Bellhaven Jazz Festival

Coming of age

Thursday, September 10, 2015

It would seem that if you’re a locally based music festival, you haven’t really come of age until you’ve undergone a change of venue. Often, this relocation of real estate is related to an event’s growth (Downtown Sounds, Subdued Stringband Jamboree), and sometimes any number of factors conspire to compel an undertaking to seek a new locale (Summer Meltdown).

By that logic, the Bellhaven Jazz Festival is acting out a well-established rite of passage with its move to the Fairhaven Village Green.

If the name of this musical gathering sounds only vaguely familiar, that’s because, for the four years prior to its change of address, it was called the Bellwether Jazz Festival and took place at Tom Glenn Park, also known as the grassy expanse between the Bellwether Hotel and Bellingham Bay.

As these things go, it was a pretty nice place to stage an all-day, family-friendly, free annual jazz festival

The brain trust behind the event is the Jazz Project, a longstanding arts nonprofit that has been steadfastly bringing jazz music to the masses for nearly 20 years. The brain trust behind the Jazz Project is Jud Sherwood, who has been doing the same since long before he founded an official organization to serve that purpose. Over the decades, Sherwood has proven himself to be possessing of great drive, vision, community spirit, organizational ability and follow through—in short, almost all the things a person would need to successfully pull off the nonprofit’s many endeavors, up to and including the Bellwether Jazz Festival.

But the Jazz Project is not gifted with overflowing coffers—it is a nonprofit, after all—and while Sherwood is a resourceful man, he must sometimes rely on outside funding to make his jazz-related dreams reality. And so he’d counted on the largesse of the Port of Bellingham to help secure his plum festival spot on the city’s waterfront. All was well until the Port pulled the Project’s funding for the 2015 iteration, forcing the festival to hit the road in search of a new home.

Undeterred, Sherwood soldiered on, set his sights on the Southside and found a place to plant his all-day jazz jam. New surroundings dictated an updated name to match, and so the event is now the Bellhaven Jazz Festival, a simple, all-encompassing moniker that will no doubt help the happening make a seamless transition to the Fairhaven Village Green.

As ever, the festival is a daylong affair, running from 12pm-7pm, and is also free, family-friendly, easily accessed and open to all—in short, the only things that have changed about the annual event is its name and location. For those who are of age, five bucks nabs an initial beverage in the beer and wine garden, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own seating.

And, as ever, Sherwood has used his innate resourcefulness and the goodwill he, his nonprofit and his festival have engendered to ensure a full day’s worth of entertainment both varied and excellent. Bands tapped to play include perennial favorites Blues Union, the Gail Pettis Trio, Samba Soul 7, and more. Festival founder Sherwood will also take the stage—drumming for the trio that bears his name—and accomplished trumpet player Dmitri Matheny will join in on this particular piece of the fun.

One could look upon the Bellhaven Jazz Festival’s change of location as a drawback. Or one could adopt the stance, as many of us no doubt will, that Fairhaven offers charms different than, but equal to, the occasion’s former surroundings. Some might view the Village Green as being superior to Tom Glenn Park, all things considered. Personally, I see the move as a sign of the event’s evolution and a further chapter of its coming of age—Bellingham’s own particular brand of growing pains.

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