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Pushing music to its limits

Bellingham musicians take on a creative challenge at the Wild Buffalo

Photos from the Wild Buffalo House of Music event on Oct. 29, 2023. Five bands composed of 25 Bellingham musicians took the stage for the eight annual Bellingham Band Lottery. // Photos by Maria Kallerson

A wave of genre-bending sound swept over the Wild Buffalo House of Music on Oct. 29, 2023 as five bands composed of 25 Bellingham musicians took the stage under colorful lights for the eighth Bellingham Band Lottery. 

Only two weeks prior, each musician met their band for the first time after having their names randomly chosen from a hat. In those two weeks, the bands were challenged to write and polish three original songs.

When it came time for the performances, the bands waited around excitedly, unsure of when they would be called to the stage for their set. The bands aren’t told the order they’re performing to create a supportive environment for all participating musicians.

“This is not a competition. We are all here to support each other as musicians,” Craig Jewell said into the mic to kick off the show, eliciting claps and cheers from the crowd. 

Jewell is the talent buyer and owner of Wild Buffalo.

“Getting out of your comfort zone is why this event exists,” he said. 

That was the case for Jonathan Henry, a solo singer-songwriter who had never performed with a live band before signing up for the lottery.

Henry was one of two singers in Slapside Down, the second band to perform during the event. The band clicked with ease, as the first guitar riffs poured out of the speakers, nearly convincing the audience that they had been playing together for years.

“All of us connected on a personal level and that, I think, is what made us good,” Henry said. “It just came naturally.”

Slapside Down featured a Nashville metal drummer who just relocated to Bellingham, a bass player for a rock band, funk guitar player Myles Harris – the so-called Jimi Hendrix of Bellingham, a folk trumpet player, an R&B soul singer and Henry.

“They just meshed and they created an amazing band,” Jewell said. 

Slapside Down’s lively stage presence entranced the crowd as everyone in the venue danced along with a band who only rehearsed three times before the show.

The crowd's positive reaction inspired the band, Henry said. They plan on recording the songs they performed and making additional music so they can book a gig.

“The whole experience was an eye-opener to something I didn’t realize I needed as a musician,” Henry said. “The community is why we make music.”

The result of the lottery is a show that subverts the expectations of the performing musicians and the audience, said Chris Weber, music coordinator for Good/Bad Art Collective.

The Good/Bad Art Collective helped create the Rock Lottery concept in Denton, Texas in 1997. Their original concept is similar to the Bellingham Band Lottery, except the bands have just 12 hours to create three songs on the day of the show.

When Weber and his colleagues started the Rock Lottery, Denton had a similar population to present-day Bellingham.

“Even in a relatively small city, musicians and fans often aren’t familiar with bands outside of their normal circles,” said Weber. “The Rock Lottery forces interaction between people of different ages, genders, backgrounds, musical expertise and [tastes]. This is true for both the participating musicians and the audience.”

This concept has been imitated all across the U.S. for 26 years. Most of the events raised money for a local charity.

For the Wild Buffalo’s iteration, the $10 entry fee and any other donations went to Make.Shift Art Space, a Bellingham non-profit art and music space for all ages.

It’s art spaces like Make.Shift that got Dylan Daugherty, the guitarist for Flat Earth, the fourth band in the line-up, invested in music at a young age. 

When he was 12 years old, a coffee shop called Fantasia and a venue called The Old Foundry provided opportunities for him to get involved in the music scene. 

“All-ages music is the reason why I own and operate a production company and manage a band,” Daugherty said. “Based on my background with all-ages music, it was kind of a no-brainer that I’d want to support [Make.Shift] as a musician.”

He signed up for this year's lottery in part because of its partnership with Make.Shift.

“If the only place that music is happening is at bars, it’s not inclusive to our younger generations,” Daugherty said. 

Make.Shift’s partnerships with events like the Band Lottery are vital in keeping age-inclusive art spaces alive.

“This is something where it’s just pure community,” said Jewell. “It’s bringing people together, and nothing makes me happier than to see that happen.”

Upcoming events at the Wild Buffalo can be found on their event calendar and Instagram.

Maria Kallerson

Maria Kallerson (she/her) is a fifth-year creative writing major, journalism news-ed minor and film studies minor at Western. She enjoys hiking in the Cascades, live music, photography, writing short stories and reading. You can reach her at

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