“When I entered 4306, it was an empty garage. It was cold. The gas tank was empty. There were some tools, a chair, an American flag and a drawing of a trailer on the wall. He said, “I want to build a Honky Tonk. Do you see it?” I certainly did.” -Robynne Hawthorne
In the fall of 2010, then Seattlelite Hannah Levin ushered me past a Stop sign affixed to a gate at 4306 Fremont Avenue North, to what was then called Horses Cut Shop. For a few years after, I had the privilege of being a guest at the establishment which later became Underwood Stables. The amount of talent, genius, crazy and comradery I and many, many others experienced there could not be contained in a single article – but I can say that the idea for STACKEDD, the name, and relationships with many of the women who now contribute to our magazine were conceived at the space over several long afternoons and rounds, upon rounds of mason jars filled with tequila, soda and (just a splash of) grapefruit juice.
In attempt to encapsulate the impact of this renegade Art’s Compound, we’ve assembled a few stories and photos from founders and friends. Filmmaker Ryan Jorgensen takes this exploration to the next level with his film One More Song, While We’re Awake, debuting at Folklife this weekend. You can also live the legacy via music at Macefield Music Festival, programmed and produced by the same folks who made the HCS/US Communities thrive, October 2nd & 3rd in good ol’ Ballard and at Folklife this weekend via the Underwood Stables Showcase. Enjoy! – MDL
Gabe Johnson, Co-Founder, Horses Cut Shop, Host of the Great American Country Channel’s Made From America – Horses Cut Shop was a fortified compound in upper Fremont that straddled the line between serious trouble and that which was deemed necessary for the soul. In the beginning, those souls belonged to me and one Jeff Ludwig. When we met, I had a director-level job at a tech company and was in the process of caring for a father with terminal brain cancer. Jeff was a welder/fabricator savant who was in the process of losing his house. Not losing it, per se, and not a house per se, but rather his trailer was being displaced, as the lone, overdue hold out in a trailer park that had been slated for new construction just a few miles up Aurora from where I soon found a spot in Fremont to garage an old car and house Jeff’s trailer. All the decidedly disinterested landlord requested, was a monthly check and that the walls remain intact.
4306 was many things in its lifetime. Before Underwood Stables and Horses Cut Shop it was a statuary, and before that in the 1950s, it was a notorious chop-shop, or garage, that parted out stolen cars. When I personally signed the lease in October of 2009 there were others involved financially but they soon bolted, leaving Jeff and I with a building without heat, a bathroom or a floor but with a monthly price tag of $1,200.
Robynne Hawthorne, Co-Foundress, Operator of Underwood Stables Presents – I first met Jeff Ludwig on the dance floor at the Little Red Hen. He was good friends with Gabe Johnson whom I met shortly after. Jeff was talking about a place in Fremont and asked me if I’d come by and look at it because he wanted to share his vision with someone who’d owned an event bar. When I entered 4306, it was an empty garage. It was cold. The gas tank was empty. There were some tools, a chair, an American flag and a drawing of a trailer on the wall. He said, “I want to build a Honky Tonk. Do you see it?” I certainly did.
Gabe Johnson – We spun our wheels for months without anything happening besides calls for the rent. During that time, I sponsored Jeff to become a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Ballard. A national organization since 1907, it was joined by my father and his father, and of which I am a twenty-five-year member. This fraternal order and its purposed existence led to conversation, an idea, a name, a makeshift bar, a bathroom, Robynne Hawthorne, people, a membership roll, bands, music, beer, Love, fireworks, farm animals, cops, louder music, more people, more beer, more Love, bigger fireworks, more cops.
