Elizabeth Park Summer Concerts

A tried-and-true tradition

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

It’s been more than a decade since I lived in a bright purple house on Utter Street in the Columbia neighborhood, but my affection for that part of town remains strong. So much so that my frequent meanderings hither and yon often take back to that neighborhood, where I can identify my favorite stately mansions and cozy bungalows alike on a block-by-block basis.

My strolls through the Columbia always take me around—and sometimes through—Elizabeth Park, where the bustle of tennis players, pickup basketball games, picnics, birthday parties and folks in various states of activity and relaxation makes for excellent people-watching. One of the things I appreciate about this city’s citizenry is that you do not merely profess to love Bellingham’s parks system, but you also use it with great frequency and enthusiasm.

Which is why you’ll find people in Elizabeth Park during daylight hours 365 days a year. But never more so than during the 10 weeks that comprise the Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series, one of Bellingham’s most beloved seasonal traditions. As everyone by now knows, one of the best parts of my Columbia neighborhood summers was my Thursday-evening walk home from work, which would always put me at the park’s perimeter right as that week’s band was hitting the second or third song of their set. I’d stay and listen awhile, chat with folks I knew from the neighborhood and the other walks of my Bellingham life, watch kids dance like clumsy, exuberant dervishes and finish my journey home. Sometimes, I’d bring a book and a refreshing libation to my front porch, where I could hear the muted strains of the music and the cheering of the audience.

It was an exceedingly lovely way to pass a Thursday night—and it still is.

The Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series is still going strong—stronger than ever, thanks to the partnership between the Eldridge Society—under the stewardship of its longtime president Peter Roberts—and Bellingham Parks & Recreation that makes the music series possible, and Marla Bronstein, who took on the job of booking the bands several years ago, and brought to the task her customary energy along with a knack for knowing what people will like. It helps that Bronstein is not only a huge music fan, but also has a long history of work in the arts community and so can capably navigate the deep well of talent that is Bellingham’s music scene.

Even though she knows there’s no pleasing everyone, Bronstein tries to provide as wide a variety of music as she can, while keeping things family-friendly and choosing bands that are a good fit for the park itself. She spends months snapping together the moving parts of this complex puzzle, and the result is some of the best free summer entertainment your money can’t buy.

The 2018 Elizabeth Park series begins Thurs., June 21 with Heroes, a band of local kids that totally rules and not just because they recently played Sehome High School’s prom. From there, it’s a parade of familiar faces and beloved bands such as the jazz of Stirred Not Shaken (June 28), high-energy covers by Out of the Ashes (July 5), bluegrass from Broken Bow String Band (July 12), lively Celtic songs courtesy of Flattery (July 19), a very special evening with the Walrus (July 26) to benefit DVSAS, the straight outta east county rock of BandZandt (Aug. 2), the politically minded folk of Dana Lyons (Aug. 9), progressive bluegrass from High Mountain String Band (Aug. 16), with the Replayzmentz (Aug. 23) closing things out for this year’s series right around the time summer starts to remind us it won’t be here forever.

Along with the rotating roster of musical offerings and the scenic locale, food trucks will be on hand to satiate the appetites of hungry revelers, and attendees are encouraged to bring chairs, picnic supplies and whatever else will make your concert-going experience complete. One thing you might not want to bring, however, is your car. Sure, it’s eco-friendly and environmentally responsible to bus, bike or walk to Elizabeth Park—and its geographically desirable location makes those options feasible for just about anyone—but my advice is in service to more than just the preservation of the planet. Parking can be scarce on the narrow streets of the Columbia neighborhood under the best of circumstances, but it becomes far trickier during the concerts. The madness is such that strangers used to park in my carport—which was located four blocks away from the park, down an alley and could not possibly have appeared to be a legitimately available parking spot to anyone.

But the best reason to take a more deliberately paced approach to Elizabeth Park on Thursday nights between 6pm and 8pm is because part of the magic of the concert series is hearing the music and the crowd in the distance and then having the park reveal itself as you come down the street or around a corner, as it did to me those years ago on my walks home from work. As quintessential summer traditions go, it’s definitely one of Bellingham’s best.

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