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Reviewing 2023 in local music

A panel of devoted fans share some thoughts

Zookraught's pounding
Zookraught's pounding
By Jesse Stanton CDN Contributor

Once again, I’ve gathered a small virtual panel of knowledgeable local music insiders to share their thoughts on the year in local music. This year, I’ve also included a few of my own thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think — reach out by email or X (formerly Twitter) and I’ll share reader reactions in a later column. (Some responses have been lightly edited for clarity.)


Calla Avens: musician, recording and live sound engineer

Morgan Kramer: podcast host, event organizer

Pace Rubadeau: former local radio show host for KMRE, event organizer, trumpeter

Cayley Schmid: festival organizer, director of Celtic Arts Foundation, fiddler

What was the best live show you saw in Bellingham in 2023?

CS: Wolves of Glendale at The Shakedown. Hilarious, engaging and surprising. The band, venue and audience were on the same page and fully committed to each other having a wonderful and unique experience. 

PR: Subdued Stringband Jamboree Twilight Series at Boundary Bay featuring Forty Drop Few and Dumpster Joe. Their respective old-time ways sailing through the beer garden commanded attention as conversations died and eyes turned to the stage. It was beautiful to watch the smiles and feet.

CA: I think the best live show I saw this year in Bellingham was technically outside the city limits, but I’ll count it anyway. Riot House threw “The End of The World,” a DIY punk show and rave at an abandoned mill outside of town. It was a really fantastically run event with an amazing crowd and energy. I saw Moon Mother, Bad Optics and Zookraught and it was incredible. Besides incredible performances, I felt like all these bands were really onto something special with their writing. I also want to shout out Culloden, while they didn’t perform at this show I had a chance to catch them at a previous Riot House show and thought were just great. Definitely catch all of these bands before they blow up! 

MK: Chrvns, Oble Reed, and Blksknn at Culture Cafe, and Lawnfest.

photo  The Wolves of Glendale, a comedy rock trio based out of Glendale, California, was one of the top live performances in Bellingham in 2023, after performing at The Shakedown on Oct. 22. (Photo courtesy of Mandee Johnson Photography)  

Do you have a favorite song or album released by a local artist in 2023?

PR: I’ve been a friend and fan of Tad Kroening ever since we first met at the Honey Moon listening room. His debut album, “Baby Birch,” spent years percolating at the weekly Wednesday open mic, but it’s finally out and the entire thing is equal parts crushing and enchanting.

MK: The singles by Checker Bloom, collected as the “Soul Shine” EP.

CS: Most anticipated would be Gallowglass’s first album as a band which is going to be released mid-December. Aaron Guest also just yelled, “DRYLAND,” in case you were wondering.

CA: It either goes to the pounding, dancey and raw “Grip It Shake It” EP put out by Zookraught or to the catchy, surfy garage rock “Bingo Queen” EP by Cat Valley. Both are really well produced and full of catchy and emotional, raw songs. Just go check out “Catwalk” by Zookraught and “My Body” by Cat Valley; you won’t be disappointed. 

Note: I’ll be doing a whole column on this topic in a few weeks, let me know about your favorite locally released song or album.

What do you think is missing from the Bellingham music scene at this moment in time? 

CS: Earlier shows at standy-uppy venues. I know I’m not always the target audience, but I solemnly swear bars will make more money if I start buying drinks at 7 p.m. instead of not buying any drinks because I’m in bed.

PR: I was fortunate to have been gifted a grant by Downtown Bellingham Partnership on behalf of BECU to curate a running soundtrack for the Art Walk streets for several months. My mission for each First Friday was to highlight more acts featuring women and people of color. We’re fortunate to have such a thriving arts community for such a small town, but it falls far short of being diverse. The most nontraditional lineup seen in a minute was at the recent Bellingham Band Lottery hosted by Wild Buffalo. Maybe start up a monthly impromptu collaboration series somewhere? Less dad rock, more ad hoc.

