Music

Bellingham Folk Festival

Open your eyes

Hear

What: Bellingham Folk Festival

When: 5 am Fri., Jan. 25 -27

Where: Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship (1207 Ellsworth St.), Firefly Lounge (1015 N. State St.), Honey Moon (1053 N. State. St. Alley)

Cost: $10-$105

Info: http://www.thebellinghamfolkfestival.com

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

It is true that you can live in a place so long, you stop seeing it. I’m not sold on the notion that familiarity breeds contempt, but it does breed a particular form of blindness. It is possible to go a prolonged length of time without really seeing that which you always look at.

When I find myself growing blind to my immediate surroundings, I like to try and view them through the eyes of a visitor seeing Bellingham for the first time. I notice anew the building facades, the small businesses I don’t normally patronize, the comings and goings of the citizenry, the views of water and mountains.

It’s a very satisfying exercise. I highly encourage you to try it sometime.

I also think about what it would be like to visit Bellingham for the first time when we are showcasing what makes this town special. Imagine stumbling on our City of Subdued Excitement during Downtown Sounds or Halloween or during the Pickford’s Rooftop Cinema.

Or, say, during the weekend of the Bellingham Folk Festival.

Generally speaking, I tend to think of music festivals as events one must travel out of town for, often to a venue either in the middle of nowhere or nowhere-adjacent. Camping is typically involved, as is the willingness to endure a certain amount of dirt and deprivation in the name of what will hopefully be a good time.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to have a certain appreciation for comfort. I seek it, even. As such, I find myself viewing the whole festival experience with a more jaundiced eye in terms of investment vs. return. It would be just so much easier if music festivals took place in town.

But that’s not how festivals work. Except for the ones Cayley Schmid masterminds, that is. As we’ve established by now, Schmid is the nimble fiddler for Polecat and Giants’ Causeway, as well as the founder of the Bellingham Ceili Club, the Bellingham Folk School, and the Bellingham Irish Festival.

And the Bellingham Folk Festival, which happens Fri.-Sun., Jan. 25-27 at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, the Firefly Lounge, and the Honey Moon.

If I were a visitor to Bellingham and saw that this was a place where music festivals happen right in town, I’d feel like I’d discovered a little slice of heaven.

However, in this version of heaven, you don’t just watch other people play music, you get to play along too, should you so desire. Because this is Schmid’s festival and she’s as passionate about education as she is about music, and because folk has historically been a method of passing stories from person to person and generation to generation, the centerpiece of the Bellingham Folk Festival are the many diverse classes and workshops taught and taken by those participating in the event. Schmid doesn’t just want bring folk to Bellingham as a passive exercise, she wants everyone involved to learn a little, collaborate a lot and carve out their own spot in the folk tradition.

For me, a person who does not play music and likely cannot be taught (I know my limitations), reading through the Bellingham Folk Festival’s educational offerings is like taking a trip to an intriguing and somewhat exotic land.

For example, Friday’s course titles (full descriptions can be found on the festival’s website) include “A Small Good Thing: Mandolin Basics for Beginners to Intermediates,” “Mountain Fiddle Tunings,” “Songwriting: On the Trail of a Song,” “Holistic Harmony,” “Fiddle Workshop: The Life and Music of Melvin Wine,” “Ergonomics for Musicians,” “Sing and Play Fiddle (or cello) at the Same Time,” and more. As happens every night of this folk extravaganza, an evening concert will close things out, and Friday’s lineup consists of Quattlebaum, the DiTrani Brothers, Tracy Spring, and Giant’s Causeway. If that’s still not enough to satiate your appetite for fine folk, hie thyself to the Firefly Lounge for Sweater Weather String Band or the Honey Moon for an open jam session.

Come Saturday, the classes will consist of “Playing Nice with Others” (insert joke here about how I need to sign up for that class), “Slower Than Dirt Beginner Old-Time Jam,” “Guitar: Speed Dating Alternate Tunings,” “Brazilian Guitar,” “Generating Excitement with a Fiddle,” “Beginner(ish) Music Theory Made Easy,” “Great Composers Steal: Miners of Traditional American Folk Music,” “Fingerpicker’s Toolbox,” “Choro Jam,” “Cowboy Camp Sing-a-Long,” “Mandomazing,” one simply called “Fiddle!,” and many others. The evening concert will feature a roster made up almost entirely of one-name folksters: Erynn and Carl, Carol and Kathy—and John Whelan, a two-name folkster. That will be followed by a contra dance at the BUF, which will be followed by Jack Dwyer and the Capital Hillbillies at the Firefly and the second iteration of the open jam at the Honey Moon.

Sunday is no day of rest for the Bellingham Folk Festival, with workshops in such areas as “Beginner Clawhammer Banjo,” “Expanding Your Chordal Vocabulary,” “How to Get the Best Sound from Your Banjo,” “The Trapdoors and Hidden Rooms of Clawhammer Banjo,” “Body Care for Musicians,” and more. As is only proper, the festival will close out with one last evening showcase, this time with Coty and Tanya, Eli West, Tango Cowboys, the Katie McNally Trio, and a Scottish Ceilidh Dance.

If you’re experiencing location-based alert fatigue and would like to have your eyes reopened to what makes Bellingham a magical place, I encourage you to try and see it through the eyes of a newcomer, enthralled with your surroundings and enamored of a locale with the good sense to give people a unique festival-going experience without ever having to leave town. Turns out, we’ve got it pretty great here.

Sugar Ray
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