Downtown Sounds

Dancin’ in the streets

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Several months ago, I offered a testimonial about Downtown Sounds as part of a crowd-funding pitch to raise money for this year’s concert series. Given my ongoing and outspoken support for Downtown Sounds, making such a statement was a no-brainer, but the exercise was a worthwhile one in that it helped to remind me why, exactly, I feel the weekly concert series to be so valuable to the community here.

Boiled down, what I said was fairly straightforward: “Because of Downtown Sounds, Bellingham is a place where dancing in the streets is not only condoned, but also encouraged.”

That statement has the benefit of being both succinct and true; even so, I’d like to take this opportunity to expand on it a bit.

We live in a time during which cities, towns and other municipalities the nation over are dealing with the increasingly bleak realities of dwindling resources, cash-strapped coffers, crumbling infrastructure, demands on the social safety net, downgrading of basic services, etc. Stuck between the rock of too much need and the hard spot of not enough money, cities are often compelled to jettison all but the most essential of programs. In that scenario, arts-related programs are often the first to feel the cut of the budgetary knife.

One of the things that makes this area so magical is the people charged with keeping this fine city up and running understand that along with all the other mouths to feed, satiating the cultural appetites of Bellingham’s citizenry meets an important need as well. And thanks to the nonprofit Downtown Bellingham Partnership, we have an organization devoted to seeing to it that we are well-fed, culturally speaking.

Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s aim is simple: to encourage people to engage and interact with the downtown core as a means by which to keep that downtown core lively and diverse. They achieve this objective in a variety of daily and mostly invisible ways, but the most public of their programs are the monthly Art Walks, Bite of Bellingham, annual Halloween Trick or Treat, and more. In short, they make downtown fun, so that we’ll keep coming downtown to have fun.

While all their programs are worthy of mention, probably the most glittering jewel in the Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s civic-minded crown would have to be Downtown Sounds. For five Wednesdays every summer, the intrepid employees of Downtown Bellingham Partnership and an army of volunteers shut down an entire city block on Bay Street, erect a giant stage and basically turn that stretch of concrete and asphalt into an impromptu concert venue. The shows feature a range of talent both local and regional, and are free and family-friendly.

Now in its 10th season, Downtown Sounds has always been popular with the populace, but since Downtown Bellingham Partnership Events Manager Lindsey Payne made the annual event the focus of her considerable attention and energy several years ago, the caliber of bands has improved, the audience has swelled by the thousands and the concert series has truly come into its own.

For its 10th anniversary, Payne tried to strike a balance between bands familiar to longtime Downtown Sounds fans and acts that are new to the Bay Street stage. Opening this year’s season July 9 will be Portland’s MarchFourth Marching Band, the stilt-walking, drumbeating, horn-blowing cacophony of joyful noise. Opening the show will be Br’er Rabbit, whose exuberant brand of bluegrass has earned them a following in Bellingham and beyond.

The series doesn’t let up during the second week, playing host to what will be the final show (forever!) for the Prime Time Band. After four years together, the band is disbanding due to members that have become increasingly far-flung and involved in the non-music areas of their lives. But they’re down for one last big party, and the streets of downtown Bellingham seem like a fine locale for a going-away gig. The full band will reunite for the July 16 show—with the addition of a string section—and the Austerman File will open the show.

Another Downtown Sounds regular—as well as one of Bellingham’s hands-down favorite bands (and they have the awards to prove it)—Polecat will take the stage July 23 with their trademark hard-stomping bluegrass. Portland’s only “junkbox blues duo” Hillstomp will add their rowdy brand of outsider alt-country to these high-energy, down-home proceedings.

Newcomers to Downtown Sounds, Publish the Quest was formed for the purpose of recording an album—2008’s The Threads—and although the musical collective has changed in size and membership, they’ve been together in some form ever since. They’ll entertain the audience while educating them with their socially conscious message on July 30, and 3 on the Tree will jam their way through an opening set.

While I’m excited for all five weeks of this season’s rock-solid lineup, it’s the final Wednesday (Aug. 6) of Downtown Sounds that has a special place in my heart. This is due to the fact that Bellingham’s own hair-metal tribute band Voyager will rock the audience with their impressive take on the metal classics of Motley Crue, Van Halen, Cinderella, Judas Priest, and many more. For you Rush fans (and you are plentiful around these parts), tribute band the Trees will play all your favorite classics by the prolific Canadian rockers.

By the time this milestone season of Downtown Sounds ends, I hope you will all have found your own reasons for loving the series. Because you never know when you might be called upon to give a testimonial about that very thing.

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