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Blind ambition Born blind, Mac Potts uses an aptitude for tones to fuel his musical performances by Allison DeAngelis


t’s not hard to see that Mac Potts was born to be a musician. Despite having been born blind, he would tap out one-note versions of nursery rhymes and children’s songs on the family piano. By the time he was 2 years old, Potts was playing scales on his family’s piano. What he calls his blessing and curse of perfect pitch also became apparent when he was very young. When an out-of-tune note frustrated a young Potts to the point of being unable to use his family’s piano, he enlisted his father’s help to create a makeshift tool out of foam and braille paper to tune the piano to his liking. After being the youngest person to be evaluated by the Piano Hospital training school in Vancouver, Washington, Potts sped through the course. Now 24, he owns a music store in Portland and travels the country tuning pianos and performing. He performs regularly at different venues and festivals in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and New Orleans. He has performed with everyone from Harry Connick, Jr. to the Seattle Symphony to United by Music, a performance group for musically talented people with development and intellectual challenges or delays. Because he cannot drive, Potts relies on hosts, friends, family and his fiancee to help him travel from show to show. He tunes pianos in part to help finance his dreams, but also because he has a natural talent for it, coupled with what he describes as an almost obsessive need to do so. “It would be a waste if I didn’t [tune pianos], because I’m always complaining about pianos being out of tune. It’s a call to duty,” he said.

{ { Mac Potts was born both blind and with a prodigal aptitude for tones. At a young age, his father helped him craft a braille piano tuning tool. Allison DeAngelis/staff photo





The first responder to the scene of Kurt Cobain’s death speaks in documentary PG 4

New book tracks historical walking routes in Bellevue, nine other cities PG 5

Bellevue dancer Jessika Anspach announces retirement from PNB PG 6


The Don’t Miss List TEMPRANILLO IN THE NORTHWEST “Billy Elliot” opens at Village Theatre May 12. Mark Kitaoka/Village Theatre


Scored by British music icon Elton John, “Billy Elliot” is coming to Issaquah’s Village Theatre to close out their current season. Set in a hardscrap Northern English town during the 1984 miners strike, the show follows its adolescent namesake as he struggles against a culture of machismo to embrace his love of ballet. The fish-out-of-water story won 10 Tony awards and was named Time magazine’s “Musical of the Decade.” Village’s production sees the title role shared by four 13-year-old area actors, who have been trained in tap, ballet, voice and acting exclusively for this role.

WHEN: May 12-July 3; see villagetheatre.org for exact showtimes WHERE: Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, Washington.


Kirkland Arts Center presents its annual self-guided tour of artists’ studios, homes, galleries and businesses on Mother’s Day weekend. Each of 22 stops sit near the shore of Lake Washington in old Kirkland’s downtown neighborhood. The artists work in all manner of media, including jewelry, paintings, ceramics, sculpture, print and fiber arts. Artists will have their work up for sale, with all proceeds going directly into their pockets. Some stops will also feature live demonstrations and opportunities to learn about each artist’s process.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., May 7-8 WHERE: Tours begin at Kirkland Arts Center, 620 Market St., Kirkland, Washington.


The Black Dog Arts Coalition in Snoqualmie will hold a celebration honoring local poet Alex Eisenberg. Eisenberg was awarded Black Dog’s Literary Chapbook Prize last fall for her first published collection of poems, “Holy Ground.” Eisenberg often writes about social and environmental issues. In her own words, she considers “poetry a personal necessity, a spiritual practice and a form of radical activism,” to “explore a deep well of pain and longing.” The award of the prize will include a ceremony, launch celebration and poetry reading. Black Dog accepts art submissions year round for the Chapbook prize, which is awarded once a quarter depending on volume of submissions.

WHEN: The prize ceremony will take place 2-4 p.m. May 14. WHERE: The Black Dog Arts Cafe, 8062 Railroad Ave. S.E., Snoqualmie, Washington.

