Whether you love rock, hip-hop, jazz, blues, soul, folk, or classical, Whatcom County has you covered any night of the week with a variety of live music venues. You can dance, bang your head, or sit and enjoy a savory snack and a drink. This list of my favorite venues will sate any music lover’s quest to see the best of what Bellingham and Whatcom County have to offer. For practical reasons, music venues tend to cluster near the business districts along the I-5 corridor.
Although I couldn’t include them all, these are the venues I attend regularly that provide phenomenal opportunities to see both local and touring artists as they share their craft.
Also known as The Buffalo, this venue offers perhaps the widest variety of music in town including reggae, hip-hop, funk, soul, and electronic to name a few. The cover ranges from free for open mic and monthly Free Funk Friday up to $20 or $30 for some nationally-recognized touring artists. The sound system is good and loud and there is ample space on the dance floor. “Balcony” seats offer the best view and make you feel like you’re sittin’ in with the band. Local bands get their chance here but co-owner Craig Jewell also has the connections to bring in big names visiting the Pacific Northwest. In the past couple of years, we’ve had visits from George Clinton, Snoop Dogg, Primus drummer Tim Alexander and the late, great legend Bernie Worrell.
- The Wild Buffalo House of Music
- 208 W. Holly Street, Bellingham, WA 98225
The Mount Baker Theatre is a sumptuous 1500-seat venue. It provides a grand stage for cultural music performances as well as international touring favorites. Music highlights for 2017-2018 season included: Sawyer Brown, A Night with Janis Joplin, The Simon & Garfunkel Story, Shemekia Copeland & Matt Andersen, Michael Kaeshammer, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal, Peter Yarrow, Dailey & Vincent. Ticket prices are generally higher than the other venues but offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- Mount Baker Theatre
- 104 North Commercial Street, Bellingham, WA 98225
Across the street from the Farmers Market, this kid-friendly bistro offers award-winning beer brewed on-site, an outdoor deck and beer garden plus the Mountain Room for special events. Concerts are outdoors in the summer and in the bar when the weather doesn’t cooperate. They are partial to Americana, folk, and bluegrass but also blues-rock and other genres, with both local and touring bands. The food hasn’t changed much over the years, but that’s because it’s always great. My favorites since 1995 are the Yam AleChiladas and The Great Northwest Pizza.
- Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro
- 1107 Railroad Avenue, Bellingham, WA 98225
The Shakedown, a head-banging, mosh-loving music venue is conveniently connected to the quieter Racket Bar and Pinball Lounge with 14 vintage pinball tables. The Shakedown dance floor is ample and the sound on the main floor is good and loud. Affordable drink prices, savory comfort food like authentic Philly cheese steak and falafel, and an affordable cover from free to $15 makes this place a favorite with local rock bands and patrons alike.
Local musicians are part of the core of this all-ages DIY non-profit art and music venue. The music variety is as wide as the interests of Bellingham’s musicians and every dollar raised supports local artists. The Make.Shift is also home local artist studio space, Bellingham’s Local Music Library and the community radio station, KZAX, 94.9 and Online. Many musicians get their start here and its a fun, safe place to spend an evening with my teens.
Built in an historic warehouse on the alley behind Pepper Sisters restaurant, the Honey Moon is an all-ages venue for local singer/songwriters as well as a variety of bands including Latin fusion, Irish fiddle and cello, country, and Appalachian tunes. They host Irish & Folk Mondays. The venue is intimate so you feel like you know the band by the end of the show. Their outdoor seating is great in good weather. In addition to local music and the occasional out-of-towner, they love to host poetry events as well. The venue has been locally-owned since it opened in 2005. They make their mead and cider on-site and offer simple snacks. Entry to this hip hole-in-the-wall is in the alley.
- Honey Moon Mead & Cider
- 1053 North State Street Alley, Bellingham, WA 98225
Kulshan’s State Street location is kid-friendly in their outdoor seating area and offers plenty of locally-brewed beer and live music, especially Americana, Irish, and folk. Some of the area’s best food trucks parked right out front or you can bring your own food from off-site. I ride my bicycle to this venue to play darts and appreciate the relaxed atmosphere.
Stones Throw is a local favorite in Historic Fairhaven. They often have events going on at their brewpub, like trivia, block parties and more. But you can also catch some wonderful live music at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. A variety of food trucks complement their locally-made brews. Trucks vary depending on the day of the week. The outdoor seating area is dog-friendly.
The Main Street is a good old American bar. They like good local rock music and offer comfort food and drinks that satisfy. They have a solid sound system and a great dance floor making this a great stop in Ferndale, to the north of Bellingham, just off I-5.
- The Main Street Bar & Grill
- 2005 Main Street, Ferndale, WA 98248
This is just a splash of the great live music available in Whatcom County. So if we’ve missed some gems off the beaten track, please let us know in the comments below. I’m sure fellow travelers will appreciate it.