Fred Mhidze had just finished settling up and shaking hands with the management at the Knitting Factory concert house following the fourth successful annual birthday party during the predawn hours Monday.
When he walked outside, he was shocked by what he saw: police cars and yellow crime-scene tape.
So Mhidze, known as DJ Freaky Fred, walked across the street and asked some girls what had happened.
He was even more surprised when he learned later Monday that police had shut down the Knitting Factory because of a shooting that happened in the parking lot across the street from the downtown entertainment venue.
As the concertgoing public suffers major buzzkill from the shooting and abrupt closing of the large music venue, there is discord when it comes to blame. Some say it’s unfair to blame the shows or any genre of music for the crime; others say the Knitting Factory needs to clean up its act; and many wonder how the Knitting Factory can be blamed for events that happened outside and off the venue’s property.
The Knitting Factory has 20 days to appeal police Chief Frank Straub’s decision to suspend its entertainment license, effectively shutting down live acts such as bands and comics. There’s worry that the Knitting Factory’s future is in jeopardy.
If Spokane did lose the Knitting Factory, located at 919 W. Sprague Ave., many say it would be a major blow to Spokane’s nightlife. Some say the venue, able to hold 2,000, needs to improve if it’s going to contribute to the vitality of live music in Spokane.
Quinn Tanzer has played in local bands and is the talent buyer at the all-ages Northwest Event Center and the former talent buyer for the A Club, before it rebranded to 412. He said he has co-promoted shows with the Knitting Factory and sees the venue – especially the expertise of its staff – as a vital part of Spokane’s music scene.
“I think it would be a detrimental loss to the community. They’ve spent years giving local bands a large venue to perform in and craft their professionalism while playing in a nationally known venue,” he said. “To have that taken away would be a very upsetting loss.”
Local up-and-coming R&B/hip-hop singer Jenelle Uppman is disappointed by the decision to shut down the Knit, especially since she has a show scheduled there next weekend.
“As an artist I want to feel safe in the venue I am playing at and I want to know the people that are coming to the venue to see the show are also safe. Crime exists everywhere, unfortunately, and you can’t always help that,” she said. “But if this is the fourth incident just this year involving gun violence, we can’t really blame Spokane police for shutting it down.”
Karli Ingersoll and her husband, Caleb, are working to open their own all-ages music venue, The Bartlett, this summer. She has not always had a favorable experience when going to the Knit to see her favorite bands, many of whom are singer-songwriter types.
“It can be great, but it does attract more of a party crowd. Many shows I’ve been to there have reflected very poorly to the musicians playing of the type of place Spokane is,” she said. “Some very well-known artists I’ve seen heckled there by the audience, and even the last time I saw Allen Stone perform there people would not quiet down when he pulled out an acoustic guitar for a few acoustic songs or when he would try to talk between songs. He is a hometown artist that is blowing up; you should have been able to hear a pin drop during that performance.”
Caleb Ingersoll said that although he doesn’t attend many shows at the Knitting Factory, he still sees it as an important piece of the puzzle for Spokane to stay connected to nationally touring artists who otherwise may not come here.
“That size of a space can bring in a lot of big names to Spokane that would normally not play here at all. All venues, I believe, are important to a music scene. They help keep a town on the radar of booking agents and people looking to find shows,” he said. During an interview with Built To Spill’s Doug Martsch, the indie-rock pioneer said he was excited to play the Bing Crosby Theater earlier this month and, “I’m just happy I’m not playing the Knitting Factory.”
He has been outspoken and adamant about his refusal to play the Knitting Factory in Boise.
Zac Fawcett plays in numerous bands in Spokane and in the Northwest, including reggae bands Real Life Rockaz and Elton Jah. He said Spokane’s music scene is looking bleak considering what’s happening at the Knitting Factory and the rebranding of A Club from a live music venue to primarily a dance club.
But he doesn’t believe Spokane needs the Knitting Factory as is.
The Knitting Factory has responded by posting a public statement, saying it will be working with the police and the mayor’s office to help increase public safety downtown, in and around the venue.