The Show Off Gallery was Bellingham
, Washington's premier all-ages music venue. Located in an industrial section of town in what used to be called the Andall Building, it was the
place to see local and touring bands who either couldn't or wouldn't play bar shows. As such, it was pretty kicked the ass of anywhere else in town.
Of course, that was last month. At the beginning of April, the Show Off Gallery was Bellingham's premier all-ages music venue. It might as well have been the best in the world. But on Sunday, April 14th, the Show Off closed its doors for the last time, and Bellingham lost what has been its most important space for the arts for over a decade.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start from the beginning.
From an official-looking yet dated photocopy from a book about the buildings of Whatcom
County, taped to the wall of the Show Off:
Andall Building 1210 C St.
The Andall Building was originally constructed as a chicken cannery in 1913. This coincided with a dramatic expansion in the Bellingham poultry industry during the years from 1910 to 1914. The building was constructed on fill adjacent to the Great Northern Railroad, which facilitated handling poultry brought in from points outside of Bellingham.
Of a simple, straightforward design, the Andall building has walls and a foundation of reinforced concrete. Rectangular in shape, the building measures 22 feet by 90 feet and has one floor and a full basement. A metal plaque mounted on the top of the false front gives the name and date of construction.
This description hardly does the building justice. It's hard to adequately describe the Show Off. But when it comes down to it, the Show Off Gallery was essentially a big, drafty, wood-floored, high-ceilinged warehouse with three makeshift bedrooms and a stage. A few times a week, people would pay a few bucks to see a few bands, typically but not exclusively of the loud, rocking variety, play music to assembled crowds that ranged in size on average anywhere from ten to one hundred.
The Show Off was also a residence. Typically a few people lived there, cramming themselves into its tiny little bedrooms each night, being forced awake by the blaring horns of the freight trains which would shoot by several times each night, a mere 20 yards away from the entrance to the building. Its residents, in addition to holding real jobs, to pay for the building's paltry rent ($500/month at the time it closed!) spent their free time booking shows and maintaining its upkeep. Of course, since it was essentially an apartment with no neighbors and a large living room, there were often wild parties that were never quite cleaned up after. And the toilet was always broken. And there was no shower. So you can kind of imagine - it had a very organic feel to it. Which is to say that most of the time it smelled bad. And it was dank. And filthy. And I treasure every minute I ever spent there.
Back to the history lesson. During a music festival called Showoff or Shutup!
hosted at the Show Off a few years ago, a zine
was distributed by the kids running the event, which I held on to. Amongst other things, it featured a typewritten history of the building called "A by NO means complete history of the SHOW OFF GALLERY by Corey" Part of it is excerpted here for your convenience, punk rock typos preserved for posterity:
...one day around 1989-90? a young man named Aaron Cayko A Bellingham performance artist was walking down the road and stopped to look at this building and wondering if the space was for rent went to the boat shop next door to ask if they might know who owned the building, and as luck would have it the Foughty's who owned the building next door were willing to rent it to the young man.
for the first couple of years the line up of residents is a little hazy but during this time the Andall Building was renamed The Show Off Gallery. also during this time the newly christened Show Off Gallery was host to various art exhibits and shows. Around 1993 the era of Connie (of the band Hussy) and Eric (of King Frog, Noggin, and Gritty Kitty records) was in full swing putting on shows for local artists and bands was well as touring bands such as Unwound, Bikini Kill, godheadSilo, Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile.
The torch was then passed to Lars and Kathleen from Portland and they continued to put on shows and held weekly spoken word shows, co-organized the Girl Circus (a two day festival of shows, work shops, and puppet shows)
Then in november of 97 the torch was once again passed, this time to myself and to Natalie Head. over the next two years the line up also included Zack olson, Molly Cooper, Jen Martinez and Andy Piper among others We also continued to book shows for travelling bands and local such as Behead the Prophet nlsl, Federation X and the Tight Bros. Frankie moved in with us in the winter of 99 and shortly there after the torch was once again passed
Dirty Bill and Johnny moved in and began booking shows at a break neck speed producing possibly the busiest schedual of shows in the Show Off Gallery's History
And this is where I come in. Showoff or Shutup!
was my first exposure to the Show Off, and it was an experience that changed my life. From August 24 to August 27, 2000, over forty bands played amazing rock, first at the Show Off, and then after the city shut the place down for fire code violations (due to the fact that they crammed so many kids in there and the Murder City Devils
had pyrotechnics), at the nearby bowling alley, 20th Century Bowling.
But from the moment I entered the building that sweltering August afternoon, I was instantly enamored. Everyone who I've ever talked to who's passionate about live music remembers that pivotal moment, that show that changed their lives forever. For me, Showoff or Shutup was that event. The first group that played was a noisy spaz
band from Olympia
, and while the majority of people wandered out of the room as the lead singer
tried to electrocute audience members with his malfunctioning microphone, I was riveted.
