Tower Sessions: Watch a live concert in a private living room at the tip top of Seattle’s Smith Tower

Jul 7, 2016, 6:32 PM
Kris Orlowski with a string quartet, performing "Things Are Looking Up" by George & Ira Gershwin.  ...
Kris Orlowski with a string quartet, performing "Things Are Looking Up" by George & Ira Gershwin. (Photo by Joshua Trujillo)
(Photo by Joshua Trujillo)

An elevator operator, dressed in a formal uniform, accompanied me as high as the elevator will go in Seattle’s Smith Tower. Then I walked up a few flights of stairs to get to the very tip top, which is the private home of Petra Franklin and her two young daughters.

“Well, I really just use the floor below and this one,” Franklin said. “But technically [I have] the 37th floor through the 42nd floor.”

Petra has lived in the Smith Tower penthouse for 18 years, and she was the one who converted the top floor into a livable space.

“The Smith Tower was [completed in 1914]. I always looked up at the top and thought it was so cool. Where we’re sitting was a big water tank and you had to kind of  sneak around it, it was very slimy in here and kind of weird. But it was magical because there was all this graffiti on the walls of couples and stuff. It had this history to it that I liked, it had this ancientness. The shape of the pyramid and stuff, it was so unexpected. And I needed a place to live! So Samis owned the building and I started asking them and eventually, after a very long period of time, like a year and a half, we came to an agreement. They said ‘no’ many many times, but they softened up eventually.”

This summer, you can see a live concert in Petra’s pyramid-ceilinged living room. Seattle artist Kris Orlowski partnered with Franklin to create the yearlong Tower Sessions.

“Under the stairwell that goes up to the very top of the globe there’s a little area where we have the music,” Orlowski said. “The goal is to really keep it as acoustic as possible because the intimacy is what makes it special. I mean, having a concert at the top of a skyscraper, in a four story penthouse in the clouds, but still feels like your living room, that’s somehow the magic potion. This place offers you an opportunity to break through all the clutter, leave everything at home and just be here, be in the moment.”

Orlowski has curated a monthly concert for the past nine months, where guests sit on the floor and watch as he performs along with other artists.

“Every month we have a different mystery guest, sometimes more than one,” Orlowski said. “It’s important for me to get my music out there. But as somebody who has been doing this for 12 years, one of the hardest parts is getting your music out there. And so we found that it’s really important for us to showcase other artists, from Seattle and beyond, that are career artists, who are trying to do this for a living. Supporting their journey is just as important as supporting my journey and showing off Petra’s beautiful space and being a part of the community.”

It took Chris 11 years to get to the point where he could quit his day job and make music for a living. One big step was licensing his music.

“Grey’s Anatomy reached out to me and said, ‘Will you cover one of these songs in your own style?’ And I did Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ and it got placed in Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve had my own songs in Hart of Dixie, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, 16 and Pregnant, all sorts of different shows.”

But nothing compares to the intimate experience of playing in Franklin’s living room, where the acoustics are:

“Off the charts, actually! Off the charts!” she says. “You would not believe, crazy good.”

And while you listen to the music, and sip your drink, you can take in the panoramic views.

“That particular time, going from six to 10pm, you are watching the sunset and you’re watching the city change from a day city to letting the night come in,” says Petra. “And you’re seeing it of north, south, east, west and you can always watch massive container ships come in, right behind the singing. The windows are quite small so it’s not what you think, like, oh, I’m going to get up high and have this vista. It’s more like each view is framed.”

The views, the music, the intimacy of the room – it seems to do something to people’s hearts.

“When Kris starts singing, what I see is a couple sitting next to each other and then all of a sudden they’re all over each other. I’ll see people will grab their partner’s hands or their friends’ hands. I’ll see somebody putting their legs over someone else’s legs.”

“I have a history of, people will meet at my show and get married,” Orlowski adds. “It’s happened a couple times actually. The last show here, a couple got engaged during our show. Was it twice now?”

Dinner and drinks are included in the show price and you can buy your tickets for the July and August Tower Sessions here.

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Tower Sessions: Watch a live concert in a private living room at the tip top of Seattle’s Smith Tower