want to come again during the rest of the year when we’re putting on shows or come to Fisherman’s Village next year.

Do you expect to actually get any money for tickets with the pay-what-you-will policy?
Currently we’re over 1,500 tickets [distributed] and we’re averaging about $4 a wristband.

A ticket is a wristband?
Yes. For one it’s a way to get people used to having to buy wristbands to come to shows and it’s for us to understand what capacity to expect. The wristbands get you into five venues over a three-day period, featuring over 80 bands. And this year what we wanted to have something for everybody. Because that was a part of engaging with the Everett community. 

What does that mean?
For one we did a family show at noon on Saturday, featuring Tim Noah and Pigsnout, partnered with the Imagine Children’s Museum. We partnered with a group called Live in Everett to create a mini food truck festival with a half dozen food trucks, which is actually considered a mini festival in Everett. We partnered with the downtown Everett Vintage Fair, and from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday they’ll pop up in the Everett Music Initiative Offices called Basecamp with vintage clothing, jewelry, furniture and trinkets.

Extramusical stuff.
Exactly. Part of the accessibility is to have a lot of free events that appeal to people in Snohomish County and beyond that gets them to downtown Everett that weekend. And the Chuck Close exhibit is happening that weekend at the Schack Arts Center. This is one of the smallest cities he’s shown at—I believe he’s from the Everett area.

So the whole thing is sort of an anti-Capitol Hill Block Party, which is clogged with fencing and crowds crammed into a small area. 
We expect a maximum of 5,000-6,000 people over the weekend. There will be no gates or fencing, so people are free to walk around and experience the city, as all of the venues are within a five- or six-block radius.

Tell me about the venues. 
This is our third year and each year we’ve had the main stage at the historic Everett Theatre. It’s the oldest running theater west of the Mississippi. The ambiance is just insane. This year is the first year we’re gonna have a street closure on Colby Avenue in front of the theater, where we’ll have the outdoor stage. And we’ve partnered with Way & Co. for the outdoor Salmontown Stage on Saturday, and that will feature an insane lineup of DIY, psych and rock bands. I wanted to partner with Way & Co. because they’re creating alternative ways to experience music for all ages. Friday there will be two venues, Tony V’s and the theater. Saturday there’s five venues—the theater, the outdoor stage, Tony V’s, the Anchor and a stage at Café Zippy.

Tony V’s has its own, strange vibe. Felt to me like a suburban roller-rink crossed with a heavy-metal bar straight out of 1988. 
Yeah. Sunday we’ll have outdoor stage from noon to 7 and Tony V’s til 8 or so. 

How would you describe the lineup overall? 
It represents a diverse mix of strong music coming out of the Northwest right now. On the really accessible side you have Grace Love, who’s doing extremely well industry-wise, and I think represents a brand of soul that anyone will appreciate. You have bands like Soft Sleep, Young in the City, Bear Mountain and Sisters that are all very accessible but will bring a lot of energy to the Theater stage. On the more obscure side we have Weed from Vancouver, BC, So Pitted and Bod that to me represent a bold, unique sound that there isn’t a lot of right now.

Frankly I feel like I’m selfish when it comes to the booking because it’s my one chance to invite over 70 artists to play in Everett. It represents a lot of my interests and the team’s interests. This is the first year we’ve had over 20 bands from the greater Everett area. That speaks to a group of young talented artists that are gonna have a chance to play in front of a larger crowd than they’ve ever played to before while also featuring some of the local artists that are doing really well, including Kevin and Jon from the Moondoggies, Fauna Shade, Tellers and Crystal Desert. 

It’s all right there. It’s just a matter of getting people to Everett. 
Agreed. So many people who live in Seattle or Tacoma or Olympia have never been to Everett. It’s no more difficult to get here than Tacoma. You have the Amtrak train. It’s a $45 dollar uber ride; come with two other people and you’re getting a 15 dollar ride to Everett. And there’s the 510 or 512 bus that drops you off 10 blocks from the festival. We have a brand new hotel that’s just blocks from the festival.

So Everett is on the brink of some kind of growth spurt?
I’d argue that no city is better positioned to be the next best place to live. You have more jobs here in Everett than eligible people to work. That’s unique.

You know this from working with the economic development folks?
Yes. I’m still working with them as a client. In the last year Everett has created 2 million square feet of industrial flex space. Two million more feet of construction will happen within a year’s time. Half of that is Boeing, but that means more jobs and more tax base to continue to grow initiatives here. Also Washington State University is building a $56 million facility here, probably a mile from downtown Everett.

Everett is looking for people with ideas, whether they’re entrepreneurs, artists, makers. Because while it has all these jobs, it has accessibility and affordability 35 minutes from downtown Seattle. You have the Schack Arts center that has 18,000 square feet of arts education space and gallery space, with 40 units above it for artists as a live/work space. You also have all of your breweries, distilleries and wineries popping up here, which create a better environment for other makers and entrepreneurs.

I don’t think there’s any reason to ever compare Everett to Seattle. Everett is its own place and will likely never offer the diversity of nightlife and food and downtown recreation that Seattle offers, but already offers things that Seattle doesn’t. In a time when all your friends are talking about how it’s impossible to afford their apartment, their practice space, their art space, I believe many of those folks are looking to Tacomas and Everetts as a place to go. Where can you go and rent a downtown office or art studio for $400 a month? Buy a house within eight blocks of downtown for $200,000, less than a mile from the waterfront of the Puget Sound?

This is the job of the festival—to show these assets while people are here, many of whom have never been here. While I do talk about all the assets that Everett has that make it the next city to live in, it also has a long way to go. And that to me is the opportunity to move to a place like this, to create that place that people wanna come live in.

Scuttlebutt Brewing. Fauna Shade. A world-class market going in downtown—they all help Everett stand out and give it a reference. And we want to make Fisherman’s Village Music Festival one of those things.

Ryan Crowther photo by Nate Watters.