Downtown Sounds

You are my sunshine

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

As our much-anticipated and much-needed sun dissolved into gray skies and showers last weekend, I had a conversation with someone who insisted that June 21 marks the first day of summer. Given that this person has lived in Western Washington for most of his life, I was surprised to hear this assertion. Which is why I sounded more incredulous than I should’ve when I informed him that “everyone knows” summer in this region doesn’t really begin until July 5.

I don’t know if Lindsey Payne Johnstone, Downtown Bellingham Partnership events coordinator, adheres to the same calendar I do when she schedules Downtown Sounds, but I’m pretty sure that when she picks the dates, she does whatever she can to ensure a worthy weather window.

Every outdoor entertainment endeavor in this area deals with the same worries with regard to summer’s capricious nature, but there’s an economy of scale involved with Downtown Sounds that ups the ante quite a bit. After all, it’s no small matter to shut down two entire city blocks in Bellingham’s core.

If the stakes are high, then so is the payoff. Year after year, Downtown Sounds draws thousands of people, first to the block of Bay Street bookended by Bayou on Bay and the Pickford Film Center, and then, beginning last year, to that block and the one adjacent to it on Prospect Street.

It’s entirely possible that Payne Johnstone and Downtown Sounds will stage a block-by-block takeover of the entire downtown core, and if that’s the long game she’s playing, she’s got my full support.

But back to the weather. According to available info, when the 2018 Downtown Sounds makes its debut on Wed., July 11, the skies will be clear, the sun will shine bright and it will be a perfect summer day to attend a free, family-friendly concert in the heart of the Arts District.

One of the best parts of each Downtown Sounds concert is leaving the car behind and joining the tide of humanity all walking toward the same sonic destination. If you, like me, tend to wander over after the music has already begun, you’ll hear the show long before you see it, and so the July 11 opening band, Hot House Jazz Band will play you into the concert venue. The crush of people can be a bit daunting, but as you look around, you’ll see the pieces of the puzzle that form the whole of Downtown Sounds, from the stage (now at the Bayou end of Bay Street) where the action is happening, to the beer garden to the expanded family area to the food vendors and more. Right about the time you’ve slaked your thirst and had a snack, Acorn Project will appear onstage, and the Downtown Sounds veterans know exactly how to wow this particular crowd. When they’ve finished, the audience, by now smiling and sweaty from dancing, will disperse slowly and the all-hands-on-deck crew of Downtown Bellingham Partnership and its volunteers will emerge to break it all down, store it away and then sleep for six days until it’s time to do it again—four more times over.

The next concert on July 18 will feature a band that came together to honor a legend and somehow wound up on the Downtown Sounds roster, Petty or Not. The artist in question is Tom Petty (in case the name didn’t give it away) and the band is full of folks who are no strangers to the Downtown Sounds Stage. The Dirty Ferns will open. After that, Colorado-bassed reggae-tinged band Tatanka will be joined by Mr. Feelgood and the Firm Believers on July 25, and with Aug. 1 comes the return of the much-beloved MarchFourth Marching Band with Robt Sarazin Blake and the Letters opening. The 2018 edition of Downtown Sounds will close out on Aug. 8 with Klozd Sirkut and Motus playing us all off into the sunset.

If this year is anything like years past, Payne Johnstone will begin planning and plotting 2019’s Downtown Sounds before the stage is even packed away from the 2018 series. She’ll debrief with the rest of Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s staff and volunteers and affirm what went well and what could be tweaked. Her nimble brain will begin the work of compiling a wish list of bands and artists she’d like to book, and she’ll identify potential sponsors to which she can spread the gospel of Downtown Sounds. And somewhere in all that mix of details and stew of future tasks, she will also think about the weather. I just hope she knows summer doesn’t officially (unofficially) begin until July 5.

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