Music Tour of Seattle

Music Tour of Seattle

Seattle - that rainy city, tucked away on the Pacific North West corner of the United States of America. Famous for its skyline with the unique Space Needle taking pride of place in the middle, coffee shops, fish markets, unique waterfront with the magnificent Puget Sound and of course the majestic Mount Rainier only a day trip away. All reasons enough to want to visit, but the reason why I had wanted to make the trip for over a decade, was simply, because of the music.

The Seattle Sound in the late 80’s ended up with the explosion of the ‘grunge’ scene in the early 90’s, resulting in bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and influential music label, Sub Pop. Although with the exception of Pearl Jam, most of these bands are no longer around,their music is today still a huge influence on modern rock music and Seattle remains a hot bed of live music venues and great bands.

If you are a music fan, then it is worth reserving a full day of your trip to Seattle to immerse yourself in the musical heritage of this windy, rainy, but so very much alive and vibrant city.

Fan of Purple Haze? Jimi Hendrix was born in the heart of Seattle but laid to rest about 20 miles south of the city in Renton. The impressive memorial at Greenwood Memorial Park includes a 30 foot tall granite dome, supported by three pearl grey columns, trimmed in rainbow marble. There are many more Hendrix related sights for true fans to go visit and a good website is

Head back into the city centre and to the EXPERIENCE MUSIC PROJECT - it is a must, regardless of your preferred genre of music.

Open daily and situated right in the heart of the city, next to the Space Needle, you can easily spend a whole day here. To quote their website ‘EMP captures and reflects the essence of rock ‘n’ roll, its roots in jazz, soul, gospel, country and the blues, as well as rock’s influence on hip-hop, punk and other recent genres’.

The architecture of the building is reason enough in itself to visit, (see picture) designed by Frank O. Gehry his inspiration for the building came from buying a number of guitars and cutting them into pieces and makes for a truly one of a kind building.

Permanent exhibitions include the history of the Northwest Sound, which made me realise the origins of the Seattle Music scene started way before Kurt Cobain was born and its influence will remain long after my Nirvana cds have worn out. There is an amazing Guitar Gallery, charting the history of the stringed instrument, with a brilliant collection of world famous guitars by the likes of Fender, Les Paul and Gibson. My favourite exhibit hall was probably the Sound and Vision section. A huge room filled with interactive tv screens featuring famous artists, talking on every aspect of the music industry you can think off. Pick a topic, for example - Touring, pick an artist, and listen to them give their own unique perspective. You could easily spend a good hour in that particular exhibit hall.

There is also a good selection of temporary exhibits too, currently on show is the Jimi Hendrix Story and a Michael Jackson tribute and dont miss the gift shop, with all kinds of music memorabilia for you to buy and cram into your suitcase.

Fans of the Seattle music scene in the late 90’s may want to make their way over to Lake Washington Blvd East. Right over in the East of the city, by the picturesque Lake Washington it is one of the more affluent neighborhoods of Seattle. Its not hard to located house number 171 at the bottom of the street, and peering ominously out from behind a tree and high garden wall is the house where Kurt Cobain lived and also died. I visited there on a rainy mid week afternoon, thinking I would be the only person there, but there were a few other Nirvana fans wandering around too. There is a small park opposite his house and a wooden bench covered with graffiti and messages of condolence and remembrance to the late reluctant rock star. The park also became a memorial in the days after his death, with fans lighting candles and playing his music. Slightly eery, if you remember his death back in 1994, when visions of his house and the park filled the MTV screens for weeks afterwards. Not necessarily a morbid place, but an area to reflect back to a time in my teenage years when I was suddenly exposed to a whole new sound and type of music, one that changed my outlook on music forever.

Its a lovely walk along Lake Washington, so even if paying your respects to Kurt Cobain and effectively the end of ‘Grunge music’ isnt your thing, a visit to the Lake will not be a waste of an hour or two.

Of course the main reason any music fan will want to make the trip over to Seattle will be to visit the bars and other live music venues that fill every part of this city. Any night of the week there will be a multitude of places to go and experience new and local bands paying their dues and hoping to get a record contract or some recording time, as well as more established bands passing through on nationwide tours. I spent a whole week in Seattle and was amazed at the sheer number of live music venues filled up every night showcasing all genres of live music. A music lovers delight!

Known as the epicentre of the Grunge movement in the 90’s, the Crocodile Cafe located right in the heart of the city is on 2nd Avenue. Any band from Seattle has played here, yes, including Pearl Jam and Nirvana and more modern Seattle bands such as the Fleet Foxes and as well as The Strokes, Yoko Ono and REM in their earlier touring days. It has recently closed after 16 years, but hopefully after a change of management and some renovation it will reopen again soon. There is definitely a feeling of history when you enter the bar and knowing that some of the worlds biggest bands have graced its tiny stage, you cant help but feel slightly overwhelmed with the magic of the place.

Another must see live music venue is ‘The Showbox at the Market’ over on 1st Avenue. As well as also playing host to many influential Seattle Artists, the venue has been around since the late 1930’s and is still going strong today. Muddy Waters, Dizzy Gillespie, The Ramones, Blondie, Mae West and many many more have all graced its stage.

Other great live music venues to put on your list, if you still have time, are Doc Maynards on 1st Ave, El Corazon on EastLake Ave, High Dive on 36th Street and the Bad JuJu Lounge on 10th Ave. In fact there are just so many venues, its best buying the Seattle Weekly or checking online at to see what appeals, once you arrive in the city. Even ex-Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic is a writer for the paper, so if that isn't a good enough endorsement, i don’t know what is!

Finally, no self respecting music city will do without an annual music festival to showcase local talent, and Seattle is no exception. So, if you visit Seattle at the beginning of September, make space in your diary to visit Bumbershoot