A musical tour at Seattle Center

I remember when the Experience Music Project opened. It was an odd shaped building that was seemingly dedicated to grunge music and Jimi Hendrix. At the time, I wondered how in the world it would remain a viable museum and keep interested folks coming back.

Fast forward 16 years and I found myself at Seattle Center with my friend Chris Gove and his daughter Gianna in town from Missouri. Gove is quite the music lover, so as part of our Seattle Day we went to Seattle Center to visit two musically-inclined places: The EMP and KEXP’s studios.

Nirvana's Nevermind album with KEXP DJ notes stuck to it.
Nirvana’s Nevermind album with KEXP DJ notes stuck to it.

Gove has been listening to KEXP seemingly since I first met him in 2001. The station, which used to broadcast under the call letters KCMU, partnered with the EMP in 2001 to move off of the University of Washington’s campus to its own space. Recently they moved again to the Seattle Center and now have an amazing public space featuring a coffee shop, lounge area and public hangout spot with options for music-themed showcases, like the Piano in the Park exhibit which was featured when we were there.

We signed up for KEXP’s tour and went on a guided hour-long tour of the inner operations of a radio station. Some of the highlights were getting to see their immense vinyl collection, the album notes left on local artists’ records (like Nirvana’s Nevermind!), the artwork on the walls and the live studio.

Chris Gove and his daughter, Gianna, pose in front of radio station KEXP's vinyl library.
Chris Gove and his daughter, Gianna, pose in front of radio station KEXP’s vinyl library.

The other parts of the tour were a bit bland, though since I have a media background I may not have been as fired up about how they actually do the shows. It’s kind of like when people used to take tours at my newspaper – they were just an irritant.

Anyway, we then went to the EMP and had a blast. Who knew that place was the crown jewel of Seattle?

The EMP features three floors with something for nearly everyone.

The highlight exhibit for me was the Nirvana tribute. Growing up in the Seattle area during the late 80s and early 90s made it a trip to see the grunge showcase. I wasn’t the biggest grunge fan at the time, but I was certainly aware of the bands and the effects they had on life as a teenager. And I definitely know where I was when we found out Kurt Cobain had killed himself, so seeing the backstory of Nirvana was really cool.

Some of the Nirvana exhibit. The classic sweaters that Kurt Cobain wore are on display.
Some of the Nirvana exhibit. The classic sweaters that Kurt Cobain wore are on display.

On the flip side, it’d be nice if the museum honored Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam a bit more.

I also enjoyed learning about Hendrix, who I didn’t know much about, other than a distant relative is buried near him in Renton.

Probably the coolest part of the museum in the sense that I had no idea it was there were the exhibits on fantasy and horror.

The fantasy exhibit featured items from Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride (As you wissssssssshhhhhhh), The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wizard of Oz.

The horror and science fiction exhibits had items from The Shining, the Terminator movies, Star Wars, the Dune movies (written by Tacoma’s Frank Herbert), Alien, and much, much more.

I was appalled to find out that Gove and his daughter had never seen one of the greatest comedies every filmed - The Princess Bride.
I was appalled to find out that Gove and his daughter had never seen one of the greatest comedies every filmed – The Princess Bride.

There also was a We are 12 exhibit about the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory season. There were lots of cool items from the Seahawks in that exhibit, though the 12 stuff is a tad old at this point, but I digress.

We didn’t even get a chance to explore the other parts of the museum, including the sound lab where participants can create their own music, the video game area, the Star Trek exhibit or watch any of the documentaries on the big screen.

The Science Fiction exhibit featured cool Star Wars memorabilia.
The Science Fiction exhibit featured cool Star Wars memorabilia.

Needless to say, the Experience Music Project is certainly not lacking in exhibits to keep it relevant for years to come.

So next time you find yourself in Seattle, think about taking a music side trip to the Seattle Center.

– Craig Craker

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