Anne Vande Creek, Member – Gabe and I were working on a project, when he told me about this space he and Jeff Ludwig and folks were putting together; no bar, no dance floor yet, just a shell really. I stopped in a few times before the first brunch, and it was nothing back then, but already it had the bones of being something special. It was like the fort you always wanted as a kid only so much better than you ever could have imagined. I don’t know how to describe Horses Cut Shop, to those who never happened through, other than to say magic happened there, and then I have to look away and not talk about it anymore because I miss it so much it hurts. I once interviewed people and asked them to describe The Shop, and not one of the answers were the same. What was similar was how everyone was beaming and almost wistful in their responses. My favorite response was “The Cut Shop, is an enigma, a wonderful, magical, crazy enigma…”
Michael Agusta, Member, Outlaw Swing Dance Instructor – As one of the earliest members of Horses, I’ve seen the entire life-cycle of the space. I remember the summer day, sitting in Jeff Ludwig’s trailer drinking beer, when Jeff told me about his vision for the space when it was literally four walls and a ceiling. A lot of people talk about doing awesome shit, Jeff made it happen. To watch the space develop and change over the years was absolutely amazing. Month to month the space would grow and morph into that vision little by little, with the early members putting their blood, sweat, and tears into building what would become the most perfect of community gathering places ever made. There is no place like it anywhere else on earth…and I mean that literally. If I had to describe the space in five words (and I have referred to it like this many times), it would be: The Best Place on Earth.
Robynne Hawthorne – In the beginning I was asked to paint 2 murals on the roll up garage doors. One of a traditional hunting scene with an old barn, a windmill, a bird dog and some high grass, The other was a road that started at the front door and led up the back roll up – and an image of Wylie Coyote. Once the prep started though – it was too darn pretty to paint over the wood underneath – so Kalani Cattell and I spent about a hundred hours between us scraping the ugly white mess of paint. Right around that time, maybe a little before, we were all at the Hen and Jeff presented a stamped tag that he quickly nailed to the outside tree. It read Horses Cut Shop. As a play on words – for motorcycles, horse-play, metal fabrication, etc.
From the scraping on.. word got to friends that we were building a space and over the next few months we had a crew. It really took off when it became dire that we needed heat. I introduced Jeff to Tad Dallas, who happened to have a tank of gas he was converting on a project and when those two met- We watched Jeff’s honky tonk rise out of the concrete. I had the bright idea that we needed a fundraiser and so we planned our first Sunday Brunch.
Gabe Johnson– It took about six months before Horses Cut Shop became the worst kept secret in town. From there it would fast become a church to some, a family home to others, and eventually an Alamo for those fleeing the shadows of tower cranes creeping across a city that had suddenly taken a thoughtless and unfamiliar form. It was a place to lie low, feel high with music and be loved by the kind of people who loved deliberately and loved out loud. We made our own rules and we made our own mistakes. We also made it a point of making our doors wide open to the world which allowed the community to grow organically and in unexpected ways. And while everyone was welcome at the Cut Shop, a kind of natural selection was at work; one that favored Love as a verb and openness, mayhem and personal risk, over that of “the scene”, petty rivalries and anyone who felt somehow, above anyone else. Horses Cut Shop spontaneously arrived because the conditions for community were crackling, and we were all in desperate need. Horses may have served this purpose illegally, but it did so openly, unapologetically and with vigor.
Anne Vande Creek – That space was my Cheers, as it was for many. I had many roles over the years at Horses, and when it was Underwood. My favorite was that of Nickel Corner Gal; three minutes greeting members and friends young and old, or welcoming the first timers, and I was filled with love that lasted until I was lucky enough to do it again.
Robynne Hawthorne – In April 2009, With Maggie McMillan and Kalani Cattell at the propane stove, Gabe at the swag corner, Jeff at the hay bales, me at the bar. – After that first brunch- Jeff decided we were going to have a first Sunday Brunch every month. This is when Gabe started marketing the brand and adding members. In August, we had our first band play – Davidson Hart Kingsbery. They became the house band throughout the rest of the days at Horses which shifted into Underwood Stables in December 2012.
Stacey Holland, Member – My exposure to the Cut Shop culture was by proxy, I was invited into the fold because of my relationship to Eric Himes, bass player for Davidson Hart Kingsbery. Hart, Ben, and Eric (from DHK) knew Robynne for years before the Cut Shop launched. And from what I understand, she was fundamental in setting them up as the house band. I used to go to dance and helped when needed by selling wooden nickels, and washing dishes.
The usual social pretense from various Seattle scenes was absent and each event was an experience. People relaxed and found something wonderful in the unexpected conversations with strangers. We found common ground in the pleasure of the space. It was magic.
