February can be a hard month. All the joy and brightness of the holiday season has passed, and the excitement of the new year is starting to wane (as is your dedication to resolutions, if you’re like most people). Sure, there’s a heart-filled holiday in there, but not everyone wants to spend too much money eating a set menu alongside every other couple in town.
Enter: The Valentine’s Cabaret at Amendment 21, an unconventional celebration of love that promises to combine music, performance, dance, humor, and audience participation to create a beacon of light and joy in the middle of an otherwise dreary month.
When asked how the idea for the cabaret came about, soul*drift vocalist Julie Trimingham says:
“It’s this funny thing with ideas. Sometimes it feels like the idea exists and we bump into it. It’s not springing from us. And then we just act in service of the idea. So, I’m not sure how Cabaret came about except we had been working on all these great love songs, as well as Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill songs that really spoke to a certain era, a certain style, a certain cultural and emotional imperative.”
“I think many of us at different times in our life go through periods where we stare into the abyss a bit … where we’re just more aware of mortality and the cruel fact that everything and everyone we love will die … and the cruel fact that there is so much suffering in the world right now,” Trimingham says. “Having fun and celebrating can be escapist and that can be good and healthy and fun, but it can also nourish us so that we can go back and do the work that needs to be done in this world.”
And what better way to fight the dark forces of the world than through laughter and joy? That’s what cabaret has historically been about, after all. It began in France in the late 19th century as pure frivolity, but cabaret as we know it today was really a product of Weimar Germany, where the performances took on a life of their own with gallows humor and political satire. Cabaret was a safe, inclusive, celebratory place for Jewish people (like Kurt Weill) and the LGBTQ+ community. The songs were overtly political, often sung in secret locations in Berlin and elsewhere, many serving as anthems of opposition against the rise of Naziism. But that’s not all cabaret means to Trimingham.
“Fundamentally,” she adds, “I think when we gather together and celebrate and have fun and are in community, with song, and with story, and with one another, it claims and protects our humanity … Because that’s an important part of who we are, and we can’t ever lose that. … I think something like cabaret isn’t about willfully ignoring the suffering [we see in the world], but it’s about intentionally claiming the birthright of our joy and of our love and our sense of community—and having fun.”
And, of course, it’s an opportunity to celebrate love. On which point, Trimingham adds:
“We can’t truly celebrate love unless we’re celebrating all love.”
That’s part of the reason that Amendment 21 agreed to donate a portion of the food and drink proceeds to the Bellingham Queer Collective, which is “on a mission to connect, celebrate, unite and advocate for the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.”
The evening will also be an inclusive celebration of the many forms and shapes love takes thanks to its composition: co-emcee Feather Fatale will bring his signature gender-bending drag style to the show; tap dancers Lacey Thompson and Amber Weatherly from The Dance Studio will perform; and audience members will share one-minute stories that show the breadth of experience when it comes to love.
Like the cabaret itself, soul*drift was born of a combination of kismet and community. Trimingham says she always liked to sing, but never really thought of herself as a singer—she still looks a little uncomfortable when I call her a singer during our conversation. She took voice lessons starting in her late teens and continued to sing privately, but it wasn’t until she met and began singing with the band’s guitarist, Nate Melanson, that the spark began to grow into a flame.
Melanson was already playing with John Stockman (ukulele and vocals), and eventually they added Michael Cox (ukulele, vocals, bass ukulele, musical saw, and conch shells), Ken Levinson (guitar, violin, vocals, and harmonica), Jill Burns (mandolin and vocals), and Phil Burns (vocals, banjo, and bodhran, an Irish hand drum) joined in. More than half of the band members are longtime friends through playing ultimate frisbee together; all of the band’s members live in the same neighborhood and have kids in the local school system. Soon their jam sessions became something a bit more formal—something that felt important in their lives.
They landed on a name (through a similar “bumping-into-it” process to the one that birthed the cabaret idea) and began to play at various locations around the area. At the moment, they do mostly covers, but they’re working on a few original songs. Of course, for the cabaret, they’ll be playing exclusively love songs—with lots of duets!
So, if you’re looking for community connection and a bright light in the darkness, or if you just want to have a fun night out and support a great cause, mark February 16 in your calendar! Doors open at 6 p.m. and there’s no cover charge but come hungry and thirsty because Amendment 21 is donating a portion of food and drink proceeds to Bellingham Queer Collective. 1224 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham, 360.746.9097, thehotelleo.com