Track House Changes Hands After Years of Shows
Olympia’s Busiest DIY Venue Loses Dedicated Show Organizer After Rent Dispute
By Josh Wolf
In December of last year, Elena Kent realized her time as the Track House’s keeper was coming to an end. Over the past four years, Kent hosted over 400 events at her venue and home, the Track House. Before moving into the Track House in 2011, Kent had never organized a show. Living at the Track House, she found herself in a position to cultivate a hub for art and music in Olympia, and fully embraced the challenge of creating a DIY venue.
The Track House’s reputation as a show house got Kent started organizing DIY shows. “People started coming to me and asking to book shows, and at the time, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” said Kent. “I had never run a show before, and I said, ‘OK. Cool. Fuck it.’” Kent felt that she had a duty to run the Track House. “The Track House had a legacy, and I felt like I had inherited the responsibility of a community legacy, and I did my absolute best to honor that,” said Kent.
The Track House was built in 1895 by the North Pacific Railroad Company to house the work crew that operated the derailment line on the southern-most tip of the Puget Sound. It remained the work crew station house until a family bought it in 1931, and in 1994, the family’s grandchildren started hosting secret cafes where friends would serve food, and people would gather. It wasn’t until Duane Moore D.D.S. bought and rented out the house in 2002 that the Track House began hosting shows. “What really makes the Track House special is that…it has always been a workhouse; it has never been a home. It has always been a house that serves a purpose, whether it was for college, for music, for the railroad, for whatever… That house is a work crew house,” said Kent.
Kent rented the house in 2011 as the only signee on the lease, and moved into a closet of the Track House, initiating a new era. “I made it my business to do as many events as I could, all of the time.” During the last two years, Kent organized and hosted an average of 16 shows a month (which is one show every other day). She said that she put on over 300 concerts, and over 100 other events, including art workshops, community potlucks, benefits, and an open studio project where she would keep the house open for people to use the space for whatever project they wanted.
Kent worked with bands and artists of any genre, and took steps to ensure the Track House wasn’t solely defined by one genre. “I did my best to mix up all the genres,” said Kent. “I loved doing variety genre shows, those were my favorite. At Track House I could do a hip-hop show, a folk show, a punk show, a metal show, an indie show, a spoken word show. I could do whatever I wanted in that space.” At times, a certain genre would become associated with the Track House, but at those points, Kent would focus on being indiscriminate in genre, and uninhibited by reputation. “The Track House’s thing was that it could be amorphous,” said Kent. “It didn’t have the residential restraints or physical restraints that most places do. The Track House could literally manifest whatever genre happened to be around it.”
Located in downtown Olympia, the Track House was in a unique position as a DIY show house. Without neighbors to complain about noise, the Track House could be more of a venue than a house, hosting far more shows than a residential show house could. Kent was also free to do what she wanted with the house itself, whether that be painting the walls, or designing a set. “I could really put a lot of thought and time and energy into the shows, and make it a visual experience as well as an auditory one,” said Kent. “With the Track House, I could do a lot more for audience engagement than I could at a different house, just with atmosphere—lighting, set design—I could make it more of an experience.” She also created an arts non-profit called Olympia Art Works, which helped her maintain professional working relationships with the Neighborhood Association and the police.
While Kent worked hard to establish the Track House as a professional venue, the Track House was typically known as an underground show house. “As sincere as my efforts were to be professional, it never really seemed to get to that point, because it wasn’t respected as a professional venue. It was always getting treated as a fuck-off-punk-venue,” said Kent.
Crowd control can be a major issue at any concert, and Kent said she has broken up hundreds of fights. She also had to deal with male musicians who constantly disrespected her because she was a woman. “I’ve been pushed in my own house. I’ve been completely ignored. People would talk down to me, they’d treat me like an idiot, they’d complain the whole time. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. The ego was so insane.” Despite having to deal with the trauma and stress of running a DIY venue, Kent was passionately devoted to the Track House, until her landlord, Duane Moore DDS, suddenly kicked her out. (Moore owns over 20 real estates, two businesses, and is sometimes referred to as the Dark Dentist).
In February of last year, Kent was running short on funds after she kicked out two of her roommates for inappropriate behavior. She decided to send one of her paintings, along with the rent money she had, as an apology to Moore for falling short on rent. “He sent me an email saying that he was really impressed and that he wanted to buy some more,” said Kent. “I got really excited so I started sending him art, and the email correspondence was pretty positive. He was like, ‘Thank you for holding down the tracks; you’re a service to the community,’” said Kent. Then, in December, Moore notified Kent that she owed $15,000 of back-pay rent, and Kent was forced to move out. Kent is currently in a legal battle with Moore’s corporation, Manium LLC. for some $30,000.
Suffice it to say, the loss was devastating for Kent. “I didn’t know what to do. That was my home, and I put everything I had as a being into that place,” said Kent. And while Kent’s residency at the Track House ends, she is already planning her next project for the Olympia music scene. If you played a show at the Track House, and would like to be featured on a Track House compilation cd, contact Elena Kent at email@example.com