Endangered Species

Saving the Wild Buffalo

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Every time I’ve heard Craig Jewell talk about owning the Wild Buffalo, he always says the same thing, “I am one of the lucky ones that gets the rare chance to do exactly what I want to do for my career. There truly isn’t anything else in the world I would rather do other than be part-owner and talent buyer of the Wild Buffalo.”

Lest you think he’s being sarcastic, rest assured, there’s not a shred of cynicism in the sentiment. He means what he says.

Recently, I asked him to detail his journey with the music venue to better give our community where he’s at these days and what’s at stake after eight months of a shutdown that appears to have no end in sight. He talked about growing up in a musical household—his dad is a Frank Sinatra impersonator—coming to Bellingham to attend Western Washington University and realizing this was the place he wanted to call home.

So, during his final year of college, he began to look for a job that would allow him to stay. At the same time, he joined a band that he likens to “Andy Dwyer’s band MouseRat from Parks and Rec,” and through the experience of playing shows, learned that “working in the live music industry was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Enter the Wild Buffalo.

“One day, a few of my bandmates and I decided to go on a pub crawl to bars we had never been to before,” Craig says. “That day was the first day that I stepped foot inside of the Wild Buffalo and immediately fell in love with it.”

It wasn’t long before he was a daily visitor to the venue, “trading poster designs for beer, helping with social media, and anything else I could do to help,” he says.

When former owner John Goodman decided to sell, Craig, who was a self-described “broke college student with tons of debt” at the time might not have been the natural choice to take it over, but Goodman knew he’d be the right man for the job.

Craig became an owner of the Wild Buffalo on Oct. 1, 2008 and has since broadened the venue’s scope, forging relationships with talent bookers, managers and agents large and small to book national acts, has given local bands access to the second-biggest stage in town, has been witness to several marriage proposals and countless first dates, and has even thrown a few weddings in the past dozen years.

However, instead of celebrating the Wild Buffalo’s anniversary this October, Craig spent the time he’d normally devote to planning a party to the task that consumes his life at the moment: fighting for his venue’s life.

As for the Buffalo’s current status, Craig doesn’t mince his words. “We’ve already gone eight months with no income, and with rent and insurance still due,” he says. “Our landlords have been great to us, but they still have a mortgage and bills to pay as well.”

Which is not to say he’s calling it quits—or even close. “There’s one thing that I’ll never do,” he says, “and that’s give up on this place.”

Although Craig spends his days immersed in the very serious business of trying to save his venue and what he calls his “dream job,” he still hasn’t left levity in his rearview. When I asked him to sum up his situation, he once again referenced Parks and Rec’s Dwyer, offering this quote: “There’s an old saying in show business: The show must go wrong. Everything always goes wrong, and you just have to deal with it.”

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