It could be easy to be dismayed upon arrival. You might feel like you arrived at some remote spot in the middle of the woods, with no stage in sight. But after a long walk down a muddy road, the space begins to open up, transporting you to a bustling music festival.
On Saturday, May 6, the first official Bellingham Arts and Music Festival (BAMF!) captured the interests of the local art scene. More than 500 tickets were sold, and 716 people attended the event, Monica Griffin, one of the festival’s co-founders, said. There were 45 music, film and comedy performances featured over 24 hours.
Griffin is a senior at Fairhaven College with a concentration in music management. She worked with senior Nicholas Perpich, also a Fairhaven student, to create the festival. The two organized BAMF! as their senior project.
The festival was held at the Lookout Arts Quarry, just south of Lake Samish. There were four distinct stage areas within the festival – the Cedar Stage, the Saloon, the Nook and the Quarry.
Starting at noon on Saturday, the festival continued without pause until noon on Sunday, May 7. There were constant performances throughout the night.
While some festival goers had a good idea of what to expect, others found the event surprising.
Attendant Riley Shull said the atmosphere of the festival was more welcoming than he could have imagined.
“I’ve gone to a lot of festivals and this has been one of the most mind-boggling. I walked into it blindfolded and I had no idea what to expect,” Shull said. “I saw the exterior of it and did not anticipate it turning into what it is.”
The exterior of the festival was a muddy parking lot. The ground was soggy from the past week of rain, and the tires of the many vehicles had rutted out the ground. The ticket booth stood in front of a thicket of trees and bushes, which hid the festival grounds from sight.
A three-story structure with a large cedar plank roof was the main stage of the festival.
Zach Thompson, in charge of lighting production, also helped with the construction of the Cedar Stage. The top of the stage had a roof made out of freshly hewn cedar log planks that needed to be attached to the top of the structural pillars.
“On Tuesday I was cleaning the logs with a pitch, and then at 2:30 a.m. we were hoisting them,” Thompson said.
Thompson said in addition to being pleased with how the stage turned out, he was also impressed with the whole event.
“For the size of this production, and for being a swamp, it has gone incredibly smooth,” Thompson said.
The Cedar Stage had the largest viewing area and served as the main stage for the event. There were local food vendors around the edges of the dancefloor. From the Cedar Stage, the walking path branched in two separate directions. Up the hill to the left was another stage and straight ahead led to the Quarry.
The Saloon is an enclosed dancefloor encircled by fencing, structures and moss-covered birch trees; with each structure looking like it was built out of an old fence.
The ground was covered in bark chips to keep the mud at bay. The stage had a large, white canvas as its ceiling and the backdrop was green from the surrounding forest.
The band on stage, Kuvoza, was waiting for the sound equipment to get ready.
Across the road from the Saloon was a campground called the Prairie. There was tall grass and a table set up for beer pong. Tents and hammocks surrounded the campsite. On the other side of the Saloon was a field with various forms of visual art.
Rose Drummond, a local performance artist, was set up in the field with her artwork. She said she was contacted to be a live artist for the event, something she has been doing at festivals on the West Coast for the past year.
“It’s nice to be here, to be around people that I know, I’m not a stranger in a strange land. I feel kind of held and comforted in that I don’t need to prove anything. I can just be,” Drummond said.
Drummond lives near the stone quarry, and uses local timber as the canvas for her artwork. At the festival she drew on slabs of wood that were from a maple tree on her property.
The Nook was a small cove tucked between the Saloon and the Cedar Stage.
It had ornate rugs on the forest floor, and couches splayed around the edges.
A small stage stood in the background.
Sam Robertson, a musician who was scheduled to play the Nook at midnight, said he enjoyed how easy it was to move from one performance to another.
“You can just waft through the different stages and check out all the cool stuff that’s going on in each one,” Robertson said. “I’ve just been drifting around on my own this whole time. My friends are too slow and I’m trying to check out all the [areas].”
The Quarry had a large, deep and dark pool of water surrounded by a 60-foot-high cliff. On the shore closest to the festival’s entrance was the stage. The stage had a white tarp canopy to shade the performers from the sun. The dock was the only part of the Quarry exposed to sunshine, and the patrons did not hesitate to take advantage of it.
“The skinny dipping in the Quarry has been pretty cool, I’m pumped that people are down for that because I’m super about nude beaches,” Robertson said.
There was a sign near the Quarry that warned of “deep water, naked people, sharp rocks, possible landslides.”
The sign didn’t seem to bother the participants of the dance party which took place on the dock.
“It is life-changing, just being on a dock and seeing the whole atmosphere,” Shull said. “Everyone is just down there and the sun is shining. Today was just absolutely gorgeous.”
When the floating dock became too crowded, the Quarry also had a tiered-rock wall that provided more seating.
“Sitting down there was my favorite session that I’ve ever been at, and I didn’t even know who the artist was,” Shull said.
Robertson said he thinks the attendees needed to be open-minded in order for festivals like BAMF! to be successful.
“The whole time I’ve been here I’ve been like ‘Damn, this is a real festival,’” Robertson said. “I thought it was just going to be a chill, small thing with stages that were really close together.”
Robertson said everyone he saw at the festival was engaged in the music and seemed to be excited.