In the Spring of last year, a group of Bellingham youth hatched a plan to convert their homes into concert spaces for a gutsy, weekend-long endeavor: the area's first-ever youth-led underground music festival, catering to the community's bevy of hip Western Washington University undergrads and any out-of-towners willing to drive up to Whatcom County to scope it out. This reporter was among the willing, and I was inspired to go not only for the novelty factor (to say nothing of the natural beauty of northern Washington), but for the breadth of great Cascadian performers the first-time fest-throwers had corralled together-bands like Total Bros, Orca Team, Magic Johnson, Meth Teeth, and White Fang from Portland, LAKE, the Hive Dwellers, RVIVR, and Black Mold from Olympia, and loads of others from Vancouver, Issaquah, Seattle, and, of course, Bellingham. The complete roster for the "Yellingham" music festival 2010 totaled thirty-three bands. A couple of complementary pancake breakfasts sealed the deal.
This year, the fest has apparently booked 40 bands, a modest but not insignificant increase. It's also likely that, with a year of experience under their belts (a year which saw at least one famed illicit Bellingham show spot, "the Toy Haus," close shop), Yellingham's show-runners will keep things running even more smoothly this time out.
WWU students Nic Brodine, Taylor Carroll, Nic Duncan, Drew Miller and Johanna Bell are longtime friends and participated in organizing the initial Yellingham festival. This year, they're joined by five others, and together, they've secured another awesome line-up for the three-day celebration.
"We tried to get a good, diverse group of bands," Bell says. "This year there was a bigger focus on getting more bands, especially outside of just what we like as a friend group."
Virtually all of this year's organizers are musicians themselves, and some even play in bands booked for the fest (A Cozy Kitchen, the Clefts). Andrew Nickerson and Zach Zinn are both writers for Bellingham's alt-rag What's Up, and signed on to assist with this year's 11-concert event. Cumulatively, the team behind the festival has a savvy, privileged perspective on the Bellingham music scene.
"In Bellingham, there aren't any regular all-ages venues, so the house show scene really is the only all-ages scene," says organizer Toby Reif. Visitors from elsewhere in the state-be they underage or over the hill-are welcome, provided they respect the festival's ecumenical vibe. "The festival is open to anyone who wants to attend, as long as people are willing to respect that the shows are taking place in people's homes and realize that these are shows, not parties. All shows are advertised as 'no booze, no drugs, no jerks,' and we are going to try our best to enforce that."
It's likely that attendance will be up this weekend, as I wasn't the only one to take notice of the Yellingham fest last year.
"The biggest difference between this year and last year was having people come to us rather than having to chase people down to try to get them to play or host shows. We had our first meeting for this year's fest in December and even then we had a solid list of houses that we knew wanted to be a part of the fest," Reif reveals.
More organizers, more houses, more bands, and, hopefully, more pancakes...it seems as if Yellingham's enterprising subcultural curators are already making great strides toward their goal of putting Bellingham back on the map as a destination for great music and music events.
The good times kick off Friday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. and last through Sunday evening. As with last year, the South Sound is sending some solid talent up north: the Family Stoned, Pitted Youth, Christmas, Margy Pepper, RVIVR, Hail Seizures and June Madrona.
For a complete list of performers (and to RSVP for details on where the clandestine concerts are actually being held) look up the Yellingham 2011 festival on Facebook.