MK: Currently, it would be the house show scene. With landlords cracking down and people moving, all the old house show venues (such as Bluebird, Ballroom and JJ’s Junction) are no more. Though there are venues in town that support all-age shows, I think house shows open up a space for people who are not yet fully experienced with booking their show to gain the audience they need to perform at a venue.

CA: I think the scene could use more venues. I’m really thankful for the venues we do have — but it still feels like there are only a handful of places for bands to move onto after they have exhausted the house show circuit. (Author’s Note: Cautiously optimistic, I may have some news to report about this real soon.) I’d especially like to see another dedicated all-ages venue the size of The Shakedown or maybe a bit smaller. I also am a huge fan of a laundry list of genres, and I’m very happy to live in a place where rock music is so pervasive. We could use some other places that can cater to more experimental, hip-hop, soul and, yes, even country artists. I think having few venues that sort of specialize in certain types of music can cause this, but also it seems in my perspective, that most constant show-goers in my age range are rock-oriented.

Were there any major trends or changes that you noticed over the year?

JS: I’ve been glad to see more outlets for documentation and promotion. Podcasts, zines, videos, etc.

PR: Sadly, I witnessed more shows going back to the low-cover model seen pre-pandemic. Feel like we had one chance to change things after people lived without live music for a year and knew how life sounds without it, so would support events in the $15 to $20 range when they returned. That worked for a while but now there’s evidence of the $10 or even, shudder, $5 cover happening and that doesn’t do any of us any good.

MK: I feel like this year there was a larger shift back to indie/rock, which I really enjoy. And I feel like I am seeing more full bands come together, not just solo artists. And all of the bands working together to be successful. Lawnfest is a good example. 

CA: Clowns are back in a big way. I sort of joke, but I have been enjoying watching the hardcore and DIY scene in Bellingham and Seattle expand to have a real “sound,” you know? I think bands like Beautiful Freaks and Flesh Produce are some of the best examples of the sound of the current DIY scene. There’s also a bit of a shared fashion and attitude present at a lot of these shows, which I can only imagine will be infamous in years to come. People are just so kind and giving of their time and resources to the community, and it’s great to see. Huge mention to the photo compilation book “Taste The Floor” put out by Seattle photographer Luciano Ratto earlier this year for being not only a beautiful piece of art, but a real-time capsule for the kind of subculture we are seeing grow around us.

CS: Is everything louder? Am I older? Yes.

What’s something you are looking forward to for next year in local music?

CS: I’m excited about The Blue Room’s new Sunday afternoon folk series starting in January. Also, I’m excited to see more unorthodox musical events, shows and experiences. Bands collaborating with other art mediums, breakfast shows, bands on the floor while the audience is on the stage. Creativity within the live music experience is something that I’m looking forward to.

PR: Meeting more of you with hopes of creating impactful moments together and, with any luck, more muted trumpet in the monitor.

CA: I cannot wait for new releases. I absolutely love going and seeing live shows, but my real passion and favorite thing in music is sitting down with a very carefully crafted album. I have a few bands who I know that are working on new material, but I don’t want to say anything to jinx it. I’d just say keep an eye out online for the chance to buy your favorite local artists’ albums on Bandcamp or to stream their music.

MK: All the new bands. We have so many new and upcoming bands from the new generation who have already started making moves. I can’t wait to see what they do and all the new bands that are to come. I think there is going to be an even larger shift in music genre and creativity that Bellingham hasn’t seen yet.


Killer Whale at Ramble Tramble
7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21, Ramble Tramble
Killer Whale, from New Orleans, describes their music as “pontoon-soul.” As far as I can tell, that means you take the laid-back vibes of yacht rock, make it weirder and add some more serious emotional heft. Not a bad recipe. They’re at Ramble Tamble on Thursday, Dec. 21.

Paige Woods at Honey Moon
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 22, Honey Moon
Singer-songwriter Paige Woods should be right at home at the Honey Moon, having already recorded a live EP there. She’s back in those cozy environs on Friday, Dec. 22 for a holiday-themed evening that ought to be a delightful gathering.

