Subdued Stringband Jamboree
Aug. 10-12 • Deming Log Show Grounds
photo by David Johnson
I pulled into the Deming Log Show campground area at about noon on Saturday. It was the first trickle of real blue sky any of us had seen in over a week, peeking out from behind a curtain of Canadian fire smoke. I watched as the hungover crowd wandered from their tents toward the main stage, where a songwriters round was blossoming into something beautiful. Heartfelt performances by Dean Johnson and John Elliot moved the crowd to silence, and, in some cases, to tears. The music had been going on for three hours already – it would continue for another 12.
The Subdued Stringband Jamboree, now in its 17th year, is something of a legend in Bellingham. A festival with humble beginnings, it’s grown in size and popularity over the years, creating its own community around it. This year’s turnout was numerous, diverse and, frankly, incredible.
By 2 p.m. a crowd of over a hundred had gathered to hear the virtuosity of New Orleans-based artist Stephanie Nilles. She captivated the audience with her modern-day renditions of Shakespeare’s Othello, told through a lens of jazz-fueled blues that’s usually reserved for the backrooms of smoke-filled whiskey bars. Her voice carried out above the treetops as she struck menacing piano chords and welcomed guests onstage, and by the end of her set the crowd had nearly doubled in size.
At around five, Meghan Yates and The Reverie Machine took the stage. With the day’s heat dwindling away and the lights beginning to come on, there were even more people jammed before the main stage. Yates laces her folk with a soulful vocal delivery, all set against the backdrop of a droning, ambient electric guitar. The result was an extremely personal, and sometimes eerie performance that sent shivers up the spines of all in attendance.
When 9 p.m. rolled around, everyone prepared themselves for the main course of the evening. Robert Sarazin Blake was up next, Bellingham’s homegrown folk hero and Father of the Subdued Stringband Jamboree. It was his idea 17 years ago, when he was just 23, that grew into what we were all a part of that day. It was his hard work that had led so directly to our leisure, and we felt there was no better way to honor him than to lose ourselves completely in the sounds of him and his backup band, The Letters.
When the house lights came on and the emcee brought him out, the entire site erupted with shouts of thanks and appraisal. Literal roses sailed through the air and landed on stage. It stayed this way through the entire first number, a genre-bending exploration of folk, R&B and soul that touched the hearts and minds of everyone.
Blake has a way of talking you through his songs, leading you through metaphorical doorways, and in many regards I think he’s one of the best storytellers Bellingham has ever seen. His set lasted well into the evening, well past the scheduled time he’d allotted for himself, but still, not a complaint was heard throughout the campgrounds grounds that night. Instead, there was folk music and dancing; ramblings of a weekend well spent.
Raekwon, Mostafa, DJ Royboy
Aug. 12 • Wild Buffalo
Hip hop royalty joined forces with powerful Washington MC’s as The Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon made a rare solo appearance at The Wild Buffalo. Bellingham community was out in droves to witness the living legend. With glowing respect, “The Chef” was welcomed with an eclectic night of music as local openers affirmed that big energy, highly charged lyrics and profound love for hip hop are a powerful recipe.
DJ Royboy opened the show with a perfect palette of classic rap backdrops. The room pumped with decade spanning, feel-good hip hop anthems and nostalgic groove. With the stage finely tuned, Bellingham’s Mostafa was cleared for take-off.
Mostafa proved his prowess on the mic with a set of highly engaged originals. His style was a medley of smooth, old school flow mixed with modern conviction. As a solo performer, he dazzled with the flair of a community leader. With Mostafa, you felt he was speaking with you, for you – not above you. There was relaxed center to his in your face and crowd appealing approach, a testament to his art-life model and years of consistent touring. With captivating lyrics and passionate flow, Mostafa represented the dynamic energy of Bellingham hip hop.
Next up, the enigmatic and animated Seattle rapper, Romaro Franceswa, tore the roof off the Buffalo, accompanied by an energy bomb live drummer and DJ. The performance was hip hop multiplied by punk rock with a unique addition of 70’s jazz/fusion. Romaro gave an impassioned performance of virtuoso rhyme and motion. He flailed, jumped in the crowd and atop the bar, sang in people’s faces and won the entire room with brilliant presence. The jaw dropping drummer tore through each tune and showcased incredible nuanced grooves the likes of Tony Williams and Thomas Pridgen. The trio verified that hip hop is not one dimensional. Keep both eyes on the Romaro Franceswa band, before they blow up and conquer the world.
Raekwon ripped into an hour long set with the authority and swagger of a seasoned veteran. True to form, clad in low sitting baseball cap and hooded sweatshirt, Raekwon honored the 90s era Staten Island roots that birthed his career. He worked through classic Wu-Tang Clan cuts off the groundbreaking “Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers” and smash follow up, “Wu-Tang Forever.” With finesse, “The Chef” rapped every verse of his Wu-brethren by himself and ever missed a beat.
In addition to Wu classics, Raekwon included solo material like the ever-popular, “Ice Cream” off his Only Built 4 Cuban Linx LP. He paid homage to his love for hip hop with a choice cover from Mobb Deep and took time to acknowledge his fallen Wu-Tang member, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, before ripping into fan favorite, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” Raekwon brought the truth. His singular style has assured him a coveted position in rap history. And tonight we experienced the majesty and richness of a lifelong artistic mission. Thank you, Raekwon, for the special visit.
