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Crocodile Cafe Collection spotlights a slice of Seattle music history

John Vallier, head of distributed media, UW Libraries

John Vallier, head of distributed media, UW Libraries

There’s a computer tucked away in the UW’s media center on the third floor of Suzzallo. It doesn’t look like much, but the computer serves as a digital Rosetta Stone for one segment of Seattle’s storied music scene. On the computer is the UW’s Crocodile Café Collection, which contains five years’ worth of recordings – more than 4,000 tracks in all – made at the iconic Seattle venue. The list is daunting to scroll through – it totals more than 120 continuous days of live music – but there’s a good chance you’ll find a show from your favorite band – maybe even before they were your favorite band.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Do you start with performances by Seattle legends like Mudhoney or the Presidents of the United States of America? Do you seek out popular regional acts, like Death Cab for Cutie and Built to Spill? Do you jump straight to the buzz bands caught on the road to stardom, like Neko Case and Franz Ferdinand? Maybe you track down a hilarious karaoke performance that you gave as a junior in 2003.

No matter where you start, you have plenty of choice in sifting through the recordings, which have been archived at the UW since August 2009. Making your decisions more difficult, the Crocodile Café Collection has expanded over the past year to include more than 200 live videos shot during some of the club’s halcyon days.

The project got its start in 2002, when audio engineer Jim Anderson began recording the vast majority of the shows at the iconic venue, which closed for about 15 months in December 2007. Less than a year after the club’s closure, Anderson donated his collection – five years of high-quality soundboard recordings – to the UW.

It was unlike any donation John Vallier, the head of distributed media at the UW, had ever received. Unsure how to best share this piece of Seattle history, he remembers thinking, “There’s gotta be a way to make this work.” Copyright laws prevented UW from putting the entire collection online, but Vallier, along with Laurel Sercombe of the UW Ethnomusicology Archives, was determined to find a home on the UW campus for the recordings.

The expansive collection was donated to the UW Ethnomusicology Archives in spring 2009 and unveiled in the Suzzallo that summer. Available only on one computer in the media center, it showcases the range of talent, from an early band’s raw energy to the seasoned sounds of a maturing band. “You can tell when a band’s playing their first show and when they’re on the 100th show of the tour,” Vallier said.

Learn more about the project, view a complete roster of artist performances, and sample recordings by Harvey Danger – made up of UW alumni – at the Crocodile Café Collection website.

Are there any shows you’d like to relive? Let’s hear it in the comments!

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