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Though relatively little Tempranillo is planted in the Pacific Northwest, the red Spanish variety is finding lots of love with vintners, growers and wine lovers alike. The first Northwest Tempranillo was planted in 1993 in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Two years later, the first serious amount went into the ground at Abacela in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley. Today, delicious Tempranillos are made across the Pacific Northwest — including several delicious examples in Idaho’s Snake River Valley. Tempranillo is most famous in Spain’s Rioja region, where it is crafted into a sturdy, wild and ubiquitous red wine. The grape has been grown in California for several years with limited success. It would seem that the northern latitudes of Southern Oregon and Washington’s Columbia Valley are excellent New World locations, and the wines we are seeing from the Northwest are gaining fans with every vintage. Tempranillo can be a big wine, and it pairs well with grilled meats, Cajun dishes, roasted duck and even spicier Mexican dishes. Here are several delicious examples from Washington and Oregon, all of which earned gold medals at the Cascadia Wine Competition in March. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly. Saviah Cellars 2013 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $38: This plush wine by Richard Funk takes off with dark cherries and spicy herbs on the nose, then dives down past black cherries into blueberries, black plum and a touch of cracked black pepper before gliding down onto a runway of smooth tannins. It’s a flight of fancy well worth raising your glass to — repeatedly. (14.2 percent alc.) Abacela 2013 Fiesta Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, $23: Aromas open with mint, spicy oak and nimble cherries. In the mouth, the cherries are dark, dipping down toward dark Marionberry skin, then unearthing Abacela estate’s minerality and grippy tannins. It’s a huge mouthful that calls out for a rare ribeye dusted with cracked black pepper. (13.9 percent alc.) Stina’s Cellars 2013 Tempranillo, Wahluke Slope, $25: Washington’s warm Wahluke Slope nurtured the Tempranillo grapes for Perry Preston in Lakewood, Washington. It features aromas of bright cherries and spicy vanilla. In the mouth, those cherries pop with bright red acidity, then slide smoothly into blueberry skin, more spice and carefully managed tannins, a surprising feat

Stina’s Cellars Tempranillo earned a gold medal at the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition. The winery is in Lakewood, Wash. Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine

for a young Tempranillo. (14 percent alc.) Mt. Hood Winery 2013 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $32: This opens with dark cherries, cola and appealing oak spice, then parades those cherries, blackberries and blueberries across the palate before exiting with ample tannins that echo the opening notes with a nip of Van cherry skin and spice. (14.9 percent alc.) Maryhill Winery 2013 Painted Hills Vineyard Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $34: New Zealand-born winemaker Richard Batchelor turned these grapes into another gold medal winner for Maryhill. Deep cherry aromas, a bit of mint and warm spices on the nose usher in dark cherries, blackberries and blueberries on the palate. Grippy tannins and juicy acidity close out its lengthy finish. (14.2 percent alc.) Eleganté Cellars 2014 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $35: Doug Simmons, known for crafting high-quality Sangiovese with regularity, used the best-known Spanish red grape to make this stunner. Mint, spice, cherries and a suggestion of raspberry crowd into its aromatics, then the cherries combine with jammy loganberries and black currants on the palate. It finishes, as is the way of young Tempranillo, with grippy tannins. (12.5 percent alc.) Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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The day the music died 22 years later, Islander John Fisk recalls being first responder to the scene of Kurt Cobain’s suicide; featured in doc ‘Soaked in Bleach.’ by Joe Livarchik Staff Writer When the Seattle Fire Department got a call for an assault with weapons response at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard East, Islander John Fisk had just gotten in for the 7:30 a.m. shift change. The paramedic Fisk relieved had offered to take the call, but Fisk said he’d handle it and went on his first run of the day. It was a Friday — April 8, 1994. “We had no idea who it was on the dispatch,” Fisk recalled. “None of us knew what it was at the time.” The responders were initially sent to the wrong address. When they did arrive at the right place, police at the scene told them to slow down; they, and fire responders, had been called to this residence many times before. This time around, an electrician had found what he thought was a “lifelike mannequin.” The group made its way around the property, up to a greenhouse above the residence’s garage. Its two French doors were locked, so Fisk peered in. “That ain’t no ‘lifelike mannequin,’” he told the police. Fisk didn’t know it at the time, but he had just found himself at the heart of one of the biggest moments in Seattle’s history: the death scene of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Early April marked the 22nd anniversary of when authorities found the rock singer’s body at his home in Seattle. Though he was only on the scene briefly, Fisk’s role as a first responder has connected him to the grunge legend, as well as to the speculation that surrounds Cobain’s case. Fisk was recently a featured subject in Benjamin Statler’s 2015 documentary “Soaked in Bleach,” which focuses on the testimony of Tom Grant, the private investigator who has called for years to have the Cobain case re-opened. Fisk downplays his involvement with the case. But a certain weight comes with being at the scene where a city icon is found dead. Fisk was the first person to enter the greenhouse where Cobain’s body was discovered — he had to break a small glass panel on one of the locked French doors to enter the room. It was immediately evident to the paramedics that this was a DOA. There was nothing left for them to do and they began to leave the scene. It wasn’t until the engine company officer called out as they were leaving — “Hey, you want the name?” — that Fisk doubled back to the greenhouse. Aside from knowing the Nirvana frontman had long, stringy hair, no one among the first responders was familiar enough with Cobain to positively identify him on sight. Near his body, they saw Cobain’s suicide note stabbed into a planter with a red pen. in keeping with crime scene regulations, nothing was touched, though Fisk said there was no suspicion whatsoever it was a crime scene or any


