We Just Want to Play Shows: An Oral History of Redmond’s Old Fire House Teen Center (Part 2)

OFH 25

By Dusty Henry and Sharlese Metcalf

In part one of the Old Fire House oral history, we talked with some of the people who worked on creating OFH and building a space for the youth. Equally as valuable to understanding why OFH matters so much is the people who were there experiencing these shows. When something is described as “life-changing,” it’s often thought to be superlative. But look at the names of the people on this list – artists, music industry professionals, bookers – and you’ll see just how much of an impact OFH had on so many people. We asked OFH veterans to share their stories from this remarkable venue to help paint a picture of the breadth of territory OFH has covered in its first 25 years.

Memories from the Old Fire House

Rocky Votolato (Waxwing): I’m so grateful that The Old Firehouse was there when I was growing up.  It created a space where kids like myself could have a chance to grow, learn, heal, and figure out how we relate to the world through art and music. It was a huge part of my formative years as an artist and I saw so many life-changing shows there. Jawbreaker on the 24 Hour Revenge Therapy tour, Elliott Smith on a floor with 10 other people, Sunny Day Real Estate at one of their very first shows…  Without that place I’m not sure if I ever would have pursued a life in music.  Creating a space like this for kids brings so much value to our communities and world and I hope the City of Redmond continues to recognize how valuable places like these are.  There is inherent value in Art and Music that allows people to heal and work towards a more peaceful world that are overlooked a lot of times in American society.  These benefits ripple out into society and many countries I’ve traveled to in Europe are aware of this and are doing much more to actively encourage and support the arts in their communities.  I’m especially grateful to Kate Becker and all the pioneers who helped create and sustain a place like this.  I’m really looking forward to playing there again next week and hope it’s there for many years to come!

 

Cody Votolato (The Blood Brothers/Waxwing): My brother Rocky (Votolato) got into music and he was older than me and I think he actually to my very first show there, which was Jawbreaker on the 24 Hour Revenge Therapy tour. I was in the 6th grade, I was 12 if I remember. They played with Strawman Antenna Seven, I do remember that very clearly. I remember lurking next to the merch booth because Blake was standing there next to roadie. When he walked away, the roadie was like, ‘Hey, you want a shirt?’ And he gave me a shirt but it was an XL. I wore it to school that next Monday and the shirt had a big ashtray on the front and a syringe on the back. I definitely don’t think I made it halfway through the day before they called me to the office and made me turn it inside out.

That pretty much changed my life. The Blood Brothers played our very first show there. First time I ever played a show was there. The Fire House was so great because it had the BandPool. It would be just once a month on a Wednesday… the kids in the local bands would just kinda get together and they’d talk about what’s coming up. You’d play your demo. We had demoed some stuff on a tape deck. I don’t think we were even called The Blood Brothers initially. I think we were called the Justice League of America. Everyone played their demo, then we’d vote. Then we got the most votes so we ended up being able to play this show. We just had this refuge, this sanctuary for all of us growing up and being here. It’s just a very special place for us to have that. To be able to go there.

I think the Murder City Devils played one of their first shows there. We were going to the show and didn’t know anything about them. I remember being floored, like, ‘That’s what I want to do!’ And then we started The Blood Brothers! I saw Elliott Smith play there on his self-titled tour there… My brother and I and some people went and there were only a few people there and, you know, it’s Elliott Smith. The history of that place is really, really special.

The Blood Brothers filmed a DVD there, like a live show that was pretty great for us when we started touring a lot. It was a really cool opportunity to play in a place that we started and get out there what we were doing and what that place was really about. All of us owe so much to the Redmond Fire House. I think that the Seattle community really owes so much to that place and to Kate and to everyone that was involved in there.

I didn’t go to school with all the guys in The Blood Brothers. I knew Mark, we went to school together, but the other guys went to a different school. So they were the only other young kids I would see at the shows and we eventually met and became friends. We had similar interests, so then it was like, “Let’s be in a band!” The guys were in Vade, actually. Out of that spawned The Blood Brothers.

 

Amy Mahardy (OFH Recreation Leader/Live Sound Engineer 97-00):  Oh man… how much time do you have?! Let’s see… Bikini Kill, Goodness, Gossip, The Need, Mirah, Team Dresch, Blonde Redhead. Are you sensing a theme here?! The OFH was the place where I got to see women rocking out on stage in a way I didn’t know was possible at that time as a teenager. It was a place that inspired me to play music and later on I ended up playing some amazing shows at the OFH, even getting to share the stage with people like Carrie Akre, Mirah, and other rad women musicians. That said I also have the most amazing memories of Waxwing shows and Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie.

