Somewhere back in the late ‘90s, when this aging DIY music enthusiast wasn't even thinking about gray hair (or a lack thereof), Tacoma's all-ages scene was painfully lacking in venues for the under 21 crowd. Young punk rockers and hardcore kids crowded into tight, sweaty garages and dank basements, or danced and slid across the yawning linoleum floors of youth centers and Legion halls. The City of Destiny had yet to get its hands on a no-strings-attached, all-ages venue that was purely about music.
That all changed in 2007, when a handful of friends decided to pool their resources and throw down on a legit, all-ages spot for underground music. Originally started as an LLC, The Viaduct began showcasing various acts while at the same time shining the spotlight on upcoming bands that didn't meet the ID card requirement at the majority of Tacoma's venues. Initially covered by seven contributors, the original lineup that started The Viaduct shrank to five, and soon thereafter, the venue took a solid DIY turn and went non-profit.
These days, The Viaduct hides out anonymously on South Tacoma Way, surrounded by bars and restaurants. By day, a montage of flyers stuck to the club's storefront windows serves as a subtle announcement of its presence; at night, it gives itself away with the throb and growl of live music and huddled groups of kids scattered outside. Inside, all-volunteer staffers collect admission, stamp hands, run the sound board, watch the floors and guard the doors.
One of the Viaduct's crowning achievements has been the annual Rain Fest, a massive hardcore music festival spanning three days. Since its inception in 2007, Rain Fest has served as a magnet for big names in the hardcore scene from the past and present. The idea for Rain Fest apparently began when the venue put on a farewell show for the now-defunct straight edge band Champion. Local all-ages promoter Brian Skiffington says the idea came about as a way to "keep the energy alive with three days of awesome hardcore" in the aftermath of the band's epic last hurrah.
One of the minds behind the original Rain Fest is Zack Ellis, a stakeholder in The Viaduct who can usually be found lurking around the dance floor anytime there's a show on. Four years ago, he collaborated with friends to set up "the ‘fest", which was originally going to be a one-off. With Rain Fest's first throaty scream, however, it became increasingly obvious that Ellis and friends were on to something good. So good, in fact, that it became an annual event. Rain Fest's growth in popularity, influence and impact has been felt not only in Tacoma, but all over the country. Local message boards, for both The Viaduct itself and boards dedicated to the Northwest hardcore scene, have been buzzing about Rain Fest for months. Perhaps as a point of local pride, even our flash Seattle neighbors to the north seem to be taking note:
"For the past three years, hardcore kids have traveled to Tacoma for Memorial Day weekend," Kevin Diers noted in The Stranger last January. Discussions concerning the three-day event aren't foreign to people outside of the Northwest, either. Hardcore label Bridge 9 Records' message board and the popular metal board lambgoat.com have both been buzzing over what's coming up in Tacoma.
"Each year, [we're] getting bigger turnouts, with bigger bands wanting to play ... Rain Fest [is] getting more recognition on a national scale," says Ellis.
Ellis speaks the truth. This year, the Rain Fest has seven bands flying in to play, with a grand total of 50 bands over three days. Big hitters on the stage include Terror, The Ghost Inside, Disembodied, Indecision, Trapped Under Ice and Stick to Your Guns. In addition to other well-known acts, this year's show will also be showcasing 19 Northwest bands, including Tacoma locals Crooks to Kings, Sojourner and old-school northwest players Left With Nothing, who briefly reformed last fall to do a benefit show for the family of celebrated and tragically deceased Tacoma icon Brian Redman, the band's former bass player. According to Left With Nothing drummer Nick Platter (now playing in Glimpse and Aces Up), the band was approached by Skiffington to do Rain Fest after he saw them reunite for the memorial show:
"After Brian's memorial we had all talked about how much we'd like to do a legit reunion, and shortly thereafter is when I heard from [Skiffington]. So it was a perfect opportunity to do it again."
Ellis and company are staunch supporters of local music, especially the hardcore and punk sounds that they cut their teeth on growing up in the South Sound.
"We're lucky to have as many solid local hardcore, punk and metal bands as we do in this area," says Ellis, "with Rain Fest, we love being able to showcase all the talent."
This year Rain Fest attendees can go in for the long haul with a three-day pass, or just catch one or two shows. The venue plans to record audio as well as video tape of the entire event. Ellis reminds people to be on time, because once the club has reached capacity, no one else will be let in. He also adds a note on respect: "Be sure to respect the venue, the volunteers and the neighborhood. The other businesses in the area put up with people wandering all over for three days, so don't graffiti their buildings or give them any attitude."
Unfortunately, the show may be getting too big for the nest, so to speak. Ellis recently confirmed rumors that after this year's show, Rain Fest will be held elsewhere due to a variety of issues, not least venue capacity. Still, The Viaduct crew is determined to maintain the drive and dedication necessary to celebrate the show's final occurrence on South Tacoma Way.
"We're trying to make this last one as wild as possible," said Ellis.
Rain Fest 2010
FRIDAY, MAY 28
Bad Seed, Foundation, Gone But Not Forgotten, The Ghost Inside, Left With Nothing, Rotting Out, Sojourner, Soul Control, Stick to Your Guns, Trapped Under Ice, Vacate
SATURDAY, MAY 29
Backtrack, Black SS, The Bonus Army, Broadway Calls, The Carrier, Crooks to Kings, Disembodied, The Fake Boys, Gravemaker, Indecision, Keep It Clear, Like Wolves, Losing Skin, Pressvre (last show), Putrid Brew, Sabertooth Zombie, Sixes, Truth And Rights, Vanguard (last show), Withdrawal
SUNDAY, MAY 30
Another Breath, Cowardice, Dangers, End of a Year, Expire, Hammer Bros, Harms Way, Ill Intent, Mindset, Not Sorry, Oblivion, Odd Rule, Owen Hart, Power, Punch, Sidetracked, Terror, Title Fight, White Wards, Xibalba