Now in its fourth year, the Bellingham Folk Festival celebrates all aspects of traditional and contemporary folk music, right here in the heart of beautiful Bellingham, WA. This year the three-day festival will be held January 19 through 21, 2018. With inspiring workshops, stellar performances, lively dances, and community jams there is something for every age and ability. The festival blends local novice and professional musicians with international touring artists to cover a range of tastes and interests within the broad genre of folk music. With a variety of ticketing options, the whole family can attend all weekend, a single day, or a single workshop or performance.
The event is held at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, a beautiful historic but accessibile building with lots of smaller rooms for workshops and a beautiful community room for evening performances.
How it All Began
I recently spoke with the festival’s founder, long-time Bellingham-area resident, Cayley Schmid. She has made folk music the central focus of her life—through teaching, performance, and organizing area festivals and clubs.
As a child, Schmid traveled and performed competitively throughout the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and even Australia as a Scottish highland dancer with Bellingham’s Clan Heather Dancers. Although Schmid danced to Scottish music, she hung around after her lesson to watch the Irish dancing class where she was first introduced to Celtic music. Her parents had Chieftains and Natalie MacMaster records and they took her to see Riverdance. But the biggest influence on her path was when her dance group performed at Mount Baker Theatre with Anna Schaad, who lived in Bellingham for at least 20 years. “Anna had this long velvet gown, a smoke machine, and an electric violin playing Irish tunes and it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” remembers Schmid.
Schmid took many years of lessons from Schaad. Years later when Schaad moved away from the area, she passed her music students on to Schmid.
To create a local opportunity for her students and others in the community, Schmid created the first Bellingham Folk Festival in 2014. It was such a success that it became an annual event. With the support of local business sponsors and help of a few volunteers, including Schmid’s husband Aaron Guest, Schmid has almost sold out the festival each year.
After she got the festival rolling, Schmid realized she wanted it to happen more often than a single weekend each year. That’s when she launched Bellingham Folk School. “I wanted to start teaching group lessons on a drop in basis without a lot of cost,” explains Schmid. “We want kids to come try it and see how much fun it is.” Schmid now teaches three different levels of children’s classes as well as one for adults.
While Schmid’s performance experience has focused on Irish music, her teaching experience has broadened, with a range of styles within the folk genre including Scottish, American, and Swedish tunes. “I feel passionate about preserving and respecting the history of the music while also being open to learning new, fun tunes. That history can inform you but it doesn’t have to rule you,” adds Schmid.
Schmid also started the Ceili Club in August 2013, which is Irish Gaelic for kitchen party, and includes singing and dancing. The club’s focus is to support Irish musicians in their learning process in a laid-back environment.
When not teaching and festival planning, Schmid plays fiddle with two Bellingham-based bands. Giants’ Causeway is an Irish and Scottish folk band and Polecat, one of Bellingham’s most popular bands, has kept Schmid busy on the fiddle for six years.
Polecat’s new single, “Come Along.”
Workshops for All
With over 50 workshops to choose from, it won’t be hard to find the right fit no matter what your age or experience. A number are technique workshops for musicians, including those for the fiddle, mandolin, ukulele, guitar, cello, tambourine and even a couple I’d never heard of like clawhammer banjo and hardanger fiddle.
Some workshops focus on music of a specific culture or region including Swedish, Norwegian and French-Canadian while others explore the body of work of a specific artist like Benton Flippin.
Don’t play an instrument? No problem. Schmid made sure to include a number of workshops that don’t require prior musical experience or your own instrument. There are several singing workshops to choose from. Some focus on harmonizing, one celebrates the feminist side bluegrass and country, and other just bring people together in song. Other topics that don’t require an instrument include workshops on rhythm, beginning dance and even ergonomics.
Each night of the festival closes with a performance. Although each night is different, the show will present 20- to 30-minute performances by three to four performers. All the way from Norway and Sweden, epic Nordic folk group Sver will perform on Friday and Saturday night as well as presenting several workshops during the day.
Schmid’s first teacher Anna Schaad will perform with the Bryan Bowers Trio on Sunday. Bowers is widely known for his work on the autoharp. Local folk singer-songwriter Linda Allen of October Rose Productions will also share her music and poetry.
If getting together with fellow musicians just for the joy of the jam is your thing, there are at least two options for you. The Slower Than Dirt Beginner Old Time Jam and a French-Canadian Jam will have every level covered.
Because the event is well attended, Schmid is urging folks to buy tickets early. She’s even made it easy to give festival attendance as a gift to your favorite folk lover. The festival is run as a nonprofit so donations and sponsorships are tax deductible.
Bellingham Folk Festival is carrying on the folk music traditions and local and Pacific Northwesterners couldn’t be happier. “I hear from the elder community how happy they are that we’re introducing this history to a younger audience. It’s also a great opportunity for young people to see their peers into to the same thing and bringing people together,” notes Schmid.
Plan your week-long, weekend or day trip full of folk music fun today.
Held at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship
1207 Ellsworth St.
Bellingham, WA 98225