Shane Tutmarc (Dolour, United States of Electronica, Solar Twin): I switched from the Bellevue School District to the Kirkland School District in 9th grade around 1996/1997.  Bellevue had Ground Zero, which was great, but after becoming best friends with Devin Welch at Lake Washington High School, he told me about the Band Pool at the Old Firehouse.  It was an after-school meeting of local high school musicians headed by Kate Becker.  It was a place to meet other musicians and put shows together, or even put bands together.  I believe they would do one Band Pool show a week, determined by everyone putting their band name into a hat and drawing the band names randomly to choose who would play that week.  Soon after going to my first meeting, Devin and I started a band called The Science, and I brought in my friend Casey Wescott who I had met recently at church camp and my buddy Zane Landreth who I’d been friends with since we had gone to Bellevue’s Chinook middle school.  I’m sure to hear it now it would be super amateurish, but at the time it felt very progressive. Devin and I wrote most of the songs, but we also included covers of Joy Division and Gary Numan stuff.  We thought of ourselves as a Post-Punk/New Wave band.

Devin was only months away from starting the Blood Brothers, and through these Eastside connections Casey Wescott ended up joining Seldom, then Crystal Skulls, and finally Fleet Foxes. And Zane went on to be a roadie for tons of bands including Murder City Devils, Vendetta Red, and The Blood Brothers, and most recently has opened up an amazing record store in LA.  Without “band pool” and Kate Becker, I don’t think all these connections could have possibly been made. It was through these band pool shows that my band Dolour ended up playing our first show a year later.  And the community that Kate Becker really cultivated is what made such a thriving scene in the late 90s/early ’00s.  Later, once I was living in Seattle, Kate was running the Vera Project which again had a major impact on my life as that was the premiere all-ages venue in Seattle.  So it’s really hard to overstate how important Kate Becker was in my life as a young musician trying to figure out how to put on shows and build an audience.  And it’s probably impossible to know how many hundreds, thousands of other bands and artists’ lives she’s had a similar impact on. God bless Kate Becker.

 

fugazi ofh

 

Chris Cullen (Former OFH Director):  I think I am most satisfied with being a part of a great show with no serious incidents and watching all the staff, audience and bands helping and working together with smiles on their face, doing something that is deeply satisfying and rewarding.

However, there is one moment that is seared into my brain: when we did the Fugazi show in Bellevue. While I was filming, throughout probably every Fugazi show there was rare quiet, nuanced, subtle and thoughtful moments that would somehow reach out from the stage and make emotional communication with every last person in the building. It was during one of those quiet moments while filming I zoomed in on Ian MacKaye’s face and on his nose there was a drop of sweat. As he spoke softly the drop slowly moved down the bridge of his nose to the tip. His head leaned back in a meditative otherworldly state and just as the drop reached the edge of the tip of his nose, it fell off and hit the floor. it was the exact moment the stage exploded into a perfectly cacophonic, glorious wall of sound. I almost dropped the camera as the power of the music hit my chest. All I wanted to do was jump off the ledge from which I was filming from, into the middle of the mosh pit. As a staff representative at the event, I, of course, did not.

Chris Ando (Talbot Tagora): I started going to the OFH as a teenager in High School for shows and then started to go to drop-in hours after I met other teens through volunteering during shows. Everyone who I was in a band with also attended the OFH and we got our first show at the OFH through Band pool. I took many workshops at the OFH and one of them happened to be a screen printing workshop taught by Kerstin Graudins who I would end up working with years later. Through this workshop, my cousin, Donnie Pepper, and I printed CDs, records, shirts, and posters for many bands including ourselves.

With the skills that I learned at the OFH I’ve been able to find work with screen-printing pretty much anywhere I go — and that’s how I’m making a living in NY at the moment. I did a PR/Booking internship with Nat Damm and I learned how setting up shows works as well as how the DIY network that the OFH is connected to works as well. Through this I learned how to book shows at houses, community spaces, art galleries and other DIY venues for young, local and touring bands. We booked all of the tours ourselves and met a lot of people through it — we sold records that we recorded ourselves thanks to a lot of the people we met at the OFH who gave us their knowledge.

