Since Jeff Margolis, the proprietor of Everybody's Store in Van Zandt, enjoys connecting like-minded people, I paid attention when he told me about a man fairly new to Whatcom County, Samir (he goes by "Sam") Hassan, who opened Maple Falls Café in April.
"This is a guy you have to meet," Margolis says.
Although Hassan and I have not met face-to-face, we've talked on the phone and exchanged emails and Facebook messages, and I agree with Margolis: Hassan's up to good things in Whatcom County.
In addition to his extensive experience in the restaurant business, including Brazilian-focused eateries in Seattle, he's into his second year organizing the World Music Festival.
I was late finding out the "behind the scenes" details about the festival, so I'm sharing the details below about the last two concerts, on Saturday and Sunday, June 28 and 29.
Hassan says the festival started last year as the Maple Falls World Music Festival. He had sold his bar in Seattle, the Paratii Craft Bar, to open a distillery; and then moved to a sailboat "to be a bum," he says, hopping the islands until the distillery was ready to go.
He saw an ad on Craigslist about a restaurant available in Maple Falls. Hassan Googled the restaurant to locate Maple Falls, then came to see it with a friend, Louise Stromberg, who is now his business partner.
Hassan was bringing composer and upright bass player Renaud Garcia-Fons from France for a series of concerts to raise money for his project for the homeless. One of the concerts was going to be at Paratii, so when Hassan sold the bar in 2013, he brought Garcia-Fons for a concert in Kendall.
Garcia-Fons' agent, Hassan's friend Michael Grofsorean, who was the producer of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., for the last 34 years, phoned trying to book pianist Andre Mehmari in Seattle. Mehmari also came to perform in Kendall last year.
Hassan rented a grand piano for Mehmari and Seattle's Jovino Santos Neto, and in two weeks booked last year's festival at the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center. Why did he go to so much work?
"I love music," he says, "and I embrace Maple Falls as my home now.
"I came here to recover from losing the love of my life," he says. "Maple Falls and its amazing people are giving my mojo back."
Hassan also has a new project for this area, Hope Community Farms, to help poor families in the Kendall area feed themselves year-around. But life needs art, Hassan says, and he's trying to bring art to them, too.
He chose the Resource Center as his music venue not only because of its good acoustics, but because of the community-service focus of the space. He envisions bringing all kinds of performances there, including dance, theater, speakers and visual artists.
Hassan gets partial funding from lodging tax revenues, but that pays for marketing only, so he pays out-of-pocket for the musicians and is reimbursed from ticket sales, which, he admits are not great yet.
There's no food or alcohol at the Resource Center, he says, because it's a formal performance, space and food and alcohol would bring too casual of an atmosphere.
The festival is family-friendly, he says, but it's not for young children.
Hassan says he wants to bring new and exciting things to the area, and bases his decisions on uniqueness, diversity, quality and (unfortunately, he says) affordability. He says he tends not to negotiate fees, because he finds it a bit offensive to the artists, many of whom are his personal friends (he cooks for them while they're here).
He has several plans for the center, including an African band in October, Garcia-Fons in January, a local singers' contest, an art exhibit, and the second edition of the Short Film Festival.
He also has secured land across from the restaurant to open Maple Falls Distillery and Maple Falls Brewery, and he edits The Maplefallian, a free newspaper that covers local news.
WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL CONCERTS
Jimmy Brite and Curtis Kealoah: 7 p.m. Saturday, June 28. Tickets: $10.
Carlos Cascante y su Tumbao: 6 p.m. Sunday, June 29. Tickets: $15.
Both concerts are at East Whatcom Regional Resource Center, 8591 Mount Baker Highway, Kendall.
CONTEST: TURN WTA UNIFORMS INTO NEW PRODUCT
The Ragfinery is challenging the community to design new products made from discarded Whatcom Transportation Authority bus-driver uniforms. Come to Ragfinery, 1421 N. Forest St., pay a $10 fee, and collect the uniforms you want to transform. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
Deadline for submissions is Thursday, July 3, with a $200 cash prize for the winning product.
Details: 360-738-6977, ragfinery.com.
Behind the Scenes focuses on the people who make the arts and entertainment world of Whatcom County happen. It appears in Take Five, The Bellingham Herald's entertainment section, each Thursday. Margaret Bikman is the Entertainment News Coordinator at The Bellingham Herald. Contact her at 360-715-2273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.