Tyler Bryan plays Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain in reenactments in the documentary ‘Soaked in Bleach.’ Courtesy of VIM Worldwide

other foul play was involved. “We were never approached by [the Seattle Police Department] for statements or anything,” Fisk said. “… It looked like every other suicide I’ve seen.” So Fisk and his partner took off, just before a media firestorm could descend upon Seattle. “I remember paying close attention to the news all that afternoon and evening as the reports came in,” Fisk said. “Surprisingly, we had almost no more interaction. We’d leave that scene and were ready for the next run. I had a regular routine shift, going on more runs and I worked until the next

Angeles County Sheriff ’s detective, continued his own investigation and determined there was enough evidence to conclude that foul play could have occurred. Grant’s reports noted that Cobain injected three times the lethal dose of heroin, raising the question whether Cobain would have been capable of self-inflicting his gunshot wound. Fisk calls himself a bit of a skeptic when it comes to conspiracy theories, and says conspiracies seem to come hand-in-hand with any celebrity death. He reiterated to the “Soaked in Bleach” producers that he still believes the case remains a suicide. That’s not to say Fisk’s stance on a

Fisk was the first to investigate a “lifelike mannequin” found in Cobain’s greenhouse. Opening the room, he told police

“That ain’t no mannequin.” morning at 7:30 a.m.” Aside from a short interview with the BBC and another for a book on Cobain, Fisk wasn’t really approached again about Cobain’s death. Nor did he really keep up with it until the summer of 2013, when a producer for “Soaked in Bleach” contacted him to speak in the film. The movie combines archive footage with documentary interviews and dramatic reenactments. The narrative is based off of Tom Grant’s experience investigating the case after he was hired on Easter in 1994 by Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love. Though police ruled Cobain’s death a suicide, the movie explores the doubts that have circulated since. Grant, a former Los

few things didn’t shift after his experience filming and watching the finished reel of “Soaked in Bleach.” Fisk said he maintained suspicion about Grant’s motives working the Cobain case up until he met Grant during filming. “My impression did change,” Fisk said of Grant. “He seemed like a guy who was generally feeling like there was a wrong that needed to be righted, not saying that something happened, but that it should’ve been investigated and it wasn’t.” Fisk also took a more liberal stance on whether the Cobain case should be reopened two decades after the fact. “Being a huge conspiracy skeptic, my first impulse would be to say, ‘No,’” he

said. “But after this whole experience, talking with Tom Grant briefly, hearing the story from the producers and the directors, watching the documentary, knowing what I know from the scene and the information that they exposed, I would say, ‘Yeah’ — out of curiosity, if nothing else. “I still believe it was a suicide. But, to me, one of the most compelling questions is, we see tons of heroin overdoses. To see Kurt Cobain and then hear that the level of morphine, heroin, in his system was as high as it was — and I’m not keen on the limits but I know what a lethal dose is — and the fact that he was on [three] times over the lethal dose, even for a hardened addict, that normally results in a level of unconsciousness almost immediately after injection.” Fisk intentionally took a few steps back when the Cobain case was swept up by the media. Though in some instances when Cobain’s name comes up, he has been tempted to weigh in, particularly if he felt something was being incorrectly reported. “There’s been multiple times when I’d listen to the radio and they’d get to talking [about Cobain’s death], and they’ll say something even about the response and I’m tempted to call in,” he said. “But I just can’t see that going well, so I just never did.” Two decades later, the Cobain case remains as compelling as ever, and Fisk being the first person to walk into the room where Cobain’s body was found cements his role in any version of the narrative. But Fisk said it’s weird being associated to the story. He doesn’t talk much about it, nor does he bring it up in casual conversations. April 8 hasn’t registered differently with him, nor would he have been aware it had been 20 years since Cobain died had the producers with “Soaked in Bleach” not contacted him to be in their film. “I certainly recognize it’s a big story, but it’s certainly not about me,” he said. “I had such a small role. It may seem like more of a novelty to others than it is to me. If it wasn’t me, it would’ve been someone else walking in there.”