The OFH is an inclusive place for queer teens, too — and that definitely helped me to find my place as a queerdo. The staff has always been supportive and willing to share their knowledge. I worked at the OFH for a while as a Rec. Leader and then as an Events Planner — I got to share the skills I was taught there and was lucky enough to work with some of the staff who was working there when I attended as a teen. And, I am still friends with a lot of people who I met at the OFH. There’s probably a lot more I will feel bad about when I realize I left it out but here you go.

Andrea Zollo (Pretty Girls Make Graves, Deep Creep): My very first band ever, called Appleseed, definitely played their first show there as well as many. (You could hear that band on Periscope – a Yo-Yo a Go-Go comp). But a fun little-known fact is that Dann Gallucci and I also had a short-lived acoustic band named Molly Bolt (after the main character in Rubyfruit Jungle), and we definitely played one of our only shows ever at the Firehouse as well. I feel very fortunate to have had it as a resource as a teen on the east side. And still think back on how wild it was that a teen center in the east side, became a regular tour stop for a lot of bands: Bikini Kill, Jawbreaker, Rocket From The Crypt, Fugazi, etc. (Although the Fugazi show had to be moved to the Bellevue YMCA because the interest was so big).

Pretty Girls Make Graves played an early show there, as well as the Hookers (which I played drums in). Murder City Devils played an early show there as well. Kate Becker is an incredible woman, and we were totally lucky to have her come into our lives. I feel like I might not have as much to offer as some of the volunteers and employees — but so many people from there went on to do great stuff!

ofh elliottMichael Compton (Executive Director for the Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter): 

I could probably write a novel about how much the Old Fire House community impacted my life. I grew up in Redmond and as a punk rock kid who loved making and listening to music, I was a constant outsider. At that time Redmond was a place where young people coveted expensive clothes, expensive cars and elitist cliques were all the rage. Growing up I often dreamed of moving out of Redmond someday.

One of my first jobs was working at the Redmond YMCA as a camp counselor and I kept hearing about these amazing shows happening there on the weekend. My good friend and YMCA co-worker David Malhum had been working with the Nightlife crew who produced shows at the Y on the weekends and introduced me to the program administrator Kate Becker.

Kate was a blonde haired ball of energy at that time and one of the most kind, authentic people I had ever met. She was truly beloved by everyone around her. I attended an Undertow show soon after and I was blown away. The showroom was packed and it was pure chaotic bliss. Kate and the staff were in a slight panic because kids were stage diving right and left and the pit was completely insane. I never thought something like this could exist in sterile, conservative Redmond.

It was ironic because I’d previously only ever wanted to leave Redmond and suddenly this place, this YMCA housed in an old firehouse was transformed for me. Redmond was transformed for me. It was more than anything I could have dreamed up. I instantly felt like I had found MY community.

I started volunteering shortly thereafter and became a staff member in 1995 when the Y officially closed and “The Old Fire House” opened as both a teen center and All Ages venue. Kate and I worked closely during that time and it remains one of my all time favorite job experiences. I was working with teenagers during the day who like me, had interests outside the norm such as music, photography and art and didn’t always feel connected to the status quo on the eastside.

We produced amazing shows 2-3 nights per week with some of my favorite bands of all time. It literally was a dream job and I didn’t think it could get any better, but it did. In 1997 the most important moment happened for me at the OFH. Kate and my long working relationship and friendship grew into more and we went on our first official date to the premiere of the film Hype! (which just celebrated it’s 20 year anniversary!) According to Kate that was the first time I held her hand. Now we are married and parent a wonderful teenage daughter together.

In addition to meeting my wife there, the OFH also set the foundation for my career in music. Sharing the stage as a performer with so many of my musical heroes provided inspiration beyond words and was the spark that ignited a 20 year career making music, producing records and shows, creating music programs and working with young people and artists in Seattle, Boston and LA.

My life has been completely shaped by my experiences at the Old Fire House and I have life long friends and family as a result. The community is still connected and continues to feed my soul, my inspiration and my love. I simply wouldn’t be me without the Old Fire House. Thank you to everyone who made it what it was and everyone who keeps it going for generations to come. Happy 25 OFH!

Sarah Skilling (Comedian): Here’s the stuff I remember lovingly about the OFH:

  • The piano that was in the girl’s bathroom. Why? I dunno, but I played it a lot.
  • Kate at the front door stamping hands
  • The infamous “make out room” that I only heard about but never got invited into.

I went to shows there every weekend, I hung out with Hannah and Jordan Blilie a lot, was in love with Jake Snider from State Route 522 and basically, that place was my clubhouse. Met tons of cool people, saw amazing bands (Seaweed, Goodness, Jeremy Enigk unplugged, Flop, all the Dave Larson Excursion bands).

