Cornering the market

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

You can’t walk half a block in Bellingham these days without running into a brewery or a music venue. Places to grab a pint or see a band—or both—are nothing if not plentiful and we are nothing if not proud of that. To be frank, we can be a little smug about our embarrassment of entertainment and hop-infused riches—but can you blame us?

It’s almost like we think we’ve got the market cornered when it comes to mixing our brews with our music.

Not so fast, says Anacortes.

The tiny town on Fidalgo Island has existed at the nexus of music and microbrews for a while now. Sure, until recently, it only boasted one brewery, the aptly named Anacortes Brewery, but what the town lacks in numbers it makes up for in history. The Anacortes Brewery began tapping kegs and pouring pints of its proudly local beer way back in 1994, and owner Rick Star built himself a restaurant and music venue next door, the Rockfish Grill, so he could invite everyone in town for a drink. But if one gathering place is good, two is certainly better, and it was not long before Star opened H2O, complete with 24 handles through which a rotating roster of beer constantly flows. Star’s spots joined the Brown Lantern, which has satiated appetites, slaked thirst and entertained Fidalgo Island folks for generations.

Because owning and operating two successful restaurants/bars/music venues as well as overseeing a seven-barrel brewery did not consume enough of his time, Star, along with friend Barry Brower, dreamed up a music festival that would take place at the Rockfish, H2O, and Brown Lantern and would celebrate two of their loves: beer and bluegrass music. They dubbed the thing Brewgrass! (the exclamation point is a must, according to Star), picked a weekend, booked some bands, brewed some beer and waited to see who would show up, if anyone.

That was 14 years ago, and in the nearly decade-and-a-half since, Brewgrass has become a beloved annual tradition in Anacortes.

Part of the appeal of Brewgrass!—that is, other than the bands and the beer—is that it requires very little energy and even less effort to see at least a smidgen of each band at every venue, should you desire to do so. Although the start times of each night’s shows are staggered by only half an hour, the Rockfish, H2O, and the Brown Lantern are all located along one short stretch of Commercial Street, making it a simple matter to go from one to the next and then back again. Also encouraging you to suss out the whole kit and kaboodle is the Brewgrass! ticket price—shows at the Brown Lantern and Rockfish are free, and it’ll run you just $5 to get into H2O.

This year’s event takes place Fri. and Sat., Nov. 3-4, and unlike most festivals where I can barely begin to touch on the talent involved, when it comes to Brewgrass!, I can cram all of the pertinent info into a single paragraph.

There’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple.

The 2017 iteration of Brewgrass! kicks off at 7:30pm Fri., Nov. 3 at H2O with Birdsview Bluegrass. They’ll just be getting into the swing of things when the Rain City Ramblers take the stage at 8pm at the Rockfish. Closing out the first night’s action at 9:30pm at the Brown Lantern will be Banjo Andy, a mysterious man who can evidently be found playing his banjo atop mountain peaks when he’s not performing at more traditional venues. H2O gets things going early again the next night with a 7:30pm performance by Stilly River Band. At 8pm, you’ll find Pearly Blue at the Rockfish, and Marcel and Nakos have been tapped to bring the whole thing home starting at 9:30pm at the Brown Lantern.

That’s just the grass half of Brewgrass! Although it is within the realm of possibility to see at least a little bit of each band, I would not recommend that you take the same approach when it comes to sampling the beers in question. Between them, the three venues boast 51 handles, all which will be employed in the pouring of local microbrews. Feel free to pick every band, but when it comes to the pints, choose wisely.

Cash Spell
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