There’s no better way to celebrate summer than at an outdoor music festival and no better way to get to know the Bellingham and Whatcom County music scene than at the family-friendly Subdued Stringband Jamboree. Get your single-day or full weekend passes online now and help them celebrate their 18th Annual festival August 9 through 11, 2018. With a campground full of tents, guitars, coolers, and banjos surrounding two stages that will showcase 40 acts, you can enjoy three nights and two days of pickin’, singin’ and stompin’ with activities for all ages. This rare treat is still small enough that you can have a very personal experience with musicians, nature, and new friends.
An 18-Year History
I spoke with the festival’s founder, chief organizer and long-time Bellingham-based musician, Robert Sarazin Blake to get the inside scoop. It was 18 summers ago that Blake realized, after returning from the East Coast, how impressive the Bellingham and Whatcom County music scene was. He thought they deserved a festival where everyone could come together and celebrate. Since Bellingham was unofficially known as the City of Subdued Excitement, the festival named itself.
Blake chose ‘stringband’ for the name because it is inclusive of many genres and could evolve as the festival matured. He characterizes it as a folk music festival. In line with Woodstock, according to Blake, “its about celebrating music being a force in people’s lives, that is evocative and much more than entertainment.”
This festival is a blend of the many worlds of Blake, a melding of local musicians with those he’s encountered while touring the country.
With 60 percent of the bands being local from Whatcom or Skagit Counties, familiar faces on and off the stage are mingled with farther flung performers. Blake rounds out the line up with bands and performers he’s met while touring his own music and through fellow area musicians. Past festivals have showcased music from as far away as the Basque region of Spain. This year’s festival will present several groups from New York including The Restless Age and American Roots musician Alexis P. Suter. Alexis travels in circles with Levon Helm of The Band while several members of The Restless Age also perform in a band launched in 2017 by Donald Fegan of Steely Dan.
For a little Irish flair, you might also enjoy The Murphy Beds. This duo’s delicate vocals are supported by their thoughtful Bouzouki, guitar and mandolin. Many musicians will overlap on-stage. Blake will play with The Murphy Beds and The Restless Age.
This year’s festival is also especially poignant to local musicians. The festival will celebrate the life of Bellingham musician Lucas Hicks who passed away in October 2017. A teacher, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Lucas Hicks played accordion, banjo, and The Marvelous Contraption with The Gallus Brothers, The Crow Quill Night Owls, Rattletrap Ruckus and The Shadies. He was a pillar of the local music community and many will look forward to celebrating him and his legacy.
Lucas Hicks with Rattletrap Ruckus.
I’m looking forward to the spunk, originality and vocals of Sierra Ferell.
When I look over the music list for this year, I see some of my favorite local performers including Hot Damn Scandal, Hot House Jazz Band, Strangely and High Mountain String Band. You’ll hear all your favorite folk stylings including bluegrass, roots, and more.
Check out the full music line up and plan to see your favorites for one day or all three.
Twenty different workshops will be offered on Friday and Saturday mornings. From learning a new genre of music or a new instrument, to singing harmonies and yodeling, to song swaps (musicians play a song and then spontaneously collaborate), there will be a little something for everyone. The cost of all workshops is included in your ticket price at no additional charge.
This festival has just as much to offer the children in your life. Each afternoon offers Artistic Adventures in Play where kids decorate hats to wear during the Kids Parade on Saturday afternoon as well as face painting, finger and toenail painting, and strategic water balloon games. There’s also a sing along, three square dances, and a build-your-own instrument workshop. There’s also a special platform built just for kids so they can see the stage.
Patrons are encouraged to bring their own picnic/camping style food but there will also be a number of food vendors. Pizza, Mexican, and Indian food will be available. Shirlee Bird Cafe, known for their vegan and vegetarian baked goods, will be on hand as well as Kurly’s Kart which offers organic potato fries. Blake says, “You won’t find a more accessible menu. In fact, if there is something we lack, its probably hamburgers.”
Getting and Staying There
The Jamboree uses the grounds built and maintained by the Deming Logging Show. Gates open at 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 11 and at 9 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Gates close at midnight each night. It should be noted that cars and RV’s will not be allowed into the campground after 10:00 p.m.
There are running bathrooms, drinking water available from spigots. No fires are allowed except propane fire pits without solid wood fuel. Sadly, no dogs are allowed at the festival.
If camping is your hobby, you might want to compete for the best decorated campsite where you can win prizes from REI!
The finalists will be announced on Saturday night, and the winners will be announced on Thursday, September 13 at 8pm at the Volunteer Party and Award Ceremony at Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham. To win, you must:
- Have a camp name
- Have a sign with your camp name
- Have a super vibey scene going on
- Leave your campsite clean
You also need not fret about your campsite. There are several options to choose from that are sure to fit the needs of you and your group!
- The Meadow–The two stages and vendors are surrounded by a general camping area. Spots along the baseline and the subdued Longitude are reserved. Otherwise, the camping is first come, first served. Jamming is encouraged.
- The Subdued Longitude separates the Meadow from Seriously Subdued Camping. Spots along the Longitude can be reserved for RV or tent camping. Spots along the Longitude are numbered. You can reserve your spot in advance for $30/night (must be made for all three nights) by emailing RV@stringbandjamboree.com. Unreserved spots are first come, first served the gates open at 10 a.m. on Thursday.
- Two Wheels Are Better than Four–shady, grassy walk-in/bike-in only camping area west of the arena and north of the museum bathrooms.
- Seriously Subdued Camping is east of the arena and west of Subdued Longitude. Quiet hours here are from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m.
- The Shady Grove is the furthest away from the action and the mellowest camping. Quiet hours are also 10 p.m. to 10 a.m.
Depending on how you get to the campground it ranges from free to $20 per car per night.
If you’re nostalgic about paper tickets, you can get commemorative tickets in person at Avalon Records or The Community Food Coop in Bellingham. Ticketing options allow you to attend for the full weekend, a single day, or just Saturday night after 7 p.m. with discounts for advanced purchase. Kids 14 and under are free with an adult. Adults 80 and over attend free when they bring a child. Be sure to bring cash as cards are rarely accepted at the event and the nearest cash machine is quite a drive.
Plan your visit today to this super chill music festival that still has a very personal feel. You can’t beat it for family-friendly fun, a range of folk music, and a summer camping adventure you’ll never forget.