Back to School

Of gown and town

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

I would like to say that when I moved to Bellingham all those years ago to attend Western Washington University, I immediately explored and immersed myself in the community.

But that would be a piece of revisionist history, or if you prefer, a big, fat lie.

I probably didn’t come down from the hill for a year or more, and when I did, it was only for burritos and bagels. When I finally did get to know the town in which I’d lived for quite a while, I wished I’d done so sooner.

In this, I’m hardly an anomaly. Indeed, I’d say my experience mirrors that of many students—and Bellingham’s hardly unique in feeling a separation between school and city. In an effort to bridge the town-and-gown divide, Paint Bham Blue was created. The event begins in WWU’s Red Square and ends with a procession of incoming students to the downtown core, where they watch the Herald sign turn blue, fireworks will happen and students will see Bellingham for what it is: a place with blue trees and a big heart.

That’s a pretty quick summation of what is a very large event, and the remainder of the details about Paint Bham Blue can be found on pg. ??, including where to find the live music and who will be playing it for you.

Despite my lack of interaction with downtown, I was definitely aware of the reputation of Bellingham’s music scene. Trouble was, unless you were 21, the majority of the venues were off limits. Venues at WWU, basements of ratty rental houses and other underground spots were the only options for thousands of music-seeking students.

By and large, that remains the case, with a couple of big, bright, shining exceptions, both of which have reinvigorated and redefined Bellingham’s all-ages music scene, and both of which happen to have shows and events timed perfectly for the return of students to both WWU and Whatcom Community College.

The first is a place that was firmly imbedded in my heart even before it became Make.Shift. The Flora Street nonprofit is part art gallery, part music venue, part studio space, part small-business hub, part radio station, part incubator of dreams and bears the distinction of being Bellingham’s first dedicated, permanent, legitimate all-ages music venue. If all of that sounds pretty cool, well, that’s because Make.Shift is pretty cool.

The arts organization is turning 10 this year, which makes it about the right age for its parents to start embarrassing it at its own shows. Or its own birthday party, which takes place Sat., Sept. 29, and we’re all invited. The show begins at 6pm, and Wigs, Porch Cat, Glitchlette, and DJ Big Boi are a goodly chunk of the scheduled entertainment. The other chunk could come courtesy of literally anyone in attendance because Bellingham never met a party it did not want to make better with karaoke. The whole birthday bash is free and, of course, all-ages. Feel free to thank Make.Shift for their decade of good work by purchasing some of their 10th anniversary merchandise or making a donation. Or just enjoy the show. Where: 306 Flora St. Info:

Closer to the WWU campus—indeed about a 15-minute stroll from the steps of Old Main—is the Bellingham Alternative Library, a place that legitimizes another local DIY institution: somewhere you can borrow all of the weird, esoteric, underground, outlier reading matter that is unlikely to ever be found in Wilson Library. Like Make.Shift, the Alternative Library is all-ages and serves a variety of functions and populations. As mentioned, it is an unorthodox lending library, and its space is well-suited to a variety of pursuits from yoga and ecstatic dance to poetry readings and community meetings—and, because this is Bellingham, plentiful live music.

In that vein comes a couple of shows serving a variety of musical interests. Seattle band Retirement is actually going into retirement, one of the only times I can remember that a band has perfectly embodied its name. They’ll play their last Bellingham show Fri., Sept. 28 at the Alternative Library with friends and local band All Over Me, as well as Dayglo. The next night, Sat., Sept. 29, belongs to the soulful sounds of Renee Dion, the genre-bending funk of Motus, and the Dirty Ferns, whose promotional materials often feature what appears to be the world’s most adorable and least interested beagle. I do not know if the dog will be appearing at the show, if not, the Dirty Ferns might be amenable to a meet and greet with the majestic beast. Where: 519 E. Maple St. Info:

In the interest of ending up back where we started, the WWU campus will also get in on the musical act. Associated Student Productions will trick out the Old Main lawn on Fri., Sept. 28 for this year’s Late Night event, which comes with the theme of Ultramodern, and in keeping with the spirit of Make.Shift and the Alternative Library, is a multidisciplinary affair. Collaborative art projects, yoga, an improv workshop and performance by the Dead Parrots Society, a tea lounge, DJs Emuh, Chuck Iverson, and Zof, and more will all do their various things, some at the same time. It’s all free and eclectic and definitely worth checking out. Where: WWU’s Old Main lawn Info:

I’d like to believe if all of this had been happening—the blue trees, the bands, the Old Main lawn yoga party—back when I was a WWU student, I would’ve partaken in it and would not have delayed getting to know Bellingham for as long as I did. In that version of my reality, I also go to class on time and don’t dye my hair with Kool Aid. Is that wishful revisionist history or a just big, fat lie?

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