Kids rock. They turn on loud music and dance in front of the mirror. They flirt with dreams of pop superstardom—but only when not contemplating a career in professional sports or fashion design.
Their tastes are eclectic, yet particular. This band’s good. That band’s not. It’s ever changing, and each generation takes a different approach to musical rebellion.
While Seattle has always held the national spotlight as the birthplace of the grunge rock movement throughout the ’90s with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, the Eastside is nowhere near the void of musical talent that Seattle-dwellers are led to believe. The common view is that the suburbs don’t produce good music besides classical and jazz. But this is a fallacy. Lake Washington is not a musical moat keeping bands out of the Eastside.
In fact, notable bands like Modest Mouse, Sunny Day Real Estate and, more recently, Fleet Foxes, all formed and drew inspiration on this side of the pond.
Sure, Bellevue may be missing music venues on the level of the Paramount, Showbox or Neumos, but it makes it up in all-ages opportunities.
The scene revolves around a trio of teen-center venues: Kirkland Teen Union Building, Old Fire House in Redmond and Ground Zero in Bellevue.
It is these places where kids come together to play music, watch music and hang out.
Nick Merz, Ground Zero music director, is doing his best to make sure it stays that way.
“When I first started, it was a little bit slow, but there was some drive in it as well,” he says. Nick plays in several bands himself and is a longtime proponent of the local music community. He reminisces how a Seattle ordinance helped light a fire under the Eastside all-ages scene.
“Back in the ’90s, there was a dance ordinance in Seattle that basically didn’t allow all-ages music in the city,” he says. “The Eastside essentially became a Mecca for up-and-coming bands.”
Growing up in Woodinville, Nick found the venues as a catalyst in his own musical development.
“I grew up going to shows out at Ground Zero and the Fire House,” he says. “I had been playing music beforehand, but these places really fostered this idea in my mind.”
Although Seattle relaxed its all-ages music venue policy and the Eastside lost its monopoly on teen music in 2002, Nick still sees the teen centers as important musical hubs.
“The main goal with this place is to reestablish community and get back to a grassroots approach to things,” he says.
Hosting shows nearly every weekend, Ground Zero’s bands range from local teen bands to national touring acts.
“I definitely bring out as many bands as possible,” he says. “We try to bring in national and international bands as well.”
Strumming with Bellevue Club Kids
There are 10-year-olds at the Bellevue Club who are currently achieving the holy grail of adult coolness: proficiency on the guitar.
Their lives will be forever changed with a pick in their hand. Campfires will be more fun. Road trips will be less boring.
Guitar instructor Jack Dowdell is at the center of this transformation. Owner of Half Note Studios, Jack combines classically trained instruction and rock ’n’ roll tastes in all his lessons.
Rather than just launching into songs, Jack prefers to start all of his students on ear training. He plays several notes and his students repeat it on their guitars and then write the notes on a scale.
“Ear training is one of the most important skills in musical development. They all learn pitch recognition and recall,” he says.
And it works. Every Wednesday evening at the Bellevue Club, Jack mentors a talented group of kids who now know the difference between a G and a D minor.
It’s hard to miss his first Wednesday student’s awesome blue guitar. Moving to Bellevue from San Francisco with her family in 2009, 11-year-old Madeleine Seeley wanted to learn guitar for the past several years. Although she’s only been taking lessons for three months, she’s demonstrated some impressively fast fret-fingering and loves learning to play chords.
“You can play so many different things with the chords,” she says. Madeleine says her parents listen to jazz, but she leans more toward rock.
“Only when I don’t have homework to do,” she adds.
Olivia Burlingame, 10, has been practicing with Jack since January. Her charisma shows when she excitedly picks up the guitar for her lessons. She prefers faster songs like “When the Saints Go Marching In,” but likes most types of music. She also plays the stand-up bass in her school’s orchestra class, which towers about a foot above her head.
Another of Jack’s students, Ellie Bailey, has a busy schedule full of seasonal sports. The 9-year-old swims on the Bellevue Club Swim Team and plays lacrosse and soccer. When asked about music compared to sports, Ellie’s answer is simple.
“I just think it’s fun,” she says. “It’s something I can do at home.”
Ellie’s mom, Allison Nelson, says part of the appeal is that her older brother Sam has been playing for a year and a half.
“Sam has been teaching her a bit at home,” she says.
Sam, 10, is one of Jack’s longest-running students at the Club, and his ear training lessons have grown increasingly complex.
“He’s got a great ear,” says Jack.
Sam also plays sports—tennis at the Club and basketball at his school—but likes the deeper aspects of music.
“It’s fun to express your feelings in music. If you’re feeling happy, you can write a happy song. Or, if you’re feeling sad, you can write a sad song,” he says.
For more information about all-ages guitar lessons at the Bellevue Club, call 688.3102.