Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival

Party in the park


What: Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival

When: 1 am Fri., Sep. 1 -3

Where: Hovander Homestead Park, Ferndale

Cost: $35-$90


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

By now, I’ve spent half my lifetime in Bellingham. Much like everyone else who moved to the area to attend college and then stayed, I love it here.

But every so often, I have, for one reason or another, felt the need to hightail it out of town. Unlike most people who are struck with similar escapist tendencies, I don’t just leave for a weekend. I pack up my worldly goods and relocate, typically to what is euphemistically known around these parts as “the county.”

Over the years, this tendency has led me to live in a duplex on half an acre in Laurel, a beach cabin in Birch Bay, and a house built from the ground up by a friend’s mother in Alger. Most recently, I rented a smallish farmhouse on the outskirts of Ferndale, where I spent a restorative year picking apples and blackberries in my yard and making soulful eye contact with the curious cows that lived across the street.

I also spent a fair amount of time wandering some of the 350 acres of Hovander Homestead Park, one of the jewels of the Whatcom County parks system. Indeed, proximity to the expansive public space was a deciding factor in my deciding to move to Ferndale. I’d long since been thoroughly charmed by the farm animals, fragrance garden, antique tools and equipment, Hovander House itself, and especially the Tennant Lake Marsh Boardwalk.

I’d also been thoroughly screamed at by the resident peacocks, but that’s a whole other matter.

Being that nearly every outdoor area around these parts that’s even remotely suited to live music has been used as a venue to stage a concert series or music festival, I sometimes wondered why Hovander Homestead Park hadn’t been the site of something musical. Accessible, easy to find and with more than enough square footage for people to enjoy music and all the other natural wonder the park has to offer, it would seem a perfect place for sonic shenanigans.

While I was wandering the Hovander grounds and wishing someone would throw a music festival there, people who were in a position to do that very thing were joining forces and mobilizing.

Daniel Tepper, president of the Whatcom Parks and Recreation Foundation board and expert banjo player met David Starr of 5 Starr Jams in his office one day, and the idea for the Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival was hatched. Those two entities teamed up with Whatcom County Parks and Recreation—the stewards of Hovander Homestead Park—and brought their festival to life last year. They scheduled a weekend’s worth of bluegrass bands, set aside a camping area, built a beer garden, enlisted food vendors, booked workshops and then opened the gates and invited the public to come take part in what they’d created.

And the public responded enthusiastically to the homegrown festival. The only thing to do at that point was to make it an annual affair, and so Fri.-Sun., Sept. 1-3 will mark the sophomore edition of the Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival.

This year, the festival will begin Fri., Sept. 1 with a free community concert in the park. The event is geared toward entertaining those who are coming early to set up their camp for the weekend, as well as those who’d like to try on the festival before deciding to commit to buying a ticket, and those who are simply curious to see what this “bluegrass” music is that folks around these parts are so excited about. Seattle’s North Country will play, and they’ll be joined by the Hovander Homestead Boys, a band formed just for the occasion.

After that comes the ticketed portion of the festival, with many forms of bluegrass being represented. The Edgar Loudermilk Band featuring Jeff Autry boasts deep bluegrass talent and Loudermilk has family heritage that reaches all the way to the Louvin Brothers. Red Wine hails from Europe, has been around for more than 30 years, has toured the world over many times and will bring some gospel and swing to this bluegrass party. Although Circa Blue calls West Virginia home, don’t expect to hear songs in that musical tradition. They’ve earned fans and accolades for a more contemporary sound, taking songs and making them their own. Bona fide banjo champion Jeff Scroggins will also take the Hovander Homestead main stage, and he’ll bring his accomplished band (that includes his son Tristan, a mandolin prodigy) and high-energy show with him.

People who were at last year’s festival and on the fence about attending this year would probably be interested to know that the Purple Hulls have been invited back. The breakout performers of 2016, identical twin sisters Katy Lou and Penny Lea Clark are coming back to once again charm the audience with their impeccable harmonies and serious musical chops.

The reason for the existence of the Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival is not just to entertain while showcasing what the park has to offer, it also acts as a fundraiser for both the Whatcom Parks and Recreation Foundation and the park itself. Which means you can have a good time while also feeling like you’ve done a good thing. Just don’t get too close to the peacocks. Trust me on this one.

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