Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival

A pioneering party

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

I don’t know if Hovander Homestead Park is the first place I’ve ever been hollered at by a peacock, but I’m certain it’s happened there most often.

Having taken an incomplete survey of most of Bellingham’s and Whatcom County’s parks, the place to which I return time and again is Hovander Homestead Park. I first became acquainted with the nearly 350 acre former pioneer farm in Ferndale while exploring Whatcom County shortly after moving to Bellingham. In the years since, I’ve explored its trail system, toured the original Hovander house, sniffed my way through the fragrance garden, ogled the barn and its farm implements and meandered the Tennant Lake boardwalk countless times.

And yes, I’ve been hollered at by the park’s very vocal peacocks during those visits.

Hovander Park is also a great place for gatherings and events of all kinds, which is why your park stroll might involve stumbling upon weddings, birthday parties, family reunions, school field trips, groups of amateur historians or naturalists, etc. If you’re really lucky, your visit might even coincide with a Civil War reenactment. It’s been known to happen.

One of the events taking full advantage of the historic park and what it has to offer is the Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival. Founded as a joint effort between the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Foundation, Whatcom Parks and Recreation itself, and local music advocates 5 Starr Jams, the festival—which will take place Sept. 1-2—is in its third year, making it a relative newcomer to the local festival landscape.

If ever there was a perfect location for a festival that celebrates a form of music often associated with the pioneer spirit, it’s a park that exists to keep that same spirit alive and to make certain it resonates today. As the bands strum, stomp and sing, it’s possible to shut out the modern world and imagine that you’ve traveled not just to Ferndale, but also back to a simpler time.

The performers who will play on the festival’s two stages during the two days of the festival embody bluegrass in many different forms and span a range of ages and styles. Both days start on the Shadetree Showcase Stage, where the Prozac Mountain Boys, Story House, and Katelyn and the Roosevelts will kick things off Saturday, and Rusty Hinges, Mostly Merle, and Roosevelt Road and Friends will do the honors Sunday. While they’re playing, workshops taught by festival musicians will be happening all over the festival grounds, in subject areas like flatpicking, dobro, fiddle improvisation, mandolin, how to start and act right in a band, songwriting, banjo and more.

After that, the action happens on the Main Stage—and this is one of several places where the Hovander Bluegrass Festival deviates from the festival norms many of us have grown accustomed to. Generally speaking, festival performers get one set time, and if you’re not planning to attend the day one of your favorites is playing—or find yourself caught up in a very important nap at your campsite—you’ll miss seeing them. However, at the Hovander Bluegrass Festival, almost all of the Main Stage acts will play more than a single set, offering both flexibility in planning and the opportunity to see bands you like more than once.

Practically speaking, what that means is AJ Lee and Blue Summit will start things off Saturday, and then return later in the day for a second round in the evening. They’re the only band that will play twice during the same day, but Lonesome Town Painters; Ragged Union; Modern Tradition; Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands; and Crary, Evans & Barnick will play Saturday and then come back Sunday and do it all over again. Completing the Sunday schedule is String Theory, the festival’s only one-and-done Main Stage performer.

Truth be known, bands performing more than once is not all that unusual among bluegrass festivals—indeed, it’s the tried-and-true method employed by the Darrington Bluegrass Festival, the oldest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. And neither is the other area in which the Hovander Bluegrass Festival differs from the ones I’m used to.

The festival model I’m familiar with has the music beginning in the afternoon and then going late into the night until passing out from exhaustion, overstimulation and music-induced delirium is the only possible and logical next step. This is typically followed by remaining in one’s tent the next day trying to sleep until driven out by heat and hunger. It’s not ideal and it’s not for the faint of constitution.

But at Hovander, the music starts early—at 9am—on the Shadetree Showcase Stage and ends relatively early too, with the music ending right about the time the sun dips over the horizon and calls it a day. That gives festival-goers the rest of the night to stop by the 5 Starr Jams tent in the campground, hightail it home or even head into Ferndale to for an impromptu informal after party. As well, the campgrounds will be open to festival attendees beginning on Thursday, so you can make a whole Labor Day weekend staycation out of the event and exploring the wonders of the park, without spending exorbitant amounts on fuel and wasting a bunch of time in traffic. And if you’re very lucky and they’re around, you might just get hollered at by a peacock.

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