Anyway, as I said, the Show Off was shut down by the city of Bellingham that Thursday night, and the operation was moved to the bowling alley
. Although the accommodations were much smaller, the bands were equally incredible. Bands as diverse as Thrones
, The Microphones
, The Catheters
, and Dub Narcotic Sound System
all braved I-5
north to our fair city to play some pretty incredible sets.
But Frankie, who had organized the fest, was disheartened. He had spent so much time and money trying to organize a festival celebrating the Show Off, and it had been shut down just as it was getting started. And to top it off, the Show Off had been warned not to continue to hold shows by the city. "The main reasons for this tragedy were fire and zoning code violations," Frankie wrote in an open letter to the all-ages community published in What's Up! magazine
the month after festival. "We operated as a house doing private shows for a long time, but the festival's price tag combined with the mass amounts of exposer(sic) it got brought the man down on us hard. I'm very sorry. I don't think I've ever loved anything more than that damn building."
A few months later, Frankie moved to Seattle
, and by then, shows had resumed at the Show Off, albeit on the sly. Posters advertising shows were harder to find, and never revealed the building's street address in fear of attracting police presence. Previous rules prohibiting drinking and smoking in the building were increasingly ignored, as many shows were so slightly populated that it made little difference either way.
Which is not to say that in the year following Showoff or Shutup!, some incredible shows didn't occur. They did. And it was during this time that I discovered something incredibly important - that there were other people in the world like myself. That there were geeks, who, during their respective troubled adolescences had found solace not in spending countless hours in the computer lab or the library as I had; but rather, through art - by picking up a guitar, a paintbrush, a pair of headphones, a pen, or simply their feet, and creating something weird, unique, funny and beautiful with them. That there was an entire culture that celebrated the attributes of oddness, of honesty, and truth. And that they spent a lot of their free time at the Show Off Gallery.
It was also during this time that I began to question some of the policies that had been put into place there. Like letting underage kids (or anyone for that matter) drink on the premesis. Or allowing certain residents with seniority to take profits raised from shows and put them towards paying the rent while others were expected to hold jobs to pay their portion. Or the fact that nobody seemed to care that the place was going to seed. And I was not the only one who felt this way.
A number of residents and outsiders attempted to improve the overall quality of the Show Off. An effort to re-paint the entire interior was successful, albeit surprisingly met with resistance from some of the residents. A fundraiser to replace the Show Off's almost completely useless P.A. system went extremely well, but later the money was found to have been diverted to help pay for rent and the building's bills without consent of the benefit organizers.
The overall appearance of the building began to decline as well. Garbage was allowed to accumulate outside, beer cans littered the floor and filled a shopping cart that sat inside the door to the brim. Friends of some of the residents were allowed to live outside in vans that blocked the entrance of the building. The building's sole toilet stopped functioning and was never fixed.
* * *
Two months ago, the residents of the Show Off were served with notice
that they would be evicted on April 14th so that the building's owner (the boat store owner next door) could use the extra space for boat storage. A number of us heard through the grapevine that the owners had actually decided to evict the residents because of the sorry state the building had been allowed to fall into. And although we drafted a professional proposal that would allow a number of concerned outsiders to continue putting on shows in exchange for free building repairs and a more professional upkeep, in the end, the owners decided that they were unwilling to rent out the space.
A number of us are working now to try to find a new space to attempt to fill the gap already left by the Show Off's closure. But it's hard. We've had setbacks at every turn, and no place seems very special in comparison. Sometimes, it just seems like it would be easier to go over to the 3B
, order a pitcher and thrash about with a bunch of drunk college students to some aging garage rock band.
But then, I remember the kids. If there was anything that made the Show Off truly great, it was them. Yes, there were name-dropping scenesters
, violent straight edge
kids, drunk rah brahs
, and Calvin Johnson
, but there were also shy kids who would hang out in the corners, articulate hecklers, soft-spoken gutterpunks, squaredancing teenage lesbians, and the kids who would show up at a show that never got fliered and dance like crazy to a band they had never heard of before. And all of them were part of the Show Off, this town, and the world. And I love them all. And I want them back.
So now we'll move on. We'll find a new place if we have to cold call the whole phone book. We'll put on shows at 3:00AM in the Haggen parking lot of we have to. And we do have to. Because we've all seen that glimmer, when we're caught up in the frenzy, when the the people on stage
begin to sway and split apart, light pouring from every seam; we've seen this, and we know important it is. That if people elsewhere could just taste that one moment, they'd forget their toils and their tormentors, their aches and their sorrows. Because I have. The Show Off Gallery saved my life. And now I intend to return the favor.
archival photos at http://www.gafc.info/