In a Meinert Key

Rock promoter, hip-hop impresario, political powerhouse—activist and entrepreneur David Meinert has shaped Seattle’s music scene.

By Michael Hood December 8, 2008 Published in the December 2008 issue of Seattle Met

AT 42, DAVID MEINERT IS a little grayer than the skinny grunge-era slacker who used to book ¡TchKung! and emcee the Seattle Poetry Slam, which he cofounded. But otherwise he looks the same. If his clients were as poorly managed as his hair, this band manager would be out of work today.

But behind the kicked-back exterior lurks the closest thing Seattle has to a ubiquitous, always-on-the-go, finger-on-the-pulse and fingers-in-every-pie entertainment impresario. Meinert is widely lauded as the activist who stood up to a nightlife-adverse city hall and made Seattle safe for live music, and as the rock promoter who got this rock-and-roll-loving town to embrace hip-hop. His company Fuzed Music manages the Presidents of the United States of America and the hip-hop duos Blue Scholars and Common Market, and owns a piece of the company that used to record the latter two. Meinert consults on Bumbershoot programming and co-owns the annual Capitol Hill Block Party, the premier showcase for Northwest indie rock. His boutique agency Fuzed Travel arranges tours and trips for such clients as Band of Horses and Lou Reed.

Meinert remains a businessman first and foremost, but he’s also become a potent political operator. He first dipped into politics in the 1980s as a student at Western Washington University, protesting Reagan’s wars in Central America. Early in this decade, he became president of the local chapter of the Recording Academy, which produces the Grammys, and turned it into an effective political lobby.

In 2002, Meinert and his allies opposed a city ban on hanging posters and flyers that was subsequently overturned. That same year brought the consummation of the music-boosters’ nine-year campaign to kill the much-resented Teen Dance Ordinance, which banned dancing at all-ages live performances. Mayor Greg Nickels signed a new, less restrictive dance ordinance—after narrowly defeating music-industry nemesis Mark Sidran at the polls, with help from Meinert and friends.

"He’s tenacious, with charm. That’s a potent combination."

Meinert next targeted the tough restrictions Nickels tried to impose on club owners, such as making them responsible for the bad behavior of people to whom they refused entrance. The City Council rejected these last year. Now he supports the Nickels administration’s “Seattle City of Music” project—“a long-term strategy to make Seattle a haven for musicians and music-related businesses in the coming decade.”

Boosting, opposing, and now boosting Nickels again: Such are the twists and turns of successful lobbying. Along the way, Meinert has absorbed some valuable political lessons. At first he acted up at teen-dance task-force meetings, famously screaming the F-word at police representatives. But by the process’s end, he was one of the panel’s most productive and respected members. Meinert started out “honest and blunt,” says City Council member Nick Licata. “With age he’s just as honest, but perhaps not as blunt. He’s tenacious, with charm. That’s a potent combination.”

Meinert learned that to win, let politicians take the credit: “We say, ‘We’re not politicians, we don’t need a political win. You are and you do.’” You can accomplish more by crafting policy solutions, he explains, than by “figuring out how to beat up a politician and win something.”

Like any savvy lobbyist, Meinert enhances his clout by raising cash for sympathetic candidates. He’s hosted star-studded fundraisers for Governor Gregoire, Senator Cantwell, City Council members Licata and Richard Conlin, and County Council members Dow Constantine and Dwight Pelz. This year he helped bring the Presidents, Rock the Vote, and Microsoft’s Xbox together for an online voter registration drive. “It’s fun to do creative stuff like this that has a social purpose, but is basically music and marketing,” he explains. After all, promoting is still promoting, whether you’re trying to save the city or get your band a gig.

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