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‘Rock Local’ at Bellingham’s West Sound Fest

Learn about the grass-roots festival featuring over 40 performers, starting Friday

Kai Ross with his band Smithers at The Blue Room in Bellingham, Wash., on Sept. 28, 2023. Smithers are scheduled to play at The Blue Room again on Sunday, May 19. // Photo by Malory Travis

After two years in the making, West Sound Fest begins Friday in downtown Bellingham, with the final shows at Mothership Live on Sunday. 

Kai Ross founded West Sound Records, a Bellingham-based label that has signed multiple bands around the area. Of the few bands signed under West Sound, is his personal band Smithers, who recently recorded their first album. 

Ross first attempted his festival in 2022 to no avail. He tried the following year but again, it fell apart. That didn’t stop him, as he immediately started planning for 2024, finally making it work. He’s secured eight venues for just over 40 performers, making it 12 shows over the three-day event. 

All venues are within walking distance of downtown Bellingham, with most of them welcoming all ages except Mothership Live, being 18 and up. Ross said sustainability and accessibility are important to his business. 

“I've tried implementing both aspects of business and sustainability into West Sound Records and the music festival, just making sure everything's walkable, supporting local artists, local businesses and being accessible to everybody,” Ross said. “That's part of why I'm not charging for a full festival pass. It's gonna be $10 per show. Sustainability is the key thing that I'm leaning towards with this festival.”

Ross hopes the success of this festival will bring more opportunities in the future, as he wants to keep building his brand. 

“I'm not gonna stop unless there's something really big that prohibits me from it,” Ross said. “I imagine if I keep pushing at it, it'll grow and end up being successful at some point; I just have to keep doing it.”

The fest will also include performances such as  Jackson Graham’s Repeating Gossip comedy show at Mothership Live on Friday. 

Red Roulette is one of the first bands performing at Karate Church on Friday to kick off the event. The Hobby, Gated Community and Malaise are also performing once doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Jess Nicole Brown, the vocalist for Red Roulette, said that building a fanbase is one thing she’s looking forward to the most. She hinted at the possibility of new songs to be played live for the first time and covers of popular hits such as The Police’s 1979 record, “Message in a Bottle.” 

Brown said they might cover ‘90s hits such as No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” or “Down in a Hole” by Alice in Chains. 

Jess Nicole Brown performing with Red Roulette at The Underground Coffee House in Bellingham, Wash., on April 10, 2024. Red Roulette will be performing at The Karate Church on May 17. // Photo by Misha Zhekov

Not only does Brown hope to create a following, but she wants to encourage the thriving music scene in Bellingham.

“I absolutely adore the Bellingham music scene,” Brown said. “I've made friends with so many other bands and showgoers. Everybody's so kind and caring, and they're always so friendly. Whenever I go to shows, I can talk to anybody.” 

According to Brown, Ross’ effort to put together a diverse cast of performers makes the festival even more exciting. 

“I'm excited that there's going to be a lot more femme and queer bands,” Brown said. “I'm very much looking forward to it.”

Ross said his inspiration is Sub-Pop Records. He wants to help recreate the ‘90s Seattle music scene and this festival can help do just that.   

“I was kind of bummed out that I missed out on the ‘90s Seattle,” Ross said. “I want to do it myself, and if I have the power to recreate something even cooler, I'll do that.” 

Ross is not the only grassroots dreamer who has aspired to connect his community through the love of music. 

Freakout Records, originally called Psychedelic Holiday, is a Seattle non-profit record label that began in 2012. Freakout Records had a very similar beginning — a few friends who wanted to connect to their city’s musical artists and build their community. It has since grown large enough to include musicians from all over the world. 

“Community is part of our DNA,” said Skylar Locatelli, executive director of Freakout Records, via email. “We thrive on it and ultimately our goal is to support our community and provide a safe space and stage to perform in front of like-minded individuals.” 

Locatelli said staying true to the vision is the key to success in this field and Freakout could not have grown to where it is today without help.

“Things change but what you're trying to create or what you're creating is why you started doing this in the first place,” Locatelli said. “Everything evolves. Finding a great crew is crucial; you can't do it alone.”

Ross has found a community that supports him, and he hopes the fest will help strengthen that bond. If there is one message that Ross hopes people remember, it’s to "rock local."

Logan Schreiber

Logan Schreiber (he/him) is a fourth-year student going into the PR Journalism program. He enjoys writing and music, hoping to do both for his career. You can reach him at

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