The Round is a music/art/spoken word event that began in Seattle's Fremont Abbey four or five years ago. The idea is a simple one: local musicians, who may normally never appear on stage together, sit together in a row facing their audience, taking turns playing songs they wouldn't normally play. The audience all faces forward and listens; this is no barroom show, where people yell into their companion's ear just to be heard over the din. Most of the musicians choose to go acoustic, while in the background three different artists paint on canvases, and spoken word poets come forward to give impassioned recitations during breaks in the music.
It's a once a month event, and I manage to get to it, oh, about once a year. Fortunately I made it to last night's holiday show at the Triple Door with a couple of friends. What a way to kick off December. The Round can be a little irreverent, and the performers' backgrounds are varied, but it always comes together in an amazing way, and there is always a spiritual element underneath it all. We listened to musicians ranging from Mark Pickerel to Star Anna to Jesse Sykes to Damien Jurado, and many more, singing songs of bleak midwinter and songs praising the baby Jesus. In the end, everyone came back on stage for an obviously unrehearsed rendition of John Lennon's Happy Christmas (War is Over).
It's the unrehearsed part that makes The Round special. The backup band provides improvised harmony and rhythm throughout the night, musicians try out songs they never thought they'd perform in public, and the painters attempt to bring their visions to light before the night ends. Taken as a whole, it's a beautiful thing.