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Mudhoney plays Yakima on Saturday. Here's the story of how grunge took hold in some unlikely locations in Central Washington.

Mudhoney plays Yakima on Saturday. Here's the story of how grunge took hold in some unlikely locations in Central Washington.

Saturday won’t be Mudhoney’s first Yakima show; the legendary Seattle band played here two days after Christmas in 1996 at a long-gone South First Street venue called Twilight Terrace.

They weren’t the only band from the glory days of the 1980s-’90s Seattle sound to make their way east, either. Nirvana played the Hal Holmes Center in Ellensburg twice, once in 1988 and again in 1989. The Melvins played State Fair park in 1993 (after bassist Matt Lukin had left to form ... Mudhoney). Love Battery played the Selah Civic Center in 1994.

That the Seattle scene drifted over the Cascades makes sense. Politically, culturally and socially, Seattle is a world away from Yakima. But geographically, it’s only a couple hours’ drive. And Yakima music fans then, as now, followed the Seattle scene closely. People like Brandon Huck, a Yakima teenager during the so-called Grunge Era, scoured The Rocket, the Seattle-based music publication, looking for new bands.

“I was always bummed to see that these bands were playing for $5 on a Thursday over there — like Soundgarden with Nirvana opening, but it’s a school night and I’m under 21,” he said, laughing.

Eventually local music promoters got wise and started booking some of those bands. But when a movement like the Seattle sound is in its nascent stages, people don’t know what to make of it. Even in their own backyards.

In the mid-1980s when Ellensburg kids Mark Lanegan, Mark Pickerel, Gary Lee Conner and Van Conner formed The Screaming Trees, the people in charge of local venues didn’t take them seriously. Pickerel, the band’s first drummer, who was still in high school when the band started recording, remembers playing well-received gigs in Seattle then returning home to get bullied by his Ellensburg High School peers.

“We wouldn’t have even been allowed to play any of the traditional music venues in Ellensburg at the time,” he said. “There were a lot of disparaging things said about us that prevented us from performing in Ellensburg until we took it upon ourselves to rent the Hal Holmes Center — which is just a building attached to the library in Ellensburg — and put on our own shows and dances and things like that.”

That eventually led to Nirvana’s two shows there. Pickerel, who would go on to collaborate with Nirvana for a series of songs that were released on the 2004 box set “With the Lights Out,” remembers seeing the band there in 1988 and being immediately impressed.

“I’ve only had that feeling from a band maybe like three or four times in my life,” he said. “Within like a song or two I knew I was witnessing greatness. There was this classic quality about them.”

Still, it was a long way from Seattle.

“The first time they played there the Hal Holmes Center had just recently enacted a no-slam-dancing policy,” Pickerel said. “There was concern among parents that if kids are going to be going to dances there better not be any slam dancing, especially at a venue that’s operated by the city parks and recreation.

“Anyway, there’s this no-slam-dancing policy. And I didn’t know Krist Novoselic by name at the time but midway through Nirvana’s set I see these kids kind of having a good time in front of the stage when all of a sudden this parks and rec guy comes over and separates these two girls, kind of gets in between them trying to lay down the law. And Krist Novoselic throws his bass down and jumps into the pit and throws this guy against a wall.

“The show went on, incredibly, without incident. I don’t remember the police showing up that night or anything like that.”

Screaming Trees - Lonely Girl Live 1987

By contrast, there were plenty of police on hand in 1993 when The Screaming Trees played The Capitol Theatre. Pickerel, who had left the band a year earlier and started the influential Rodeo Records store back in Ellensburg, was backstage when fans stormed the stage and started ripping up theater seats and punching each other. He doesn’t remember much of that night, except being disappointed that the show was cut short.

A contemporary Associated Press report offers some details: “They had played just a few numbers before music was stopped about 9:30 p.m. when fans jumped on stage. At least 15 police officers formed a wall across the stage shortly after band members announced they wouldn’t play anymore.”

By then, the sound that belonged to the Seattle rock scene in the 1980s already belonged to the world, with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and The Screaming Trees having graduated from Seattle venues to network television and MTV. But even before that it had hit pretty hard in Yakima and Ellensburg.

Thane Phelan, who ran the Music Station record store in Yakima back then, remembers Yakima music fans being even more into the “underground” Seattle bands than kids who had shopped at the Maple Valley record store he had run previously.

“The Yakima kids were totally up on it,” he said. “As soon as I opened, kids were coming in looking for Green River or Nirvana’s ‘Bleach.’ I started ordering it to make sure I had all that Seattle stuff.”

Those kids started their own bands, too, many of which Phelan later collected on the “Rotten Apples” compilation CDs he released in the 1990s. You can hear those bands — Phallacy, Brown, Quartermile Pumpkin and more — online to this day because of those CDs. And Huck, who collected tapes by those bands, has begun digitizing them and putting them on YouTube. So the Seattle influence on the Yakima music scene continues.

The heady days of the early Seattle sound keep cropping up again, too. Sub Pop is still putting out music, including Mudhoney’s latest, the “Morning in America” EP released in September. It took that band a while to come back to town, but their influence never left.

This story has been changed to correct the name of the founding Mudhoney bassist, Matt Lukin.

Reach Pat Muir at pmuir@yakimaherald.com.

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