What goes ‘round WASHINGTON HISTORY, ON FOOT They needed wood. And not just anything — it had to be weathered. There’s something about an old wood’s natural stain that draws artist Al Zold’s eye. Then a 1946 red barn was set for demolition to make way for a Metropolitan Market, which would sit in the city of Sammamish’s town center off of 228th Avenue Northeast and Southeast Fourth Street. The Sammamish Heritage Society wasn’t able to preserve the barn in its entirety — but Claradell Shedd, long-time plateau resident, heritage society member and Sammamish arts commissioner, had another idea. Prior to getting the go-ahead to tear down the old barn for art projects, Shedd had approached Zold, of Sammamish, to create something special for the city’s many roundabouts. He told her there was no way — he didn’t have the right kind of wood and getting that kind of aged material would cost too much. But after she negotiated for the barn’s timber with its former owner, Shedd said Zold “couldn’t squirm out of ” the project. “I wanted to use material that had historical significance in the city of Sammamish,” Shedd said. The process, which started a couple years ago, has resulted in the instillation of three, roughly 8-feet-tall sculptures placed in the center of Sammamish roundabouts. The first, “11 Steps; Ladder 83” at Southeast 32nd Way and Issaquah-Pine Lake Road, is across from Eastside Fire and Rescue Fire Station 83 and takes advantage of the worn red paint that had

been on the outside of the barn. “Circle the Roundabout” at Northeast Eighth Street and 224th Avenue Northeast is just that: a roundabout. But Zold created it as a representation of community, the roundabout connecting the many neighborhood pockets, he said. “Forms of Flight,” at 216th Avenue Northeast and Northeast Inglewood Hill Road, is a tribute to the city’s connection to the many residents, like Shedd and Zold, involved in the aerospace industry. This one had proved to be a little trickier for Zold. He wasn’t quite sure how or what he wanted to create. So he took to doodling. Through those scribbles he found the shapes currently seen in the sculpture. Zold, 78, said he doesn’t consider himself an artist, though he’s entered many of his pieces in a variety of local galleries, including the Sammamish Arts Fair where he met Shedd. Zold’s office in his Sammamish home is full of toys — wooden animatrons which are mechanical creations that move when cranked. There’s the crowd of wooden people who stand and do the wave, as if at a baseball game. There’s a man swimming away from an alligator’s clamping jaws. There’s a pyramid that opens up to reveal King Tut himself — just to name a few. “My whole life I’ve been interested in wood,” Zold said. And gears, for that matter. He and Shedd are still in the planning phases for the next several art installations. Shedd calls Zold the “star” of the roundabout art, as he’s the only artist creating the pieces. Shedd said this is to help create continuity between the art work throughout the city.

by Katie Metzger Staff Writer

When I went to Europe in 2014, I took walking tours of almost every city I visited, from Berlin — still being rebuilt to recover from the destruction of World War II — to Prague, a city where buildings from the 14th century still stand proud. Sometimes the best way to get a sense of the history of a place is often to retrace the footsteps and imagine the lives of those who walked there before. But I never thought to take a stroll through my own backyard. In “Walking Washington’s History,” published by the University of Washington Press in April, Seattle-based author Judy Bentley guides walkers through 10 of the state’s most historically significant cities, including Seattle and Bellevue. “To know a city’s history, we must walk its sidewalks, trails, and streets,” she writes. Each chapter features a central loop that starts and ends at the same place — all with parking access, most with public restrooms and most served by public transportation — along with maps and historic photographs of the route. Each loop is two to seven miles long, with options for extensions or shortcuts. Boldface names in the text signify a historic landmark that remains visible. The book also cuts paths through Vancouver, Olympia, Walla Walla, Tacoma, Bellingham, Everett, Yakima and Spokane.

In the book, Bentley describes Bellevue as representative of the shift of many Washington municipalities from suburb to city. She outlines two Bellevue walks: the “Bellevue Loop” through downtown and Main Street, and another around the Mercer Slough. The latter is what Bentley calls a “pioneer walk,” or a walk on the periphery of the main city. Other examples of these walks can be found cutting through Alki in Seattle and Old Town in Tacoma. Bellevue’s history is still being written. Bentley notes that, as she was writing the book, the oldest remaining building in old Bellevue — the Philbrook House — was demolished. One line from the introduction is particularly illustrative: “Urban history is not a romantic history but a story of real conflict — whether to use space for private gain or common good and how to define the common good,” Bentley writes. For a bit of history and exercise, walking with Bentley as your guide is one way to discover unexplored pieces of Washington’s past and present.





