Bellingham Irish Festival

No one’s second fiddle

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Maybe it’s because we too live in a place where we exist between green land and gray skies. Perhaps it’s because some of our favorite musicians came to us from the Emerald Isle. Maybe it’s because we have a touch of romance in our heart and a bit of melancholy in our soul.

Whatever the reason, Bellingham has a real thing for Irish music.

Cayley Schmid, who hails from Bellingham, knows all about this. A nimble and dynamic fiddler of great range and skill, she’s made it a point to immerse herself in the musical traditions of Ireland. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Schmid, it’s that she excels at sharing that which she loves with the rest of us. For instance, she loves folk music—she’s Polecat’s front-and-center fiddler—and so she founded the Bellingham Folk Festival. She’s got a knack for teaching and mentoring, and so she founded the Bellingham Folk School. And it was her love of Irish music that led her to create the Bellingham Irish Festival.

That we also love Irish music only made her job that much easier.

The lure of Schmid’s festival, which takes place Oct. 5-7, is more than just its musical lineup. She’s also made it exceedingly easy to attend. The whole event takes place within a six-block radius of downtown Bellingham, all of the shows and workshops are $15 or less (and many of them are free), and everything is clearly delineated on the festival’s website.

Music is naturally the centerpiece of the annual event, and per usual, you need not wander far to find it. Contemporary Celtic artists MAC will play the official kickoff party Fri., Oct. 5 at the Firefly Lounge. Meanwhile, a short distance away, the Honey Moon will be the site a full night of free music beginning with Schmid’s band Giant’s Causeway, and followed in orderly fashion by harpist Kathie Hardy, longtime duo Margaret Driscoll and Aaron Malcomb, and the Devilly Brothers.

Come Saturday, the Porchlights will start things off with a free, all-ages show at the Culture Cafe. Biddy on the Beach will be joined by Sean Connors and Sam Vogt at the Sylvia Center, followed later in the evening by Na Rosai, Reed and Vogt, and Alicia Guinn. The Three Seas, Collin Stackhouse, Derek Duffy, and MAC are on tap for another night of free music at the Honey Moon, while Gallowglass will be across town at Vinostrology.

Sunday may be a day of rest for some, but not so much for the Bellingham Irish Festival, which begins the day, not with a gospel performance, but with a lunch concert at Culture Cafe featuring Na Rosai. Hie thyself to Mindport where you’ll find interactive exhibits and Bauman and Vogt playing mandolin and guitar. The Pickford Film Center has become the site of one of the Bellingham Irish Festival’s most endearing traditions, a reception and social hour featuring Irish soda bread lovingly baked by Schmid’s aunt and live music in the lobby. Stay for a noon showing of the Doctober film The Silver Branch and afterward the Northwest Irish Dancers will show off their fancy footwork in front of the theater.

For most festivals, a full slate of music is enough, but Schmid is an educator along with being a musician, and so the Bellingham Irish Festival offers a full slate of workshops as well in areas intriguing enough that I almost wish I’d joined band in school instead of the newspaper. Workshops in expected areas such as Irish and Scottish fiddle, flute, rhythm guitar and Irish dancing can be found. But so can “Beginning Tin Whistle,” “Bodhran Basics for Beginners,” “Shanty Singing Workshop,” and my personal favorite, “Ogham: The Celtic Tree Alphabet Workshop.” You can literally learn to play second fiddle at the Bellingham Irish Festival, and that tickles me way more than it should.

But that’s not even all of it. Sessions—open to anyone suited to each session’s particular skill level—happen at the Honey Moon and Uisce (you didn’t think an Irish festival could happen without downtown’s only Irish bar getting in on the action, did you?) throughout the course of the weekend, just one more means by which Schmid hopes to give people an immersive experience.

Like much of Bellingham, I also like Irish music. And while visiting Ireland is definitely on my travel bucket list, I’m not likely to get there anytime soon. But thanks to the Bellingham Irish Festival, all I need do is stroll the streets of downtown to get a taste of the Emerald Isle.



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