- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

SEATTLE It's a pretty good clue that your music is "over" when it becomes a museum exhibit.

As if it weren't enough that the beer-soaked relics of Seattle's grunge-rock heyday are captured under glass at the new Experience Music Project, consider this recent advertisement from an auto-repair chain:

"The only grunge left around here is under your hood."

Yet while the anguished, slow-grinding sound of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains may be a thing of the recent past, the Seattle music scene is far from dead. In fact, the disappearance of the flannel-shirt-and-cutoffs crowd has cleared the way for a vibrant, eclectic mix of new sounds.

"Even though it doesn't seem to attract the sort of attention it did eight or nine years ago when Nirvana broke, there's still a lot going on here," says Joe Ehrbar, editor for the Rocket, a weekly that has been covering Seattle's music since most grunge superstars were in diapers.

"In some ways, it's great, because without that national spotlight beaming on Seattle, people don't have to be so self-conscious," he says. "They can do their own thing and not have to worry about the industry watching their every move. That was one of the downsides of grunge."

Scott McCaughey, 45, whose pop group the Young Fresh Fellows developed a national following but never approached the popularity of the grungies, thinks the current Seattle scene is defined by its lack of a defining sound.

"There's lots of roots, country, rockabilly, pop and noise bands. There's no one kind of scene," he says.

Weeds grow in the lot of the the Rckndy, a long-shuttered grunge institution. Its equally renowned neighbor, the Off Ramp, has gone through some changes, emerging most recently as Graceland.

But the Crocodile Cafe, which always drew the more pop side of the scene, has survived intact.

"We're by far the last from the heyday," says Stephanie Dorgan, who founded the club in 1991 after a brief career as an attorney. She can recall when it seemed as if every local band was trying to catch the grunge wave.

"The diversity's still there, but now everyone's being what they are," she says.

A recent Friday night show at the Crocodile featured an eclectic lineup. Tyson Meade opened with a solo guitar-and-voice performance, followed by Essex Porder named for a local TV newsman romping through a harder, pop-punk set. Then came an acoustic set by Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of the Posies, another local pop group that reached only the verge of stardom in the '90s.

"There's a lot going on here," says Cory Gutch, 25, who caught the Posies show and plays guitar for the Turn-Ons, a group trying to break into the club circuit. "There's a feeling that there's something bubbling up."

Essex Porder members moved to Seattle from Fort Smith, Ark., in 1995, a year after the shotgun suicide of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain cited by many as the beginning of the end for grunge. That also was when Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and other mega-groups were keeping Seattle at center stage.

Bass player Sean Becker, 25, whose bobbing bald head and on-his-back flourishes made a visual impact for Essex Porder on stage, says it's still possible for a band to get noticed in Seattle. He cited Modest Mouse, whose major-label debut was just released on Epic.

"They've been working hard for years," he says.

Other up-and-comers cited by scene observers include Death Cab for Cutie, Pedro the Lion and 764 Hero.

Seattle will continue to produce high-profile bands, Mr. Ehrbar predicts, but it's unlikely to become the center of the rock universe again.

"Remember, the kind of music that came out of here was something that no one had ever heard," he says. "Now, with the Internet especially, everyone knows what's going on. I think it's going to happen somewhere else, if it ever happens again, and it's going to be a totally different kind of music."

Those seeking a window into the lost world of grunge can pay the $20 admission price at Experience Music Project, a pet project of local software billionaire Paul Allen that began as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix and ballooned into a full-scale music museum and interactive playhouse.

The grunge exhibit takes up a few display cases in the Northwest Passage section, which also features the Kingsmen of "Louie Louie" fame, Heart and other Northwest rockers who have come and gone.

Crumpled, hand-scrawled lyric sheets are displayed alongside battered, sweat-stained guitars and fliers for small-club shows featuring grunge bands that hadn't quite mastered their instruments but would go on to sell millions of CDs.

The section's final exhibit is a video screen that shows clips of some current Seattle bands and asks which will produce the next defining Seattle sound. The display, like most observers, can't hazard a guess.

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