Written by Martin Kaste from National Public Radio
Cafe Racer is a coffeehouse and bar in Seattle near the University of Washington. Last Wednesday, it was the site of a shooting that left four people dead.
Cafe Racer is also a music venue, home to a Sunday-night improvisational jam session called The Racer Sessions. Sunday night’s Racer Session wasn’t inside — it was too soon for that — but the show did go on.
The cafe was still locked, the windows papered over, and a memorial of flowers and photos was still piling up on the sidewalk. So cellist David Balatero and other regulars decided to play in the alley.
“We kind of just pulled all the cars out and set up a makeshift stage out here, and got a bunch of amplifiers,” he said. “And it looks like more people are showing up now with more amplifiers and guitars and gear.” A lot of faces were familiar, he said.
Hundreds of people crowded into the alley and on neighboring rooftops to watch. The 13 musicians had a brief huddle: All they really had in mind was a rough structure, but they knew they’d start with a mournful drone.
As the droning grew, some in the audience no doubt found themselves imagining the scene inside the cafe on Wednesday morning. A 40-year-old man, perhaps mentally disturbed, walked into the tiny, artsy space — with a gun.
Of the five people he shot, four died. One of them was Drew Keriakedes, a burlesque performer and musician who helped create the Racer Sessions and often played along. These musicians knew him and the other victims, and as they played Sunday night, they cried.
As the improvisation stretched on, the music — and the players’ expressions — grew angrier. After 45 minutes, the musicians finally took their applause, looking red-eyed and winded.
A new group of musicians started warming up, and double bass player Abbey Blackwell struggled to explain what she’d been thinking during the piece.
“I don’t know — it kind of went in and out of actually thinking about what happened here, and then actually thinking about the music,” she said. “It was definitely a weird, in-between place. It doesn’t really make much sense.”
Less than a week after the murders inside Cafe Racer, that probably comes closest to explaining the mood here.