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Seattle Rocker Embraces The F-Word: Failure

Jess Van Nostrand, The Project Room

Seattle was at the epicenter of the international music scene in the early 1990s. You've probably heard the stories about the bands that got big record deals, like Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Nirvana.

But not every band made it big outside the Pacific Northwest, even bands that had large regional followings. You may have heard of the band Hammerbox, fronted by singer Carrie Akre with her powerful, lyrical voice.

Even though Hammerbox signed a major label deal, the band never made it big like Nirvana. After Hammerbox broke up, Akre helped form another band, Goodness. And she tried to forge her own way forward through the music industry maze, even starting a small record label. But this was 20 years before the DIY movement, YouTube and direct music distribution. Akre eventually pulled way back, angry at what she saw as the industry's cowardice.

At the time, Akre didn't use the word "failure" to describe what was happening to her, but she does now.

"Even though you can produce a lot of things," she explains, "you can internally perceive yourself as a failure because you didn't accomplish A, B, and C that everyone thinks you should have."

Akre is among a group of artists who will be part of the Failure Variety Show this weekend at Seattle's annual Bumbershoot Arts Festival. Curator Jess Van Nostrand, originator of Seattle's independent gallery and salon The Project Room, organized the show.

"I see failure as a really important part of the creative process," Van Nostrand says. "I think it makes people uncomfortable. Which is why I like to shine a spotlight on it."

Two years ago, Van Nostrand explored the subject of failure at The Project Room through a series of art pieces, conversations and other interactive events. The Failure Variety Show is an offshoot of that exploration, with a roster of artists approaching the topic from their own art forms. Akre will sing songs about relationship breakups, for example.

Van Nostrand wants to entertain festival-goers, but she also wants them to think about the fact that without failure, there's no success, no progress.

In the two decades since Akre's self-described failure in Seattle, she has gotten married, had a baby, left town and then returned. When she thinks back on the 90s, she says she realized nobody talked to one another.

"Nobody said, 'Hey, how's it going for you?'” she says. “And maybe that's not what you do in your 20s because you're just going for it and experiencing things."

These days, when the going gets rough, Akre doesn't hesitate to ask for help. She's a little older, a little wiser, and she says she has a great group of friends.

You can hear Akre along with Kelleen Conway Blanchard, Bryan Cook, Brett Hamil and more at The Failure Variety Show Sunday, 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31 at the Charlotte Martin Theatre at Bumbershoot.

This segment originally aired Aug. 28, 2014.