I am on my way to experience the launch party for Experience the City of Music, which means I'm on my way to the airport. Sound-tracking this initial leg of the trip is Mr. Hill's Smirk. Its subdued funk and nocturnal air—no doubt assembled in the dark nights and dank basements of this overcast city—complements the blah-gray Saturday perfectly. City of Music—a cooperative effort by the Port of Seattle, the Office of Film + Music, Seattle Music Commission, and PlayNetwork—threatens, among other things, "Eddie Vedder telling you to keep your carry-on and checked baggage in your possession at all times" via a recorded announcement, "concert footage and trivia" on overhead televisions, and "a web-based multichannel music player available via the airport's free Wi-Fi."
On the 66 bus, we roll past El Corazón, which before that was Graceland, across the ramp from where RKCNDY used to be (and where in 1993, Source of Labor played their first show outside of the Central District), past the Westin towers, which framed the iconic cover of Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West. I get on the light rail, which runs under downtown and then Pioneer Square, where bands with names like Nirvana and Soundgarden cut their teeth, and Jackson Street, where greats like Ray Charles and Quincy Jones hustled for gigs. Then we stop in the International District, where Coconut Coolouts, Unnatural Helpers, and Obits played Fen's Party Palace—a Sheetrock-stripped skeleton of some derelict nightclub. Then we pass the Beacon Hill station, where Charles Mudede recently learned of Seattle hiphop's latest enclave, the Station. At the airport, I hear no announcements from Eddie Vedder, Sir Mix-A-Lot, or Ben Gibbard, as promised. The first indication anything is happening is a sign that names the event and says "FREE MUSIC" with an arrow pointing to the ground. The signs continue through the airport and end at Gina Marie Lindsey Arrivals Hall, where some overmoneyed festival trappings form a fake wood corral, at the end of which around 100 people are sitting at tables or standing. Fly Moon Royalty have just started playing and are making an admirable attempt at overpowering the room's dreadful acoustics. A few toddlers are dancing in front. People with important-looking laminates eagerly glad-hand and chat at the back. Dave Meinert is there, signing a piece of paper. I watch the set next to a somewhat confused but fully mustachioed baggage handler.
The airport is eerily dormant on a Saturday night. As I wander around after FMR's set, I strain to hear the music trickling out of the overhead speaker system. I retreat to a nameless bar to listen to the web-based multichannel music player and write, where I happen upon the Dusty 45s closing out their tab with the bartender. "You know that new music initiative thing?" says one of them. "Oh... yeah," the bartender says, sounding tentative.
Seattle is a city of music, but you'd be hard-pressed to know it by visiting the airport.
This story has been updated since its original publication.