Lynden Music Festival

Everybody cut loose

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

It was just about a year ago that I clambered into the backseat of a running vehicle in a downtown Bellingham parking lot, and then hurtled through a dark, rainy night with only a vague sense of the direction in which my cohorts and I were headed. Turns out, their sense of direction was vague as well, but what we lacked in navigational ability we made up for in purpose.

Our purpose was to seek entertainment of the musical kind, and our final destination—via a decidedly and accidentally circuitous route—was Lynden. If the words “Lynden” and “live music” don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence, you’ll probably also be surprised to learn that some among our group actually expected to do a little dancing. If that news shocks you, you’ve likely watched Footloose one too many times, and you’ve also never been to the Lynden Music Festival.

Considering that I have a stellar track record when it comes to the various ways in which Lynden likes to show me a good time (the Northwest Washington Fair, the Scream Fair, ill-advised seating in the “splatter section” of a traveling production of Evil Dead: The Musical, every breakfast I’ve ever eaten at Dutch Mothers), I had high hopes for the town’s namesake musical event.

Although the town of Lynden itself dates back nearly a century and a half, the Lynden Music Festival is a slightly more recent affair, getting its start just seven years ago. As with any artistic undertaking in Whatcom County’s second-largest city, the spirit of Claire vg Thomas, late Lynden luminary, looms large over the event.

If you’re unfamiliar with Thomas and her artistic legacy, the quick-and-dirty version of her story goes a little something like this: After being born and raised in Lynden, Thomas received a master’s degree in music from Northwestern University, toured all over as a concert pianist, moved to New York, worked for Rodgers and Hammerstein, and directed no less than six choirs.

But she was really just getting started at that point. It wasn’t until she moved back to Lynden that she really began to flex her artistic and civic-minded muscles. Once back in her beloved hometown, Thomas helped to found both the Lynden Pioneer Museum and the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra. When it came time to celebrate the town’s centennial, naturally, she planned the party. She founded a performing arts theater, and it wasn’t too long before its board of directors voted to name it after her, and what had been the Queen Julianna Theater rightly became the Claire vg Thomas Theater. During the 91 years of her life, Thomas was the living embodiment of the notion that a single person can change an entire place for the better. If I were not talking about a Lynden’s most highly esteemed matron of the arts, I might be tempted to call Thomas a badass, but as it stands, I’ll say she was a force of nature and leave it at that. 

Although Thomas passed away in 2008, her Lynden legacy remains ever strong, and it was partly in her honor that the Lynden Music Festival was founded. True to her character and also to the community institutions she helped create, the festival is diverse, family-friendly, inclusive—and many parts of it are free. And I speak from experience when I attest to the fact that its organizers are warm and welcoming, making for a feel-good experience for musicians and attendees alike.

Even though I may technically speak from experience about the Lynden Music Festival, that experience is admittedly very slight. The event is no festival in name only, instead it is a full-fledged, fleshed-out occasion, beginning with contemporary Hawaiian band Hapa, who will play an E Komo Mai (or “Come On In”) concert the evening of Tues., Oct. 13, before the festival takes over a host of venues for performances happening multiple times a day through the “Final Finale,” which features polka music and takes place Sun., Oct. 18.

If you’re wondering how to get from Hawaiian music to polka in the span of just under a week: 1. You’re going to have to attend the Lynden Music Festival. 2. You should know the path, much like the route my friends and I took to reach last year’s festival, is not a direct one.

Instead, during the course of the festival’s 2015 run, you’ll be treated to lively Irish folk music and its longtime practitioners Gallowglass at a Pioneer Museum concert; gather at the Dutch Village Mall for opening ceremonies with music by Borealis Brass, Barry Flanagan, and Duo Lido; lose and/or find your religion at a performance featuring Wendy Donaghy, Mike Allen, and more at Bethel Christian Reformed Church; make your way to Wiser Lake for a some refreshments and a little Gershwin courtesy of Marja Kaisla and the Hollander family; attend an “Everybody Cut Loose” (hey guys, I think Lynden’s heard all those Footloose rumors) show with West My Friend at the Homestead Golf and Country Club—and so very much more. There are piano classes to be taken, choirs to join, coffeehouse performances to enjoy, jam sessions to attend, happy hours to hit up, a lecture to attend, hymns to sing and many other ways to make a trip to Lynden well worth your while.

This is far from the first time I’ve extolled the virtues of the small Dutch town north of Bellingham, and the Lynden Music Festival is simply my latest discovery there. With a spirit of adventure and a wee bit of curiosity, such discoveries can be yours as well, no matter what route you take to get there.

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