I’ve always been a fan of soul music. I’ve speculated that maybe I reincarnated from the previous generation because I love Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin more than any of the songs I listened to growing up in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. In early 2015, I asked my friend immersed in Bellingham’s local music scene to name Bellingham’s best soul band. The answer–Bellingham’s new supergroup, Baby Cakes. I’ve been a fan since seeing them for the first time at Wild Buffalo House of Music. Then I saw them at The Green Frog. Then I wrote about them. That’s when I really got to know the real, fascinating people that make up Baby Cakes. They are a talented bunch and you should get to know them too.
The word supergroup has been around for a while. It describes a band made up of several very talented and experienced musicians. No one person carries the performance because they’re all incredible. Baby Cakes has earned that label. And not just for the soul covers they nail at Pacific Northwest music venues, parks, festivals, weddings, and corporate events. They are a Muscle Shoals-style group owning every funk, R & B, and pop tune they play too. The line up of original songs they’re creating right now make me want to sing along just as loudly as the classics they cover.
Baby Cakes’ Beginnings
In early December 2014, Chair Nine in Glacier, WA needed a band for their New Year’s Eve show. They called experienced drummer and now Baby Cakes Manager, Kevin Chryst, known widely as Kreestoe, who has performed in Whatcom County for at least the past 14 years. “They wanted a funk and soul cover band. I reached out to talented friends in other local bands and we put together Baby Cakes in just a couple weeks,” explains Chryst. Kevin’s friends just happened to be some of the most skilled and absorbing musicians in Whatcom County. “A lot of us have been here for quite some time and we’re pretty rooted in this music community.”
As an aside, when I first met Kevin, I realized I had watched him play once more than 10 years earlier at Boundary Bay Brewery, drumming as part of a two-piece group, when he was only about 19 years old. I remembered him after so many years because he’s mesmerizing to watch. When he plays, his brown dreadlocks fly in step with the music. The joy of the work emanates from his face. He’s the happiest and most expressive drummer I’ve seen live. You can tell he is doing what he loves in those moments in each song.
But that first New Year’s Eve show didn’t go as planned. The male lead vocalist Kevin had booked didn’t show up. “We were on the verge of a meltdown and Steph was working at Chair Nine. She came on stage and asked what songs we knew,” remembers Kevin.
“Steph and our bassist knew Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and the rest of us just figured it out on the spot,” adds trumpet player Jeremiah Austin. “That was a defining moment for us,” finishes Kevin. “Steph saved the day and we played for two more hours. After that, we felt like we could do anything together.”
Talent + Experience = Heaven
Baby Cakes’ diminutive lead vocalist, Stephanie Walbon, solidified her place in the group that night. Her resolve under pressure, in part, comes from the fact that she’s been performing as a singer and a gymnast since she was a child. She’s also held her own so well with this raucous bunch of musicians perhaps because of her years spent in a household full of older brothers. I was so inspired by her as both a vocalist and role model off-stage that I got to know her better.
Kevin and Stephanie’s energy are balanced well by Baby Cakes’ keyboardist, Richard Keene. His cool concentration comes from many years with more than ten local bands and musicians including classic rock/R&B band Joy Ride, the David Bowie cover band, Scary Monster and the Supercreeps, and long-time Bellingham favorites, the Adrian Clarke Band and Jasmine Greene.
Cakes trumpet, Jeremiah Austin, has been playing for 23 years. The father of two owns North Sound Studio and teaches private trumpet lessons. He seems to know everyone in the Whatcom County music scene.
“To choose our songs, we all bring our favorites to the group and decide together what we cover,” explains Jeremiah who is the group’s class clown. “I like Beyoncé’s Love on Top and told Steph about it. She’d never heard of it. Then she laughed when she heard it because it’s such a hard song.” Walbon’s vocals for Baby Cakes are continually impressive, reaching incredible heights with steady power. “The first time we practiced it, I couldn’t get through it and my abs and back hurt the next day,” laughs Stephanie. “But now she loves it,” notes Jeremiah. “I like songs people want to dance to,” adds Walbon. “Everyone has speckled in their own tastes,” finishes Kevin. “Our original list included songs I’d grown up with, tunes on the radio driving around Seattle to garage sales with my dad. They’re deep and meaningful. The messages are positive, fun, spiritual, loving, endearing. Just like Baby Cakes.”
I love it when Cakes trombonist Mars Lindgren is around for shows. He’s been playing since 5th grade. His first band in high school was ska and he loved it so much, he’s stuck with it ever since. Mars later earned a degree in Music Performance from Western Washington University. He fills in with several incredible bands, including MarchFourth, Polyrhythmics, The Lucky Brown Band, and Bilongo Quintet. The Cakes and I miss him when he’s touring because we love the energy he brings to each of their performances.
Although the Cakes aren’t the same line up they started with on New Year’s Eve 2014, they are still a powerhouse of sound. They’ve added a brother/sister duo, Miles and Ebony Harris to the front of the stage. When you hear Miles peal out a Hendrix riff on his guitar, or sing songs made famous by Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, and Al Green, you wouldn’t believe he’s in his early 20’s. His old soul and dedication to the music shines through. I hear his talent has been an incredible addition to the team when writing the new songs Baby Cakes is working on.
The feeling is similar when Ebony steps to the mic with her earnest vocals. She grew up singing and was heavily involved in the choir program at Mount Vernon High School. She sometimes reminds me of the same power and grit Tina Turner brought to the stage. She started as a back up vocalist when she and Miles joined the Cakes in early 2016. Now she sings lead on a few songs of her own.
Ebony and all the Cakes are stretching themselves this year. She wants to learn as much as she can from everyone in the band–including Cakes trumpet Jeremiah Austin. He taught her enough trumpet to play a song the Cakes surprised audiences with at their most recent New Year’s show, Satisfaction. Every artist in the band switched instruments for one song to make a very memorable performance.
Cakes bassist Jeff Ballew joined in fall 2016 when their incredible bassist Elkay Stabo (AKA Lyman Lipke) relocated out of state. Jeff’s originally from the Marysville area and attended Western Washington University. He played bass for The Love Lights for about eight years and also currently plays with Jenny & The Blue Moon Boys, a family country band with his aunt, uncle, brother, and father.
Baby Cakes also added two new saxophone players in fall 2016. Tyler Rogers recently graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in music and a minor in audio recording. He’s also played with Mr. Feelgood & the Firm Believers for about three years. Tyler is also interning at Alpenglow and Sharp 9 Sound Studios. Tom Garcia also fits in well in the horns section when he’s not traveling with his music. He has been stretching himself too. I hear he’s got some rap skills.
Baby Cakes has more than 70 years of combined experience among them and that’s translated into recognition. In 2016 they earned Bellingham Alive’s Best of the Northwest Silver Award for ‘Best Local Band/Performer’ based on votes by fans. They’ve also been honored by Bellingham’s music source, What’s Up! Magazine, as ‘Best Booty Shakin’ band in 2016 and 2017, and this year their award for ‘Best Up Close and Personal.’ They also debuted their first original song on the Seattle-based television variety show Up Late NW and members of the Cakes have performed on Band In Seattle.
Getting to know Baby Cakes better is easy. Visitors can find Baby Cakes upcoming shows on their website and Facebook page to plan their next trip. This team of talented musicians and vocalists also plan to release their first album of original songs later this year.