ArtSEA: In the belly of Seattle’s new Crocodile music club

Plus, where to find affordable art over the holidays and events from poetry to protest music.

Seattle musicians Aham Oluo (on trumpet) and Skerik (on sax) take center stage in the downstairs space at the revamped Crocodile venue in Belltown. (Daniel Spils)

This week, Seattle’s storied Crocodile music venue reopened in a new location at First Avenue and Wall Street — still in Belltown, but in a swankier spot a few blocks north of its original home, which opened in 1991. For me, checking out the new Croc felt a lot like going to the old Croc in the 1990s: I waited in a long line beneath the simulated green scales on the signage and quickly realized I wasn’t wearing the right coat for the weather. It rained a little, as doormen checked IDs (and, new for this era, proof of vaccination).

The throwback continued inside, where I spotted musicians I had first seen at places like the Croc and the Colourbox and RKCNDY in the ’90s and tried to avoid stepping in splats of spilled drinks. In one of the showrooms, I even found an “obstructed view” spot behind a column, much like the one that plagued concertgoers at the original venue.

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But physically, The Croc felt exciting and new. The largest stage (750-person capacity) is housed in what used to be the El Gaucho restaurant, where I went only once, in what must’ve been in the ’90s because I remember being thrilled to see Detlef Schrempf towering over the dining area. This spacious room features a commanding illuminated bar and a gigantic fake crocodile skeleton hanging above the crowd. (Less exciting: the large percentage of people ditching their masks indoors; I imagined omicron licking its virulent lips.)

One of many bonus features at the new Crocodile venue: glam hotel rooms upstairs. (Daniel Spils)

The Crocodile complex also includes a smaller stage (capacity 300) downstairs — formerly the Pampas Room, now Madame Lou’s — plus a street-level café and cocktail lounge, and (forthcoming in January) a comedy club and screening room in what was once The Big Picture movie theater. On top of it all is a 17-room hotel decked out in rocker-chic décor and local art.

My Seattle music timeline completed its flat circle downstairs, with The Shrine. This shifting ensemble is a rock-jazz-groove space odyssey that will play The Croc regularly, starting in January. It features both trumpeter Ahamefule Oluo, whose music I’ve been a huge fan of in the past decade, and saxophonist Skerik, whose former band Critters Buggin I was heavily into nearly 30 years ago. Listening to them play in this new take on an old venue sure felt like a rebirth of the cool.

The Renegade Craft Fair at Magnuson Park (seen here in a more summery, pre-COVID season) is one of many local markets offering affordable art over the holidays. (Renegade Craft)

My colleague Margo Vansynghel and I regularly field queries about how to start collecting local art and where to find original, affordable works. December always brings an easy answer: the many seasonal art markets and craft fairs happening around Seattle. This week we published a bountiful list of such events, all of which feature locally made and designed work.

It seems there are more in-person events than ever this year, a robust rebuttal to 2020’s forced cancellations. Included is everything from big, beloved arts-a-ganzas, like the Urban Craft Uprising at Seattle Center (Dec. 3-5) and Renegade Craft Fair at Magnuson Park (Dec. 11-12) to cultural collections like the Native Art Market at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center (Dec. 18-19) and intimate gallery pop-ups like one at the Modern Glaze ceramic studio (Thursday-Saturday through Dec. 23), which features, among other works, coronavirus soap dishes.

While our list focused on Seattle art markets, they’re happening outside city limits, too, each with its own lively mix of potters, knitters, jewelers, clothiers, crafters and artisanal food vendors: The Rain or Shine Market in Tacoma (Dec. 4) showcases work by BIPOC artists in the area; over the mountains, the tiny, arty town of Tieton is hosting its annual Mighty Tieton Holiday Crafts and Antiques Bazaar (Dec. 4); the Bainbridge Island Studio Tour (Dec. 3-5) is a popular self-guided driving tour of creative spaces; the Valley Made Market focuses on makers based in Skagit Valley and takes place in Mount Vernon (Dec. 10-11); Bellevue Arts Museum is hosting the BAM Holiday Arts Market, featuring many local ArtsFair artists (Thursday-Sunday through Dec. 23); and Kirkland Arts Center has its own Eastside Holiday Art Market (Dec. 2-5 and 9-12).

Shopping at these hyperlocal showcases doesn’t just avoid supply chain snafus, but helps sustain the regional artist community — particularly appreciated after the extended pandemic pause.

Phenomenal poet Rita Dove celebrates her new collection with Seattle Arts and Lectures on Dec. 3. (Fred Viebahn)

If you’d prefer to avoid the holiday hoopla altogether, never fear. There are plenty of events to entertain you with nary a jingle bell.

< SIFF Cinema Uptown makes its grand reopening this weekend, screening a new documentary about the legendary Julia Child and the reportedly gonzo House of Gucci, starring Lady Gaga.

< Former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove makes a virtual visit to Seattle Arts & Lectures (Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m.) to mark her first collection in 12 years: Playlist for the Apocalypse, which is getting rave reviews for its timely perspective and lush lyrical lines. She will be joined in conversation by Seattle poet extraordinaire Anastacia-Renee — a combination that will surely spark literary wonders.

< It’s the last weekend to see a couple of excellent gallery shows in Georgetown: a retrospective of photographs by Northwest photographers Marsha Burns and Robert Wade, at Koplin del Rio (through Dec. 4), and Ghost Garment Garden (at Studio e through Dec. 4), a bright, fresh and funny collection of figurative ceramics by Seattle artist Emily Counts, who celebrates the “intrinsic magic of grandmothers” by way of women with bold sweaters, firm stances and all-knowing eyes.

< Also in Georgetown, event producer and marimba maven Erin Jorgensen is putting on an immersive music event called Timber: A sound + light experience (Dec. 2, 4-5 at Base Experimental Arts Space), which features six percussion artists playing tuned 2x4s (yes, as in lumber) and a shifting light display, resulting in what she calls a “DIY laser dome” that will send you into a “gentle audiovisual trance.”

< Finally, at Town Hall Seattle, talented Seattle musicians Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons present Redefining Protest through Music (Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m., in-person and livestreamed), a concert of roots music that reflects protest movements from around the globe and across time.

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