Entertainment writer Mark Perschbacher returns to the Lookout Quarry for an entire day of music, acrobatics, steam punk racing, outdoor theater, and more during day 2 of the Festival of Ideas, Sh’Bang.
After the late first night at Sh’Bang, I awoke to the familiar sound of rain hitting the roof. Yesterday it had rained in the morning, but this time, it was not the gentle, drought fighting sprinkle, but actual rain. I was confident that with the thick tree cover and ample shelter of the stages the show would go on. The day gradually cleared, but by the time we made our way back to the festivities, a steady mist was falling again. The thing that struck me as we walked along the now muddy path from the parking lot was how beautiful the area was in the daylight. Steep hills rose up all around. I could now see the high rock walls of the quarry reflected in the water below. Some kind of workshop was being held on the Cedar Stage so we made our way over to the Pirate Ship just across the yard. The DiTrani Brothers from North Bend were wailing away with their own brand of 30’s style folk, gypsy jazz.
Several times during breaks, the immaculately dressed pirate spokesman took the mike to warn spectators that the soap box derby contestants would soon be running down the road just behind them. After a great set by the brothers, the follow up group Saint Cinder set up and delivered more vintage jazz and jugband blues. Halfway through their set, the racers began taking their runs down the hill with the pirate spokesman offered humorous commentary.
The racers drove the most outrageously welded together contraptions, vehicles would be too formal of a description. Much to the delight of the spectators, the first contestant, literally a brass bed with wheels came careening down the hill. It hit the jump hard enough to dislodge the woman hanging off the back. In a move worthy of any professional stunt person, she flew through the air and landed flat in the mud. Once it was determined that she was unhurt, the crowd roared.
A friend had recommended catching the dramatic creation by Deanna Fleysher, nationally known comic and comedy instructor, so we headed up the hill to the Saloon Chapel. Behind the all too appropriate Wild West themed edifice, we found a seat and experienced the melodramatic, darkly comedic ethics play “Who Killed Wannabe Joe?”
The cast consisted of Gin Fizz playing the ornery not quite sure of himself cowboy Squints, Kimberly Ann Ross as the narrator\operatic voice, Glen Bristow as Lotus Flower, the Mexican prostitute in Kabuki makeup, Brandon Drake as the pregnant German Civil War nurse Helga, Della Moustachella as the clueless, but kind protagonist Wannabe Joe, and Deanna as the hovering, let’s keep this production moving director. Deanna drifted in and out of the play, letting it run for a few minutes before stepping in to re-direct the action, or to engage the audience. The theme of the play was that Joe had offended all of the cast members, and as such, deserved to die. Several times, Joe professed to be a harmless, considerate soul, only to be yelled down by the cast. The play was a great combination of dance, song, and commentary about violence and justice.
While the damp afternoon drew to a close, the Circus Extravaganza Show began at the Cedar Stage. In true Sh’Bang fashion, a hopelessly mismatched comic couple hosted the show. By way of their fortune telling act, they introduced a variety of jugglers, rope and escape artists, and acrobats.
The skill and determination of the Bellingham Circus Guild provided over an hour of exceptional and original fun. As darkness fell and the collection of colored lights ignited, we headed back to the Saloon Stage for the grand finale of the day.
Kicking off the festivities was the Vancouver BC band The Burying Ground. With the obligatory resophonic guitar, stand up bass, and washboard percussion, they complimented the collection of Northwest old timey, bluesy string bands perfectly.
More and more festival goers piled into the open air venue. The noise level grew. Anticipation and excitement swelled. The burlesque show was only a couple hours away. After a dramatic pause in the action, Baby Gramps and his band finally walked onto the stage. Gramps is a veritable musical institution in Western Washington. Equal parts gravelly blues singer, wacky old man, and musical gate keeper, there is really nothing quite like him. His raw, unpredictable style added more chaos and energy to ever expanding crowd. By this time, it was midnight. I had been up late the night before, and spent all of Saturday wandering around in the on again off again rain. Could I hold out for the much anticipated burlesque show? It was supposed to start at midnight, but as I quickly learned, schedules are very loose at Sh’Bang.
Baby Gramps wailed and tore through some great old blues and folk standards. The dancing crowd yelled out their appreciation. At the beginning of his last song of the night, he mentioned something about pink elephants, and from the back of the stage a line of painted cardboard cut- out pachyderms appeared.
Things had reached a surreal level comparable to Friday night. Having a commitment in the morning, and wanting to make it home before fatigue made it a questionable venture, we reluctantly exited the festival. Just outside the Saloon, a stop motion animation short film was playing. We pondered and discussed the marvelous events of Sh’Bang for the days afterwards.
Entertainment Writer Mark Perschbacher…A man who will cross great barriers to find exceptional music. Mark is a long time Skagit County resident, contributor to, and supporter of local arts.