You’ve seen it in countless movies: A small town idealist with grand aspirations gets off a bus in L.A. or New York City. They set their bags on the ground and look up at the city lights with stars in their eyes. Now they’re in the big city, and their dreams are about to come true. They’ve finally made it.
So maybe that doesn’t happen as often as Hollywood would lead you to believe, but it certainly never happens in Spokane. “It’s not a dreamer city,” said local musician and business owner Karli Ingersoll. “People don’t settle here to accomplish major things, especially in the arts scene.”
Ingersoll and her husband, Caleb, are the owners and operators of the Bartlett, Spokane’s newest all-ages music venue, and they hope their new business venture leaves a mark on the ever-changing local scene. It’s not enough for them just to run a successful venue: The Ingersolls want to foster community, to inspire local bands by giving them a comfortable place to play and hang out and meet other like-minded musicians.
The Ingersolls frequently compare the Bartlett to the Empyrean, a former Spokane concert venue and coffeehouse that closed in 2011 and, in the Ingersolls’ minds, left a gaping void at the center of the local music community.
“We had always talked about opening a venue somewhere down the road,” Caleb Ingersoll said, “but it wasn’t really until the Empyrean closed that we thought to look into it.”
“There had been a flatline after Empyrean closed,” Karli Ingersoll said. “The only places to play were bars, so it was really difficult to grow a following and get your music out there.”
In fact, the Ingersolls say they formed their current band, the folk rock outfit Cathedral Pearls, because they couldn’t find a venue in town to perform their acoustic singer-songwriter material. The Empyrean was one of the few Spokane venues that catered to performers and audiences younger than 21, and once it shut its doors, the dearth of local all-ages concerts began to impact a scene that had thrived in years past.
The Ingersolls hope the Bartlett will be seen as an agent of change, a place for artists young and old to convene and share their music with one another. “We really want artists to congregate here,” Karli Ingersoll said. “That’s a huge part of a music scene being developed. Young musicians have to have a place where they can go that’s outside of their basement.”
After struggling to find a building that could adequately house the Bartlett, the Ingersolls found the perfect location in the Richmond Building, located at 228 W. Sprague Ave. next door to nYne Bar and Bistro. Built in the early 1900s as a hotel, the Richmond has been vacant for a number of years, and the Ingersolls have updated the space – they’ve turned one long room into two, raised the ceiling, torn up flooring and slapped a fresh coat of paint on everything – while still preserving some of the rustic appeal.
The front room offers coffee, appetizers and lunch plates in the afternoons and turns into a bar in the evenings. As for the venue, it’s been outfitted to be as convenient as possible for touring bands – there’s a backstage green room, up-to-date lighting and sound tech, and a booth for bands to sell their merchandise. “We really wanted to make a space that was, at least productionwise, on par with some of the well-known venues in Seattle and Portland,” Caleb Ingersoll said.
The Bartlett experienced a number of false starts before opening its doors earlier this month, and unforeseen problems with construction and building codes forced the Ingersolls to move or delay several shows. “But the cool thing about that is we’ve had to move four shows to nYne, and they’ve all sold out,” Karli Ingersoll said. “Through it all, it’s been kind of interesting to watch, because people are quietly paying attention to us.”
Now that they’re in operation, the Ingersolls can finally shift their focus to what’s most important to them: creating a hub for local artists to grow and develop as live musicians.
“We’re both really passionate about artists living in Spokane and about their future,” Karli Ingersoll said. “Spokane is an awesome home base. It’s easy to tour out of, it’s cheap to live here. And I think there are local bands that are good enough to get national attention from here.”