Bellingham (and Montana native) drummer Cary Stevens, 52, plays with The Atlantics, the Jasmine Greene Band and the Saltwater Octet, among others.
On Friday, Aug. 9, he plays with The Atlantics in a benefit for Lifting Up Haiti, and on Aug. 14 he plays with the Jasmine Greene Band in a benefit for Global Citizen Year. Both events are at Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro.
In between those gigs, he plays with The Atlantics on Saturday, Aug. 10, at Jansen Art Center in Lynden. For more about the nonprofit organizations, go to liftinguphaiti.org and globalcitizenyear.org.
Question: Gary, what brought you to the Northwest?
Answer: I attended the University of Montana for a year and then moved to Seattle at age 19. I would commute to Portland once a week to study with Mel Brown, a drum teacher who my Montana drum teacher had told me about. I lived in Seattle for 12 years before moving to Bellingham in 1991.
Q: What's your education and job history?
A: I got a job at the Bon in Seattle and worked my way through college, eventually graduating from the University of Washington with a psychology degree. I now work at Macy's Furniture Gallery in Bellingham.
Q: How did you get into music?
A: I started on piano at age 7. I didn't really enjoy practicing, which frustrated my teacher and my Mom. When I was 11, my mom asked, "What do you want to play in band? It starts tomorrow."
I decided drums because the music I was hearing on the radio had guitars and drums, and I realized you couldn't play guitar in band. Or piano.
Turned out most of my schoolmates wanted to play drums, too, so the band conductor had us hold the sticks and try to do a double-stroke roll. For some reason, I could do it, so I got the gig, along with one other kid.
When I was 13 I started drum lessons and found that it was a more natural instrument for me and practicing wasn't such a chore as it seemed with piano. I improved quickly and played in band through high school.
Q: What kind of music do you enjoy?
A: I love big band music, jazz, funk, soul, rock, classical and country. I relate to this quote, sometimes attributed to Duke Ellington, "There are just two kinds of music - good music and bad music. I like both kinds!"
Q: What's your history with The Atlantics?
A: I played with several different road bands after I moved to Seattle and gradually came to desire a more rooted life. Some time in the late '80s or early '90s I was in Pioneer Square and there was a band playing at Doc Maynard's doing soul and R&B, and doing a good job of it. The place was packed and girls were dancing on the bar. The band was The Atlantics.
I didn't know they were from Bellingham, but learned that they were local once I moved here. I had played some gigs with Bill MacDonough and I think he or Bill's son Julian suggested me as a sub for a gig Julian couldn't play with them - this was probably around '96 - and we've gigged together ever since. Paul Klein is a terrific band leader and all-around good guy, so he makes it easy.
Q: Any memorable gigs?
A: Once, we were setting up to play a wedding. It was a fairly small room we were going to play in and a very old woman, perhaps in her 90s, was sitting at a table warily watching set up the huge speakers.
As I passed by, she asked in a feeble voice, "Excuse me young man, are you boys loud?" I replied, "Well, yes ma'am, we're pretty loud." She leaned in closer, looking me directly in the eye, and said, 'Face melting?'"
Q: Why do you like playing music?
A: What makes me happy about playing drums? Seeing people dance and have fun. I think music that involves drums should physically move people. When I see or hear good players, I feel it in my body, but it moves me emotionally as well. I am interested in progressing, improving the groove, providing a better groove with fewer notes.
Q: What's with the Aug. 14 gig?
A: We will be doing a benefit to raise money and awareness for Global Citizen Year, which is sending my daughter Emily to Senegal later this year.
Q: What are your other interests?
A: I enjoy golf, tennis, skiing and snowboarding, and cycling, but music is my main passion still.
In addition to drumming I enjoy playing the piano and guitar. I want to improve my guitar playing. It's far more portable than piano.