The Holytailfeathers, Los Bongquistadors, Howling Brave
9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23, The Shakedown
On the other hand, sometimes you need to clear the holiday music out of your ears with a blast of loud rock ‘n’ roll. I’m certainly getting to that point. The Shakedown has you covered with a show on Saturday, Dec. 23 featuring recently reunited local garage rockers Holy Tailfeathers, plus Los Bongquistadors and Howling Brave.  


Tuesday, Dec. 12

  • Aslan: 8 p.m., Jazz Night
  • Blue Room: 8 p.m., Jam:30 (open jam night)
  • Culture Cafe: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • Menace: 7 p.m.,  Invitational Blues Jam

Wednesday, Dec. 13

  • FireHouse: 6:30 p.m., Noah Simpson Quartet (jazz)
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Open Mic
  • Rockfish: 6 p.m., Heron and Crow (folk)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m. Naughty Blokes Trio

Thursday, Dec. 14

  • Admiralty Lounge: 7 p.m., Kera-Lynn Newman & Jan Peters (traditional folk)
  • Bistro at Shuksan: 5 p.m., High Peak Trio (jazz/funk)
  • Brown Lantern: 8:30 p.m., Open Mic
  • Farmstrong: 6 p.m., Sweetwood
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., The Hot Tomatoes (vintage jazz)
  • Menace: 7 p.m., Hopnotic (jazz/funk)
  • Ramble Tamble: 7:30 p.m., Paige Woods, Lucas Warford, Luke Moore (singer-songwriters)
  • Thirsty Badger: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • That’s What I Like: 6 p.m., J.P. Falcon and Friends (folk/rock)
  • Wild Buffalo: 9 p.m., Pure Halcyon, The Problem, No Mars
  • Zeeks: 7 p.m., Pat Mcfarland (blues)

Friday, Dec. 15

  • Aslan: 7 p.m. Mindset Concept (jazz fusion)
  • Bistro at Shuksan: 5 p.m., Thomas Harris Quartet (jazz)
  • Blue Room: 8 p.m., Cozmic Sauce (funk/R&B)
  • Conway Muse: 8 p.m., Jack Mattingly (singer-songwriter)
  • FireHouse: 7 p.m., North Country Highway (Christmas country/folk/rock)
  • Fireside: 7 p.m., Carr Parker
  • Greene’s Corner: 6 p.m., Delta Promenade (acoustic blues)
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Devin Champlin, John Bellows (folk)
  • Make.Shift: 8 p.m., Drayton, Red Roulette, Mad King, Back to the Loud (rock)
  • Main Street: 8:30 p.m., Paper Heart (alt-rock covers)
  • New Prospect Theatre: 7 p.m., John Prine Christmas ft. Jenner Fox Band
  • Skagit Cellars: 6 p.m., Jaden Oscar
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., Badd Dogg Blues Society
  • Vault: 7 p.m., J.P. Falcon Grady (folk/blues/acoustic rock)
  • Wild Buffalo: 9 p.m. Nite Wave (’80s cover band does “The Wedding Singer” soundtrack)

Saturday, Dec. 16

  • Birdsview: 6 p.m., Marcia Keester
  • Bison at the Granary: 6 p.m., The House Wrens (traditional Irish)
  • Brown Lantern: 9 p.m., Pension King & The Dependents (classic rock)
  • FireHouse: 6:30 p.m., The Atlantics (Christmas rock ‘n’ roll)
  • Greene’s Corner: 6 p.m., The D’vas
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Chris Nunn (singer-songwriter)
  • Karate Church: 7:30 p.m., Culloden, Drayton, Blind Heresy (rock)
  • Main Street: 8:30 p.m., Thermal Blues Express
  • Ramble Tamble: 7:30 p.m., Mode 3, The Harris Twins
  • Rockfish: 7:30 p.m., Badd Dogg Blues Society
  • Shakedown: 9 p.m., Full Color Dream, Harbor Day (rock)
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., Vince Bigos
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., Michael Dayvid (acoustic covers)
  • That’s What I Like: 8 p.m., Chelsey Monique (R&B)

