Devin Champlin tunes his custom guitar at his display table on Friday Jan. 25 // Photo by Zack Jimenez
By Zack Jimenez
The sound of fiddles and guitars filled the halls of the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship last weekend, as folk musicians and fans took part in the fifth annual Bellingham Folk Festival.
The three-day event, which began on Friday Jan. 25, included workshops taught by musicians and daily concerts that featured folk musicians from across the country.
Festival founder and organizer Cayley Schmid started the festival back in 2014, she said. After having to travel to be able to participate in music workshops, Schmid said she decided that Bellingham needed something similar of its own.
Schmid started Scottish highland dancing at a competitive level at the age of 10 and began playing the violin at 12 which cemented her appreciation for folk music, she said.
Each day of the festival includes multiple workshops that run simultaneously and rotate hourly, giving festival goers different options of workshops to choose from, Schmid said. Each night ends with a concert showcase featuring different acts, according to the event schedule.
The festival hosted more than 50 workshops this year, including both beginner and intermediate classes, according to their website. Workshops ranged from swing guitar to Bluegrass banjo and from music theory to songwriting.
Festivalgoer Devin Champlin has attended every festival since it started, but this year was the first time he ran a table at the event, he said.
“I cannot express how much I love this festival and how grateful I am that it exists,” Champlin said.
Champlin owns a business, Champlin Guitars, that repairs guitars as well as builds custom guitars using wood from the Pacific Northwest, he said. At the festival, Champlin displayed three of his finished guitars along with others he is currently working on at the festival.
“[The festival] is a special thing. There are so many different types of musicians teaching stuff, it’s very interactive,” Champlin said.
Carl Jones, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Galax, Virginia, taught workshops for guitar and songwriting Friday afternoon.
Jones has been writing songs and playing guitar for over 50 years and travels around the country to perform with his wife Erynn Marshall, who is also a musician, he said.
“My wife says I have the fire hose technique of teaching,” Jones said. “I throw a lot at them. I try to give them plenty to think about.”
Judy Fiestal, who attended Jones’s guitar workshop, said that the concepts he was teaching were above her skill level, but added that she still had a lot of fun. The hour-long session gave her ideas and inspiration for new styles of guitar playing, she said.
A full weekend pass for the event, which includes access to all the workshops and the evening concerts, costs $105. Concerts tickets are $15 and individual daily passes are available and range from $35 to $65, according to their website.
The festival also offers scholarships to those who can’t afford the event, Schmid said. Those interested can apply online through the festival’s website, and Schmid works with them to discount the ticket prices, she said. Scholarships are distributed based on who applies first and a total of 15 were given out this year, she said.
The response from the community has been very positive and the number of attendees and artists has grown each year, Schmid said.
The musicians involved with the festival are key in spreading word of the festival within the community and bringing in more artists for the workshops, Schmid said. This year there were around 100 people who participated in workshops and close to 200 people who attended the concerts, she said.
The benefit of hosting the event at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship is that everything is under one roof, which makes everything simpler for artists and the attendees, Schmid said.
“My favorite thing is when you just create all the elements for something to happen and you really hope people are going to come and show up,” Schmid said. “Then you walk into the room and there are a couple hundred people and you’re like, ‘Wow.’