Downtown Sounds

Say hello to summer

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Everyone has their own personal unofficial start of summer. For some, it comes when the garden they’ve spent the spring months toiling away in starts to bear delicious fruit (and vegetables). For others, it happens the first time they dive into the cool waters of their favorite swimming hole. Still others mark the season by the way they seek to escape it—by searching out air-conditioned movie theaters, dark bars and other cool locales.

For me, summer doesn’t really get going until Downtown Sounds kicks off.

Sure, by the time Downtown Sounds rolls around—usually in mid July—summer proper has been upon us for a few weeks. But, as the weather around these parts seldom syncs up with the calendar—at least as far as consistently warm temperatures are concerned—relying on the Summer Solstice as a signal to break out the T-shirts and the sunscreen can leave a person feeling a little chilly for weeks on end.

However, by the time Downtown Sounds commandeers the stretch of Bay Street it calls home, the thermometer can be counted on to consistently read something that feels a whole lot like summer. And when the sun shines down, even the most outdoor-phobic among us (including myself) tend to take to the streets in search of a good time.

A good time is exactly what Downtown Sounds aims to offer.

For those who haven’t partaken of the popular concert series during the first eight years of its existence, the drill is simple: Hardworking folks from Downtown Bellingham Partnership assemble a veritable army of similarly hardworking volunteers to shut down Bay Street, erect a stage and set up a sound system—in essence, over the course of a few hours, they build an impromptu open-air music venue. After that happens, food vendors show up, ready to ply their tasty wares and feed the masses. Finally, bands take to the stage and provide musical entertainment to what is typically a sizey and eager audience.

Your contribution to this musical merrymaking is simple: All you have to do is show up. The weekly, Wednesday-night concerts are free, family friendly and a whole lot of fun, from the musical acts themselves to the between-band entertainment to the dance party that inevitably breaks out every week.

And getting people to dance in the streets was the primary strategy employed by Downtown Sounds band wrangler and all-around wizard, Lindsey Payne. Choosing bands for any event is always tricky, and being the arbiter of this staple of community entertainment comes with its own set of challenges. But Payne was pretty clear that the musical acts that comprise this year’s roster were chosen with one goal in mind: getting audience members on their feet and moving to the beat.

By the looks of the 2013 Downtown Sounds lineup, if Payne doesn’t achieve that goal, it won’t be for lack of trying. Generally speaking, the bands featured at this year’s run of concerts are no stranger to the Bay Street stage, most having proved their mettle at Downtown Sounds of the past. But don’t let their status as known quantities deter you, as the allure of seeing these bands in an appealing outdoor setting should not be underestimated.

Best of Bellingham winners—for good reason—Polecat is the first headliner of the series, and will set things off in fine style come Weds., July 10. This is a band whose exuberant brand of bluegrass can pack out Bellingham’s biggest bars—also for good reason—and any chance to see them for free is the best deal in live entertainment you’re going to find by a long shot. Of course, I could say the same about the following Wednesday’s (July 17) band, Acorn Project, who, with their rabid local fan base, know a thing or two about drawing a crowd as well. The longtime local music staple is on the cusp of releasing its fourth studio album (an amazing feat in this one-and-done album town), and their Downtown Sounds appearance is sure to feature material both old and new. The next week, July 24, brings the Polyrhythmics, who will break out the horns and bring the funk. When it comes to Downtown Sounds, bigger is definitely better, and with its eight members, the Polyrhythmics have both strength and numbers.

Not to be outdone, the True Spokes (the artists formerly known as Flowmotion) will usher out July with a little rock ’n’ roll. This performance comes a little more than a week before the band plays Summer Meltdown, the festival they helped found, and they’re sure to be in tip-top show shape. Closing out this summer’s Downtown Sounds series (but not summer itself—my personal summer doesn’t end until the lights go down on the Lynden Fair) is Juno What?!, a band fearless enough to employ the interrobang as part of its name. Bay Street is also a stop on the way to Meltdown for them (indeed, the only Downtown Sounds band not playing Meltdown is the Polyrhythmics), so expect their high-energy dance grooves to be firing on all cylinders when they play Aug. 7.

Maybe Downtown Sounds isn’t your signal that summer has begun. That’s O.K., these things are personal and we’re all different. However, I think we can agree that even if it’s not the start of your season, free downtown weeknight concerts are certainly an excellent way to celebrate the season.

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