Back 2 Bellingham

Something 4 everyone

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I live near enough to Western Washington University that I can exit my front door, meander a block or two down the street and view the institution of higher learning in all its storied glory. In fact, any journey that takes me to downtown Bellingham for any reason involves walking or driving by the college, and many of my errands are made that much quicker by cutting right through campus.

Despite all that, I tend to take Western’s presence as a given, expending little or no energy on consideration of the details that make up its continued existence.

Oh sure, I’ve extolled the virtues of living in a college town to all and sundry—especially those who question my continued and enthusiastic tenure here. However, while trying to explain the peculiar magic that a venerated institution such as Western lends to life in this smallish town, I have to confess that I don’t spend a lot of time considering the college itself.

This is especially criminal given the fact that 1. As with so many of you, WWU is the reason I moved to Bellingham in the first place, and 2. I spent four-plus years soaking up its knowledge and exploring every inch of its campus. As well, I’m actually employed in the field in which I gained my education—and happily, I might add—meaning I owe Western a debt bigger than my as-yet-unpaid student loans.

It occurs to me that I probably shouldn’t take Western so much for granted.

However, the university knows its relationship with our town is a long-term one, and, as such, it has to work to keep the spark alive. As it turns out, Western knows how to woo. And its charms are many.

The school will put all those charms on display during one jam-packed, all-singing, all-dancing weekend known as Back 2 Bellingham, which takes place this year Fri.-Sun., May 17-19. And if you think this is an event that holds no personal interest for you, I am here to tell you that you are wrong.

I say that with much confidence as the many people who came together to plan Back 2 Bellingham—spearheaded and wrangled by WWU’s Alumni Association—have managed to cram more than 130 distinct events into one short weekend. The official PR materials for the event talk about “reunions, tours, educational discussions, entertainment opportunities” and the like, but that unassuming wording conceals all the cool stuff to be found within.

So, just what is Back 2 Bellingham? It is planetarium shows and sunset kayak trips, gallery exhibits and birding walks, basketball tournaments and bike tours, improv performances and conversations about social issues. And it’s also happenings that are as offbeat as they are intriguing. When else will you be able to ride a giant inflatable slide called the “Cliffhanger” in Red Square? Or drink pints of Boundary Bay beer and party in the library without fear of being caught and kicked out? Or attend an authentic luau? Or attend a magic show? Or suss out the 13th annual “Ridin’ Low in the 360” low-rider show after brunch? You can do all that during the three days that encompass Back 2 Bellingham while still having ample time to walk a couple of laps or otherwise show your support for Western Relay for Life, which will also be an important part of the giant, multifaceted event.

Of course, as this is a celebration of sorts, music is an integral part of the mix, so much so that it will take place on five separate stages—more, when the off-campus musical offerings that are part of Back 2 Bellingham are taken into account—all weekend long.

Of all the free offerings at Back 2 Bellingham (and many of them are indeed free, and the ones that aren’t are pretty affordable), none is a more unbelievable deal than EndFair. which takes place in Fairhaven College’s courtyard. Kicking off at 11am Saturday and ending more than 12 hours later, the daylong concert features 14 bands, Learning Team, Vervex, Juniper Stills, and the Prime Time Band among them. The Prime Time Band will also play earlier that same day at the Back 2 Bellingham barbecue, while the Relay for Life will also boast a stage and bands that will entertain walkers and watchers alike at regular intervals.

Also taking place during the B2B weekend is LivFest, an annual fundraiser for the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, and this iteration promises entertainment from Gyrating Hips, Vonvettas, and more on Friday, while Walking Stick for a Giant, Gypsters, the Dagwoods, and others will take the stage Saturday. Those who attend Saturday’s Red Square Carnival—where the aforementioned “Cliffhanger” can be found in all its widow-making glory—will slide and scream to a soundtrack of Soccer Mom, the Well Wishers, and more.

For Back 2 Bellingham attendees who favor a bit of an off-campus wander, B2B-related shows can be found Friday at the Underground, where the Walrus will play, and Saturday in the Boundary Bay beer garden, where SpaceBand will entertain alumni, current students and anyone else who happens to come their way.

As some of Back 2 Bellingham’s events happen at the same time, I am sad to report it is likely impossible to attend all 130 of them. But no one will mind if you try. If you happen to renew your romance with Western along the way, well, no one will mind that either.

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