This Saturday, the historic walls of Tacoma's Immanuel Presbyterian Church will be filled with some very fresh sounds. Indie groups Pearly Gate Music, The Maldives and Pickwick make up the impressive line-up. An eye-stopping cobalt blue poster heralds the event as Cathedrals Tacoma: Part One.
Cathedrals, a series with the simple concept of "presenting music in amazing spaces," was started in Seattle by Fremont Abbey Arts Center Director Nathan Marion, pioneer of other such elegant experimental musical series as the Round, and Bare. After experiencing the Round, a series in which musicians share the stage with slam poets and live painters, Tacoma musician and Programming Associate for the Broadway Center for Performing Arts Aaron Stevens was so taken with the concept that he called Marion up and invited him to lunch. He offered Marion a proposition that was half praise, half warning.
"I said, listen, that was amazing. I'm either going to steal this idea or invite you to partner with me on bringing this thing to Tacoma," admits Stevens.
Luckily, Marion was on board with sharing the concept and he and Stevens brought the Round to Tacoma. The Broadway Center took notice of Stevens' passion for music and knack for programming and brought him on full time to introduce Cathedrals to Tacoma.
As vocalist, lead guitarist and songwriter for Tacoma's Goldfinch, Stevens knows all too well the challenges of finding venues in Tacoma that serve the needs not only of musicians, but of the listener. It is Stevens' hope that Cathedrals will raise the bar for Tacoma's musical experience, nurturing the city's vibrant, but sometimes underappreciated music scene and drawing to Tacoma musicians that have found success in bigger markets.
"For our first Cathedrals, we've programmed these incredible musicians who have easily sold out 700-plus seat venues in Seattle, and are putting them in a space that holds, maybe 300, people," says Stevens. "Are we crazy? No, we have to be aware that this is a new concept in Tacoma and start small. I want to see what the community response is. The goal is to make this an annual series."
Churches are known for naturally pleasing acoustics, but Stevens is leaving nothing up to fate.
"We are bringing in our lead sound guy from Broadway Center to take care of the musicians," says Stevens. "We'll be running the door, have our ushers from the Broadway Center, concessions, the whole deal."
Speaking of concessions, great sound wasn't the only thing Stevens insisted on.
"I wanted to make sure we'd have cheap beer available," he says. "And it has to be PBR."
Cheap beer and indie rock in God's house? Is this going to be like the parties kids throw when their parents go out of town?
No need to sneak around, the over 100-year-old church is into it. Immanuel Presbyterian values diversity in expression. In fact, according to the church's website, "Marimbas, poetry, world music, traditional hymns, the blues, visual arts and film are some of the creative expressions that are aspects of worship" at Immanuel.
Cathedrals promises to be just as much fun as those secret weekend shebangs, in spite of the usual buzz kill of approval.
Who better to get the party started than new-on-the-scene Tacoma advocate Camp 6, set to host the Cathedrals pre-party in the basement of Immanuel, complete with a DJ and grown-up beverages. Though the organization will be forced to re-launch with a new name next month thanks to a cease and desist order from the Camp 6 Logging Museum in Point Defiance Park, in its short history Camp 6 - whatever you call it - has had its hands in numerous arts and community related events across the city, all part of its mission to unite Tacoma artists, art-lovers, merchants, musicians and anyone and everything that makes Tacoma stand out as its own destination. A goal Aaron Stevens shares for the future of the city.
"There is something to be said for the type of market we are in Tacoma," says Stevens. "In modeling Cathedrals after the series in Seattle, we are not hoping to become Seattle. It's time we embrace who we are, be OK with it, and celebrate it. We've got a lot to offer."
Stevens points out that another responsibility of the community is to let him know whether or not he, or the Broadway Center, is programming the types of things people want. Attendance will be part of that barometer.
At the same time, he praises the patience and dedication of Broadway Center Director David Fischer.
"He acknowledged that the series could take a few years to catch on, to gather a following," Stevens says of Fischer. "That willingness to take a risk in the name of art inspires me."
Cathedrals Tacoma: Part One
with Pearly Gate Music, The Maldives, Pickwick
Saturday, March 24, 7 p.m., $16 tickets
Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 901 N. J St., Tacoma