Two decades and counting


What: WB-20

When: 12 pm Sun., Sep. 8

Where: Wild Buffalo, 208 W. Holly St.

Cost: $10


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

When I try and remember what I was doing 20 years ago, my brain recoils. I guess when it comes to my personal history, I prefer to keep things vague, even with myself. However, given my age in 1999, it’s safe to say I was having a good time making bad decisions.

I was also just beginning to write about music in Bellingham, intermittently and in a mostly offhand way as I tried to figure out what I was really going to do with my life. I already had a keen interest in bands and musicians, and was starting to apply that curiosity to the music venues in which they played.

As I was figuratively building what would become my career as a music editor, John Goodman was literally building a venue that was not like the other venues in town. Bellingham’s music scene had constructed its formidable status on a firm foundation of garage rock and bars held together by loud music, cheap beer, sweat, cigarette smoke and other adult substances. They were small, scrappy places where anything could happen and frequently did. The vast majority of the bad decisions I mentioned were made at one or another of those venues—and I was in some good company (you know who you are).

The Wild Buffalo was not going to be like that.

For one thing, it was not a tiny rock box. It had high ceilings, exposed brick walls that were not coated in a patina of cheap beer and, even when viewed in the bright light of daytime, it looked downright respectable. In short, it was nice. Goodman had obviously invested a great deal of thought and money into bringing his dream to life and it showed.

And the Wild Buffalo had something that would change the game for Bellingham’s music scene: greater capacity. Where we had once been a place to bypass on the route to and from Seattle and Vancouver, we could now be a tour stop for an increased number of bands. When it came to choosing those bands, Goodman had a different audience in mind than what was being consistently served by a local music venue at that time. By and large, he veered away from the garage rock, punk bands and rockabilly that were the music scene’s mainstays in favor of a mix of genres that skewed heavily toward blues and jazz.

After getting the Buffalo off the ground and running it for a decade or so, Goodman decided he wouldn’t mind having a steady paycheck and his life back, and sold it to an ownership group that included a 21-year-old who had been helping out around the bar but had no real experience in operating a music venue—or much else.

That youngster was, of course, current owner Craig Jewell, who took all of the potential Goodman built into his bar and has been running with it ever since. He’s increased the capacity and cast a wide booking net that has ensnared such huge-name acts as Macklemore, Parliament Funkadelic, and, most recently, Odesza.

Far from becoming disengaged in the music community, when Goodman sold the Wild Buffalo, it allowed him to more fully immerse himself in it. It’s not unusual to see him at shows of all kinds, from the Firefly Lounge to the Shakedown to places beyond and between. And, of course, he can also be seen at the Buff, where he gets to play the dual role of founder and music fan.

When it came to plan the Buffalo’s 20-year anniversary party, it was only natural Goodman be heavily involved in the effort. What he devised was the ultimate local throwback jam—in other words, we are going to party like it’s 1999. The celebration is an all-day affair, beginning at noon on Sun., Sept 8 and ending when Goodman is crowd-surfed around the room 10 hours or so later. Be warned: When you step into the Buffalo, you might think you’ve time-traveled when you see a lineup that includes the Fat James Band with Chris Eger, Badd Dog Blues Society, ReDux, the Chryslers, the Atlantics, and the Walrus. On an acoustic stage will be Below Average Productions (what?), Steve Webb of Men Without Pants (double what?), James Taylor, and J.P. Falcon Grady. Your ticket gets you the right to come and go as you please and food vendors will be on hand to make sure you don’t go hungry.

If you’re hoping for an all-star musical jam at the end of the night where everyone piles onstage, pays homage to the Wild Buffalo and plays together, let me just say that’s when we’ll crowd-surf Goodman, whether he wants us to or not. After all, it’s 1999 again, and those bad decisions aren’t going to make themselves.

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