Michael Augusta – Aside from the moon tower, dunk tank, high-striker, and all of the insanely fun parties, one of my fondest memories of the space is the house band, Davidson Hart Kingsbery. When they first started playing they only had five songs. After the set, Hart would say that’s all the songs they had but we didn’t care. People would start stomping and yelling for them to play more – just repeat the same songs – and they did and we kept on dancing and drinking. Over the years, they would go on to make records, play amazing live shows, and even start splinter bands that are equally awesome, but those first few brunches – with the same five songs – were my favorites.
Anne Vande Creek – My favorite themed events were those Gabe planned for Horses; early Yacht Rock, and Hunter S. Thompson memorial parties stand out as being trippy and crazy and the most exceptional of parties, the first Prohibition party was surprisingly intimate, and Dazed and Confused, and the constructing of the moon tower was also a wild and epic event.
Jake London, Musician – I wouldn’t call myself an early adopter at Horses Cut Shop. I probably heard about it from Hannah Levin for the first time. By the time I got over for an event, it was pretty close to the Horses/Underwood transition. It was surprising that this space existed right in the middle of Fremont, sort of connecting Fremont’s past as a light industrial neighborhood to its present as an upscale destination for white collar workers.Seems like a lot of the regulars were also people trying to figure out how to straddle that divide between Seattle’s past and what is happening now.
As somebody who was pretty wrapped up in the mid-1990s alt.country scene in Ballard, I also felt an immediate kinship with the place on that level. There were some familiar faces from that scene, like Hannah. But there were also some new younger faces as well.
Gabe Johnson – In 2012 the landlord made it known that he was putting the property up for sale. With nothing as so much as a month where we came close to making rent in over two years, and the prospect of legally truing the course of a decidedly renegade venture with all souls aboard seemed improbable, both financially and organizationally. Added to which, the reason we were there in the first place, my friendship with Jeff, had been lost somewhere in the dust that came to settle after the Great American Beer Swap in September of 2011. After returning from the heist where we swapped two hundred cases a beer across four thousand miles and nine states in seven days using a hot rod horse trailer and 1969 Ford without firing a shot or spilling a drop, we went our separate ways under the same roof while the bands played, cops knocked and rent checks bounced.
By the spring of 2012, the jealously guarded and hallowed ground in upper Fremont appeared strong as ever, but in actuality it succumbing to the plague. With the uncertainty of the lease looming and Robynne’s desire to be more in control of her destiny in the space, the opportunity presented itself, to pull course before the memory of Horses Cut Shop could become top heavy from all the chaff. So in October of 2012, under cover of magic and The Harvest Moon, with Robynne in the middle of two men in bull-headed want of different realities, the roster of friends with orange, motel keychains awarded individually for uncommon valor in the face of the times gathered one last night for music and each other. The next day and those that followed belonged to Robynne and Underwood Stables.
Michael Augusta – When we were told that the lease was up it was met with sadness, anger, and maybe even the slightest bit of relief for Robynne who held the place together for so long. Me, I chose to be happy. Happy because I got to be a part of it for so long. Something so magical, so perfect, so utterly amazing cannot last. I always knew it would end and I feel we were all fortunate to be a part of it for whatever time we had. Honestly, I cannot believe that it lasted as long as it did without any major incidents or jail time. Truly an amazing accomplishment. There will never be a space or time quite like what we had there, and that’s part of the beauty of it.
Stacey Holland – After the final Cut Shop show, we wondered what direction Underwood Stables would take. Robynne chose to cut the channel deeper. She stayed the course and steered the ship with the help of an established crew. Her perseverance was admirable and successes memorable.
Robynne Hawthorne – When I took over the space at that time, It needed a new name. Gabe turned Horses Cut Shop into Made in America t-shirt Co. Jeff and I stayed at 4306 – and it became Underwood Stables – which we nicknamed US – Underwood changed a little in decor – I was going for a more literary feel. The 1-3 events a month at Horses – picked up to 15-20 events a month at US. It became more of a performing art space. Music, storyteller’s night, dance lessons, rentals, weddings, classes, workshops and we carried the annual themed events that we started at Horses… Prohibition, Gabe’s Harvest Moon, Michael Stephen’s Yacht Rock, Jeff’s Charlie Brown Christmas, etc.
