Psychedelic Sunday excursion in Bellingham, WA

When I heard earlier this month that Frank Hurricane was touring west, I checked to see if he was coming here. After hearing his hilarious Holy Story on WCSB about the journey and people he met when his car broke down in the Washington desert, I just had to see his performance in person. Unlike previous tours, there was to be no Vancouver show but there was both a Friday show in Seattle and a Bellingham show on Sunday. I opted for the cheaper, easier Bellingham show.

The venue was an old church known to locals as the “Karate Church”. It used to house the Bellingham Academy of Self Defence. With one missing letter on its sign, the current occupants have embraced a new moniker for the old church, the “Bellingham Academy of Elf Defence”. It’s now home to the Alternative Library, a cooperative lending library and community centre that specializes in independent media, art books, and alternative cultures.

I welcomed the opportunity to encounter hippy culture in Bellingham, which I hadn’t known was there. Bellingham up to this point had been a place I passed on the I-5 while on route to or from Seattle. What I found in Bellingham seemed to be more a college town, with food co-ops and other signs of progressive values. At the Bellingham Alternative Library I met a fairly gender balanced community of mostly 20-something progressive DIY cultural types, probably students of Western Washington University or “Western” as it is known to locals there, with big dreams and relatively open minds and hearts. The Alternative Library, as I understand it, was founded by “Futureman” about 10 years ago. Futureman greeted me at the door, accepted my $5 cover charge for the night. We chatted a bit about Bellingham, the Library, performances they host, and how he first encountered Frank Hurricane while couch surfing with friends in Seattle.

The first local opening act was called Rain Farmer – a guy named Jeff with an acoustic guitar and some pretty sweet sounding melodies and lyrics. I don’t think the recordings on his website do him justice. He sounds much better in person as a single vocal and acoustic guitar. The second act was a guy from Philly, sampling guitar loops, rhythms and other recorded sounds with peddles. Not really my thing. For my money it doesn’t make for a particularly interesting stage performance. Next was another guitar sample and loop act, Bellingham local Devin Beau. Devin was very animated and a local crowd favourite.

Finally the man I came to see, Frank Hurricane took the stage. A big friendly, bearded southern singer/songwriter/story teller probably in his 30’s. He must have performed about 7 or 8 songs, mostly mountain blues sounding. The key feature of his performances, which don’t often appear on his albums, are the stories that inspire his songs. Frank is at least as much a comedian as he is a passionate mountain blues and folk musician. He has a way of telling stories and painting priceless mental images of the people and places he passes through on his (what appear to be) annual tours across the U.S. and sometimes into Canada. He uses a lot of holy and psychedelic framing of absurd situations in far out places. Frank loves to contrast urban street lingo descriptions of extreme backwater characters in very remote rural situations to HILARIOUS effect – without really disparaging those characters. HeĀ  always finds a holy psychedelic angle to every story, which is part of the his charm.

After the show, I had a chance to speak with Frank the launch of this tour from Cleveland, his late night guest appearance on WCSB, and the possibilities of a future show in Vancouver. He let me record couple of WCSB station ID’s, and Ibought two of the three albums he had for sale. It was a good night, definitely worth the drive!

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