Bellingham Irish Festival

No camping required

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

When I think of going to music festivals, first I consider the fun parts—seeing a bunch of bands I like, discovering new ones, people-watching with my friends and that whole anything-goes vibe that festivals tend to encourage.

And then I remember the parts I don’t love quite so much. The expense of the ticket. The hassle of figuring out transportation, navigating traffic, finding parking—logistics are not my strong suit. Drumming up a place to stay, and, depending on the festival, scaring up assorted camping gear—camping is also not my strong suit.

In recent years, as I have become older and have begun to care about things like not waking up still wearing my clothes from the night before in a sleeping bag that smells like stale beer and someone’s dog before attempting to brush my teeth with the last tablespoon of warm water in the one bottle I’d brought. Turns out, creature comforts are my strong suit.

What I really need is for someone to throw a music festival that happens all over downtown Bellingham. I can hit up my favorite haunts, see music everywhere I go and then sleep in my own bed, under my own blankets that smell like my cats, who don’t smell like much of anything at all, although I do detect the occasional whiff of disdain emanating from them.

Although Cayley Schmid cannot solve the problems presented by my recalcitrant felines, she has given me the music festival my heart desires, the Bellingham Irish Festival, which takes place Fri.-Sun., Oct. 6-8 at—as requested—various downtown locales.

The Irish Festival is but one part of Schmid’s local entertainment empire, which also includes founding the Bellingham Folk School, Bellingham Folk Festival, and Bellingham Ceili Club, as well as being the front-and-center fiddler for perennially popular band Polecat and playing in Giant’s Causeway when she’s not busy with all of those other things.

I’m sure if you were to ask her, Schmid would claim to love all of her exceedingly entertaining children equally, but with a self-professed lifelong affinity for Celtic music, there’s little doubt the Irish Festival occupies a special place in her heart. And that’s really the point of the whole thing: for Schmid to be able to show us why this music speaks to her in the hope it will say similar things to all of us.

For me, things are likewise pretty simple: I like Irish music and the idea of being able spend a weekend wandering around downtown seeking it out sounds like a pretty good way to pass the time.

Much like most music festivals, the Bellingham Irish Festival features more bands and musicians than I can capably highlight here. And because Schmid likes to make certain her events have educational elements to go with all that freewheeling fun, workshops will be available as well. Add other random and assorted shenanigans and a well-rounded weekend can be had with very little effort.

As far as performances go, if one is to do this thing right, it is probably only proper to attend the kickoff session and reception that takes place Fri., Oct. 6 at the Mount Baker Theatre’s Encore Room. It’s free, all-ages and signals the beginning of the 2017 festival. From there, if I were planning your weekend, I’d certainly go see MAC at the Green Frog, and then could probably be induced to make my way to the Honey Moon for Giant’s Causeway.

After that, the schedule gets a bit crowded and you’ll need to plan wisely—a must at any music festival.

Your Saturday choices include Gallowglass at Opera French Pastries and Coffee in the morning and Honey Moon at night, Kathy Hardy at the Leopold’s upper lobby, the Porchlights at Kombucha Town’s Culture Cafe, Peadar MacMahon at Avalon Records, Derek Duffy at the Honey Moon, and Na Rosai at Vinostrology.

With Sunday comes another chance to see Na Rosai, this time at Culture Cafe, along with Sam Vogt and Zach Bauman at Mindport, Aaron Malcomb at Third Planet (I wasn’t lying when I said this festival was happening everywhere), and an Irish and Folk Singers Showcase at the Cabin Tavern.

This list does not include any of the various open sessions that can be dropped in on, nor does it cover the tea-and-soda-bread social (complete with Irish dancers) at the Pickford Film Center, the traditional Irish storytelling Harper Stone will be doing at the Bellingham Folk School, or the workshops at which experts will teach you Scottish fiddle, tin whistle, the basics of the Irish language, Irish dancing, bagpiping, bodhran basics, uilleann pipe tunes, Irish bouzouki (confession: I don’t really know what those last three things are—I guess I know which workshops I should sign up for), and more.

One of the best parts about the Bellingham Irish Festival—and something that sets it apart from nearly every other festival on the planet—is that many of the shows and sessions are free and family friendly, part of Schmid’s commitment to making her endeavors accessible to everyone. All that, and you won’t even have to leave downtown Bellingham to attend. That’s my kind of festival life.

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