One Aspect of a Thriving Culture is Missing from the Tri-Cities
If you're new to the Tri-Cities, or have only lived here for the last 10 years or so, you might have noticed that there's not a lot of options for watching live, local music.
Believe it or not, it wasn't so long ago that the Tri-City area was home to a thriving and quite eclectic music scene. Everything from hip-hop and rap, to rock and metal and even some bands that defied categorization could be enjoyed most Thursday through Saturday nights.
One clear issue presently is the lack of venues to promote and showcase these musicians. Locations like the Benton-Franklin Fairgrounds, various union halls, bars, restaurants, the awesome Ray's Golden Lion and even the infamous Hoedown would be the home to shows as small as a couple bands. Sometimes even showcases featuring near a dozen.
Another facet missing as of late are music based festivals. Curiously missing from the landscape of Tri-Cities entertainment are what used to be annual happenings that thousands of denizens would not only frequent, but looked forward to. Small groups of people, couples and individuals would plan highly entertaining events that would pull great numbers of music fans from all around the Northwest.
Long gone are the classic Un-Tapped Blues Festival, Sunfest (which pulled in some outstanding classic rock acts, as well as local musicians), Fingerfest (which featured only local and regional acts) and many others.
As the availability of open venues dwindled, so did the number of aspiring youths who were willing to put the work into their craft and sharpen their skills. What was the point of working so hard on being an amazing band if there was nobody to play for?
Fast forward to present day and we find hardly any venues for aspiring artists and a lack of local bands playing original music. Sure you can go find a cover band at an occasional bar on a Saturday night, or a social holiday like Halloween, but original compositions are few and far between.
To be fair, however, the issue isn't one-sided. The struggle for a venue to bring in quality music is also an exceptional challenge. Often times a young musician will be quite full of themselves, some dripping with ego. Beyond that...their band just plain sucks. Nothing could be worse for a venue owner than watch paying customers driven out the door, taking all that precious money with them, because the band is abysmal.
That being said, it is also that reason why keeping a consistent schedule that folks can rely on is incredibly hard for the venue operator. Which brings in the third factor in the equation: the customer. The most fickle and often unpredictable aspect of the situation. Though there is one stalwart respect to "the customer" and that is consistency. For the most part consistency is the determining factor in how most people spend their money; quality being second. When someone knows that they'll receive the same product, every time, it becomes a regular destination for them.
A great example of this today is the Emerald of Siam in the Richland Uptown. They are one of the last standing (and certainly most consistent) outlets for local musicians to entertain and show their stuff, the customer to get the product they want and the business to do well enough to keep it going. It's a genuine diamond in the rough. The Quinn family, owners and operators of the Thai restaurant, continue to hold the spirit once found so frequently in the region. A spirit which now seems as rare as a thoughtful, honest opinion.
Though don't kid yourself. The owners of the Emerald, and any other business still trying to keep the scene going, will be the first to tell you that keeping local music alive is hard work and a labor of love; one that is often thankless. Albeit one that is necessary for a vibrant local culture.
All of this considered, the solution would seem to be that more of a collective could be established between fledgling artists and the owners/managers of the venues they wish to play. While a bad band can cost a business money, a great band can rake in the dough and even secure a positive reputation for said establishment And conversely, a solid venue with a great reputation can be fertile grounds for musicians looking to spread the word and make a few bucks while doing so. The keystone, however, is us...the customer. If we aren't willing to support the venues and bands who make themselves available, there will continue to be no incentive for those parties to make an offering.
Comment below on what you think, where your favorite places to watch a band in the Tri-Cities are, and for that matter, the best local, original bands. While you're at it, mention your favorite bands and festivals from Tri-Cities past.