Jill Dougherty on Putin’s Diplomatic Poker Game

On Wednesday 17 May 2017, veteran journalist, academic, and expert on Russia Jill Dougherty spoke at Town Hall Seattle about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy and objectives with respect to the United States. Dougherty, who has been covering Russia for decades, was not there to discuss any smoking guns or speculation about alleged interactions between President Trump’s campaign and Russia. Instead, she focused her talk on providing context about Vladimir Putin’s thinking, viewpoints, and strategic circumstances. The event was titled Putin’s Diplomatic Poker Game.

Jill Dougherty at Town Hall 17 May 2017 (2 of 6)
Jill Dougherty, Town Hall Seattle, 17 May 2017.

Ms. Dougherty opened by joking that she might have to update her presentation as she went because of the constant stream of tweets and breaking news related to President Trump, Russia, and the 2016 election. She then discussed her assessment of Putin’s worldview with respect to the U.S. Government, Hillary Clinton, and the 2016 election. According to Ms. Dougherty, Putin believes that Clinton actively worked toward regime change in Russia during her time as Secretary of State. His primary objective, at least initially, during Clinton’s campaign was to portray her as damaged goods. That is not to say that Putin and Russia didn’t like what Trump was saying. They did. For example, the Russians interpreted “America First” as an indication that the United States intended to pull back and stop “mucking about” on the world stage.

Jill Dougherty at Town Hall 17 May 2017 (1 of 6)
Jill Dougherty, Town Hall Seattle, 17 May 2017.

Ms. Dougherty explained that Moscow experienced a surge of pro-Trump sentiment during the 2016 election, juxtaposed against coverage of Clinton that portrayed her as being unhinged. However, Ms. Dougherty asserted that the Russian Government and the media miscalculated by arguing that the U.S. system was completely rigged and would not allow Trump to win. When Trump did win, the Russian media modified its message, suggesting that there was an intense internal political struggle in the U.S. Government. It was schizophrenic, and the bureaucracy included a cabal of Obama-Clinton deep staters who wanted to bring Trump down and who would not allow Trump to improve relations between the United States and Russia.

Jill Dougherty at Town Hall 17 May 2017 (4 of 6)
Jill Dougherty, Town Hall Seattle, 17 May 2017.

Ms. Dougherty then turned to strategy and policy. In her view, the Trump Administration has not got a clear policy or strategy for dealing with Russia. Putin, however, has got a policy, one he has been refining throughout this 18 years in power. His policy is based on the following principles: Russia is a Great Power and always has been; its Great Power status affords it privileged areas and interests; it deserves respect and a place at the table; and the United States has demonstrated its intent to foment revolution in Russia.

Listening to the U.S. media, elected representatives, and national security officials, it often sounds like the consensus is that a savvy, focused Putin is consistently getting the upper hand. However, Ms. Dougherty believes that Putin is smart and understands the realities at play. More specifically, Russia is not in the same league as the United States when it comes to population, gross domestic product, defense spending (approximately $60 billion vs. $600 billion), and economic diversity. Trade has almost no bearing on the relationship between the United States and Russia, and the Russian economy is dangerously dependent on energy resources. Putin talks a good game about achieving a modern, diversified economy, but Russia is not making significant progress on that front.

Jill Dougherty at Town Hall 17 May 2017 (3 of 6)

Finally, Ms. Dougherty turned to what I thought was the most interesting portion of the discussion. How is Putin viewed in Russia? Ms. Dougherty pointed out that a lot of Russians have never known anything other than Putin, and that Putin is popular with the younger generation. Take Moscow University for example. In many ways, its students are similar to U.S. university students. On campus, there is the feeling that Russia was kicked in its teeth by the international community after it fell apart, and that Russia has a strong president who commands respect and ensures that Russia plays a prominent role in international affairs. According to Ms. Dougherty, relations between the United States and Russia are not necessarily going to improve with the younger Russian generation, and the relations could get much worse after Putin.

Jill Dougherty at Town Hall 17 May 2017 (5 of 6)
Jill Dougherty, Town Hall Seattle, 17 May 2017.

Ms. Dougherty closed her presentation by discussing the most effective ways of dealing with Putin, who she describes as smart and deliberate. Ms. Dougherty emphasized the need to remove the emotion from the interaction and deal with Putin strongly and deliberately, understanding his objectives and interpretation of Russian interests.

Jill Dougherty at Town Hall 17 May 2017 (6 of 6)
Jill Dougherty, Town Hall Seattle, 17 May 2017.


Side Notes: A person associated with the LaRouche PAC was outside of Town Hall Seattle protesting Jill Dougherty’s presentation. He mentioned that Dougherty and people like her wanted to start more wars. I took a double-sided handout.

