SMooCH 2016 Rocks, Helps Raise $3 Million for Sick and Needy Kids

Local Music, Live Reviews
Isaac Kaplan-Woolner
Father John Misty at SMOOCH 2016 (photos by Alan Lawrence, see full set here)

This year’s SMooCH benefit was a huge success, bringing in more than $3 for uncompensated care. The feel-good fundraising concert also boasted one of the best single-night lineups of the year.

A cold, damp Saturday night made the red-lit, warm Showbox at the Market all the more inviting. But the sold-out VIP crowd would certainly have come regardless for the killer bill and worthy good cause. The 5th annual SMooCH benefit helped raise more than $500,000, for an annual total of over $3 million dollars for uncompensated care for sick kids and needy families at Seattle Children’s Hospital.KEXP DJ Darek Mazzone (of Tuesday night’s Wo’Pop) spun funk, reggae, disco, and world dance tunes as the crowd snacked on oysters and sumptuous small plates from Ethan Stowell, Maria Hines, and other top notch local eateries.

VIP ticket holders had a host of killer auction items to bid on as they ate and drank. Last year included Macklemore’s scooter from the “Downtown” video, and a pair of Russell Wilson’s cleats. This year was not to be outdone. Highlights included guitars signed by Aerosmith, Soundgarden, and J. Mascis; signed Pearl Jam posters; and tickets to a full years of shows at The Showbox.

It was all to raise money for a very good cause. Sick kids at Seattle Children’s Hospital get care no matter what, but sometimes their family is not able to cover the sizeable medical bills. That’s where the uncompensated care fund comes into play. Each year, this benefit, and related charitable donations, raises millions of dollars for these families in need. It goes a long way and does good work. And the great food, drink, and music doesn’t hurt either!

John Richards at SMOOCH 2016

KEXP Morning Show Host John Richards looked dapper in a black sport coat. He egged on the crowd as they bid on items, and then took to the stage to talk more about SMooCH. “I am really proud to be a part of this event,” Richards said earnestly as he introduced his friends Pete and Brandy Nordstrom.

The silent auction was just the start of the generosity. A live donation push would later push the total up an astounding $125,000 in just minutes. This year, the raise-the-paddle donations were given a high tech update. As is often the case with benefit events where the wine is flowing, the crowd was only so attentive as speakers took the stage. Thankfully, they listened well enough to dig deep and donate.

KEXP Morning Show host John Richards and Sub Pop Records’ Megan Jasper attempted to announce various descending donation amounts, and when folks found an amount they wanted to donate, they simply texted in to a pre-set number. But what really happened was an unprecedented flood of giving, from a few dollars to Sub Pop’s $10,000 donation, to a few donations at the staggering $25,000 level.

Pete and Brandy Nordstrom at SMOOCH 2016

Pete and Brandy Nordstrom have headed up this annual event for the past 5 years, and it is near and dear to their hearts. Their own son Chet suffered serious health issues from infancy and needed the help of Children’s Hospital. They realized that many families would be in a serious bind if they did not have the means to cover this life-saving care. So each year they, along with KEXP, Sub Pop, The Showbox, and generous food and wine purveyors, put on this killer event.

This year, the show sold out weeks in advance. No great surprise, with a stellar lineup of Naked Giants, J. Mascis, The New Pornographers, and Father John Misty. A concert like this could easily command the $50 general admission ticket price on any given night, but the fact that proceeds went to such a good cause was an added feel-good bonus (and the 2 free drink tokens that came with each GA ticket helped the mood as well).

Before the doors opened to the general admission crowd, John Richards quieted the room for a more serious moment. Richards introduced the Miller family to share their own story of needing the help of Children’s Hospital and the uncompensated care fund. Born prematurely via emergency c-section, their daughter McKinley Miller needed 5 surgeries before the age of 3 and spent months of her life at Children’s. Today, she is a happy and much healthier little girl.

The point of the whole evening was powerfully driven home during a short movie the Miller’s made about their struggle. Dozens of images of McKinley’s hospital visits and medical care were juxtaposed with an astounding stack of medical bills with mind boggling totals. The video ended with the little girl smiling happily, and as her mom held up the letter she received accepting her family into the uncompensated care program, a few sniffles were heard in the crowd.

But the night was very much a celebration, and as the sold-out crowd rolled in and the first band finally took to the stage, there was a charged excitement in the air. The young trio would feed off that energy and amp it up many times higher.

Naked Giants at SMOOCH 2016

Naked Giants are a Seattle garage rock group that have been tearing up the scene, and themselves in the process. If you caught their free KEXP Mural Show this past August, you got a glimpse of their sweaty, raucous, bloody-kneed intensity. They released their R.I.P. EP this past October, and have been gigging regularly, most recently on tour with Car Seat Headrest.

One might have guessed these youngsters would have toned it down a bit for this classy benefit crowd, but it would seem they came to shake things up instead. They took the stage over a low roar of a someone inebriated and chatty crowd. They took a few moments to plug in and get started, then a wall of psychedelic sound and garage guitars swept over the crowd. High energy rock and roll.

