The oldest and most tired Spokane cliché is: “There’s nothing to do in this town.”
Nothing? Really? In 22 years of covering the arts-and-entertainment scene in Spokane, I’ve managed to find a few things to pass the time.
Somehow, I’ve stumbled on a surprising number of all-time musical geniuses, including B.B. King (blues), Doc Watson (folk) and Wynton Marsalis (jazz). Not to mention three generations of comic geniuses: Bill Cosby (several times), Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld. Let’s throw George Carlin and Monty Python’s Eric Idle in there, too.
But what about the really big national music acts? We never get those in Spokane.
Except Elton John, the eighth best-selling musical artist of all time, who has played here twice, or three times if you count Pullman. Or Elvis, at No. 2 on the list, who played Spokane several times. And Led Zeppelin, at No. 4 on the list, who played one of their first-ever gigs here, although erroneously billed as “Len Zefflin.”
Oh, I also caught the Eagles, who are No. 5 on the artist list and also happen to have the best-selling album of all time (these numbers all come from the Recording Industry Association of America). Then there was also Garth Brooks, No. 3 on the artist list. And Bette Midler. And Bonnie Raitt. And Eric Clapton. And Neil Young. And Dolly Parton. And KISS. And AC/DC. And Bob Dylan. And Aerosmith. And Tom Petty. And Willie Nelson. And a lot of other people on the all-time list.
Yes, you say, but what about younger, hipper acts? We never get those.
Well, except that time that Pearl Jam, on the verge of megastardom in 1993, played a surprise concert at The Met (now the Bing Crosby Theater), prompting a downtown footrace by hundreds of fans. And then there was Nirvana. And Jimi Hendrix. And Wilco. And early Death Cab for Cutie. And the Avett Brothers. You’ve never heard of the Avett Brothers? You need to get out more.
OK, fine, but what about high culture? Spokane’s a cultural wasteland.
Except somehow, I have managed to hear, live, from an exceptional orchestra, most of the great musical canon of the Western world, including Beethoven’s Ninth, Fifth and Sixth, and dozens, if not hundreds of other musical landmarks from Brahms, Copland, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and more.
Yes, but those are just the old war horses. What about avant-garde, cutting-edge classical music?
Well, there was that time I saw Spokane Symphony cellist John Marshall play an electrified cello through a fuzz box. And there was also that time that the Spokane Symphony commissioned “Letters From Lincoln,” a world premiere by Michael Daugherty (the rest of the country had to wait to hear it on NPR’s “Performance Today”). And then there was the Kronos Quartet. And Philip Glass.
Yes, but what about theater? Spokane is no hotbed of live theater.
Except I’ve seen my favorite musical of all time, “Les Miserables,” six times here. And my second favorite musical, “Sweeney Todd,” almost that many times. Meanwhile, those of the Andrew Lloyd Webber persuasion have been able to drink their fill of various “Phantoms” and “Superstars” and “Cats.”
Yeah, but those are just the big megamusicals. What about the more intimate, literary plays, the kind that win Pulitzer Prizes? We never get those.
Unless you saw “Art,” “Doubt: A Parable,” “Rabbit Hole,” “Proof,” “Dinner With Friends,” “How I Learned to Drive” and “Wit.” Every one of those won Pulitzers in recent years. And I’m not even counting Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins,” which should have won a musical Pulitzer.
Sure, but what about the time-honored classics of theater? This hick town never sees anything with that kind of class.
Well, except for all of those Shakespeare plays, including “Othello,” “Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It.” And the George Bernard Shaw classics. And the Moliere comedies. And “The Pirates of Penzance.” And Thornton Wilder, Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller. The fact is, Spokane has been a fine place to see serious theater at least since Bob and Joan Welch opened Interplayers in 1981. And the Civic has been right there with it.
So, too bad there’s nothing to do around here. If you haven’t done any of these things, you know who to blame: This dead, boring town.