Now in its 14th¬†year,¬†Downtown Sounds, is a free outdoor concert series that brings local and nationally touring bands, area food vendors, and a beverage garden to Bay Street on five Wednesday nights in July and August.
One of my favorite summer events in Bellingham, it began as a small gathering hosted in an alley but has transformed into one of the most exciting outdoor events in Whatcom County. The whole family can dance and sing along at the little alley concert that now takes up two city blocks in the Downtown Arts District and continues to grow. ‚ÄúIt is Whatcom County‚Äôs biggest urban music festival,‚ÄĚ explains¬†Downtown Bellingham Partnership¬†Events Manager, Lindsey Payne Johnstone. ‚ÄúIt is unique to downtown and everyone can attend.‚ÄĚ
A History of Place-Making
The Downtown Bellingham Partnership, a nonprofit established in 2000, works to represent the diverse interests of Bellingham‚Äôs downtown businesses and residents while providing leadership in the development of public policy with the City of Bellingham to ensure a healthy, vibrant culture. Downtown Sounds is just one of the great events they coordinate that shows all of the resources and cultural opportunities we have here. The Partnership also organizes Downtown Art Walks, trick-or-treating, and Commercial Street Night Market, to name a few.
‚ÄúDowntown Sounds began in 2005 and aimed to build a sense of community. We wanted to encourage equitable access to culture and arts, and use existing space creatively,‚ÄĚ describes Payne Johnstone. ‚ÄúThe event started as a way to revitalize underused urban spaces,‚ÄĚ she explains. It has now grown to attract more than 2,000 to 4,000 attendees per show.
More Than Music
No tummies will be grumbling at Downtown Sounds. Local food and beer vendors make this event much more than a concert.¬†Haggen Food & Pharmacy¬†are making the Beer & Wine Garden possible,¬†Boundary Bay Brewery¬†generously donated beer that will be served along with a different local guest brewery each week. Yummy wine choices will expand this year thanks to Haggen as will cider choices.
Judd & Black Appliance¬†pitched in to provide the support for Family Alley, an area in sight of the stage for kids and families that includes face painting, chalk, bubbles, balloons, snow cones, and art supplies that will allow kids to vent their creativity inspired by the music, and more family-friendly options. Financial support from SSC,¬†Bank of the Pacific¬†and¬†Favinger Plumbing, Inc¬†keep this incredible event free to the public.
A variety of food trucks and vendors keep everyone fed well, offering a range of options from fried chicken, Mexican, and my favorite Goat Mountain Pizza. There is plenty of vegetarian and some vegan options as well.
The opening group begins at 5:30 p.m. followed by an intermission that will showcase a local dance or circus performance. The Headliner starts around 8 p.m. This year intermission performances will expose you to a little culture with¬†Harper & I Dance Studio, belly dancing by Blue Moon Haven and a Brazilian drum group.
2018 Summer Season
The music at Downtown Sounds is for everyone and ranges from jazz to country and has everything in between. Often the opening band is made up of locals, and the headliners are those passing through our area on their way between Seattle and Vancouver. That means we get to discover our new favorite bands and hear some big names without the costly ticket price. Quality sound is ensured by Groove Merchant Northwest. All ages are welcome to come and enjoy this incredible adventure.
Acorn Project¬†with¬†Hot House Jazz Band
Opener:¬†Hot House Jazz Band
Swing / Dixie / Blues
Hot House Jazz Band is music to move your feet. You’ll appreciate their classic swing, Dixieland, gospel and blues, acoustic, and nostalgic tunes. There is something for everyone. This band is made up of many seasoned local artists that are also in many other bands meaning the quality is high.
Rock / Electro / Funk
Deep electro-funk grooves and sonic instrumental exploration interlaced with a provocative indie-rock songwriting ability have become the signatures of Bellingham‚Äôs Acorn Project. As a longtime staple on the touring circuit of the Pacific Northwest, this sextet has spent years expanding their region and is a recognizable touring machine on the West Coast, British Columbia, and out through Colorado and the Southwestern United States.
I first discovered this group at Downtown Sounds years ago. My friend Kevin Chryst is usually on the drums when he’s not performing with Baby Cakes. I get lost while dancing to their elevating beat. You can tell how much they love the music while they play. It is a perfect evening watching the sun sink in the sky with their work in the background.
