Bellingham Folk Festival

They come in peace


What: Bellingham Folk Festival

When: Fri., Jan. 24 -26

Where: Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, Firefly Lounge, Honey Moon

Cost: $10-$110


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Last year, Cayley Schmid, the mastermind behind Bellingham’s folk and Irish festivals, told me that one of her favorite things about the events is spying folks downtown with musical instruments during festival weekend and trying to figure out who they are and what they’re up to.

My curiosity piqued, I decided to try and see things from her perspective, and, sure enough, seemingly everywhere I looked was someone hauling a fiddle or guitar through the rainy streets of the downtown core, as if the entire city was being overrun by travelling troubadours. That some of them were sporting old-timey garb and porkpie hats only enhanced that impression.

In short, it was delightful.

Should you want to partake of this particular form of entertainment, you’ll have your chance Jan. 24-26 during the Bellingham Folk Festival. Once again, musicians from near and far will descend upon us, and you won’t have to look very hard to spot them. The area surrounding the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship—the festival’s hub—will be thick with music-makers of all kinds, and traversing the streets between there and the Firefly Lounge and Honey Moon should yield plentiful sightings as well.

Of course, watching musicians schlep instruments around is not the point of the Bellingham Folk Festival. The idea is to listen to them play said instruments. Or, if you happen to be one of those musicians, to teach and take workshops, jam together and perform for the public.

As ever, the festival is not based around huge stages, big acts and overpriced bottles of water. Instead, it is built on a firm foundation of education and collaboration, with the days being devoted to workshops and the evenings given over to singing, dancing and the making of as much joyful noise as possible.

If one of Schmid’s favorite parts of her festivals is the spotting of musicians in the wild, mine has to be the variety of interesting-sounding workshops offered at each one.

For instance, the Bellingham Folk Fest kicks off Fri., Jan 24 with the straightforward-sounding “Country Blues Guitar” with Devin Champlin. However, it is followed by such classes as “DADGAD Served Two Ways” (Evan Ingalls), “Beginning Clawhammer Banjo and Just Beyond” (Laura Smith), “Turtle Jam” (Colleen Freeman), “Norwegian Fiddle Tunes” (Elise Wessel Hildrum), and more. If you’re feeling light on your feet, you can learn the basics of the two-step from Will Jevne.

And when you’ve finished two-stepping and DADGAD-ing and turtle jamming, Fru Skagerrak, George Rezendes, West of Roan, and Richard Scholtz, Laura Smith & Evan Ingalls. Should you wander off-campus and into the night, take yourself to the Firefly Lounge for Sweater Weather Stringband or Honey Moon for an open jam session.

When you return to BUF for Saturday’s festivities, along with your instruments, bring with you a healthy amount of stamina and curiosity for “Brazilian Counterpoint on Guitar” (Nando), “Finding Vocal Harmony Parts” (Casey Connor), “Bones” (Ben Hunter), “Tunes from Sliabh Luachra” (Colleen Freeman), “The Old Weird America” (Harper Stone), a pair of “Slower Than Dirt Beginner Old-Time” jams (Josh Larios), and so much more, including opportunities to learn about Scandinavian music and then jam with Fru Skagerrak. The night’s concert comes early, at 6pm, and features Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons, 3 Play Ricochet, and Andrew Finn Magill and Nando Duarte, before a contra dance kicks off at 8pm with the Golden Gems. Once again, the Firefly Lounge and Honey Moon will be the sites of late-night shenanigans, with Sver and Sons of Rainier performing at the former, and George Rezendes leading the open jam at the latter.

The festival will be back at it on Sunday, this time for “Creating Intuitive Harmonies” (Channing Showalter), “Coping With Chaos: A Fiddle Workshop” (Ryan McKasson), “Old-Time Tunes for Intermediate Plectrum-ites” (Michael Beauchamp-Cohen), “Bow Drive: Easy Melodies, Challenging Bowings” (Laurel Premo), “Norwegian Tunes on Diatonic Accordion” (Leif Ingvar Ranøien), Sing and Play Fiddle (or Cello) at the Same Time” (Colleen Freeman), “Learning a Beautiful, Slow Tune by Ear” (Richard Scholtz), and other offerings. Considering that I don’t know what either a diatonic organ or a plectrum is, and coping with chaos is my natural state, consider me intrigued. The day—and the festival—will close out with a trio of powerhouse acts, Kalos, Red Tail Ring, and Sver.

When you see more people than usual clutching instruments as they stroll hither and yon downtown Jan. 24-26, don’t be alarmed. We’re definitely being overrun, but the invaders come in peace.

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