With a name like The Old Foundry, you might think Bellingham's all-ages music venue has been around for years.
However, it has only been one year since WhAAM, Whatcom All-ages Art and Music, started putting on live, all-ages music events in the old building on the corner of Cornwall and Maple.
“It was a tough time for music in Bellingham,” WhAAM co-founder Ross Brackett said via e-mail. “A number of local venues had been shut down. We had seen other legitimate all-ages venues in the region, such as Vera Project [in Seattle] and Department of Safety [in Anacortes], and wanted to do something like that in Bellingham.”
Brackett helped found WhAAM in early 2005 with others who shared his vision, including WhAAM treasurer, Amanda Kalkwarf, and local musician Jordan Rain, also known as Yogoman.
“I had a long standing desire to get a fresh all-ages music and arts venue to fill the void that was left when the Show-Off Gallery closed in the late 90s,” Rain said in an e-mail.
Rain started an independent study projct through Fairhaven College with fellow student and musician Ryan Soukkala. Rain and Soukkala interviewed people at the Old Firehouse in Redmond, Wash, and the Vera Project, “to see what we were up against and hopefully get some advice and direction,” Rain said. “It was quite helpful and provided some solid models and philosophies to work with that helped form WhAAM.”
WhAAM put on shows at various venues around Bellingham until 2006, Brackett said, when they began renting out the Old Foundry from an organization called Originating the Future, which is dedicated to leasing the space exclusively to non-profit groups like WhAAM.
Local musician David Ney volunteered to book shows at the new venue, and has been doing it ever since.
“I guess I became so synonymous with local music they thought I'd be a good choice for a booker,” Ney said.
On Sept. 22, the Old Foundry hosted local favorites No-Fi Soul Rebellion for their CD release show. About 115 people came to see lead singer, Mark Heimer, climb the garage door at the front of the venue and write messages in the steam on the glass, Kalkwarf said.
“All these high school kids were taking their shirts off,” Kalkwarf said. “It was crazy.”
One of Rain's many groups, Yogoman Burning Band, will be playing at the Old Foundry on Oct. 27, with surfrock band The All Nighters and child metal prodigy Vincent Blackshadow, Ney said.
“I like playing at the WhAAM space because it still feels like a new beginning,” Rain said. “No, it doesn't have all the best sound equipment and maybe isn't as artistically designed with all the ammenities as some of the more established venues down south, but it is a positive start and it feels new and exciting there when you get a crowd of people that appreciate music in a place where nobody is consuming alcohol, where it is all about the music.”
So why is WhAAM so important? Why should people care about an old building on a dark corner where teenagers and college kids get sweaty and listen to loud music?
“Local culture is increasingly important because in order to remain human you have to have a connection with your community,” Brackett said. “Going out, seeing how things work, not as a tourist but as a participant.”
All-ages venues are an important resource for underage people, Ney said.
“I come from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and there's nothing to do there,” Ney said. “I really wanna encourage kids to not only go to shows, but to also start bands and make music themselves, and not just music but all sorts of art.”
Katie Rismondo, WhAAM's volunteer coordinator, was active at the Old Firehouse in Redmond and the Kirkland Teen Center in high school before coming to Bellingham.
“WhAAM is important to me because I didn't have very many places to go see shows when I was in high school,” Rismondo said.
While putting on all-ages shows in houses and basements is great, Rain added, a permanent all-ages venue is important.
“New house venues always pop up,” Rain said. “But after a while, a consistent place to have shows where you don't feel like you are hiding or breaking the law becomes an appealing idea. Somewhere where you feel supported by your community for creatively expressing yourself, and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Everyone at WhAAM agreed that running an all-ages venue is no easy task, however.
“WhAAM runs entirely on door money,” Rismondo said. “So the biggest challenge is really just making enough money to stay alive.”
WhAAM has applied for exemption from federal income tax, Brackett said.
“Once granted, donations to WhAAM can be deducted from your income tax like any other public charity,” Brackett said. “In addition, we can begin writing grants to get extra money from foundations.”
Another huge challenge facing WhAAM is recruiting enough volunteers, Kalkwarf said.
“We wanted to start this and get it sustainable enough that we can walk away and it's going to be a living, breathing entity,” Kalkwarf said.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering is welcome, Brackett said.
“We're always looking for new people to help run shows,” Brackett said. “We could put on a show almost every night if we had enough volunteers.”
To volunteer or to see a list of upcoming shows, visit http://whaam.org, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find WhAAM on MySpace at http://myspace.com/whaam.