BELLINGHAM, WASH. A small record label celebrates its 10-year anniversary with an unforgettable rock 'n' roll bash.
Nestled in a corner of the Pacific Northwest lies the sleepy college town of Bellingham, a lush, rainy town surrounded by mountains that often bears an acrid scent from the town's pulp mill.
Bellingham houses numerous antique stores, a radio museum and Estrus Records, a small record label that gathered 200 people and 24 bands from as far away as Sweden, Spain, Japan, France and Lawrence, Kan., for Garage Shock, a raucous festival of rock 'n' roll in late October.
Dave Crider began Estrus Records 10 years ago to promote "garage," a throwback to the late-'60s crunching rock 'n' roll sounds made by kids in their parents' garages while trying to imitate the Zombies, Count Five, the Seeds and others.
This was the sixth year for the gathering, and Crider had good reason to celebrate. Although Estrus Records warehouse burned to the ground in January, the business has begun rebuilding its crucial mail order division through the efforts of friends, a string of benefit concerts and a lot of hard work.
"It's going to take into next year for it to be where it was, but we had spent seven years building that, so ... that's pretty good," Crider said. "It's due mainly to all the help we got from people."
As for the logistics of hosting a party with 24 bands, Crider takes a practical approach.
"We take 100 percent of the door and split it among the bands that play," he said. "I don't take anything and the bar doesn't take anything. I pay them fairly well, but they're not making money to play here."
Although there are certainly enough people to sell out a much larger venue, Crider prefers to keep the event at the smaller 3-B Tavern.
"I just want to keep it more of a party. ... Everybody that's here is here because they want to be, not because it's something cool to do. They like these bands," he said.
The event was sold out almost immediately after tickets went on sale.
'60s dream ... and nightmare
Arriving on the second night of the festival, Halloween night, my friend and I were anxious to get into the 3-B Tavern.
The bar was both a '60s dream and nightmare: The festival's fluorescent orange and green posters hung on the walls. Rows of lighted plastic pumpkins, colored records and plastic tiki heads hung from the ceiling.
Several patrons and bar employees had dressed for Halloween. Frankenstein and various ghouls milled about waiting for The Galaxy Trio to take the stage while an Austin Powers look-alike sold records and T-shirts at the merchandise booth.
The Galaxy Trio's sonic surf was followed by the Von Zippers, of Calgary, Canada, who played an irreverent blast of Teutonic rock. The group was dressed in black and sported spiked World War I German helmets.
At one point, I turned around and bumped into a former Lawrence native, Chip Walker. So what brought him to the festival from Portland, Ore.?
"Rock 'n' roll, baby, rock 'n' roll, fire and brimstone," he said.
The crowd was mostly die-hard music fans in their late 20s and 30s. I met folks from Spain, Germany and Milwaukee. There were a few familiar faces in the crowd: Bryce Dunn, the former Smugglers' drummer; Claudia Petrapaolo, of Kansas City, Mo., the tour manager for Alabama's Quadrajets; the Oregon band Girl Trouble, who preferred to watch rather than perform; and bar owners from Chicago, store owners from Los Angeles and fanzine writers from several states.
Japan's Gasoline heated up the club after the Von Zippers and set the perfect mood for the next band, the Lord High Fixers from Texas.
Fixers' guitarist Tim Kerr, producer of many of Estrus' records and one of the most soulful purveyors of garage music, offered up his guitar like a sacrifice to the audience and then flung himself on the audience. He reclaimed his guitar and wailed some more, carried aloft by the crowd.
Washington's The Makers took the stage for the final set of the night. Mike Maker pranced around in his fuzzy coat like a nitro-fueled Mick Jagger.
Screaming for more
After cruising Bellingham's antique shops, we spent the next afternoon relaxing in the 3-B Tavern, enjoying the movies Crider set up on the stage's fur-lined television set.
We were just in time for "Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs," a 1966 flick starring Vincent Price. After refueling on pizza, we were ready for the third night of rock 'n' roll.
We made it in time to catch the instrumental swingin' sounds of the Crown Royals. Next up, Alabama's Quadrajets tore up the place -- literally. They wailed with a harmonica, bashed their guitars and ended up with one musician encrusted in duct tape. How could it get better than that?
Texas' Sugar Shack answered the call with a performance that set the bar on fire. Sharing members with the Lord High Fixers, Sugar Shack also had that band's talent for leaping right over the edge of rock 'n' roll sanity. The crunching guitars and a powerhouse female drummer left the audience nearly spent.
Dave Crider's own band, The Mono Men, hit the stage next for a searing set. After planning Garage Shock, running the record label and dealing with the warehouse fire in January, I didn't expect Crider's band to be so good, but they left the audience screaming for more.
The only way to top off the evening was with The Nomads from Sweden, the elder statesmen of garage music who seldom tour. Their full vocal style had everyone dancing and singing. Members of Sugar Shack and the audience jumped up and joined in the choruses during The Nomads' encore, "The Way You Touch My Hand."
'One great vibe'
The last night of Garage Shock arrived much too soon. The club was set for an instrumental feast of surf bands: Man Or Astro-man?, The Volcanos, the Insomniacs, the Untamed Youth and Satan's Pilgrims.
People danced, bought merchandise and mingled, saying their goodbyes, exchanging numbers and addresses.
Mike LaVella, head of Gearhead magazine, was hawking his fanzine's T-shirts and back issues in front of the club. A veteran of six Garage Shock festivals, he shared his assessment of this year's party.
"When the Lord High Fixers came out on Friday, it just exploded. I feel that Tim Kerr's thing ... has always been about having no barrier between the audience and the band. I feel that they finally achieved one great vibe," LaVella said.
Aaron Roeder, owner of the 3-B Tavern and drummer for the Mono Men, spoke for everyone at the end of the last night: "I'm still standing."
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