If you don't already live there, Georgetown might look like it doesn't have much to offer. Besides some private artist lofts and band rehearsal spaces, there are only a few pockets of
action within its maze of mysterious industrial buildings—Jules Maes, a great dive bar with usually raucous live music on the weekends, and the tiny Squid & Ink, which serves some really tasty vegan poutine (fries, gravy, "cheese" curds, oh my!) with the occasional hardcore show on the side. It's a long way from, say, Capitol Hill.
Sure, Georgetown has character, but it's hardly the dream locale for a vibrant summer music festival. But when Stefan Schachtell and Chris Beno founded the Georgetown Music Fest in 2006, they weren't looking to create a polished, predictable music festival. Schachtell and Beno wanted to focus on local music, and they needed a neighborhood that would appreciate their somewhat dissenting attitude. The oft-overlooked Georgetown, Schachtell says, was perfect.
"It hit me when I was turning the corner on that main strip, 12th Avenue, specifically," he says. "It's lined with all these old brick buildings—you still see the grit. Nothing's really pretty about it, especially with the freeway on-ramp crossing over and the 727s coming in for a landing 50 feet above your head. It has this vibe. It's close to Seattle, but it's uncharted territory."
The Georgetown Music Fest debuted in 2006 with two stages and 15 bands. Despite an already saturated summer schedule, crowds came out. In 2007, the roster nearly tripled to over 40 bands. This year is their biggest yet—nearly 60 bands are already on the bill (with the possibility of more to come), and they've added a third outdoor stage (with music inside Jules Maes, too).
Still, the creators maintain the festival's local focus. Most of its sponsors are Seattle-based companies—Caffe Vita, Rainier Beer, Viking Bank—and with the exception of Helmet as Friday night's headliner, the entire lineup comprises Northwest talent. Schachtell doesn't hire a lot of outsiders for help, either—volunteers, friends, and family help run the "labor of love" (that guy you've seen working the beer garden for the past two years, for example, the one with the thick German accent—that's Schachtell's dad).
But they have made one noticeable change: In response to criticism that their lineup was too narrowly focused—on indie and power pop, Schachtell's favorites—Schachtell and booking partner Kate Fernandez made a conscious effort to diversify.
"This year we really tried to cast a wider net," says Schachtell. "In the past, I tried to book bands I really wanted to see, but this year we tried to bring a lot of different genres onto the stages. Helmet is heavier than we've had in the past. We never had any sort of hiphop before, and this year we have Cancer Rising and GodSpeed."
The age of performers is just as varied. Helmet's Page Hamilton is pushing 50, while the Lost Episode, a soulful classic-rock band who come highly recommended by Thee Emergency, are a trio of 14-year-olds.
Even though they don't have a budget of hundreds of thousands, there's still a lot at stake for Schachtell if things don't go well. Sponsorships cover about half of the festival costs, so he has to cross his fingers that the rest will be made up through good ticket sales. Any money lost comes right out of his pocket, which is why he's stacked the bill with local favorites like Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death, Helms Alee, the Lonely Forest, Aqueduct, PWRFL Power, the Lashes, and the Valley.
The biggest obstacle remains convincing people Georgetown isn't located in a completely different universe.
"We're trying our best to let people know there's a great, cool community down here; there's something so unrehearsed, unguarded about the scene. We get e-mails from people asking, 'Where is Georgetown?' 'How long does it take to get there?' 'Can I drive to Georgetown?'" Schachtell says with a laugh. "People really feel like it's a different city; they have a misconception that it's far away. But it's really easy to get to."
The Georgetown Music Fest is Fri June 13 and Sat June 14. Gates open at 4 pm Friday and 11:30 am Saturday. Entrance to the festival is at 6000 Airport Way S. Tickets are $14 adv/$17 DOS; weekend passes are available for $26. Visit www.georgetownmusicfest.com for a complete schedule and more information.