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Cocoa’s picks: Poetry, plays and the music of Mali

A curated selection of happenings in Whatcom and Skagit counties

Oumou Sangaré, an internationally renowned, Grammy-winning singer and composer from Mali, will play McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon on Friday, April 5. (Photo courtesy of Holly Whittaker)
By Cocoa Laney Lifestyle Editor


First Friday
6–10 p.m. Friday, April 5, downtown Bellingham
The piece “Network” by Ella Johnson is included in the exhibition “Women Rising: Expanding Visions/Diverse Perspectives.” (Photo courtesy of CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival)

April 5 is the first Friday of the month, and you know what that means: It’s time once again for downtown Bellingham’s First Friday celebrations. Whether you’re in the mood for live music, an art exhibition or a good meal, every month offers a different array of activities. Check online to see a list of participating businesses and plan your route in advance — or, if you’re adventurously inclined, just show up downtown and see where the night takes you.

This First Friday is special in that it coincides with the first night of CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival’s art exhibition, “Women Rising: Expanding Visions/Diverse Perspectives.” Presented in collaboration with Allied Arts, the show aims to “highlight the multiplicity of women’s voices, styles and interpretive approaches of artists living in the Pacific Northwest.” Can’t make it to opening night? You can catch “Women Rising” in the Dakota Art Store Gallery until May 31. Info:

Oumou Sangaré
7:30–9:30 p.m. Friday, April 5, McIntyre Hall, 2501 E. College Way, Mount Vernon

McIntyre Hall is lucky to host a talent like Oumou Sangaré, an internationally renowned, Grammy-winning singer and composer from Mali. Sangaré’s music is heavily inspired by the music, dances and history of Wassoulou, a historical region in West Africa — but while her easygoing sound is rooted in tradition, many of her lyrics tackle present-day political and social issues. For example, her 2022 album “Timbuktu” is named for the ancient city that faces ongoing political turmoil. Its songs touch on themes ranging from patriarchy to the perils of war and, importantly, Sangaré’s pride in her culture and people.

Given the scope of her lyricism, it’s no surprise that Sangaré is also a notable activist. She’s a fierce champion of women’s rights in Africa and even acted as a goodwill ambassador for ​​the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Her upcoming performance at McIntyre Hall is a rare chance to see one of West Africa’s foremost talents without leaving the North Sound — and if you ask me, you’d be remiss not to take it. Info:

Museum of Northwest Art Poetry Symposium
1–2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6, Museum of Northwest Art, 121 1st St., La Conner

April is a big month in the North Sound: In addition to being the first full month of spring, Bellingham Beer Week and the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival also give locals something to look forward to. If that wasn’t enough, April is even National Poetry Month — and the folks at the Museum of Northwest Art are throwing an event to help you celebrate.

The symposium’s programming is inspired by two current exhibitions, “Silva Cascadia: Under the Spell of the Forest” and “My Roots: Honoring the cultural identity of Skagit Valley’s under-resourced children.” Beginning at 1 p.m., 10 poets will read original works on the theme of “roots,” followed by an open mic at 2 p.m. Poet and painter Duane Kirby Jensen (who literary buffs might recognize as the host of Everett Poetry Night) will emcee the event. Info:

“Festa de Musica” Bellingham Festival of Music Dinner & Auction
6 p.m. Saturday, April 6, Bellingham Golf and Country Club, 3729 Meridian St.

For those who aren’t yet in the know, the Bellingham Festival of Music is among the city’s most prestigious events. Each year, it brings in an array of world-famous musicians to Whatcom County, including principals from the New York Philharmonic to the Chicago, Boston and Atlanta symphonies. The festival is also known for its ongoing community outreach initiatives, including masterclasses and in-school programs. 

Festivities don’t kick off until June 30, but if you want to support the Festival of Music in advance, the Festa de Musica event is your best bet. This year the festival is bringing on a new artistic director, Brazilian-born Marcelo Lehninger — and how better to welcome him than with a Brazilian-inspired fundraiser? On Saturday, April 6, the whole community is invited to welcome Lehninger over cocktails and drinks. The evening also includes two auctions — one online and one live — with items including vacation, art, jewelry and more. Info:

New Play Cafe Reading Series
7 p.m. April 5–7, New Prospect Theatre, 207 Prospect St.