Ryan Jorgensen, Filmmaker – The first time I met Robynne Hawthorne, she flashed me a sly little cat smile and asked me, “Are you a spy?” My respect for her and what she had accomplished at Underwood Stables was immediate. I mean, all you had to do was look around for ten seconds, or close your eyes and hear what was happening, or reach out and touch something, or smell the wood, the dirt, the fires, or taste the whiskey, the food. It was a sensory experience. It was plucked out of some simpler time and gifted to all of us in this increasingly complicated world we keep unwittingly building up all around us. It was a functional artistic spectacle; a beautiful safe house for like minds.
Real music. Real struggles. Real people and real things — tucked just far enough away so that it was really only visible to the kinds of people who cared to look around the world they moved through — the curious, the interested, the interesting. And perhaps because of this, some believed it was snooty, or exclusive in some way. I find that to be completely false. I help run a private social club in Jackson Square, and if one thing is true for us that was true for Underwood (and perhaps any private social club), it’s that to be a part of an experience like this is quite simple: all one has to do is show up and give a shit. So I kept showing up. And the shits I gave manifested themselves over time as a documentary effort about the last three months of Underwood Stables’ operation in Fremont. Robynne was right: I was a spy.
Jake London – I definitely got over there more during the Underwood era. I’m told the focus/vibe changed somewhat when things switched over. Horses Cut had been more defined by dudes. The Underwood era was more defined by ladies. Not sure if that’s true. I didn’t spend enough time at Horses Cut to know. But that’s what I’ve heard.However it was defined, I had a lot of good times at Underwood. Saw a lot great music there (Gerald Collier really got it sounding good in there by the end–very warm, organic, and immediate feeling). It was a great place to see music by the end. Had a nice time playing music there too.
Anne Vande Creek – Underwood Stables music events were likely the most intimate and special events ever put on in this town. There were so many amazing shows it’s hard to call out just one; Alejandro was special, Reignwolf nearly took the roof off once, and that was a trip, late nights and early mornings with Ian Moore and Dean Johnson were intimate and personal and certainly my most memorable.
Jon Langford, Musician – Our night of limitless opportunity at the Underwood was record store day 2014 and a new voodoo electric soul band was formed out of the hot flickering ashes of THE SEXY my longtime Seattle pick-up combo. I brought my pal Martin Billheimer with me and we teamed up at the Underwood with drummer Kwab Copeland and bassist Bill Herzog, both longtime SEXY men, and the relentlessly unshackled guitarist Phil Wandscher formerly of Whiskeytown with whom I had never fully collaborated before. In the complex and beauteous confines of the stables bizarre magic and new chemistry broke out all over the place and in this least conventional of venues we hatched a performance unlike any other I had been involved in and for once in my life I can honestly say I was not the strangest or most dangerous person onstage. How refreshing was that! Martin and I slept in the little annex suite in the compound and plotted our next move and although both Bill and Kwab were unable to attend we took this project all over America in the following months in the guise of Bad Luck Jonathan. Thanks to the Underwood Stables for lighting the spark!
Ryan Jorgensen – Looking through a lens at Robynne and the rest of the people that made Underwood Stables what it was (and still is!) was their gift to me. I’ve been working in film/video for a while now, and never had I ever thought I was interested in documentary. But their story was this raw, real thing that was happening, and I wanted to make something that would show the interested and interesting people out there — those who maybe never happened to hear of the place — what it was like to be dropped into the middle of what was going on there.
Gabe Johnson – Save for a few minor flares in the press from time to time, Horses Cut Shop has remained relatively quiet since that branch in our family tree. For all intents and purposes, Horses Cut Shop turned into an online apparel company without any full-time employees (including myself), or physical space, office or otherwise. The incongruous move towards a legitimate, profitable business after years of “whiskey, gas, mayhem and dangerous machines”, was seen as a betrayal by some that came to view Horses Cut Shop as not only a home, but as a communal substitute for many things that were missing from many places. And while I’ve always understood that principled sentiment, I also know that it’s quite easy to have such sentiments when they cost you not. Beyond the financial burden of supporting a place that nary approached break even, it was legal and moral responsibilities that chewed at the foundation that supported a known hideout with sharp corners and fireworks, families with small children, unlicensed food and spirits, all without proof of insurance or a legal framework to protect the one whom the cops asked for by name whenever they darkened our doorway.