“Belt and Road Forum Impact – A Wonderful Change in History.”

“America, China, and Russia: A New Paradigm for Progress, or a New Cold War?”

When I arrived at the presentation I had my camera set to black and white JPEGs. After the first few shots I switched it to color. I have included a black and white photo here, and it is the only black and white image. There is no implied meaning for the image, just the result of not switching the camera settings from the outset.

Consuming Journalism: References to possible wrongdoing require proper explanations and attention

On 27 May 2017, Politico ran an article focusing on Jared Kushner’s alleged attempts to establish back-channel communications with Russia. The opening sentence of the article states that the attempts “would have been viewed as not only highly improper but also possibly even illegal, according to former national security officials.” A related tweet had the following caption: “Kushner’s alleged Russia backchannel attempt would be serious break from protocol and could possibly be illegal”.

In general, the article presents a quick, reasonable overview of how and when the U.S. Government has used back channels for discreet communications with other governments or individuals. In the first quote, H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, explains that it is normal to have back-channel communications with other countries, thereby allowing for more discreet communications. The article then offers comments from named individuals explaining why they think it would be problematic for a President-elect or his deputies to establish those back-channel communications before the President-elect’s inauguration.

The problem with the article is that it mentions several times that the attempts could be illegal without explaining the criteria for determining that illegality or discussing who would have the authority to make that determination. Instead, the notion that Mr. Kushner might have broken the law is presented vaguely to readers, first in the opening paragraph, second in a quote attributed to a former National Security Council spokesman, and third in a reference to the Logan Act. Once Politico introduced the possibility of a criminal act, it should have provided additional details about what would make it a criminal act. Was it the attempt itself, not disclosing the attempt, the nature of the communications, or something else?

Backstage Pass: Evening at the Paragon

On 25 May 2017, four very talented musicians – Heather Edgley, Sandi Fernandez, Anna St. Lee, and Elena Loper – took over Queen Anne’s Paragon for three hours of great music. They each played several sets, rotating after a few songs to ensure that friends and fans would get to see them without having to commit to a midnight finish on a weeknight. It was a good idea and a nice change of pace. Still, it didn’t look like anyone was in a rush to leave.

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Sandi Fernandez and Anna St. Lee at Paragon in Queen Anne, Seattle, 25 May 2017.
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Elena Loper at Paragon in Queen Anne, Seattle, 25 May 2017.
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Heather Edgley at Paragon in Queen Anne, Seattle, 25 May 2017.
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Anna St. Lee at Paragon in Queen Anne, Seattle, 25 May 2017.


Spotted a few other local musicians in the audience – Tobias the Owl with Sarah St. Albin. (That sounds dramatic – it’s an intimate venue.) They are definitely a mutually supportive, tight-knit community.

Paragon25may (4 of 7)
Sarah St. Albin with Tobias the Owl at Paragon in Queen Anne, Seattle, 25 May 2017.
Paragon25may (2 of 7)
Sandi Fernandez and Joseph Dane at Paragon in Queen Anne, Seattle, 25 May 2017. (Anna St. Lee looks at risk of being attacked by a goose.)
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Anna St. Lee at Paragon in Queen Anne, Seattle, 25 May 2017.



Palmyra, Syria 2001

Palmyra, Syria*, summer 2001. The photo is not very good. I’m posting it for two reasons. It’s from my first attempt at scanning 35mm film negatives on the Epson V800 flatbed photo scanner. I used the basic scanning software. I’m not sure if the marks on the photo are scratches or dust. Before the next attempt I’ll clean the negative tray and hit everything with an air blower. It’s also “throwback Thursday”, and this one took me way back.

Palmyra (1 of 1)
Palmyra, Syria, summer 2001.

Have any of you embarked on archiving projects? I’d welcome tips/advice. Haven’t decided yet if I’ll switch to the Silverfast SE8 software.

* Hope the Syrians get some long overdue peace and relief.

Ilan Pappé at Town Hall Seattle: Prospects for Peace in Israel-Palestine

On Monday 22 May 2017, historian Ilan Pappé spoke at Town Hall Seattle in a forum titled “Prospects for Peace in Israel-Palestine.” Mr. Pappé, an outspoken critic of Israeli policies towards Palestine and the Palestinians, spoke about the origins of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, returning frequently to the role played by what he referred to as settler colonialism. The problem, Mr. Pappé pointed out, is that the settlers – in this case Israelis/Zionists – choose places where other people are already living. According to Mr. Pappé, the settlers then set about dehumanizing the people who are living there in an effort to push them out, either through genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Ilan Pappe Town Hall 22 May 2017 podium (1 of 1)
Historian and author Ilan Pappé speaking at Town Hall Seattle on 22 May 2017.

