The Home Stage: Driving Bellingham’s thriving DIY scene

text and photo by Nate Kahn

When night falls on a typical Bellingham weekend, Downtown is packed. It’s no secret that part of Bellingham’s regional allure is in its vibrant nightlife. However, the majority of college students are underage, and are typically not allowed entry into most spots. The result is numerous pop-up ‘house shows’ – D.I.Y (Do It Yourself) temporary music venues.

A few blocks away from the noisy banter of downtown bars, this subculture thrives. The sound is raw, loud, organic, and powerful.

An eager audience gathers around a homemade wooden stage in the living room of a large college house. Cheap amplifiers stacked to the ceiling and cranked up to maximum distortion. Loud drums erupt from the back of the stage while screeching vocals shake spectators’ bones. Audience members mosh, rage, scream, and stomp. Band practice turns into a performance. An average home transforms into a viable venue.

Ben Waight, a slender 20-year-old Fairhaven Music major, organizes shows at his venue, which he dubbed The Mind Palace. The walls of the Palace are lined with colorful string lights that illuminate the stage where bands like Idahoan blues rock collective Marshall Poole, and other local and touring bands have rocked hour long sets that keep the audience jumping and screaming. It’s where the magic happens.

Waight feels passionate about promoting a friendly house show culture. He sets the rules clearly: no booze, no drugs, no jerks. Waight promotes his agenda by posting on the venue’s Facebook page prior to events, as well as having volunteers to help manage the shows, making sure they remain safe and fun. “We want to be a hub to hear new artists, see local artwork on our walls, and pick up on some new perspectives from the good people in our community. It’s all a matter of setting clear boundaries as a house and following through on enforcing them.”

The Mind Palace hosted their debut show in December of 2015. Waight started the venue as a platform for his friends’ bands to perform live, he then started to arrange shows by genre once the venue gained local clout. “For the first couple of shows we’ve thrown at this house, we just messaged our personal friends’ bands to get them to play, meaning any and all styles would be combined for a single bill of three or four bands. We really wanted our friends to start getting experience playing their first handful of shows, so likeness of bills wasn’t our concern. That has changed a bit for us now; recently, we’ve been trying to book similarly minded acts to attract folks we know will enjoy the styles playing on a certain evening.”

When the bands are tight and the vibe is right, a transformation occurs, a humble residence turns into a musically powered hectic free-for-all, typically full of head-banging energetic students. A departure from supposed ‘norms’ of a formal music venue. The welcoming spirit of those involved in the culture has allowed for the scene to thrive, blossoming into a well-established pillar of Bellingham’s underground music scene.

Jack Aldrich, who manages performances at local venue, Jacuzzi House and plays in psych-rock quartet Kuvoza, feels that the energy and demeanor of the audience members energizes the bands and creates an overall successful show. “The times where the energy and focus of the crowd is completely on the band and they’re just having their faces melted or being serenaded makes it all worth it. Those are also the times where the bands make the most money so it’s good for everyone.”

The usual $5 suggested donation required for entry to most shows is greatly beneficial to the bands playing. Truly anything helps, the money goes straight to the bands, with the majority of the cut payed to the touring group.

“The look on someone’s face when they’ve been on the road forever and they get handed a donation bucket filled with cash is just priceless.”

The local show-goers fuels the scene by giving attention to up-and-coming bands, as well as contributing funds to keep the artists well fed. Thomas Hudson, bassist for local rock trio Chimney, admires the nature of the scene. “The number of people who are willing to come out to unknown local bands and give them a listen is really what empowers the scene and makes it unique. Having entered the Bellingham music scene from the perspective of a band member I have been surprised by amount of people who come to the shows and aren’t afraid to get down.”

Perhaps the well-natured intentions of those involved in the scene is reflected in the shows’ inexpensive entry fees. It’s usually about five dollars at the door. “Fans and listeners can continue making their scene strong by attending shows, bringing their friends who haven’t been, and respecting the houses that people open up.”

Ask around about local DIY events and join the Bellingham House Shows Facebook group.

You’ll find your way.

Published in the October 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine