The Best Things in Life Are…

Did someone say free?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Last year at about this time, What’s Up! Magazine Editor Brent Cole was unleashing a day’s worth of free local music at pretty much any/every place in downtown Bellingham that had at least one electrical outlet and three square feet of floor space. That might be a slight exaggeration, but it sure didn’t seem so at the time. The impetus for the musical melee was the Bellingham music magazine’s 15th anniversary, a milestone Cole wanted to mark in unforgettable fashion.

The idea was to throw 15 different shows—with every show featuring an all-local lineup and none of them featuring a cover charge—at 15 different venues. It was an undertaking that seemed like utter folly when Cole first proposed it, but when I started taking certain factors into account, the notion wasn’t actually so farfetched. Factors such as the sheer quantity of bands and musicians in this town. Or the healthy number of traditional music venues and music-friendly spaces that could double as such. Or the fact that bands in this town have a history of being exceedingly willing to play for free when the occasion is right. Or the knowledge that if Cole booked it, people would surely come.

All of these things, when taken together, made for a large-scale event that was surprisingly doable, enough that Cole surpassed his target of 15 venues, adding more shows in more places, drawing from, but by no means exhausting, Bellingham’s seemingly endless supply of musicians. And when the day for the big birthday confab arrived, everything went off with only the most minimal of hitches, hordes of people came out to partake of the festivities and the whole thing was an unqualified success.

It was also a whole lot of fun.

As such, I should not have been surprised when, almost immediately after that music-stuffed day, Cole began to talk about doing it all over again the next year. Frankly, I was sure he was just caught up in some kind of rosy musical afterglow, would come to his senses sooner rather than later, and when the magazine’s anniversary rolled around again, we’d do a some fond near-past reminiscing about that one time he threw a jillion shows on the same day.

Cole and I have been friends for more than a decade. I should really know better than that by now.

Which brings us, once again, to another birthday for What’s Up! Magazine, and a reprise of last year’s daylong celebration. This time, the happenings will take place Sat., March 1, the venue count has topped out at more than 20, and the amount of local bands and musicians involved is probably somewhere in the low six figures (I may have overstated that last part a tiny bit).

Before I get down to the nitty gritty of who is playing when and where, I’d like to speak to something that should not be overlooked when considering this particular entertainment extravaganza. Cole, as mastermind and chief organizer of Saturday’s birthday bash, will no doubt get his measure of glory (as well he should) by day’s end. However, no man is an island, and Cole would be the first to admit he has a whole lot of help in pulling this off. From those who will lend their gear to the people who will help turn places like ModSock and La Fiamma into impromptu music venues to the bars who cleared their calendars so Cole could command nearly every stage in town, it takes, if not a village, at least a whole boatload of people to bring this big, loud baby into being. Of course, none of this would happen without the unfailing generosity of Bellingham’s musicians, who are, almost without exception, willing to donate their time and talent when asked.

My space here is far too limited to list every lineup of every show that will take place Saturday (if you’re a Facebook user, there’s a decent chance you received a flurry of event invites that contain all pertinent details), but an overview is certainly in order. Things kick off early with a series of all-ages shows at some fairly unlikely locales. At 1pm, Russ Riviere and Misty Flowers will play at Naked Clothing, while Biagio Biondolillo and Hillary Susz will post up at Aladdin’s Antiques. At 2pm, 3 Six 0 Music will play host to the Fire Organ and Vacationeer, Sarah Goodin and Tyson Ballew will hit up Avalon Music, and the Co-op will be treated to the sweet sounds of Vervex and Reasoner. During the 3pm hour, Kulshan Brewery will get in on the action with sets from Ben N. Fletcher, Moongrass, and the Devilly Brothers, while across town at Everyday Music, City Hall and Crow Magnet will entertain shoppers. At the same time, Go Slowpoke and the Muscle Relaxers will carve out a corner of La Fiamma for their musical ministrations. At 4pm, Coulby Styles and Ashley Douglas will appear at Gypsies and Ginger Snaps, and Brad Lockhard and Nika Lee, along with Porch Party, will bring live music back to Casa Que Pasa for one evening. At 6pm, Thimble vs. Needle will play a concert for an army of socks—and some people too—at ModSock.

I’m pretty sure it would be darn near impossible to see every band playing during the afternoon and evening hours, but when 7pm arrives, the floodgates truly open, and if you try and be everywhere for everything, you’ll expire of an attack of either the heart or panic variety. Such thorny logistical issues require some strategy, and while I can’t determine what yours might be, I’m perfectly willing to share mine.

At 7pm, it’s likely I’ll be found at Cap Hansen’s for some strong libations set to a soundtrack of the Country Hamms. I’ll be sure and duck out in time to duck into Make.Shift at 8pm for at least part of Learning Team, Fictions, Dad Jazz, and Porch Cat. From there, it’s back across the downtown core at 9pm, where I will try and perform the truly impressive feat of being able to see some of each of the shows at the Shakedown (Wild Throne, Girl Guts, Minor Plains, and Gonzo), the Green Frog (Br’er Rabbit, the Ames, Louis Ledford, and Ron Hardesty), the Redlight (PRND and the must-not-miss debut show of Apartment Kids), and perhaps the Cabin Tavern for good measure (Agonizer, Dead Hookers, Muppet Fetish, and Vaticunts)—and I haven’t even mentioned the whatdoings at the Wild Buffalo or the Swillery or Honey Moon or Poppe’s. Or the earlier shows at Third Planet and the Alternative Library. Or whatever other show at whatever other unlikely locale that Cole could and might pull out of his sleeve at the last moment.

If your appetite for local music isn’t satiated by the end of Saturday’s free festivities, you’re either some kind of voracious monster or you weren’t trying hard enough to spread yourself too thin over the course of the day. Conventional wisdom combined with common sense dictate that the opportunity to see and hear so much music at no cost to you is one that won’t come your way again anytime soon—not until next year, at least.

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