Mr. Pappé discussed “positive, noble impulses” behind Zionism: saving Jews from genocide in Europe, finding a safe area, and reconnecting to the Holy Land. But according to Mr. Pappé, it is impossible to also exclude the other impulse – having to get rid of the people who were already living there. Mr. Pappé then explained the development of a decades long political and military strategy for expulsion.

Ilan Pappe Town Hall 22 May 2017 podium and panel version 2 (1 of 1)
Historian and author Ilan Pappé at Town Hall Seattle on 22 May 2017.

Mr. Pappé closed the speaking portion by offering his thoughts on how Israel has succeeded in its policy of settler colonialism. First, people are not familiar with the history. Second, pro-Israel groups have attacked the credentials and reliability of the academics who teach history that runs counter to pro-Israel messaging. Mr. Pappé also mentioned a quotation from Noam Chomsky (paraphrased here): “The key word in Peace Process is not peace, it is process.” Mr. Pappé explained that it is the process that has allowed Israel to portray the idea that it is working toward a peaceful solution.

Ilan Pappe Town Hall 22 May 2017 podium and panel profile (1 of 1)
Historian and author Ilan Pappé at Town Hall Seattle on 22 May 2017.

After the presentation, Mr. Pappé sat down with panel members for a short discussion before the panel members relayed written questions for Mr. Pappé from the audience. The questions touched on issues such as water rights, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions efforts, and the possibility that President Donald Trump could bring something new to the issue.

Ilan Pappe Town Hall 22 May 2017 panel discussion questions (1 of 1)
Historian and author Ilan Pappé at Town Hall Seattle on 22 May 2017.

[Note/Request: It is a difficult topic that spurs intense feelings on all sides. If you comment, please be respectful to other commenters. Is there a Golden Rule of blog commenting?]

Backstage Pass: Olympia Acoustic Festival 2017

On 20 May 2017, about 20 musicians and bands took to the stages at Obsidian for a day of music at the Olympia Acoustic Festival. Paul Mauer is the organizing force behind the festival, which is now in its fifth year. Paul describes the festival as a “celebration of the collaboration and the diverse acoustically driven music and artists of the Pacific Northwest.”

Paul Mauer out front of Obsidian (1 of 1)
The festival’s fearless leader taking a break in front of Obsidian at the Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.

Obsidian is a cafe, coffee shop, and live music venue. Obsidian’s layout allowed two bands to play simultaneously, one on the main stage and the other on the cafe stage, which is actually more of an open area well-suited for solo acts or small bands. Obsidian must have invested in some quality sound proofing – the main stage did not drown out the cafe area. The shows were usually a little staggered, though. The festival went from about 1400 through midnight, with people coming and going throughout. (See below for a complete list of the performers. It was a long day. I missed a couple of the performances but will try to get photos of them from other people.)

Sarah St Albin (6 of 7)
Sarah St. Albin, Olympia Acoustic Festival 2017, 20 May 2017.
Sarah St Albin (1 of 7)
Sarah St. Albin, Olympia Acoustic Festival 2017, 20 May 2017.
David Johnson (1 of 1)
David Johnson, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Marsalis (1 of 1)
Marsalis, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Anna St Lee (1 of 1)
Anna St. Lee, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Anna St Lee 2 (1 of 1)
Anna St. Lee, Olympia Acoustic Festival at Obsidian, 20 May 2017.
Fox and Bones (1 of 1)
Fox and Bones, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Casper Wakefield (1 of 1)
Casper Wakefield, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Sustenance Obsidian (1 of 1)
Interlude, a Symphony of Sustenance, Obsidian, Olympia, 20 May 2017.
Paul Mauer Sound (1 of 1)
Master of Ceremonies. Paul Mauer, concert organizer, musician, and sound wizard. Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
The Mix Position (1 of 1)
The Mix Position, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Birds of a Feather (1 of 1)
Birds of a Feather, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Ghostpepper Collective (1 of 1)
Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
PM The Dude (1 of 1)
The Dude Abides, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
M Sawyer (1 of 1)
Micaiah Sawyer, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
ALanders (1 of 1)
Andrew Landers and Mainstream Struggleville, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Sandi Fernandez (1 of 1)
Sandi Fernandez, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Paul Mauer of Paul Mauer and the Silence (1 of 1)
Paul Mauer of Paul Mauer and the Silence, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Sol Shine (1 of 1)
Jonas G., Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
TTO ED and ASL (1 of 1)
Tobias the Owl, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Tobias the Owl violin (1 of 1)
Tobias the Owl, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Tobias the Owl bass (1 of 1)
Tobias the Owl, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Tobias the Owl keyboard (1 of 1)
Tobias the Owl, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Tobias the Owl ED intense (1 of 1)
Tobias the Owl, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.
Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light (1 of 1)
Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light.
Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light 2 (1 of 1)
Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light, Olympia Acoustic Festival, 20 May 2017.