But heavier yet than the specter of an arrest or a fine or broken leg, was the spiritual burden. Yes spiritual. I’d shy away from that oft’ trodden and misused term save for the prominence it would command in any probe of those who had spent time under that roof between 2010 and 2012. True magic was had on more than our fair share of occasions at that address and while that magic was created by all, the conditions required for such alchemy fell mostly on one person, and it was a responsibility I took most seriously. To provide a constantly evolving experience and message that challenged all comers and deeply satisfied all go-ers was perhaps the most dogged burden of all. One that was in time came to be shared by Robynne and of which she still wears the scars. More than me, she was born to be that spirit, as evidenced by her lifelong dedication to the exercise from the Pearl, through the tumult of Horses Cut Shop and now by way of Underwood Stables.
Robynne forges ahead, carrying her caravan upon her back as I do with an idea and legacy that I believe in so strongly that I’ve wagered everything I have and then some. Horses Cut Shop has been reinventing itself in the tumble of an unrelenting surf for the past three years, with its most recent experiment being a television show on the Great American Country Channel from seeds sown in late. The story of Horses Cut Shop 2.0 is whole ‘nother thing in itself, but it’s momentum and ultimate direction remain tied to what happened at 4306 and the lessons learned in those strange years. As for Jeff, I don’t know. In truth, we rarely speak and when we do they are pleasantries. When I think of the dozens of loving friendships that were hatched in 4306 during that time, I feel all at once proud and ashamed. For the one friendship that started it all, and the one that mattered most was to be sacrificed in service of the others. Aye, but ain’t that the rub.
Robynne Hawthorne -Underwood Stables quickly became a community of people that would swing by to hang out, practice, gather, sit or cry. We lost the space November 2014. We are now on the road doing similar events – in more public spaces but still together. With Jeff Ludwig’s sense of humor and continual stream of ideas, Gabe’s slick genius branding that gave it some legitimacy, Maggie, Kalani and my loyalty to making every event at Horses happen with some kind of magic, it was a collective and the beginning of what I feel was family.
Stacey Holland – For me 4306 was an oasis, a place where I sat in the sun, watched beautiful people, and met the unexpected. It was an experience that is difficult to capture through description. It was community, hospitality, camaraderie, hilarity, kinship and hooliganism. I loved it and was instantly happier every single time I stepped through the door.
Michael Augusta – As for the legacy of the space, it lives on in everyone that got to experience it and be a part of it. The community of people it brought together still stands. Lasting friendships and loving relationships, things that don’t go away because the physical space is gone. We remain a tight-knit community that continues to support our members’ music, dancing, and art. To me, that is the legacy of Horses Cut Shop and Underwood Stables.
Jake London – I like to believe that a big part of Underwood’s legacy is yet to be written. Here’s hoping they succeed in finding a new space and I think it’s cool that they’ve continued to put on events even without a space. That being said, I think the legacy of the Fremont space for me is this: Reminding Seattle folks of all ages (but especially people over 35) that it’s both possible and essential to keep growing, maintaining, and connecting with a community of like-minded creative people.
Ryan Jorgenson – My film (One More Song, While We’re Awake) is an unusual look at a space, its people, and its happenings. It feels familiar and inviting, but nothing is laid out in black and white — which is the experience I had. You’re introduced to a lot of fine folks, you get to see some amazing music performances, but never are you given the full background of anyone or anything. You have to listen to them and see them, and make your own deductions with what little information you’re given. And that’s as much of a chance as anyone deserves. The door opens and closes, and what you take away from the time you spend there in the middle is yours. It’s all we ever have, that time between the beginning and the end.
One More Song, While We’re Awake Premieres at the Folklife Festival Sunday May 24th at 12pm.