Petty or Not with¬†Dirty Ferns
Soul / Jazz / Funk
This handful of twenty-somethings deliver mostly original tunes. They describe their work as, “Songs with a modern touch, but at the root, they feel like you should‚Äôve heard them in 1977 on a Muscle Shoals record.”¬†¬†
Headliner:¬†Petty or Not
A Live Tribute Show to Tom Petty
Featuring a special collaboration of Bellingham musicians, this group came together to honor the passing of the great Tom Petty. The result was so impressive, the team is coming together again for this very special encore performance. My friends Kevin Chryst (Acorn Project, Baby Cakes), Aaron Guest (Polecat), Craig Jewell, Jeremy Elliott (Polecat), Stephanie Walbon (Baby Cakes), Jeff Ballew (Baby Cakes), and other special guests make up this supergroup. Tom Petty and his music were a huge part of all their lives and helped shaped many of them as musicians and music lovers. I can’t wait for this special tribute to Petty’s life and legacy by some of Bellingham’s finest.
Opener:¬†Mr. Feelgood & the Firm Believers
Reggae / Folk / Pop
With a new sound that mixes elements of reggae, folk and pop, Mr. Feelgood & the Firm Believers are an audience favorite. I first discovered them when they provided the soundtrack to a local film I appeared in. I’ve been a fan ever since. Their shows are a great time to get off your seat and start moving your feet. This group knows how to make you feeeeel good. Be ready with your answer when they ask, “Are you a Firm Believer?”
Reggae / Dub
I’m excited to dance and sway to the relaxed vibe of this group that sounds like a perfect mix of traditional and modern. This is how they describe themselves:
“Tatanka encapsulates the heavy roots rumble of the Caribbean while maintaining the pop sensibilities of the dance-oriented electronic sounds from the Britannica-American reggae scenes. Tatanka’s infectious live show is the bridge between the band and the fans. It unifies the crowd with a progressing, pulsing, and positive perspective. Tatanka is always looking to further instill a global vision of unity with their pounding, dynamic sounds and peaceful, harmonious message. Formed in Denver Colorado by a few college friends, Tatanka has been recognized as “Breakout Artist of the Year” (2014) by The Pier, High Times “Unsigned Band of the Month” (September 2011), and nominated by Westword magazine for “Colorado’s Reggae/Jam Band of the Year” (2015).”
MarchFourth¬†with¬†Robt Sarazin Blake¬†& The Letters
This will be an incredible night. Sometimes the opener and the headliner don’t go together. “Sometimes we like to bring two different audience demographics together in a single night,” explains Payne Johnstone.
I’ve oft listened to the relaxed vibe of Robt Sarazin Blake at his performances around Irish holidays. Its sincere and relaxed.
That work is in stark contrast to the rock marching band party that is MarchFourth. Although based out of Portland, OR, several of their members were plucked from the stages of Bellingham so we are lucky to have them visit regularly. I cannot wait.
Opener:¬†Robt Sarazin Blake & The Letters
Folk / Americana
Bellingham songwriter/troubadour, Robt Sarazin Blake recorded his new Double Album¬†‚ÄėRecitative‚Äô¬†in NY backed by ‚Äėthe wrecking crew of the Hudson Valley.‚Äô The Nightflyers have been Blake‚Äôs east coast backing band since 2015. This summer they join Blake for a few special Northwest performances.
A SteamFunk Rock-n-Roll Circus Party
It’s hard to describe MarchFourth adequately. They are a genre-breaking force with brassy funk, rock, and jazz from fifteen or so performers. Not just music, this act includes acrobats, stilters and other circus performers.
I tell my friends they are the coolest marching band on earth. If you’ve ever noticed how much fun a marching band is having when they play the songs they really love, that’s MarchFourth. I love their energy, their swagger, the costumes and their connection with the audience. Don’t be surprised when the circus wanders into the audience. You have to see it to believe it!
New Soul / Fusion / Jazz-Pop / Funk
MŇćtus’ sound blends R&B, neo-soul, and jazz into a musical gumbo punctuated by horns, harmonies, and grooves. This¬†seven-piece group includes a strong brass, meaningful strums, and a swanky drum beat brought together by the soulful sound of vocals with impactful lyrics.
Headliner: Klozd Sirkut
This Seattle-based group is a synthesis of electronic dance music with next level, live musicianship and sincere songwriting. These four well-seasoned funk musicians harness the latest in music technology and rock with old-school musical know how and groove. I’ll be bringing my shades, and my gal pals will be swaying with this funky beat.
Try to see them all or choose your favorites and get them on your calendar. Downtown Sounds is free and all ages so bring the whole family out for this public party full of music, dancing, food and fun.
Five Wednesday Nights in July and August
Beginning at 5:30 p.m.
At Bay and Holly Streets
Bellingham, WA 98225