Northern brings opportunity to music-hungry youth in Olympia

Photo by Ephriam Nagler

Northern is a largely volunteer-operated space in downtown Olympia that doubles as an all-ages music venue and local art gallery. A group of community-focused and inspired individuals known as the Olympia All-Ages Project founded Northern in May of 2009. Now located at414 ½ Legion Way SE, the venue has recently made a move fromFourth Avenue, where they had been located next to Jake’s on 4th. According to Northern employee Mariella Luz, the Northern all ages art and music project was forced out of their space onFourth Avenuewhen the building was sold to a developer. Luz also said that their current location is much nicer than the space they had previously. According to Zach Lopossa SPSCC student and vocalist in a local band This Is Justis, Northern is a really nice venue because they have a staff that is always working to book shows and run the venue. Lopossa also said that it’s nice to play there because the building itself is made of concrete, instead of wood, which improves their sound. According to Lopossa’s bandmate, the venue is also bigger and has parking. Northern employee, Luz and others strive to enhance Olympia’s rampant culture through the all ages venue, “Northern provides a place that everyone feels welcome to see a show or check out new art,” said Luz.   Volunteering   With Northern hosting several shows a week, volunteers are always needed and appreciated according to the volunteer coordinator, Vadi Erdal. Every third Monday of the month there is a volunteer meeting, open to the public, held at 8 the venue. If unable to make it to the meeting, Northern volunteer coordinators can be reached via the Facebook page, Northern’s website,, or by asking any of the volunteers at a show. Volunteers work beside staff to fill the following positions for each show: sound technician, ticket salesperson, and show manager, for all of which training is done prior to a show. Volunteers also work during art gallery hours, with space preparations, and overseeing the space. According to Luz, “There are tons of amazing people who volunteer and they make it all worthwhile.” SPSCC Running Start student, and active volunteer at Northern, Natalie Barr, said working at the venue provides her with a connection to the local scene and music industry. In exchange for their work volunteers earn free passes to events.

Importance of All Ages Venues

  Lopossa said, that without all ages venues, “Young, mediocre musicians wouldn’t get the chance to grow,” and that venues like Northern produce musicians capable and talented enough for 21+ performance spaces. “When [Northern] first started there weren’t other galleries where young people could show art – now there are three [galleries]! And while we are an all ages venue, I would say that 80 percent of the people that attend events at Northern are over 21,”said Luz. According to co-founder of Don’t Forget To Be Awesome records, Hank Green, minors especially are in need of a place to share their art and experience. “Young people need a place to grow socially and separate from traditional structure. I’ve never seen a better way for them to create their own culture,” said Green. Participation in local, all ages, underground music “gives a place to kids in desperate need of something to hold onto,” said Barr. These venues are also important to the bands that play at them, said Lopossa. Tacoma all ages venues like The Shelter and The Viaduct, both of which are now closed, helped This Is Justis form and develop both personally and musically, “Even though we didn’t have any recordings or fans, they let us book a show,” said Lopossa, “The scene is like a family.” Guitarist Lakota Dorris said, “If these underage venues didn’t exist, children and teenagers wouldn’t be able to enjoy the sense of family and closeness to the bands. There is nothing better [for a band] than playing their music to sweaty, screaming, hormonal youth who look at them as if they are their life.” Bandmate Hagin agreed and said fans are much more available with the presence of venues such as Northern.

Olympia’s Music

  Despite being a small town, Olympia has had an active and influential music scene for decades. Olympia has been home to K-Records, and Kill Rock Stars Records, a long list of internationally recognized musicians, and several music-oriented movements such as the 90’s Riot Grrrl scene, and host to dozens of queercore bands. Bikini Kill and Sleater Kinney are merely two iconic bands whose DIY, punk, activist ethos manifests themselves in several forms throughout Olympia, from local zines to homemade patches sold in several small shops. Frequent show-goers agree that queercore bands are still a very strong influence on Olympia’s music culture, with bands such as Chin Up, Meriwether! and Agatha discussing fear, sexuality, gender identity, and topics that are derived from those issues. These local groups also work to reclaim words and ideas that have been harmful in the past, such as sissy, or limp wrists and lisps. According to Northern’s website, “located halfway between Portland and Seattle, [Olympia] is an ideal destination for touring bands and emerging artists to showcase their work in a supportive arts community.” Olympia’s venues are hosts to touring bands that are virtually unknown, and those that are widely praised, alike. Iconic wizard rock band, Harry and the Potters have performed several times in Olympia at the Timberland library, and most recently, in late July, at Northern. Joining them for part of their national tour, was Hank Green. Green said, “[Playing at Northern] felt like my youth. It was intimate, and the fans were supportive of us, but also of one another.” While on a nationwide tour, Midtown Dickens, a band from North Carolina, played a show at Northern in August. According to the band, we’re lucky in Olympia to have a place to play and go to shows like Northern, “It’s great to not play in a bar.” Although Lopossa’s band has had shows in Tacoma and Centralia playing to bigger crowds, the shows played in Olympia have been better because of the type of show-goers. He also praises the vast amount of variety in Olympia’s underground music scenes. Luz said the music culture in Olympia is thriving, “Even though it is relatively small there are always at least 5 shows every week.” The atmosphere exuded by Olympia’s music scene is apparent whilst sitting in Sylvester Park listening to internationally praised Kimya Dawson open for several touring punk bands, warning, and “I’ve only ever played this song in my kitchen before.”