Bellingham troubadour Robert Sarazin Blake started the Subdued Stringband Jamboree 15 years ago because Bellingham was full of bands.
“We needed a meeting place, to perform, listen and cross-pollinate,” he says. “We needed a campfire where our differences would fade into the darkness, while the notes danced over the flames.”
This year’s festival is Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 6-8, at the Deming Logging Showgrounds. The first year there were 10 bands; this year there are 40, Blake says.
“The clerk from your grocery store may be playing banjo next to a fiddler from New York in shades, next to a guitar player who resembles your grandfather,” he says. “The music is non-stop and you don’t have to rush around to find it.”
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Blake says people sometimes come to the jamboree and fall in love with a band, and often start attending their gigs throughout the year.
Blake advises people to bring a blanket and a picnic. As always, there will be workshops, activities for kids, and a huge square dance every day. After the amplified music ends, people can go to acoustic late-night stages, with unofficial jams sessions every few feet.
Organizers build two stages in a large grassy field. The concert area is surrounded by campgrounds with informal jamming. New this year is a larger campground and a new Saturday evening ticket, valid from 7 p.m. onward, available only in advance.
In a special event this year, Jordan Rain performs as Yogoman with Jacqueline Rae (Bongo Jac) at the festival. The couple is getting married at the jamboree at 3 p.m. Saturday. If you consider yourself a friend, celebrate with them. Bellingham band Chivalry Timbers is reuniting for their post-ceremony music.
Jamboree amenities include running water, toilets, food vendors, and plenty of parking. More than 200 volunteers run the festival; many of them are also performers.
Anna Rankin is vendor coordinator for the jamboree. She first volunteered at the gate in 2009, and recalls that it rained her entire shift. But people showed up in droves and handed her money and tickets, so she thought to herself, “Why would so many people come out to the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain when they could be at home at warm and cozy?”
“I figured that out quickly enough,” she says. “It is truly a music lover’s paradise as the music never stops. When the main stages shut down, people play at their camps all through the night and you get to experience a wide variety of talent.”
She hasn’t missed a jamboree since.
Rankin says the size of the festival is a big draw; it feels intimate, giving it an edge over bigger festivals, and with ticket prices very reasonable for a weekend of music. The showgrounds is perfect setting, too, she adds, with the town of Deming nearby for supplies and the cold Nooksack River to cool off in.
“The music is always top-notch, there are activities and square dancing, camping, great food and people,” Rankin says. “At any given moment, you can just scan the area and see huge smiles on people faces, people dancing and just having a darn good time.”
Subdued Stringband Jamboree
When: 10 a.m.-midnight Thursday, Aug. 6; 9 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, Aug. 7-8.
Where: Deming Logging Showgrounds, 3295 Cedarville Road.
Cost: Advance tickets at Community Food Coop are $35 single day, $75 festival pass for Thursday-Saturday; $25 Saturday evening after 7 p.m. Tickets are more at the gate.