Sunday, Dec. 17

  • Kulshan: 5 p.m., Katie & Kevin (folk/bluegrass)
  • Lincoln Theatre: 3 p.m., Magical Strings (Celtic/Christmas)
  • Main Street: 6 p.m., Open Mic
  • New Prospect Theatre: 6 p.m., Gallowglass, The Dream Goats
  • Old Edison: 5:30 p.m. The Atlantics (Christmas rock ‘n’ roll)
  • Shakedown: 8 p.m., Somerfeld, YELLOW, Late Lunch (rock)

Monday, Dec. 18

  • FireHouse: 3:30 p.m., Guitars & Gratitude (folk/Americana)
  • Kulshan: 6 p.m. Steve Webb & The Great Mad Swirl (folk/soul/reggae)
  • Ramble Tamble: 7 p.m., Shady Groove (acoustic Dead/bluegrass)

Tuesday, Dec. 19

  • Aslan: 8 p.m., Jazz Night
  • Culture Cafe: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • Menace: 7 p.m.,  Invitational Blues Jam

Wednesday, Dec. 20

  • FireHouse: 6:30 p.m., Jose “Juicy” Gonzales (jazz tribute to “A Charlie Brown Christmas”)
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Open Mic
  • Rockfish: 6 p.m., Christine Atteberry
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., Tom Sandblom (acoustic covers)

Thursday, Dec. 21

  • Admiralty Lounge: 7 p.m., Sam Chue (singer-songwriter)
  • Bistro at Shuksan: 5 p.m., High Peak Trio (jazz/funk)
  • Brown Lantern: 8:30 p.m., Open Mic
  • Corner Pub (Bow): 6:30 p.m., The Artful Dodgers (country/rockabilly)
  • Farmstrong: 6 p.m., Chris Eger (blues)
  • Mount Baker Theatre: 7:30 p.m., Million Dollar Quartet Christmas
  • Ramble Tamble: 8 p.m., Killer Whale
  • Thirsty Badger: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • That’s What I Like: 6 p.m., JP Falcon and Friends (folk/rock)
  • Zeeks: 7 p.m., Frank Vitolo Electric Quartet (funk/jazz)

Friday, Dec. 22

  • Aslan: 7 p.m. The Alger Rhythms (acoustic rock covers)
  • Bistro at Shuksan: 5 p.m., Thomas Harris Quartet (jazz)
  • Brown Lantern: 9 p.m., Ebb, Slack & Flood (rock/funk/reggae)
  • Corner Taphouse (Fairhaven): 7 p.m., The Dimes
  • Fireside: 7 p.m., The D’vas (Holiday show)
  • Greene’s Corner: 6 p.m., Ireland Woods & Samuel Harris
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Paige Woods (Christmas folk)
  • New Prospect Theatre: 7:30 p.m., Robert Sarazin Blake, Louis Ledford & Norah McLaughlin (Christmas-themed folk music)
  • Shakedown: 9 p.m., Oath ov Hatred, Inpathos, Disaster Queen (metal)
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., Dry Martini (jazz)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., TBA
  • Vault: 7 p.m., Free Harmony

Saturday, Dec. 23

  • Birdsview: 6 p.m., Frasier Green
  • Bison at the Granary: 5 p.m., Louis Ledford
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Vincent Blackshadow (rock)
  • New Prospect Theatre: 7:30 p.m., Robert Sarazin Blake, Louis Ledford & Norah McLaughlin (Christmas-themed folk music)
  • Ramble Tamble: 7 p.m., Walker Van Wingerden, Mark Wheeler
  • Rockfish: 7:30 p.m. The Fat Fridays (rock/blues/folk)
  • Shakedown: 8 p.m., Holy Tailfeathers, Los Bongquistadors, The Howling Brave (rock)
  • Skagit Cellars: 6 p.m., Keith Howard
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., Marly Dzis (jazz/Christmas)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., Carly Ann Calbero

Sunday, Dec. 24

Before heading out to listen to live music, check with individual venues to make sure the event is still taking place as scheduled. 

The Beat Goes On is published online Tuesdays and in print Fridays. Email: or Twitter: @JSBhamMusic.

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