Performers (from the event’s website):


2p blue star
3p david johnson
4p anna st. lee
5p sol shine
6p casper wakefield
7p birds of a feather
8p micaiah sawyer
9p sandi fernandez
10P magnuson


2.30p sarah st. albin
3.30p marsalis
4.30p fox and bones
5.30p trona
6.30p the mix position
7.30p the ghost pepper collection
8.30p andrew lander and the mainstreet struggle ville
9.30p paul mauer and the silence
10.30p tobias the owl
11.30p gabriel wolfchild and the northern light

Welcome back Agent Cooper

David Lynch is a great writer and director. I loved Wild at Heart, the 1990 film about Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern). I haven’t seen it in over twenty years, but I remember the crazy dialogue, fantastic performances by Cage and Dern, Wizard of Oz references, and another scene stealing role for Willem Dafoe. But I didn’t give Twin Peaks a chance, despite being a fan of Kyle MacLachlan. In those pre-Netflix, -Tivo, and -DVD days, it was easier to miss a show and not catch up.

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest about nine months ago, I’ve gained an appreciation for how much this region likes its Twin Peaks lore. In October 2016 I went to author Mark Frost’s appearance at The Elliott Bay Book Company, where a packed house was on hand to listen to him discuss his book The Secret History of Twin Peaks and the show. He also read from his book and played audio files from the characters. The audio files were reminiscent of the old crime programs you’d hear on NPR on the weekends. The dialogue was eccentric and excellent.

TP MF at EBBC (1 of 1)
Author Mark Frost discussing The Secret History of Twin Peaks at Seattle’s The Elliott Bay Book Company in October 2016.

Tonight I took another step toward being a PNW and Seattle resident. I headed to Lost Lake Cafe for a Twin Peaks viewing. I was determined to get a slice of cherry pie. I got there a few minutes late, though, and it was standing room only in the restaurant and in the bar. So I stood and got a beer. There was some confusion after the first episode about whether Lost Lake would also be playing the second episode. It didn’t seem like it, and a few people settled their tabs and headed home.

TP at Lost Lake (1 of 4)
Lost Lake Cafe, Capitol Hill, Seattle, shortly after episode one of the new Twin Peaks season, 21 May 2017.

I moved over to the restaurant side and found a seat at the counter. I haven’t got much of a sweet tooth, but I wanted that piece of cherry pie. The staff was swamped, busily taking orders, serving food, and clearing tabs. I listened as they informed one another of the cherry pie supplies. Things didn’t look good. They were down to about their last two slices. I ordered one, but no luck. Instead, I got the marionberry pie as a consolation prize. In this game there are no losers. That was a damn fine piece of marionberry pie.

TP at Lost Lake (4 of 4)
Marionberry pie and coffee (just normal coffee) at Lost Lake Cafe, Seattle, 21 May 2017.

Have I become a Twin Peaks convert? We’ll see. I’ve already broken the cardinal rule of not starting a series mid-way through, not to mention 20 plus years after its cliffhanger season 2 ending. Still, I’ll give it a shot. I love the dialogue and the settings. I could do without some of the supernatural extra dimension aspects of it, but given that it’s David Lynch, I shouldn’t jump to any hasty conclusions.


Backstage Pass: Pete Yorn

I want to live alone in the desert
I want to be like Georgia O’Keefe
I want to live on the Upper East Side
And never go down in the street

Splendid Isolation
I don’t need no one
Splendid Isolation

Warren Zevon wrote Splendid Isolation, but I associate it with Pete Yorn. I can’t remember what year it was, but I was in Harrisonburg, Virginia visiting friends. Or it may have been while they still lived in northern Virginia. It doesn’t matter. They gave me two mix CDs. Pete Yorn’s version of Splendid Isolation was on one of them. It was my first introduction to Pete Yorn, and maybe even to Splendid Isolation. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times since then. Pete Yorn played Splendid Isolation at his show at Seattle’s The Crocodile last night. Incredible show. Once he started playing, he just kept going. Bittersweet night. In the early morning hours I read about Chris Cornell’s death in Detroit. “…As seasons roll on by.”