Shannon Lorraine (Director of Found Fortune): I spent my high school years 91-95 at Ground Zero and The Redmond Firehouse, and a few sneak-ins to the OK hotel and DV8/the OZ. I can’t recall all of the bands we saw — Bikini Kill, 7 Year Bitch, Sunny Day Real Estate, Super Deluxe, but I was good friends with Spencer Moody and I remember attending an early version of the Murder City Devils shows there. One thing that I loved the most about it was that our crew was pretty “straight edge” and we rarely drank and drugs were not our scene and the firehouse felt like a welcome place for kids who were just there for the music. I only hope my daughter, growing up in Brooklyn, has the same awesome options we had as kids.

Benjamin P. Parrish (Art Director for Kill Rock Stars): I only got to visit the Old Fire House in Redmond once, but I’ll never forget it. My noise band, The Punks, got to play there with Kill Rock Stars recording artists Shoplifting and Mikaela’s Fiend (Chris Ando from Talbot Tagora and his awesome cousin Donny… I can’t remember if he ever played in another band but I’ve never seen somebody more committed to drinking Moutain Dew), PLUS two all high school-aged bands that were mostly ladies. One of them covered “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen! My band played on the floor instead of the stage to speed things up — there were 5 bands after all — and I remember a few teenagers telling us that they’d never seen a band play on the floor before. It was one of my favorite experiences as a performer ever and I hope more places like this open in the future.

bikini killKate Becker (Founder of the Old Fire House): It’s very dangerous for me to answer favorite show questions ‘cause there were a ton of them. Some distinct moments. The 10-year party, when lots of people who’d been involved in the first decade of the Old Fire House came out. We did a Bikini Kill, Warmers, Vade show at one point. Vade had Hannah and Jordan Blilie in it. Hannah went on to be in The Gossip and Jordan was the frontman of the Blood Brothers. I had to write a letter to Kathleen (Hanna) to make that show happen. They didn’t take phone calls or have booking agents. You had to woo them. We had successfully wooed them and here’s Bikini Kill on our stage, I think it was 1995. We had some pretty healthy mosh pits going on that time. There was a big hardcore scene and a lot of aggression in the mosh pits. We were always managing that trying to make sure no one got hurt and that some innocent 13-year-old girl goes running into the mosh pit and comes out bloody — we just couldn’t have that happening. It was a thing we were always to manage to make sure we were walking that fine line of allowing the kids to have enough fun and do their thing and not having people go to the emergency room. That was a line I drew that people could not get hurt in those pits. So anyhow, here’s Bikini Kill and here’s a pit going on with a bunch of young men and suddenly these young women organized and they sat down and they just took that pit right back. They sat down in the middle of it with Kathleen Hanna on stage. That was a beautiful moment.

So many shows, so many young bands. One of the biggest thrills for me was seeing a band up on stage for the first time and their friends are there to support them, sometimes their parents came out to see their first show. Such a proud moment for them. For kids who were into music, at that time at least, they weren’t getting the same opportunities at schools like athletes might get to really have that proud moment for themselves. It was really something. So many times to see these young bands. Sometimes they were terrified to get on stage for the first time and to push themselves through it and have this experience with an audience. It was just amazing. I think to this day I still hold the record for having the most 15-year-old, raw, first-time-on-stage. With that of course comes the ‘raw’ part of it. It’s not super polished. But the energy in the room? Unbelievable.

Be sure to head to the OFH’s 25 Year Anniversary shows, starting tonight with The Velvet Mornings, Rocky Votolato, and Whitney Ballen, then come back on Saturday for LocoMotive, Kung Foo Grip, Naked Giants, and Triumph of Lethargy Skinned to Death Alive.

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One Comment

  1. Sarah
    Posted September 29, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dusty & Sharlese; Really great interviews! The OFH is near and dear to my heart! I had some of my first shows there and I had a vibrant community of youth and staff. This was all during the late 90’s. I feel the one piece that you are missing is the vibrant community that is alive and well today. A big part of living/breathing OFH today is the amazing staff led by their fearless leader Rana Becker. She started as a volunteer, went to being part-time show staff and now is the longest running staff member, who now runs the joint. She works with the city, bridged the gaps with the school district and has fostered all aspects of youth arts on the eastside. Huge Props to Rana, it wouldn’t be the same without her!

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