The 11-piece band, Orchestra Zarabanda, performs Cuban salsa music at the 15th annual Downtown Sounds event on July 24. // Photo by Ally Burdett
By Ally Burdett
Thousands gathered on Bay and Prospect Street to dance to the Orchestra Zarabanda’s Cuban dance music on July 24 at the 15th annual Downtown Sounds concert series. The succession of events began July 10 and will continue to take place every Wednesday of the summer until August 7.
Downtown Sounds is facilitated by the local nonprofit organization Downtown Bellingham Partnership.
Mason Luvera is the communications director at Downtown Bellingham Partnership and part of the team that makes Downtown Sounds happen. The event currently draws in thousands of community members, but Downtown Sounds wasn’t always so large-scaled, according to Luvera.
He said the concert series initially began in a small alley right outside of the Pickford Film Center but has since grown into a huge community-wide event, fencing off two streets downtown.
“It has grown tremendously and that is a direct result from community excitement,” Luvera said.
Downtown Sounds showcases music from a variety of genres and invites bands from all over the United States. This year included local acts like the folk band Polecat as well as visiting acts including Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band from New Orleans.
“We are interested in bringing in a really diverse group of bands and new acts from all over the place,” Luvera said.
The Orchestra Zarabanda was accompanied by Bilongo Quintet and Sabrina Gomez. The group played Cuban salsa dance music with an 11-piece instrument set.
During their performance, the crowd was filled with a buzzing energy as salsa partners danced and passed around colorful beach balls. Neighbors popped their heads out of the windows of their surrounding homes on Bay Street, tapping their fingers on the window panes to the beat of the music and others sat on fire escapes for the view.
Local food vendors, booths from local organizations and family-friendly activities were also offered at the event.
Katie Petterson, a third-year student at Western, was holding a fresh hot dog from the food vendor Street Dogz and danced to the live music.
“I think it’s cool that [Downtown Sounds] is a really inclusive space and anyone can come for free,” Petterson said.
She added that she likes how open the space is and how she can listen to new music.
With such a large community event, Luvera said a lot of logistics and communication with sponsors have to go into making Downtown Sounds happen and it’s not just a “pop-up festival.” They work closely with their main sponsor WECU to make the event possible and Luvera said it’s really all about the group effort.
One of the most popular yet challenging assets of Downtown Sounds is the beer garden, Luvera explains. There has to be safety checks and meetings with the liquor control board but it’s one of the most sought out activities by participants, he added.
Vegas Casey, a fifth-year student at Western, said she just recently turned 21 years old and wanted to go to Downtown Sounds for the beer garden.
“This is Bellingham’s best,” Casey said. “I wanted to meet new people here and see old friends I haven’t seen in awhile and listen to new music.”
The beer garden was packed shoulder to shoulder as people sampled local ciders and beers.
After the live music there was an “Aftersounds” event at Boundary Bay Brewery for people to continue dancing after sunset.
“Aftersounds” offered both visual and local music entertainment, featuring colorful lasers and a disco ball hovering over the dancers.
The next Downtown Sounds concert is Wednesday, July 31 with a performance by Sepiatonic from Portland, Oregon along with the pop-funk band Analog Brass. The music will start at 5:30 p.m. at Bay and Prospect Street.