Pete Yorn Crocodile-3
Pete Yorn at The Crocodile, Seattle, 17 May 2017.
Pete Yorn Crocodile-4
Pete Yorn at The Crocodile, Seattle, 17 May 2017.
Pete Yorn Crocodile-5
Pete Yorn at The Crocodile, Seattle, 17 May 2017.
Pete Yorn Crocodile-7
Pete Yorn at The Crocodile, Seattle, 17 May 2017.
Pete Yorn Crocodile-8
Pete Yorn at The Crocodile, Seattle, 17 May 2017.
Pete Yorn Crocodile-10
Pete Yorn at The Crocodile, Seattle, 17 May 2017.
Pete Yorn Crocodile-12
Pete Yorn at The Crocodile, Seattle, 17 May 2017.
Pete Yorn Crocodile-14
Pete Yorn at The Crocodile, Seattle, 17 May 2017.
Pete Yorn Crocodile
Pete Yorn at The Crocodile, Seattle, 17 May 2017.


The Busker’s Way Part II: The Fiddler in the Market

The Busker’s Way Part I was an introductory look at the talented musicians and artists who busk in Seattle’s vibrant Pike Place Market. In writing that, I benefitted greatly from having Faith Grossnicklaus as a guide. She’s a talented and stylish fiddler, member of the band Roselit Bone, traveling musician, and a ceramic artist. That makes for a busy schedule, so when I sent her some questions for a profile Q&A, I anticipated getting some short answers that I’d include in the initial piece. But when I read the responses, a separate but related post seemed the way to go.

Faith Grossnicklaus plays the fiddle at Pike Place Market. Seattle, WA. April 2017. (Photo by Seattle photographer Danny Ngan. Instagram: @dannyngan

Q&A with Roselit Bone’s Faith Grossnicklaus

SB: I’d never heard Roselit Bone play, but after reading Will Stenberg’s writeup on the website, I had to check it out…”Dark, dystopian lyrics, shades of Marty Robbins and Nick Cave, and pedal steel notes flying like shrapnel.” (paraphrased) That is good writing. How long have you been playing with Roselit Bone, and what’s next for the band?

FG: I met Roselit Bone two years ago in Portland when I was touring with another group, An American Forrest (whose most recent album I was hired to record on), who opened for them at Kelly’s Olympian. I had never head of them before that but was immediately blown away and awestruck as soon as the first note of their title track ‘Roselit Bone’ hit. After the show Josh, the lead vocalist and electric guitar player, sent me an email asking if I would like to be on their next album, recording date pending. I gladly accepted, ever since that show at Kelly’s I had been wanting to work with them more than anything.

It wasn’t till I was flying home from a UK tour on a 9 hour layover in the Istanbul airport when I got another email from Josh asking if I could be in Portland the following week for the recording session – attached two mp3s and pdf sheet music copies for ‘Like So Much Garbage’ and ‘Glint’. I got back to Seattle, practiced as much as time would allow, then headed down to Portland for the recording. The original agreement was for me to be hired on for the record recording and the album release tour in June and July once everything was all out and ready to go. Then I was invited back for another rehearsal, and then another, then a show in December and one in January, then asked to go on a trip with them to Washington, and then on their tour to Austin, Texas to play the SXSW music festival in March. At this point I think it’s safe to say I’m stuck with them, I’ve never felt more supported by any collaborative group, and with a 9 piece band there’s never a dull moment.

FG profile towards sign 4 with people
Faith Grossnicklaus, Musician, Fiddler, Ceramic Artist, Pike Place Market, May 2017.

Coming up next we are playing Northwest Folk Life in the American Standard Time lineup, and then we’ve got our record release at the Doug Fir on May 31st in Portland before we hit the road for the record release tour at the end of June. We’re doing a loop around the country starting in Seattle and ending in Portland and hitting just about everywhere circling the country. As a band we are signed with the record label Friendship Fever based out of Sacramento … with their backing and the help from our booking agent and publisher I think this could really go somewhere.

SB: I got interested in profiling Pike Place Market buskers when I heard that Claire Michelle was doing it. I tagged along with Claire Michelle when she applied for her busking permit. I liked how straight-forward the process was. She was in and out of that office in 20 minutes, armed with a one year permit.

But I was also curious about whether there were any unwritten rules or etiquette. Seems like it could be a little like surfing. Anyone with a surfboard can get in the water, but if you’re a reckless amateur stealing waves or putting others at risk, you can make some enemies. (I’m not a surfer, but I’ve seen Point Break (the original) and North Shore.)

Are there unwritten rules, secret handshakes, and pecking orders in the Pike Place Market busking world, or is it all pretty informal and easy-going? Does it run pretty smoothly, or can someone run the risk of getting blacklisted?

FG: Pike Place is a much more formal busking location than most places I’ve played around the world. Some people have a problem with how you have to have a permit, but I prefer it. It’s only $30 per year which allows you to busk in any of the certified busking pitches in the market from 9am-9pm everyday all year round. You get there, sign up, play for your hour set and then move on to find another pitch. Occasionally you will get people trying to camp spots (staying for longer than they can and not telling the truth about when they started), but overall it runs pretty smoothly.

