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On the tip top of the United States’ west coast, Washington endures rainy weather and harsh, cold winters. Although it is easy to underestimate the potential of places like Washington, the state has developed intensive technology industries and marked itself as a coffee capital. Washington has also used its unusual perspective to create an unparalleled arts scene. Read below to discover what makes its music so incredible, from its affordability and accessibility to its foundations in counterculture and social critique.

Due to its counterculture, Washington is a place where new sounds manifest

In many other states, over-connectivity geographically and consciously to the rest of the country prevents true innovation. People—including artists—may fall into the trap of favoring sameness. Washington’s distanced location and weary weather make it possible for Washington natives to burrow into their own sounds. At the same time being a relatively small city for such a large musical imprint, musicians have the ability to form a community and collaborate regularly.

This environment made it possible for crucial markers in music history to happen. It is where Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain’s careers emerged. It is where rock seeped with artists such as Heart, The Enemy, and The Lewd leading the way. It is where punk prevailed with rebels like Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana. It is where grunge emerged as a blend of hardcore and metal scenes, becoming the quintessential counterculture of the 90s. With elements of punk, rock, metal, hardcore, and glam peeking through, the Seattle sound channeled apathy, alienation, and anti-establishment ideas.

For listeners who are intrigued by authentic new trends, Washington’s live shows have been and continue to be a marvel. Grunge’s historic sound has made way for nontraditional departures in hip hop and indie. With thriving underground scenes and active public communities stashed away in venues across the state, listeners can expect something organic and genuine when they show up to a gig.

In Washington, music is a means of social critique

Coming in behind a decade of excess and consumption characteristic of the Reagan era, grunge conversed with these cultural norms, values, and expectations. Critical of exclusionary environments with high barriers to entry, grunge gravitated towards simplicity and authenticity over the contrived extravagance of the past. This more populist, egalitarian outlook favored anti-establishment and anti-capitalist ideologies. Topics such as alienation, economic struggle, mental health, and others worked their way into lyrics. Of course, in becoming mainstream and profitable, these origins obscured. However, the basis of grunge stands as an example of Washington’s role in music as a spring of social critique. Another key example of Washington’s role in social consciousness is its girl power movement. The home of the Riot Grrl movement and current location of womens' music conferences, Washington is where discerning voices speak out and speak loudly.

How does this tradition shape contemporary listeners? Artists today integrate social commentary into their music. In the underground scene and on public stages, musicians sing about disenfranchisement, mental health, race, economic inequality, and other controversial topics. Washington creates music that makes people think, and Washington creates music with which diverse audiences with unheard perspectives can relate.

Washington is a hive of live shows, with a number of accessible free and low-cost options

As a state known for its opposition to mainstream sensibilities, it should be no surprise that Washington’s relationship with music markets is a little unconventional. Instead of focusing on the bottom line, a number of venues are free to low cost. Think less than ten dollars. Among the sea of free and cheap thrills, a handful even offer admission to those younger than twenty-one. For listeners who respect a music community that is more focused on reception to music instead of profits, take a look.

Seattle is one of the flashpoints of affordable and accessible live music. These places include Blue Moon Tavern for rock etc., Conor Byrne Pub for weekends of world class shows across genre, Kraken Bar & Lounge for local and touring punk and metal, Tim’s Tavern for food and music free of covers, and Crocodile for famous rock and roll jams. 13 Coins, Highline, Highway99 Blues Club, Triple Door, VERA Project, Vito’s, Skylark, Royal Room, and Spinnaker Bay Brewing are other free to affordable options in Seattle. South of Seattle, find Dawson’s Bar and Grill and another branch of 13 Coins for cover-free entertainment. North and east of Seattle, over a dozen places boast the same appeal, with wineries and pubs appealing to the public.

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