Aug. 10-13 • Whitehorse Amphitheatre
Pulling onto the grounds Thursday morning for this year’s Summer Meltdown Festival, Early Bird ticket holders were met by a two-hour wait to park and enough lingering wildfire smoke to hide Whitehorse Mountain from view. Yet the staff and security were exceptionally professional, kind, patient and efficient considering the mass of cars and bodies already moving in.
Once inside the gates, the magic began almost instantly as the wind finally kicked up and dissipated the long lingering smoke and haze. Tents got pitched, friends met up, camps got cozy and the breeze finally gave us the blue skies we had been so desperately craving. Many headed off to the river for a quick dip before officially starting the party with The Uprising Movement in a revamped and greatly improved beer garden. Their local blend of reggae beats, rap and conscious uplifting lyrics were the perfect start for opening day that also featured a wild bluegrass set from Infamous Stringdusters, live electronica from Yak Attack, an explosive set from Nahko and Medicine for the People and Flowmotion shredding the garden stage with a little help from Andy Coe.
This year also featured the first Thursday late night tent shows for EDM fans to get their electronica fix, as well as a revamped and over the top forrest stage (sponsored by Mothership Glass) where Yak Attack played their second set of the night.
Friday morning was a perfect summer day with warm temps and clear skies to get everyone up and back on the good foot. Mr. Feelgood and The Firm Believers cranked out a high energy set showcasing why they are one of Bellingham’s hottest acts, then passed the mic to festival favorites Polecat for some more bluegrass jams. The Floozies cranked things up with their blend of electrofunk that had the crowd getting down. The Dip got low with some funked out soulful rock and The Polish Ambassador had the crowd eating out of his had from the first beat drop at the main stage. The Forest stage cranked up again with the cosmic grooves of OSO before giving way to World’s Finest who had the late night revelers kicking up dust and smiles.
Saturday, The Shook Twins helped shake off the chilly morning blues, Acorn Project had the purple jerseys popping, and the The String Cheese Incident melted over every blissed out soul on the packed dance floor. Late night featured the second night of OSO for another thrill ride at the Forest stage and set two for Acorn Project which quickly, cleanly and wildly turned into an all star jam with musicians constantly changing out without missing a beat. The WONK crown was passed and King Gar now reigns.
By Sunday the Sun had disappeared but the stages were still just as hot. The Common Heart, Vaudeville Etiquette, Elephant Revival and Polyrhythmics went all out for a larger than average Sunday crowd, many of who had stuck around for the second night and two more sets of String Cheese. Boombox closed out the stage and the official show, but the party continued in the trees and at the camps well into the morning while the feeling of joy and the bonds of family remain with us as we begin our plans for next year’s Melt. I’ll see you on the dance floor.
Hello, I’m Sorry, The Co Founder, Iffy Comma, Step Dads
Aug. 16 • Alternative Library
Bellingham’s smoky skies cleared just in time to enjoy the end-of-summer breeze and a celebratory show at The Alternative Library on Wednesday, Aug. 16.
The event boasted the release of Step Dads’ new EP, Memento, which came out the previous Friday while Seattle band Iffy Comma kicked off their West Coast tour. Friends and fellow musicians Hello, I’m Sorry and The Co Founder were also on the bill.
Hello, I’m Sorry opened the show promptly at 8 p.m. as the sun was setting. While drummer Paul Rhoads was in southern California, band members Seth Little and Cameron Richardson created an intimate performance.
“I’m bummed, because we love Paul, but this is turning out to be really nice,” Seth told the audience about halfway through the set.
The audience stood far from the stage at first, but Seth quickly invited them closer. He provided the front row with a container of bubbles, which were passed around as the pair strummed their guitars.
The band finished with their song “Goth Party,” where Seth traded his guitar for an 80s keyboard.
Up next was The Co Founder, and while drummer Jake Barrow played on stage, vocalists and guitarist Hayden Eller and bassist Luke Hogfoss stood off the platform. After the sun had set, only a few dim lights glowed on stage, which muted the color of Hayden’s royally purple hair.
While the band mostly played songs from their album Wye, they also included music from a record in the works. The group finished strong with what Hayden called “the phone song,” since people usually check their phones as he tunes his guitar.
The audience swelled once Iffy Comma took the stage. The group emanated energy throughout their performance as bassist Jacob Roos closed his eyes and beat on his guitar, drummer Cody Cecil audibly kept count once or twice, and singer Ben Rea combined soft and booming vocals.
The crowd was blessed with a song the group had never played live, and Ben warned they might butcher it. If that were the case, listeners didn’t seem to notice.
Step Dads played last, and the old church’s wooden floors began shaking as the audience danced and stomped to the beat.
Guitarist Zach Sullivan sang “Cold Shoulder,” while bandmate Nate Kahn jumped from the floor to the stage with his arms wide above his Wayne’s World hat, and mouthed the lyrics. Nate also broke a guitar string during the song, which resulted in a short interlude where the band and crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to an audience member. Thankfully, Seth from Hello, I’m Sorry provided his guitar, and the show went on as Nate’s string was fixed.
Bassist Nick Barker and drummer Isaac Petersen played on stage while Zach and Nate interacted with the crowd. Zach walked into the audience while playing his guitar, and concert-goers lifted Nate into the air during the song “La Croix.”
Nate crooned the lyrics “get home safely” to finish the night.