What's Up! Magazine's 25th anniversary would have been this year. To celebrate, former owner Brent Cole has announced two farewell parties that will take place on March 3 and 4.
The print magazine covered local art and music from 1988 to 2020. Cole had loved newspapers since he was a kid and grew up reading Seattle’s local music magazine The Rocket. He started What’s Up! because while Bellingham’s music scene was thriving, there was a lack of media coverage.
While What’s Up! was in production, Brent Cole and his wife, Becca Schwartz Cole, had to navigate many challenges.
Schwartz Cole formatted and edited What’s Up! every month, all while running two of her own papers – Grow Northwest, which ran from 2010 to 2020, and the Foothills Gazette, which was under her ownership for seven years.
“This is while three kids were often running around, or we had baseball practice or PTA meetings,” Brent Cole said. “It was complete madness for years.”
Even with increasing challenges from COVID-19, they decided against transitioning the paper to fully online. Cole said that if What’s Up! couldn't be a physical paper, he didn’t want it to continue on.
Aireekah Laudert moved to Bellingham in 2005 after exploring the city while on a trip. She stumbled across a copy of What’s Up! and fell into the local music scene.
“I see a lot of worth in [online media], but it’s so different reading something online versus holding a physical paper,” Laudert said. “One of the huge charms about [What’s Up!] was that it was a physical magazine.”
Laudert went on to host multiple What’s Up! award shows. She said one of her favorite memories was always trying to figure out a way to get Cole on stage. One year, she and others surprised the Coles with the award “All of the Awards'' because “they’re amazing and deserve all of the awards.”
Bradley Lockhart, a Western art instructor, is a member of two bands that have benefitted from What’s Up! coverage and has since designed multiple covers and award show posters for the magazine.
When he was 16, Lockhart’s band Black Eyes & Neckties was featured in What’s Up!, the first of many times his creative work was publicized.
“It was really exciting and validating when you have a creative project that maybe just lives in your basement, or your friend’s bar or whatever, and it finally gets out there to a citywide audience,” Lockhart said. “It's inspiring and makes you feel like you’re doing something right.”
What’s Up! helped bands by getting their name out to the public. Lockhart said it was the place everyone went to figure out what was going on.
“Brent was good about being inclusive of new bands,” Lockhart said. “He was always hiring staff and bringing in new blood because he didn’t want to write about the same bands over and over again.”
Natalie Vinh wrote for What’s Up! shortly before the magazine stopped publication. She originally reached out to Cole asking if she could intern for What’s Up!, and Cole offered her a position as a writer.
“I hadn’t been around here long enough to fully grasp the impact that [What’s Up!] had on the community,” Vinh said. “But I liked it, and I liked working with Brent. It was definitely a bummer when they stopped.”
By getting involved in the music scene, Vinh was inspired to launch her own online music magazine, BREAKOUT, which ran from October 2021 to November 2022.
“Brent is a very important person to me and served as a mentor for my writing when I was considering going into the music industry,” Vinh said. “I’m very grateful to have met him and sort of continue what he was working on through BREAKOUT.”
During the magazine’s 22-year-long run, local music fans and bands were able to connect and find a community.
“Talking about the bands and having featured artists for the front page … brought people together in a way that not every publication does,” Laudert said.
Cole saw the impact What’s Up! made on the Bellingham community during an art exhibit at Make.Shift that featured live pictures and past magazine covers.
“I got to watch music fans say ‘I came to town at this issue and knew everything was going to be OK’ or someone talking about their old band stating, ‘We were reviewed in this issue and we’d felt like we’d made it,’” he said. “To have a career where myself and my wife were able to have that kind of impact on people [within] the community was extremely gratifying.”
Although What’s Up! has ceased publication, members of the community will be able to reconnect and say goodbye during the two farewell parties. The Shakedown will host on March 3 and the Wild Buffalo will host on March 4. Cole released a lineup of bands via Facebook, but details are still being finalized.
“The magazine has meant more to me than I realized at the time,” he said. “It was vital for me, it was my life blood in many ways. I'm glad we get to finally celebrate its closing and can move forward on to new things.”
Ciarra Shaffer (she/her) is a city life reporter for The Front. She is a junior majoring in the public relations track of the journalism department. In her free time, Ciarra enjoys being outside and going to concerts. You can reach her at email@example.com