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‘We hadn’t done anything like this before.’ How did Double Major concert measure up?

Odesza and Death Cab for Cutie perform for 13,000 fans at Civic Stadium

Odesza and Death Cab for Cutie formed while the bands' original members were students at Western Washington University in Bellingham. The “Double Major” benefit concert Saturday, May 18, 2019, was the first time the two played together.
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Odesza and Death Cab for Cutie formed while the bands' original members were students at Western Washington University in Bellingham. The “Double Major” benefit concert Saturday, May 18, 2019, was the first time the two played together.

For a city that prides itself in staying relatively subdued, the buzz still hasn’t worn off from Saturday night — kind of like the ringing in your ears a few days after a concert.

Everyone involved — from fans posting on social media, to city agencies and Western Washington University groups that had a hand in putting the event together — can’t stop singing the praises of the Double Major event at Civic Stadium that featured performances by WWU alumni Death Cab for Cutie and Odesza.

The largest musical event in Whatcom County history, which was part of WWU’s Alumni Weekend and will send proceeds to the schools’ alumni association scholarship fund, can also be called one of area’s most successful events.

“This event speaks to the fact that we are a college town,” Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations, Annual Giving, Division Marketing and Communication Deborah DeWees told The Bellingham Herald. “That our alumni, from internationally renowned Death Cab for Cutie and Odesza to our recent grads starting their first job, believe in the magic of Bellingham and the value of WWU, both of which shaped them into what they have and will become and they want to give back to WWU and this town anyway they can.”

DeWees said the official number of concert-goers is not yet known, but just shy of 12,000 tickets were sold.

Among those who did attend, judging by social media, hardly any of them have a disparaging word to say about the show itself or the efforts that went into putting it on.

Even those who live around Civic Stadium and did not attend seemed relatively content with how Saturday night turned out, as the mayor’s office received only five noise complaints related to the concert, city of Bellingham spokesperson Vanessa Blackburn told The Herald.

That’s right ... only five ... in Bellingham.

“We had worked with the city and the promoter, AEG, to prepare the community for the traffic and noise, and we hope that alleviated many concerns in advance of the concert,” DeWees told The Herald.

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Concert goers, from left, Bellingham Parks and Recreation’s Mike Love, Rachel Demy (the wife of Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard), WWU Alumni Association’s Deborah DeWees, WWU Vice President of University Advancement Stephanie Bowers, WWU President Sabah Randhawa, Uzma Randhawa, and Bellingham Parks and Recreation’s Steve Janiszewski enjoy the Double Major event from the crows nest at Civic Stadium May 18 in Bellingham. Western Washington University Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Parking and transportation

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns before Saturday was how to get 12,000 people to and from the stadium and where to park cars.

Turns out, it didn’t end up being a big problem.

“There were no major issues we heard about,” DeWees told The Herald. “In fact, the designated parking areas were not completely full, as many attendees walked, rode their bikes, carpooled or used transit.”

Whatcom Transit Authority reported no issues, as extra buses were put on Lakeway Drive routes to downtown and on routes to the WWU campus to help shuttle people to and from Civic.

“Everything ran amazingly smoothly,” WTA Special Projects Director Rick Nicholson told The Herald. “Possibly even more smoothly than we expected.”

Nicholson said he heard of no issues, including any behavioral issues on the buses, as seven full buses left the Civic area after the concert in approximately a half-hour span.

“We didn’t know exactly what to expect, because we hadn’t done anything like this before,” Nicholson said. “We didn’t know how many students would walk or carpool. To be honest, I thought there would probably be more people using the bus. It all went very smoothly, even though everything was relatively last minute.”

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Death Cab for Cutie performs during the Double Major concert event at Civic Stadium May 18 in Bellingham. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Emergency services

One of the biggest benefits to the concert experience, Nicholson said, was the opportunity it allowed the Whatcom Emergency Management Team to test itself.

“With relatively short notice, we got to put up a command center and coordinate a large event,” Nicholson said. “They do a lot of practice, but to do it for a real event has great value to the team.”

Bellingham Fire Assistant Chief Jay Comfort, who worked at the command center that was set up at Joe Martin Field, said aid personnel responded to 28 patients on site between noon and the end of the event.

“In terms of the number of people that were there and the things that can go wrong, that number is remarkably underwhelming,” Comfort told The Herald.

The concert did make for a busy night, though, Comfort said, as fire crews responded to 59 incidents citywide, and he said he believes that crews were still recovering from the concert, and that may have been part of the reason a second alarm was called for a commercial fire that occurred at 3:07 a.m. Sunday in the 2200 block of Midway Lane.

The Bellingham Police Department log listed just one incident that Lt. Claudia Murphy said was directly related to the concert — a call at 12:14 a.m. Sunday in the 800 block of Girard Street where a caller was worried about the intoxication level of a friend following the event. Murphy said it was unknown if reports of a broken fence at 11:31 p.m. in the 1400 block of Humboldt Street or a reported altercation between the occupants of two vehicles at 11:19 p.m. in the 800 block of Lakeway Drive were related to the concert.

In all, Murphy said there were 236 calls to 911 on Saturday — slightly more than the average of 170 to 190 on other Saturday nights in May — but she said she “did not see a significant variance of reports written” on Saturday night.

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Concert-goers enjoy the Double Major event, featuring Death Cab for Cutie and Odesza, at Civic Stadium May 18 in Bellingham. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Facilities

Before Saturday, the closest thing to a concert Civic Stadium had ever hosted was the marching bands at halftime of football games, but Melissa Bianconi, recreation manager for the city of Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department, said she felt the facility and crews did “incredibly well.”

“The devil is in the detail with any event like this,” Bianconi told The Herald. “There were so many unknowns, but we spent a lot of time as a city working with the event promoter on everything — traffic, safety plans, parking plans — and it all paid off. This was our first time doing anything like that, and, obviously, there were a lot of unknowns, but I thought we put our best foot forward.”

One of parks and rec’s biggest concerns, Bianconi said, was protecting the playing surface and track around it from the stage, equipment and thousands of fans watching the show Saturday night.

AEG also made that a top priority, she said, and all that needed to be done as of Monday to have the stadium ready for action was putting the goal posts back up.

“I think a lot of people deserve a pat on the back,” Bianconi told The Herald. “I think the whole city team came together and did a great job. It took a lot of departments pulling together. Everyone came together in pretty short order. It was brought up as an idea in November, and they didn’t start selling tickets until March. The planning by so many people is what made this a success.”

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Odesza performs during the Double Major concert event at Civic Stadium May 18 in Bellingham. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Making an encore?

So was it a big enough success to do it again?

“Absolutely,” DeWees said of the WWU Alumni Association’s thoughts on an encore, “and we hope the city is open to this, too.”

Blackburn said the city has not yet had a debrief on the concert and all its impacts, but said Mayor Kelli Linville would be open to hosting a similar event again.

“For an enormous event like this, I’m proud of the hard work of our staff and partners to make sure the concert went smoothly,” Linville said in a statement. “I also believe it had a positive impact on our businesses downtown and throughout the community, as many alums returned to Bellingham for the concert. As a Western alumna, I also appreciate that this event helped Western scholarship funds and future students.”

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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