Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival

Party in the park


What: Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival

When: 10 am Fri., Sep. 2 -5

Where: Hovander Homestead Park, Ferndale

Cost: Free-$55

Info: http://www.hhbgf.org

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Several years ago, after undergoing a series of personal setbacks, I decided it was time to take my show on the road. Generally speaking, I’m a firm believer that wherever you go, there you are. But in this case, a change in geography seemed in order.

So, I moved to Ferndale.

While not exactly an exotic locale, it had the benefit of being not-Bellingham but still nearby. I found myself a small house on five acres of former farmland just outside the city limits, packed up my cat, my angst and my meager possessions and relocated to the tiny town on the Nooksack River.

My friends thought I’d taken leave of my senses, but a solid dose of small(er)-town life was just what I needed. The year I spent in Ferndale was restorative, and had I not had to give up my farmhouse to members of my landlord’s family, I might be there still.

During my Ferndale sojourn, I spent a fair amount of time wandering the grounds of Hovander Homestead Park. Snugged up against the city, the park was either on my way to everywhere, or not far out of the way from anywhere. And its sprawling—and very scenic—350 acres made it perfect for short or prolonged rambles in every season.

A person could easily extract an endless bounty of amusement and pleasure from hiking the trails, visiting the exhibits depicting pioneer life, getting a dose of aromatherapy via the fragrance garden, strolling the Tennant Lake boardwalk (my favorite feature), and chasing the peacocks of Hovander Park. I have done and continue to do all of these things (except chase the peacocks, an activity I actually wouldn’t recommend. They seem like nervous birds).

But wouldn’t it be great if Hovander played host to a music festival?

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who thinks the park would make for a perfect music venue. A hardworking and enterprising crew of folks from Whatcom Parks & Recreation Foundation, Whatcom County Parks & Rec, and 5 Starr Jams got together some time ago and created the Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival, the first iteration of which will take place Sept. 2-5, which also does duty as Labor Day weekend.

The first-year festival might be happening in a small city, but it is no minor undertaking. A mix of nationally known, up-and-coming and local bluegrass acts will perform on two stages, and the weekend will also feature workshops (both vocal and instrumental), picking contests (for a variety of instruments), informal jam areas (bring your instruments and your collaborative spirit), entertainment and activities for the kids (and a beer garden for the adults), and an ample camping area (for after the pickin’ party and the beer garden). Food trucks will keep you satiated, craft vendors will ply their handmade wares and the peacocks will do whatever it is peacocks do in situations such as these. Part of the proceeds will benefit the Whatcom Parks & Recreation Foundation, who will presumably use the money to throw next year’s Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival.

But before we start planning our lives around that event, it’s probably prudent to talk about the music you’ll find at this one—or at least a smattering of it, anyway.

Along with being a purveyor of modern bluegrass—a role that finds him singing, writing and playing guitar—Chris Jones hosts a radio show, does a little bit of music writing and generally conducts himself like a renaissance man. Performing is his true love, however, and his vocals offer a distinctive “low lonesome” sound that has been praised by everyone from Steve Martin to audiences at the Grand Ole Opry. Also playing the Main Stage will be Chicago’s Special Consensus, who have been around for more than four decades, have also played the Grand Ole Opry, and have released 17 albums of their traditional bluegrass songs—and songs that are not traditionally bluegrass but become so in their nimble hands.

Coming from North Carolina will be Nu-Blu, who, as the abbreviated name suggests, are bringing a contemporary sound to standard Americana music. Dipping a toe in the past while managing to remain in the present is a tough balance for any band, but Nu-Blu is up to the challenge.

Much has been made of the Purple Hulls’ Katie Lou and Penny Lea Clark being “born to make music together”—probably owing to the fact that the sisters and band mates are also identical twins—but their music lends an air of truth to that sentiment. From Nashville by way of East Texas, the Clarks can certainly harmonize with ease, but if you can manage to get over that whole twin thing and watch them play, you’ll notice they both totally shred whatever instrument they happen to have on hand.

Hailing from a more nearby locale is Seattle band the Warren G. Hardings. I’m not sure what affinity the foot-stomping bluegrass band has with our short-lived 29th president, but I do know the band (not the dead president) loves to get audiences on their feet and dancing. They do so by mixing their bluegrass with elements of pop, punk and whatever else it takes to show people a good time.

Of course, that’s just a random sampling of the bounty of music you’ll find at the inaugural Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival (the Roustabouts, Marcel & Nakos, North Country Bluegrass Band, Broken Bow Stringband, Prozac Mountain Boys, and more will also take to the stages). And you don’t even have to move to Ferndale to enjoy it all.

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