Fair warning: this is going to get introspective.
After two days in Sara Routh's former home of LA, and four more in Rae Davis' surrogate home of San Francisco, we are suddenly in land that I know well. I spent the better part of a decade in the Emerald City; the first half were incredibly important in shaping who I am now, for better and worse. The second half were largely miserable and have thus created an odd and difficult karmic relationship between the city and myself.
But man, it's pretty. Heading north on I-5, from the moment you pass the gigantic, hulking visage of Mount Rainier off to your right, Seattle has you in its grip. The minute you come around that final bend and get your first look at the town--the stadiums in the foreground, the King Street train station and Smith Tower just beyond--it's clear to see why the first non-loggers who settled into the area loved the area. Elliott Bay with the Olympic Range in the background is one of the world's singularly lovely sights.
The town has changed since I lived here. Grown up a bit, with buildings that are a bit higher and a downtown that extends slightly further to the north than I remember. From friends in the area, I know that the property values in town have sky rocketed in recent years, as population has continued to grow in an area with no more land to give.
We stay on 5, passing through downtown and the Space Needle to the right and First and Capital Hills to the left. North, over Lake Union, and past the University District. A few miles later, Northgate, where I last had an apartment, passes us by. Finally, we pull off the highway in Shoreline and up to the bright yellow home of our host, another Festival friend named Blaze.
Blaze has dubbed her home "The Buttercup." Aside from the paint, the house is similar to many of the other homes in the northern suburb: rustic, well-loved, and full of the owner's individual charm. Yards in Seattle tend to be tiny, personalized explosions of color and scent, as most people prefer flowers an trees to actual grass whenever possible.
We get settled a bit, relax for about an hour in the warm late-spring sun. As we walk to dinner, Blaze and I chat about how Seattle has changed. They've finished the light rail station in Capital Hill now; it was just a hole, last time I was here. The completed station, though an important cog in relieving Seattle's traffic congestion, is also a sign of a larger problem plaguing the city: gentrification. Over the past decade, more and more of Seattle's old shops and affordable housing have been bought up, renovated into condos and retail space, and sold to the newest crop of well-paid Amazon or Microsoft employees. Capital Hill, long Seattle's most recognizably gay-friendly neighborhood, has suffered along with the rest.
"They have rainbow crosswalks up there now," Blaze tells me. "Which is funny, because they've priced most of the gays who lived there out of the neighborhood. Now it's just a bunch of straight people walking on rainbow crosswalks."
After dinner, Routh and Davis change and shower, and we head to the venue. North City Bistro & Wine Shop is a cozy little Shoreline spot, owned by the father of another of Rae's friends. Boasting a dizzying array of wines, the Bistro is warm and inviting, with seating for probably 70 people. Davis and Routh set up in front of a giant wall of wine bottles, next to an old piano that is occupying one side of the floor.
I've got friends coming to the show, a first for me on the tour. It could be telling, I suppose, that after living 10 years in the city, I could only think of seven people to invite to see Davis and Routh play. I'm far from the only person who has moved to the town and not connected with people. In fact, there phenomenon has its own Wikipedia page. However, the fact that so few people know or care if I'm there or not only contributes to the general feeling like my time in the city served as an ultimate failure, personally. Being back in the city has me in an odd mood, in case it wasn't yet obvious to you.
Three of my invitees show up, including two of my oldest and far best friends in town. The rest of the joint could have been empty, and I'd still consider the trip a success. To top it off, they picked a good night to hear Routh and Davis sing.
Davis turns in her best set of the tour. She's on point vocally and musically, and she delivers every emotional beat in her songs better than I've probably ever heard her do, anywhere. She's soulful, heartfelt and absolutely perfect throughout. Routh follows suit with one of her strongest outings as well, bantering as freely and comfortably as she has in any city outside of LA.
Both performers are clearly enthralled by the city. Its beauty is hard not to be moved by, on some level or another. After the show is done, we go back to The Buttercup, where Blaze has a fire going in the fire pit, and everyone gathers to talk for a while. Blaze's house is surrounded by enough trees to block out most of the city's light pollution, and the stars are visible up above.
For a little less than 24 hours in Seattle, everything aligns perfectly. It is days like this that make the city so enticing and so easy to love. I'll never live here again. I know this, deep down in one of those little recesses of your heart that you try and convince yourself is home to irrational self doubt and nothing more, even though you know better. Maybe that's for the best. But on this night, it's easy to remember why I came in the first place, and why the idea of returning remains so tantalizing.
We grab breakfast at Top Pot Doughnuts in the morning; it's the one concession made towards letting me show Routh and Davis around a bit. It's the nature of tour life: you never get to really test drive any one place, but you get a look at the brochures. As we head across Lake Washington, we're afforded that one last, magical view where Rainier dominates the southern end of of the lake and Mts Adams and Baker poke their noses up over the northern horizon. It's one of the first views I got of the town when I first pulled into it, back in 1997. It's a fitting farewell postcard for this, all-too-brief liaison.
Seattle also marks an important point in the Black Sheep Tour, as it is the northwestern most point in our trip. Now, every mile we travel, every date Routh and Davis play, brings us that much further east. That much closer to home.
Miles traveled: 3799