The buskers are considered employees of the market, all the vendors and security guards have always had my back if anything goes wrong or if I’m having a problem with someone. I’ve heard that people have been blacklisted from the market before, but have never witnessed it.

FG LBBooks profile
Faith Grossnicklaus, Pike Place Market, Seattle, May 2017.

SB: I won’t ask for your busking secrets, but have you got favorite spots or times of the day? It seems like that spot right out in front of the iconic neon sign would be prime territory.

FG: Mostly I stick to the pitch between Pike Place Flowers and Left Bank Books, and the spot by the stairs next to Post Alley. I tend to do the best there, but it is completely different from busker to busker. A lot of people like the spot by the clock under the main Public Market sign and the spot by Starbucks, but I’ve never done well there. Everyone knows what spot works for them and sticks to it. It’s not often that people are running around trying new spots everyday.

SB: Do you know most of the other buskers, or is it pretty transient, with people coming and going with the seasons and band schedules?

FG: Performers come and go with the season, but overall it’s the same core group. I’m personal friends with a lot of the buskers. It’s not uncommon that we will all go drab dinner or drinks at the end of the day, or all go over to someone’s house for a jam session.

SB: Roselit Bone has you listed on the violin. On Instagram you describe yourself as a fiddle player. Please don’t roll your eyes on this one – is there a distinction? Does it signal a different style or type of music?

FG: Whenever Im out performing and someone asks me what the difference between a violin and a fiddle is I usually make some sassy remark like “You can’t spill beer on a violin” and have a laugh before I actually do any explaining. Violin and fiddle are the same instrument, it just depends on what style you’re playing or how you were taught. I started out taking celtic fiddle lessons when I was 7 years old so I will always consider myself a fiddle player. The instrument is traditionally called a violin, so when listed in a musical lineup it just makes more sense to use that terminology.

FG front LB Books
Faith Grossnicklaus, Pike Place Market, Seattle, May 2017.

SB: I saw that you and a gentleman called Strangely Doesburg played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Photographer/writer Philippe Monthoux got some great shots of you two. How was that? Have you been back? Traveling and busking sounds romantic, but I’m sure it can be stressful. Any plans to hit the road like that again? If so, where to?

FG: I’ve done the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the past two years as a busker, and have it lined up to go back again this year. It’s the only other setting that I’ve found to be equally as consistent to the busking at Pike Place. You have to register for a permit, and it’s all run very professionally – there’s a whole crew specifically to take care of street performers. I’ve become dear friends with many of the buskers from that festival who come to Edinburgh every year; occasionally I’ll run into them in other parts of the world as well.

Traveling and busking can certainly be romantic, but is also VERY hard work. I’m a full time performer and part time ceramic artist, most of my income comes from busking and playing shows, the rest from selling art. I love it, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else, but there are always obstacles and challenges just like in any profession.

I’ll be hitting the road with Roselit in June, getting back at the end of July, flying to London shortly after and then heading up to Edinburgh for the festival. I’ll be there all August working the festival and then take some time to travel around the country a bit before heading back to the Northwest at the end of September to play a festival in Los Angeles with Roselit, and doing a mini tour around it. Last year I spent some time in the Isle of Skye learning from my favorite Scottish music duo, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, at a workshop at the Gaelic college on the island before the festival. I also spent time in London with friends and playing at some of the local farmers markets, as well as taking some personal time off in Athens, Greece before flying home.

I’m always planning for my next adventure, it’s very rare that I’m stationary for more than a few months at a time. In addition to Edinburgh, this year I’m hoping to go back to Greece and London as well as visit family in Oslo. We will see where the wind takes me!

Strangely and I first met at Oregon Country Fair a few years back, where I’ve been busking ever since I could play one song all the way through, and that he’s been performing at for the past five years or so. One summer he asked if I would like to play in his show, and things just went from there. That was four years ago now, and shortly after the festival that year I recorded on his album A Thrilling Tale of Yesteryear with Aaron J. Shay on tracks Fiddlers Green and Grab Your Bag. After that we were often in the same place, collaborating on projects whenever we were in the same city, and keeping in touch the best we could on the road. Since then I’ve played several shows with him and friends, as well as recorded on his most recent album, Roaring Accordion.

SB: Your vintage clothing is awesome. I headed to Pike Place Market the other day to catch your show. I missed it, but you were easy to spot in the crowd – vintage red dress and hat. Do you make those clothes?

FG: I’ve been dressing up ever since I can remember and I’ve always loved vintage clothes. In the past people seemed to care so much more about what they looked like and how they presented themselves. I like to keep it flashy and classy, and the combination of pin curls, my London Sparkles hat from Goorin Brothers, cuban heal back seam stockings, and a vintage dress is how I like to do it. I have a collection of vintage western shirts and square dance skirts I wear when I’m playing with Roselit. No matter what or where I’m playing I like to wear something fun.

