Crushing Rocks: Unsung Scene Hero

We talk about “the state of the scene” in Spokane and much is made of particular musicians, certain promoters, the venues they work/play at, and who is/is not attending shows. A key group of participants gets left out of the discussion.

For four years, the Inlander’s LUKE BAUMGARTEN has been one of those people. While he’s had his hand in a number of local events (sponsoring last fall’s Terrain, nights at Empyrean, etc), his role is primarily focused deeper even than those running the shows. He and his Inlander crew tirelessly cover a music scene perpetually in limbo, transition, whathaveyou (and damn-near on the brink of GOOD), all without much in the way of praise (who would praise them, rival newspapers? wait…) But here’s the point of this: Baumgarten is an absolutely essential element of what’s happening in Spokane right now.

In March of this year, Baumgarten pitched a story about HOCKEY (quick recap: LA, Spokane, Portland, Capitol, Virgin, world domination in progress…) to BILLBOARD MAGAZINE. Then he wrote another, featuring Peaches and Fischerspooner, and he just filed his third, a Q&A with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta.

“It was totally a networking thing,” Baumgarten says of the opportunity. “No matter how talented you think you are, it basically always comes down to knowing a guy who knows a guy.” In this case, that was Cortney Harding, freelance extraordinaire now of Billboard, who connected some dots and gave Luke’s Hockey idea a full-page article in the March 21 issue.

Now, three stories in, he’s just getting started. After sharing a list of ideas, Baumgarten says, “It’s hard to break in to these publications, but once you get in and they trust you, the pitching gets easier. Just simply saying, ‘I’ve written for Billboard,’ is a tremendous boost. People still turn me down, but they’re way nicer about it.”

Music scenes, the ones that exist without much discussion, are full of people who CARE about music. They care about music on a local level, and they care about it on a national level. Baumgarten’s got the first part of that in the bag (articles on impending sprinkler laws and the Big Easy v. Rock Coffee dispute come readily to mind), and now he’s hard at work establishing the second.

Having people like Luke in your town means something, Spokane. It doesn’t mean that you should flood his mailbox with the demo you recorded in the garage last weekend because he’ll write about you in Billboard, and it doesn’t even mean that your music scene is a step closer to the national radar. What it does mean is that the scene grows simply by having someone like Luke involved in it. Someone with big ideas, bigger goals; someone in the national game, who’s also holding court on the local level (sports references? sorry…).

And guess what? He’s equally hopeful about you. “We have more artists now than four years ago who treat the art like a job. These are people who want to make a career out of it… It’s the kind of thing that has, incrementally, increased people’s perceptions of our scene to the point where we’re having really interesting, cool bands and songwriters and rappers coming through town and then coming back.” Pretty great, eh?

Cool bands coming through town, you say? Best bets for July include Helio Sequence at the Blvd on the 19th, and a choice between Sonic Youth at the Knitting Factory and the Cave Singers at Empyrean on the 24th.

Sammy Hagar and I have a real nice thing going. I’m 25, he’s 62. I’ve been a fan since ’99, he’s been at it since the ‘70s. I pretend to be “with it” by listening to this thing called “indie music,” and he continues to write the stuff that REALLY appeals to me. We WORK, he and I. Hesitation came (a lot of it) with the announcement of this “Chickenfoot” business, but the realizations I came to while crammed into El Corazon on May 14 amongst 800 Sammy fans seeing the band (at their first “real” show, in fact) went like this: it’s still our guy, “Look, he looks amazing! He’s 62! Look at those guns! That smile!”, and, it isn’t all that bad. One could perhaps do without the Satriani solos (sue me!), and it isn’t Zeppelin, Sammy (overshot, boo), but for rock in 2009, it might just be sort of awesome.


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