This is the last weekend to catch Bellingham TheatreWorks’ second annual reading series, New Play Cafe, which “continues Bellingham TheatreWorks’ mission to produce stories of significance to the Pacific Northwest.” The 2024 installation includes six brand-new shows selected from a grand total of 25 submissions, all from regional playwrights. 

You can catch “Perseus is Dead” by Alex Quiring on Friday, April 5, “Want” by Barbara Lindsay on Saturday and “Together” by Thomas Pierce on Sunday. Playwrights vary in age and experience, but each has a tie to the PNW: Quiring is a recent Western graduate, whereas Lindsay is based in Seattle, and her plays have been produced more than 400 times in the U.S. and abroad. Finally, Pierce is an instructor emeritus in Philosophy and Composition at South Seattle College. Info:


Calendar listings written by contributor Maya Heinselman.

Thursday, March 28

Aslan Depot Drag Show
7 p.m., Aslan Depot, 1322 N. State St.

The Depot’s next drag show features five talented local performers — Rikki Sensation, Elle BP, Kylie Mooncakes, Issa Man and Mx — and $1 of every pint poured goes to Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood. While the event is free to attend, don’t forget to respect drag etiquette and bring enough dollar bills to (generously!) tip your local queens. Info:

Friday, March 29

PNW Artisan Marketplace
10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 15806 Best Road, Mount Vernon

The PNW Artisan Marketplace is back and better than ever with a few new additions. The marketplace is open daily throughout the month of April and this year, it will include sections for children and pets so you can bring the whole family — even your furry friends. Info:

Saturday, March 30

March Improv Madness
9:30–11 p.m., The Upfront Theatre, 203 Prospect St.

The last night of March Improv Madness is coming up. With the final round of this bracket-style comedy competition, the top comedians from this past month will hope the audience will vote them as the best-of-the-best improviser in town. Info:

Gardening Without Chemicals
10 a.m., Garden Spot Nursery, 900 Alabama St.

Paige Lanham, owner of Garden Spot Nursery, shares the basics of taking care of your plants organically. She’ll cover anything from feeding to pest control to help your garden become healthier and more eco-friendly than ever just in time for you to plant your favorite blooms. Info:

Sunday, March 31

Adults-Only Easter Egg Hunt
1–4 p.m., Gruff Brewing, 104 E. Maple St.

Easter egg hunts aren’t just for kids anymore. Gruff Brewing is hosting an adult-only easter egg hunt in its very own beer garden — complete with candy, merchandise, prizes and, of course, beer. If you’re looking to have a little bit of extra fun, Gruff is also offering $5 mimosas for the holiday. Info:

Monday, April 1

April Fools Film: ‘A Night at the Opera’
7 p.m., Lincoln Theatre, 712 S. 1st St., Mount Vernon

The Marx Brothers attempt to unite two opera singers, Ricardo and Rosa, whose chance at love is being thwarted by an arrogant star vying for Rosa’s attention. This 1935 classic being shown at the Lincoln Theatre is a surefire way for you to get your dose of April Fools’ Day shenanigans. Info:

Anacortes Quilt Walk 2024
April 1–30, Downtown Anacortes

The Fidalgo Island Quilters (FIQ) have created quilted items and art quilts for around 30 merchants to sell across downtown Anacortes. Be sure to check for the FIQ logo at each shop you pass and step in to take a closer look at the quilt products they have in store. Info:

Tuesday, April 2

Book Launch: Sara Donati, ‘The Sweet Blue Distance’
6-7 p.m., Village Books, 1200 11th St.

Rosina Lippi, author of the Wilderness series and “Where the Light Enters” under the pen name Sara Donati, is launching her latest book at Village Books. Set in 1857, “The Sweet Blue Distance” depicts the journey Carrie Ballentyne takes from New York to New Mexico, then her subsequent troubles with her job and the people she cares for. Info:

Thursday, April 4

Rick Steves’ For the Love of Europe
7  p.m., Bellingham High School, 2020 Cornwall Ave.

Rick Steves is known for encouraging Americans to travel and experience the lesser-known marvels of the world. This April, he’s on his way back to Bellingham to give us updated tips and tricks for navigating Europe so we can start planning our own adventures. Info:

Beginner Macrame Class
6:30 p.m., Sliced, 70 Bellis Fair Pkwy.