JUNE 1-5, 2016





by Megan Campbell Staff Writer


DANCER ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT FROM PNB BELLEVUE RESIDENT JESSIKA ANSPACH ANNOUNCED IN EARLY APRIL SHE WILL RETIRE FROM PNB AFTER THE CURRENT SEASON; SHE SAYS SHE PLANS TO FOCUS ON HER WRITING by Daniel Nash Editor When ballet aficionados watched “Coppélia,” the Pacific Northwest Ballet production that opened at McCaw Hall and ran until April 24, they weren’t just watching the George Balanchine version of the 19th century comic ballet about an entrancing, lifelike dancing doll. By the time they reached the solos of the third act, they watched the near-end of the career of a Bellevue native who’s been with the company 26 years. Jessika Anspach began her time with Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1990, when she enrolled in the company school’s Creative Movement dance class. She was 5 years old, already entranced by performances she had seen on stage. “I still remember being a little girl at a performance of ‘Nutcracker,’ sitting in a red velvet theater seat and, with eyes wide, saying ‘Mommy, when I grow up that’s what I want to do,’” Anspach said. Anspach described herself as a “dyslexic, uncoordinated child” but said her teachers never gave up on her development.

She became an apprentice dancer in the Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Washington, D.C., as a teenager, where she met Peter Boal, now the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s artistic director. When Boal relocated to Seattle, he found Anspach had become an apprentice with the PNB. She became an apprentice in 2004 before being promoted to the corps de ballet in 2005. Boal said, in the corps, Anspach had ensured the precision and bravura of the ensemble’s performances. He also praised her solo work in roles such as Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” “I know little girls in ballet dream,” Boal said. “Jessika grew up to realize hers.” In early April, Anspach and Boal announced that she would retire from the Pacific Northwest Ballet at the end of the current season. Following “Coppélia,” she will perform in “American Stories” June 3-12 and the company’s Season Encore Performance the evening of June 12. A repeat contributor to publications such as Dance Magazine, 4dancers.org and the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s blog, Anspach said she is leaving dancing to

Jessika Anspach blogs during a break from rehearsal in 2012. Anspach has said she will explore furthering her writing after she retires in June. Ezra Thomson/PNB Unleashed blog

pursue formal study of English and creative writing. She recently wrote on her blog, Just Jessika, that she has never and does not wish to dance for any company other than the Pacific Northwest Ballet. “As a dancer you train for hours, for years, honing your craft, pouring your

heart and soul, your blood, sweat and tears into your work,” she wrote. “We love it, the daily grind — in maybe a slightly masochistic way if I’m going to be completely honest. But it’s still love.” Information about Pacific Northwest Ballet’s upcoming shows can be found at pnb.org.



Potts playing the sax at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland, Oregon. / MacPotts.com

regulating a piano, I always had to jam out,” he said. For Potts, fame isn’t about the money or the noteriety — it’s about making himself and the crowd happy. “If I can’t sing or wow the crowd, it’s hard to be happy,” he said. “If I’m going to work a job for the rest of my life, if I never become famous, I just want to make people happy.” Potts will be performing in the annual “Ten Grands” show at Benaroya Hall in partnership with Seattle Symphony on May 14.


Much like his hopeful path to fame, his work isn’t exactly by the book. Potts prefers instruments with what he calls “personality” — tools that will put out notes that aren’t muffled or too bright, and preferably too sharp as opposed to flat. Every piano is different, he says, and he doesn’t want their unique character lost during tuning. Personality is important to Potts because, first and foremost, he is a performer. His tunings take a little longer than normal. In part it’s because of his disability but, really, he can’t resist taking the instruments for a spin. As he puts it, tunings are a way to pass the time between performances while he’s away traveling. Sitting in the Northwest Piano store in Bellevue one morning, Potts works meticulously on a single instrument for more than half an hour, sporadically bursting into snippets of songs both classic and modern, like “Bella’s Lullaby” from the “Twilight” movie series. During one tuning, he takes a break to demonstrate how he can play the piano sitting backwards. His instinct to perform was noted, and sometimes scolded, during his training to become a piano tuner. “I had to be told to mellow out on the piano playing, because after tuning or



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