Photo of band performing

The Scene: A Journey Through Bellingham’s Musical Past

May 21, 2022 - November 20, 2022

Old City Hall

From string bands on steamboats in the 1890s to alternative/indie rock bands today, for more than 100 years Bellingham’s music scene has embraced genres ranging from folk to classical to rock and roll and beyond. Located between the big cities of Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, Bellingham was and continues to be the sweet spot for performers both well-known and up-and-coming, where they can share their music with appreciative listeners in a more intimate environment. This exhibit presents a timeline of the styles, musicians, and venues that helped put Bellingham on the “music map.”

“Seattle — what? New York — who cares? It’s all about Bellingham. That period of a year or two, I never wanted this scene to fall apart. I wanted this to live forever, because it felt so organic and special.” —Ben Gibbard, lead vocalist and guitarist, Death Cab for Cutie, The Seattle Times article “It’s all about Bellingham: How stars Death Cab for Cutie and ODESZA got their starts locally,” May 11, 2019, by Michael Rietmulder

Creating a timeline of Bellingham’s Music History:

How do you take something so personal, vibrant, experiential, emotional, exhilarating, engaging, creative, and ethereal and tack it on a wall? That’s the challenge the Museum faced when trying to tell the story of Bellingham’s music scene. Through archival material, photographs, personal papers, oral histories, and more, curators added layers to the incredible stories that make up Bellingham’s musical history. Sandwiched between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., it makes sense that singers, musicians, bands, and other performers would want to make a stop in Bellingham along their tour routes. Through the decades, our community has been able to experience a variety of performers and musical styles, sparking interest and curiosity—from classical to blues, jazz to opera, and folk to rock. We hope this exhibit offers a brief, but entertaining overview of Bellingham’s rich musical history, and legacy.


The Whatcom Museum acknowledges that we gather on the traditional territory of the Lhaq’temish – Lummi People – and the Nuxwsá7aq – Nooksack People – who have lived in the Coast Salish region from time immemorial. The Museum honors our relationship with all of our Coast Salish neighbors and our shared responsibilities to their homeland where we all reside today.