Sliced is much more than just a place to get pizza. Hoag Road Maker Co. is hosting its first workshop at the restaurant this April. This beginner-level interactive class will teach you the basics of macrame and you’ll create and take home your own macrame plant hanger. Info:

Friday, April 5

Art Show Featuring Aime Palmer
5 p.m., The Heron’s Nest Gallery, 1200 Harris Ave., Suite 307A

Seattle-based artist Aime Palmer, also known as Scenicpeaches, is in town for a three-day art gallery show in Fairhaven. From a pod of dolphins leaping through the ocean to two little girls playing in a meadow, Palmer’s unique paintings depict different images and memories from her life, each with its own intimate story. Info:

12th Annual Recycled Arts Resource Expo (RARE)
April 5-27, Allied Arts Gallery, 1418 Cornwall Ave.

This juried festival is all about celebrating sustainability. By highlighting pieces made with recycled materials, the folks at Allied Arts hope to educate the community about the myriad of ways art and sustainability can overlap. The exhibition opens April 5 and remains on display until April 27, just in time to overlap with Earth Day. Info:

Saturday, April 6

8th Anniversary Block Party
12–8 p.m., Stones Throw Brewery, 1009 Larrabee Ave.

This year, Stones Throw’s annual family- and pet-friendly block party features live music from three bands, as well as food from the fish and chips food truck Galley2Go. Sit back and relax with some games and your favorite beer as you take a seat around one of the fire pits. Info:

Tulip Parade presented by Astound Broadband
2 p.m., 1st St., La Conner

This “not-so-impromptu” annual parade, now in its 37th year, is presented by the Kiwanis Club of La Conner and sponsored by Astound Broadband. Everyone is invited to participate; either register in advance online or show up day-of at the Port of Skagit. As the festival’s website puts it, no entry is too small. Info:

Serial Killers: Tournament of Serial Theater
Saturdays April 6–May 4, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., iDiOM Theater, 1417 Cornwall Ave.

This serial theater tournament is in session every Saturday starting on April 6 as various groups compete against each other for their shows to be crowned the best serial play of them all. You don’t just get to watch each team present new episodes of their stories each weekend, though. You’ll also be voting one team out weekly alongside the rest of the audience until one is crowned the winner on May 4. Info:

Whatcom County Youth Fair
April 5–6, Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center, 1775 Front St., Lynden

The Whatcom County Youth Fair supports children of all ages while they learn about how to properly care for their livestock and small animals. The fair also goes a step further by including “Still Life Divisions” for local youth with hands-on workshops on crafting, creative writing, Woolcrafts and more. Info:

Skagit Chili & Chowder Cook-Off
1–4 p.m., Farmstrong Brewing Company, 110 Stewart Road, Mount Vernon

Sample a few chilis and chowders and choose which you think are best in this delicious competition. Amateurs and professionals alike are expected to prepare their chili and/or chowder at the Farmstrong Brewing facility the morning of the competition, ensuring the quality and freshness of each bowl. Info:

Little Looms
Noon to 3 p.m., Bellingham Public Library – Central Library, 210 Central Ave.

Members from Whatcom Weavers Guild will be working with small looms for onlookers to observe, question and possibly even try out in the Central Library’s SkillShare Space. Learn a bit more about the fibers and techniques these weavers use to create works of art for as little as a couple of minutes to as long as a couple of hours. Info:

Behind the scenes of “The Kalliope Project,” which will screen at the FireHouse Arts and Events Center on Sunday, April 7. (Photo courtesy of The Kalliope Project)

Sunday, April 7

‘The Kalliope Project: A Documentary’
3-4:30 p.m., FireHouse Arts and Events Center, 1314 Harris Ave.

Western Washington University students Maesie Halliday and Sophia Robertson present the creative process behind their photography portfolio: “The Kalliope Project.” The documentary depicts the hard work and dedication that goes into complex works like these, while also celebrating femininity and women-led creative projects as a whole. Info:

Before heading out to attend in-person happenings, check with individual venues to make sure the event is still taking place as scheduled.

The A-List appears weekly. To submit an event for consideration, email

Cocoa Laney is CDN’s lifestyle editor; reach her at; 360-922-3090 ext. 128.

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