Music venues open and close and re-open and re-close with numbing regularity in Spokane.
The club 412 used to be The Casbah before it was A Club; The B-Side was reincarnated so many times it became a running joke; concertgoers were excited when Empyrean Coffee House was resurrected at The Big Dipper, only to have their hearts broken again when it closed a year later.
When Empyrean disappeared it took with it one Spokane’s most beloved all-ages concert spaces devoted to local and regional singer-songwriters and indie-rock acts.
In its absence though, a young Spokane couple acted upon their dream to open their own music venue dedicated to sustainable live music and the culture that defines it.
And they went to the community for help.
At the end of last year Caleb and Karli Ingersoll launched an online fundraising campaign (through indiegogo.com) to raise $30,000 to open The Bartlett, imagined as a 200-capacity, all-ages music venue with beer and wine in downtown Spokane.
By the end of the 30-day campaign the Ingersolls raised $21,085, with swag for donors that included an exclusive compilation CD featuring local regional artists who reflect the styles of music fans can expect to see at The Bartlett – Rocky Votolato, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, The Portland Cello Project, The Globes and Pegasus Dream among them.
Now the Ingersolls say are in the process of securing a location on the east end of downtown and are expecting open by early summer.
Floor plans call for a safe space – it will be fully sprinkled – fully dedicated to live music with a separate concert room and lounge area.
In the meantime, The Ingersolls are hosting their first Bartlett Presents event, a fundraiser tonight at the Bing Crosby Theater featuring Seattle buzz band Pickwick.
A Seattle six-piece specializing in soulful indie-pop, Pickwick was listed in Paste Magazine’s 2012 “12 Washington Bands You Should Listen To.” (The Ingersolls indie-rock band, Cathedral Pearls, also made the list.) Next month Pickwick appears at SXSW before headlining a U.S. tour in April. The Cold War Kids’ Matt Maust designed the album cover for their spring release, “Can’t Talk Medicine.”
“We wanted to celebrate with the community and have a fun event with cool music. Pickwick is a breakout band right now and they have a new record. We want to be bringing bands like that to The Bartlett,” Karli Ingersoll said.
Formerly known as Karli Fairbanks, a longtime singer-songwriter favorite at the Empyrean and Rock Coffee, Ingersoll got her start at open mics and sees value in offering that platform to aspiring artists in a space where a good experience is the priority for those on both sides of the stage.
“We want to have a place that is focused on music and events and not focused on getting a crowd in the door to sell them a product. That’s important for the business aspect, but it’s more about a core value of putting on music and bringing new music to people and expand their palate,” she said. “A little bit of our goal is make it a place where people want to come hang out and risk $5 on an evening to come check out a band they’ve never heard of and walk away finding a new band they want to hold on to.”
Caleb Ingersoll is a music producer and sound engineer who ran an indie music venue in another unlikely town, Kennewick. The difference, he said, is in having a music-centric space as the priority, as opposed to an add-on, where aspects such as stage placement and dance floor size are by design, instead of having a band shoved into a corner with no lighting and bad acoustics.
“I think typically live music is an afterthought for a lot of places. It’s like, ‘We made a bar, it would be cool to have live music,’ which is great, but they are offering a place to hold music and not building it to house music,” he said. “We are presenting quality over quantity and trying to prove that no matter if it’s a style you’re not familiar with, you know it’s going to be a good show. We’re designing the space around good live music and starting with great sound and a room built to showcase a band. You don’t want to be left with the choice of wanting to see a band play but not wanting to go to the venue. We have to take that choice away so it’s a no-brainer.”
Considering Spokane’s fickle history with music venues, how do the Ingersolls plan to keep The Bartlett open past the first three months? How do they plan to succeed where so many others have failed? Part of it will be decided by the quality of shows, but the success of those shows relies as much on the quality of the band on stage as it does the quality of beer behind the bar – and living up to the hype of both.
“You can create hype around something, but if you let people down they won’t forget that,” Caleb Ingersoll said. “That’s why we’re trying our best to make this the best experience for people. Every piece has to be done well.”