And the Beat Goes On: Beatwalk Brings Funk,”Love” to Columbia City

by Reagan Jackson

Funk music provided the back drop to a gorgeous summer’s evening as Columbia City kicked off its annual Beatwalk live music series on Sunday, June 14th. Parking was tight. The neighborhood teemed with pedestrians promenading along Rainer Ave. S.

Performances with staggered start times took place in bars and restaurants along the strip from Lottie’s Lounge to Full Tilt Ice Cream and included impromptu jam sessions from a marimba band at LEMs Life Enrichment Bookstore to local street buskers complete with hula hoops and accordions. KEXP DJ Johnny Horn set up his turn tables in the alleyway behind Geraldine’s and was spinning a nostalgic soundtrack of blues and funk. As the sun sank lower in the sky Ferdinand was blocked off to create a make shift dance floor.

Vinyl Logic provided a cool jazzy instrumental funk to the patrons of the Hummingbird Saloon while the Chancellors, an eclectic soul, r&b group led by sultry Samantha Willis, were turning up the Royal Room. Even Al Green would have approved of their cover of Let’s Stay Together. Later in the evening, Thaddilac Unplugged got funky at Lottie’s Lounge.

Vinyl Logic at the Hummingbird Saloon. Photo Credit: Reagan Jackson

The stand out performance of the evening however was Grace Love & the True Loves. Columbia City resident Nancy Rawles arrived a full 45 minutes early on the recommendation of her sister from Greece who saw the band play on a recent visit to Seattle. “They went to the tail end of Folk Life and they came back and said ‘Oh my god’ this woman has an international voice. She is wicked great. She’s got the range, she’s got the tone, she’d got everything’, so they were like ‘what you don’t know about her?! You have to go see her.’”

The theater was packed as the eight piece band clad in blues brothers suits took the stage. After a few warm up songs, Grace Love descended the staircase and took the mic, her electric fuscia afro ornamented by a hibiscus flower reminiscent of Billie Holiday. Love has that kind of Sharon Jones charisma. She was sassy and soulful and once the tambourine got going no one could sit still.

Grace Love performs with the True Loves at the Royal Room. Photo Credit: Reagan Jackson
Grace Love and the True Loves at the Columbia City Theater. Photo Credit: Reagan Jackson

Rawles was not disappointed. “These guys are gonna be great and their gonna break out and I just thought how wonderful that they are here in this neighborhood working and playing and internationally people are picking them up. Okay. They’re going places. I need to come out and get with it and get with the program to find out what’s going on not just in this community but with the world music scene.”

When asked what brought her out for the Beatwalk, resident Laura Dalman answered: “Community, live music and opportunities to see multiple musicians without having to pay a high cover charge. Everything is very accessible.” Though Columbia City has seen many changes, from the revitalization of its once flagging business district to the ever shifting population demographics, the tradition of the Beatwalk is 21 years in the making and going strong.

Dalman has lived in Columbia City for the last twelve years. “It’s growing. People realize we have something here and they want to be a part of it. I don’t blame them,” she said in reference to the evolution of her neighborhood. “The local businesses are flourishing and there is enough to go around for sure. There’s lots of live music and food, lots of varied mind sets and attitudes. It’s a good mix.”

“I think it’s a phenomenal part of Seattle,” said Mike Hasseries a recent transplant from the Central District. Unlike Dalman, this was his first Beatwalk. “I’m afraid that people are going to find out about it and its going to change.”

Change is already underway as evident by the predominantly white audience that packed the Columbia City Theater for a chance to see Grace Love & the True Loves.  In 2012 Puget Sound Sage completed a study  heralding the gentrification of Southeast Seattle. With the construction of the light rail, rising property values have begun to displace some of Columbia City’s less affluent residents. While change is inevitable, the question becomes who will be able to dictate what the neighborhood will become.

No one seemed to be talking about this at the Beatwalk. People were more interested in savoring the sun and grooving to the funk. This time for community and music was special, not simply because it was free or entertaining, but because it brought the neighborhood together.

The music will be returning every second Sunday from 6-10pm from June – October and featuring a variety of themes from Cabaret to Swing and Latin Jazz.

Featured Photo: DJ Johnny Horn. Credit: Reagan Jackson