Food & Culture

Backstory: The Man Behind the Music at Seattle Center’s International Fountain

A local landmark comes alive thanks to its own DJ

By Chris Robinson June 10, 2019


This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Seattle Magazine.

This article appears in print in the June 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

The Landmark. The International Fountain
The Location. Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St.
The Backstory. The giant water feature at the heart of Seattle Center isn’t just a magnet for kids, who are often seen playing there. Listen closely and you’ll hear a carefully curated playlist that seems to dance along with the fountain’s jets of water.

Since 2001, local music producer James Whetzel has held the title of “musical curator” for the International Fountain, orchestrating an eclectic mix of music informed by his areas of expertise, instrumental and world music. (Whetzel studied ethnomusicology at the University of Washington and is the founder of world music record label Olin Place.) His playlist changes with the seasons: In the summer, it runs longer (from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and features more upbeat tempos. In the winter, it’s on a shorter schedule, with slower, more atmospheric rhythms.

Whetzel says he enjoys the public service aspects of the work. “My first priority is to make an inviting atmosphere for people to interact with the fountain. While doing that I also try to introduce people to as much cool music as I can.”

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