I don’t make my own clothes but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I own a sewing machine that doesn’t get nearly enough use – but it’s a goal for the future. All my clothes are usually found in second-hand stores or thrift shops. One of the funnest things about traveling on the road is stopping in for some local flair at the vintage shops if you’ve got the time. I’ve found that I make more money if I’m dressed up, busking is about the whole package and the ‘look’ more than a stage show can be most of the time. You have to be eye-catching and sound good. Sometimes when I’m wearing my 50’s dresses I see the look in the eyes of some older women that they owned a dress just like that back in the day. It’s also just a good conversation piece, but at the end of the day I just really like dressing up.

SB: Last question. Your ceramic art is cool. I saw on your website that you made an Evil Eye piece. I taught English in Turkey ages ago and saw that everywhere. Is that piece still available?

FG: Here’s the link to my shop – Bone China Designs. [At the time of writing] The evil eyes are still available! I’ve been touring a lot this year so there isn’t as much in stock as usual… But ceramic work is what I do when I’m not playing music.

The Busker’s Way, Pike Place Market (Part I)

For a long time, I liked the idea and imagery of Pike Place Market more than I actually liked going there. It’s beautiful in photos. In person, it’s easy to lose sight of that. It’s crowded, people create traffic jams by pausing in the worst places, and it can all seem a little frenetic. A rushed, obligatory stop for the cruise ship masses. But I’ve been going to the market regularly the past couple of months, first for photography and then to pursue a story on busking. Along the way, I’ve become a fan. It still makes me a little claustrophobic, but in visiting regularly and getting to know some of the buskers, I focus less on the crowds, less on being a curmudgeon, and more on the vibrant community that powers the market.

I started seeing the term busking on Instagram, in the captions and hashtags of Seattle musicians I follow. It’s one of those words you’re vaguely familiar with; you’re pretty sure you know the meaning from context, but it invites a dictionary visit. When I saw that a friend of mine, Claire Michelle, was going to start busking at the market, I thought it might be something worth exploring. I wanted to find out if busking implied something more than performing in public or on the street. For example, does busking convey an emphasis on certain styles or approaches to music? Were there any unwritten rules or guidelines for getting along when everyone is eyeing the same prime locations? I’ve met some artists, musicians, and photographers who are in the know, but uncovering the market’s ins and outs is shaping up to be a longer term project.

I tagged along with Claire in mid-April when she went to the market to apply for her busking permit. I hoped that the process wouldn’t be a morass of paperwork and a series of rubber stamping office visits. Bureaucracy isn’t evil, but peeking behind the regulatory curtain rarely makes something seem more romantic or artistic. Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Claire completed the process in about twenty minutes. After sitting through a quick, informal briefing and handing over $30, she was armed with her busking permit, which was valid for one year, from 15 April through 14 April. According to the market’s guidelines, new performer permits are issued “starting the first Tuesday in April each year.”

Market Office Stairs Down
If you’re a musician and want to busk in Pike Place Market, this is where it all begins.
CM in PPM Office
Claire Michelle, Pike Place Market, April 2017.

Claire headed off to practice with her band. I wandered around the main market area. I wasn’t sure how many designated busking spots there were, but it seems like there are about four or five coveted locations in the vicinity of the intersection of Pine Street and Pike Place. It was just north of the iconic Pike Place Market clock and sign that I first saw Faith Grossnicklaus play. You can’t miss her. Vintage fashions, fantastic hats, a shock of blond hair, and incredible music rolling off her fiddle.

After her set, I asked her if she’d be up for talking about busking in the market. She’d just finished playing the fiddle for an hour straight and had to have been tired. She paused a moment, took stock of “dude with camera” (me), and said sure. There was a world wariness to her response that I appreciated. It wasn’t cynical or rude, but this clearly wasn’t the first time she’d talked to the media or photojournalists, and she didn’t need the exposure.

Over the next couple of weeks I tried to catch her performances, but our schedules weren’t matching up very well. When Faith went back to Oregon for a couple of weeks to see family, work on her ceramic art, and catch up with Roselit Bone, I sent some questions for the profile spot (forthcoming in Busker’s Way: Part II). I later caught up with her on 14 May at one of her favorite busking spots, between Left Bank Books and Pike Place Flowers. I got there early enough in the set to get some photos and to also just listen to the music.

FG profile towards sign 4 with people
Faith Grossnicklaus, Musician, Fiddler, Ceramic Artist. Pike Place Market, May 2017.
FG front LB Books
Faith Grossnicklaus, in front of Left Bank Books, Pike Place Market, May 2017.
Tape and Sharpie
Tape and Sharpies, key items in a busker’s toolkit. Buskers reserve one hour time slots by signing up at a spot. Pike Place Market, May 2017.

