An Entertainment Extravaganza

What’s Up! turns 20

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Believe it or not, I have not always worked for this esteemed publication. Many years ago, back when I was young and the Earth was still cooling, I was on the editorial staff of What’s Up! Magazine.

What most people don’t know is that by the time I came along, magazine founder Brent Cole was asking himself some hard questions about the future of his publication. Juggling full-time employment and managing a growing What’s Up! in his spare time, his labor of love was getting too laborious.

I’d like to say that I came along and reinvigorated the magazine and reignited Cole’s commitment to it, but that would just be me revising history in my own self-interest. It didn’t happen like that. Truth is, the occasional temporary crisis of faith aside, what kept Cole dedicated then is the same thing that keeps him devoted now: his genuine love of local music.

Even so, What’s Up! doesn’t continue to exist on love alone. It is fueled by the readers who pick up the magazine every month, contributors who work for paychecks that come in the form of burritos and burgers, the businesses that advertise in its pages—and, of course, all of the many, many bands and musicians that without which What’s Up! would cease to exist.

So, when those occasions arise when the magazine celebrates itself, it does so by tapping the endlessly renewable resource that is Bellingham’s pool of talented musicians to throw outsized parties that are either free or dirt cheap. Among Cole’s strange and savant-like talents is a knack for booking shows. He claims this is not an activity he particularly enjoys, which I only believe a little and care about even less as long as he keeps doing it. While he’s certainly thrown some big shows in the past, he’s outdone himself for the magazine’s upcoming 20th anniversary.

Get ready, Bellingham, because What’s Up! is about to take over the town.

By the numbers, what’s coming our way looks like this: Two days, 125 bands (and counting, knowing Cole), 45 venues, all to celebrate 20 years of What’s Up!. As such, the musicians that have signed up for this entertainment extravaganza span the magazine’s entire two decades, meaning he somehow coerced 20 bands from Bellingham’s past to reunite for our pleasure.

Having spent some time parsing the schedule for the anniversary weekend, which takes place Fri.-Sat., March 2-3, I have concluded—reluctantly—that given the forces that govern time and distance, it is not possible to see all 125 bands perform. That means one must either plan carefully and choose wisely, or employ my preferred strategy of wandering wherever your musical whims will take you.

The weekend’s marquis event—if it can be said to have one—is Saturday’s Wild Buffalo show. Somehow Cole coerced the Trucks into reuniting for the occasion, and Black Eyes and Neckties, the Growers, Keaton Collective, and the Patio Kings will join them. Presale tickets are long gone, but word is an allotment of additional tickets will be available at the door the night of the show.

However, very few of the shows are ticketed, which means enjoying the vast majority of the weekend’s offerings will cost you nothing but your time. As for what you’ll be watching, a random sampling on Friday might include the Wednesdays, the Shows, and I Love You Avalanche at Make.Shift, Fluencie and Flais at Boscoe’s, or Sugar Sugar Sugar, Camarojuana, Stone Healer, Five Gears in Reverse, and Language Arts at the Shakedown. Or maybe you’d rather see No Guts and Vellichor at Gruff Brewing, Clambake at the Cabin Tavern, Louis Ledford, Devin Champlin, and Bellow Wing at Honey Moon, or Dead Hexers, Muppet Fetish, and more at the Waterfront.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

Come Saturday, along with the five-way reunion show at the Buffalo, you’ll find Jimmy-town Serenaders and Bar Tabac at Aladdin’s Antiques, Robert Blake Big Band and Sweetheart of the Rodeo at the Grand Avenue Ale House, Dryland and Mount Saturn at the Hub, the Palisades, Cat From Hue, and the Mountain Flowers at Boundary Bay Brewery, or the Elvi’s and Chris Con Carne at the Cabin Tavern.

But that’s not all.

Because Fruit Cocktail will be at Red Rum (aka the former Chiribin’s, aka I’ll believe it when I see it), the Narrows are at Cap Hansen’s, Todos Somos Lee, Ship to Ship, and Falling Upstairs are playing at Gruff Brewing, Footstompin’ Trio, Chuckanut Drive, and the Ames will be at the Shakedown, Meece, Crystal Myth, Manneken Hands, and Cousin Marvin play at the Waterfront, and Deadly D and Lonely Crowded are at Boscoe’s.

That’s a lot of shows. But it’s still just a smattering of all the music that will be happening during the 48-hour birthday bonanza.

Back when I worked for What’s Up!, if you had suggested to either Cole or I that the magazine would one day celebrate its 20th anniversary, it’s likely we would’ve asked you for some of whatever you were smoking (it was a different time). However, after two decades, the magazine continues to thrive, my friendship with Cole has endured (and people think I still work for What’s Up!), and I’m endlessly proud to help celebrate what has become a local music institution. Plus, I can’t wait to see what Cole’s got in store for the 40th anniversary. That should be a real banger.

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