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Best Olympian 2013: Audrey Henley

Born to put on a show

AUDREY HENLEY: She's been bringing music to Olympia for more than 10 years. Photo credit: Winter Teems

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For Audrey Henley, who made a name for herself booking crossover bands, indie delights and enticing acts, it's always been about community.

Hailing from Turlock, Calif., a small town outside of Modesto, Henley grew up watching her parents serve their community by being business owners. Her father owned a restaurant, Pioneer Chicken, and her mother owned a couple of 7-11s.

At a young age, Henley had a strong love for music and could appreciate the importance of community gathering space. She still has Crayola drawings of her ideal music venues; one, named Lion's Den, was complete with tunnels and secret back entrances. There were more influences - imagine an 8-year-old Henley, together with friends, listening to radio station celebrity Wolfman Jack, whose show aired across from their elementary school. Or pre-teen Henley, roller skating through her mom's 7-11, headphones on tight, stocking shelves and learning about hard work.

When Henley was a teenager, with an ear for Cali punk, she began traveling to San Francisco to see bands like Operation Ivy and Green Day. At the same time, her father, Tom Henley, was doling out the best fried chicken in town.

With Tom's town influence, and love for his daughter, he and Audrey threw Turlock's first punk rock show - inside the restaurant. They named the event "Chicken Fest."

The show was a success, with a hundred happy kids, one small fight, and a kitchen full of fire extinguisher remnants from Papa Henley putting out the fight. To round out any good concert, the cops were called and Tom was nearly arrested.

This did not deter the Henleys from putting on a "Chicken Fest 2" the following year, this one as good as the last. 

"Chicken Fest really started my obsession - it really gave me an outlet - it inspired years more of shows," says Audrey.

Eventually, like any small-town girl should, Audrey packed a few belongings and headed with a posse of friends (and two cats) up the coast to Seattle. 

She ducked out of the music scene for a while as she settled into a new life in the Emerald City, but after starting a cashier position at her mom's popular west Seattle 7-11, she couldn't escape her fate.

"Chris Cornell's ex-mom-in-law used to buy scratch tickets from me every day," says Audrey. "Crown Studios and Dutch Boy Recordings were just down the road so a hotbed of bands would come through."

These encounters propelled Audrey into the scene, where she dabbled in music journalism, booked gigs and managed bands - most notably, North American Bison.

She also fell in love with a variety of local music (and musicians - she and Dirty Birds' Jim Davies had an on-and-off relationship during this time). 

Audrey scored a job at the Breakroom bringing in bands such as The Accused, Queens of the Stone Age and Tight Bros From Way Back When. As drama in the music scene became more evident, she became disillusioned and started looking for jobs where she could make more money, have stability and show her parents that she was more than a party girl. ("To this day, my mom still thinks I'm in a band," laughs Audrey.)

After booking two national Jimi Hendrix guitar competition tours, Audrey landed a job with Intercom Radio doing promo work and helping book large-scale performances.

But then a game changer - Tom Henley passed in '99. Audrey refocused on her punk rock roots - she'd had it with the corporate radio game. She also realized that while she and Jim Davies were rock stars in their own right, it was time to be together for good. 

"I decided - you know what? I love Jimmi and I'm moving to Olympia," says Henley. The couple married in 2004.

The transition from Seattle to Olympia brought forth the natural progression of her own booking and managing company, Pioneer Music, named for her late father's restaurant. She started booking bands like the Manatees, Cookie and Fitz of Depression, and later bringing in names like High on Fire and The Dwarves.

For Audrey, all roads lead to music and community, and in 2005 she became theater manager and events director for the Capitol Theater, where she continues to bring in amazing local and touring acts.

"What I love so much about Capitol Theater is community and history - the shows are awesome - but just being in that historical building and all the people doing what they love is amazing," says Henley. "Community can kind of be cliché - but in Olympia it's not cliché, it's fucking true."

Papa Henley would be proud.

LINK: Best of Olympia 2013

LINK: Best of Olympia 2012

LINK: Best of Olympia 2011

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