After Faith’s set, I walked around with her as she checked the wait lists at other busking sites. She explained that buskers know which sites work for them and which ones don’t. The site just beneath the market sign is a favorite for a lot of buskers. There’s always a lot of traffic, and there’s room for an audience. It suits her friends Amber Hayes, Austin Bertak, and Kevin Buster, but it doesn’t work as well for Faith.

AH K Austin
Austin Bertak, Amber Hayes, and Kevin Buster, Pike Place Market.
AH and K
Amber Hayes, Kevin Buster, and Katrina Kujawa, Pike Place Market, May 2017.
Patrons of the arts 2
Pike Place Market, May 2017.
Patrons of the arts
Patrons of the Arts, Pike Place Market, May 2017.

We walked north from the sign, into the lion’s den, the busiest section of the market. A tight corridor lined with flower stalls, restaurants, and fish vendors. A long-time Pacific Northwester, Faith knows her salmon. She stopped to point out her favorite place for it, a fish stall just north of the market sign. It was really crowded that day, so she made her way to one of the convenient, quiet exits leading back to the street. A vendor spotted her and called out, welcoming her back to town. Faith assured him that she was back for a while and would be able to tune his violin. Grateful, he smiled, waved goodbye, and said, “You’re an angel.”

From there we crossed the street to another of Faith’s preferred busking sites, just at the point where Post Alley resumes, next to some stairs leading up to a restaurant’s balcony. A young man was there playing the sax. Faith complimented his performance, and it was then that an older man, the musician’s father, explained to Faith that it was his first day busking in the market. Faith encouraged the young man to keep showing up, and she offered some advice – get some tape and Sharpies, and you’re on your way.

Impromptu mentoring
A first-time busker works some jazz magic while Faith Grossnicklaus takes a turn in the audience. She encouraged him to keep showing up. Get some tape and a Sharpie, and you’re set. Pike Place Market, May 2017.

Another busker had the site reserved for the next slot, so Faith headed back towards Left Bank Books to see if the person in line behind her had shown up. We bumped into Amber Hayes on the way. It was Amber’s birthday, and the two discussed plans for a night of swing dancing on Capitol Hill. Outside Pike Place Flowers, Faith interrupted the birthday planning with an excited cry. “Hey, it’s Cool Ice Cream and Flower Lady.” Amber must have heard Faith discuss Cool Ice Cream and Flower Lady before because she echoed the excitement. The three realized they’d never introduced themselves and remedied that, but once you get a great nickname like that, it tends to stick.

Amber, armed with fresh flowers for her mother, headed off. Faith took a phone call, and I slipped away, anxious to download my photos. I crashed the birthday party later that night at Century Ballroom. The group of musicians looked even more stylish in their swing dancing attire. It was nice to see that their cool, vintage clothes aren’t a uniform they put on for an hour at a time to attract the attention of tourists visiting the market. I wouldn’t fault a busker for doing that. If you’ve got the courage and talent to play live music in front of people, adding a level of showmanship seems like a smart move. But I liked being in the company of these musicians in their fancy clothes, sipping drinks in a saloon next to a big dancehall. It allowed me, clad in some drab practical Seattle attire, to feel like I’d landed in New Orleans in the Roaring 20s.

Century Ballroom
Century Ballroom, Capitol Hill, Seattle, 14 May 2017.

I’ve added more market photos below, including a few from Seattle photographers Danny Ngan and Brett Nelson. I’ll post Part II, a Q&A with Faith Grossnicklaus, soon.

Speakeasy Jazz Cats at Pike Place Market. Seattle, WA. May 2017.
Speakeasy Jazz Cats at Pike Place Market. Seattle, May 2017. (Photo by Seattle photographer Danny Ngan.)
Brother Billy plays the sax at Pike Place Market. Seattle, WA. April 2017.
Brother Billy plays the sax at Pike Place Market. Seattle, April 2017. (Photo by Seattle photographer Danny Ngan.)
Buskers, Pike Place Market, Seattle. (Photo by Seattle photographer Brett Nelson.)
BHN PPM for busking post
Busker, Pike Place Market, Seattle. (Photo by Seattle photographer Brett Nelson.)
Courtland Flute, Pike Place Market, Seattle 2017.
Dusty and Lily SJC
Dusty Tree and Lily, Pike Place Market, 2017.
Claire Michelle busking young girl looks on
Claire Michelle, Pike Place Market, Seattle, April 2017.
Get me to Europe
Play music, will travel. Pike Place Market, Seattle, May 2017.