Bassist Gianni Aiello did impressively high knee lifts as he danced wildly on stage, while guitarist Grant Mullen joined him in frenetic headbanging and sweaty hair tossing, and drummer Henry LaVallee kept a steady beat.

They just looked like they were having so much goddamned fun up there, it was hard not to have fun right along with them. These boys make a strong argument for best young band in Seattle, and are certainly ones to watch as they continue to grow their fan base.

They tore through a tight, short set, closing with the almost dance-punk cap and sing along rocker “Ya Ya”. The crowd screamed enthusiastically as the song ended. “So ends our elaborate plan to get noticed by J. Mascis. Up next is up next is, uh, him,” said Aiello as they left the stage.

J. Mascis at SMOOCH 2016

Cheryl Waters took the stage to intro J Marcis. Thanking the warm and generous community, Nordstoms, Sub Pop, and the packed house, Waters told the audience, “you are part of this community!” Then she welcomed, “one of the most wicked guitar players in all of the world!” And she was not wrong.

The Amherst, Massachusetts’ indie rock stalwart has a long relationship with Seattle and Sub Pop records. His wall-of-sound band Dinosaur Jr. is known to put on some of the loudest shows around. But solo material is decidedly more tender. His most recent solo album Tied To A Star featured his signature quiet-loud-quiet, and high, fragile voice pierced by occasional electric buzzsaw guitar solos.

His flowing white hair and distinctive red glasses adorned one of the most laid back, unassuming stage personas. Mascis had almost no stage banter at all, and played a stripped down solo set. But his talent on acoustic guitar was on fantastic display. For the first few songs, he lulled the audience with an almost indie folk sound, before stepping on a pedal and amping up the volume and rock enormously. By using crunchy, overdriven effects and occasional looping, Mascis wove an intricate, beautiful, and by turns ear-splitting web of sound.

The Miller family took the stage again to tell their story, and encourage those that had not yet donated to the benefit. A second showing of the video and text donation brought the night’s cash total easily over $150,000, which added in with the auction and ticket sales meant a huge amount of money was raised.

The New Pornographers at SMOOCH 2016

Next up was Canadian rockers The New Pornographers. Their latest, 2014’s Brill Bruisers, found the group exploring more upbeat, celebratory sounds. They brought that good energy to the Showbox stage tonight.

“We like doing these kind of things. I always feel like a jerk playing for money,” said singer and guitarist A.C. Newman, before launching into the fun, poppy “Dancehall Domine”. There was some small irony to a group of Canadians, who enjoy socialized healthcare, raising money for American families who couldn’t afford care. But the group seemed more than happy to be there, donating their time to this life-saving cause.

The band brought the biggest setup of the night, with 2 keys players, 2 guitars, bass, drums, and violin. They also brought the most upbeat and earnest sound. As their set drew to a close with the swelling, signature sing-along of “The Bleeding Heart Show”, the crowd cheered enthusiastically. Still, it remained to be seen how the biting sarcasm of the headliner would play after such a heart-on-sleeve set.

Father John Misty at SMOOCH 2016

Megan Jasper took the stage to introduce the headlining act, Father John Misty. “Once in awhile an artist comes along and they break all the fucking rules, and they totally, totally change the game,” Jasper said, “we are so lucky to have him tonight at the fucking Showbox!”

Finally, former Seattleite and consummate quirky showman (aka Josh Tillman, former drummer of Fleet Foxes) came on to close out the night. Always funny, often bitingly sarcastic, Misty has released a couple of recent politically charged songs in the wake of the contentious election season.

Somehow the sarcasm and social critique of his latest, 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear sounds different after the election of Donald Trump. Hell, a lot of music sounds different. Tillman seemed to grapple with this, playing almost all new material that seemed wrought with sadness and loathing, though coated in wit.

All in all, this was a special solo show played on piano and acoustic guitar, with Father John Misty trying out new songs for a hometown audience. He was so damn self-assured and  quite good. And, it must be said, very funny. Also, very sad and melancholic. Grappling with god and man with a wry, sad smile and the occasional minor key, Misty captivated the crowd.

For much of the set, it was about as quiet as a rowdy crowd at The Showbox could ever hope to get. Still, some felt the need to talk or even shout back. At one point, this clearly struck a nerve, and Misty’s edge became clear. He paused in the middle of covering a Tim Hiedecker song about Donald Trump’s private pilot to chastise the audience.

“Shut up, just shut the fuck up!” Misty snarled, “We are in a post expression landscape. There is nothing you can say that is as radical as shutting the fuck up. It’s not about my vanity, it’s just about shutting the fuck up.” With that, he went back to the song at hand. It was an intense moment, yet poignant all the same.

Misty switched to guitar for the last few songs, and closed out with an epically long autobiographical folk-dirge. “I’m done with the new record, and it’s kind of all I can bring myself to play,” he said, then sang verse after bitter, bitingly funny verse.

Father John Misty is a great showman, an excellent singer, and a very solid songwriter. With this stripped down set he showed that perhaps he is leaving the over-the-top ham persona behind, and is ready to be taken more seriously. It was a bit more of a somber ending to a feel good fundraising night than some would have expected, but for those who truly listened, it was an excellent set.

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