LYNDEN, Washington — Within my adopted hometown, snug up against the 49th parallel, the bitterest sports rivalries run between Lynden High and Lynden Christian. Beyond our non-Canadian borders, however, the rivalry to beat is the Lynden Lions vs. the Ferndale Golden Eagles, gloves and pigskins down.
One result of that overheated struggle is that Lyndeners do our fair share of smack talking about Ferndale. Some call it Ferntucky, a hickname Urban Dictionary speculates was originally coined for redneck Fernely, Nevada.
My favorite anti-Ferndale taunt, “Your town used to be called Log Jam!” actually turns out to be a little bit true. In a brief historical essay, Phil Dougherty writes that the town “got its start almost by accident in 1860, when settler John Tawes, traveling north on the Nooksack River, was forced to land on the banks of the Nooksack because of a massive log jam on the river.”
Tawes liked it enough to put down roots there about six miles north of Bellingham. More settlers followed. “[B]y the mid 1870s,” writes Dougherty, “the settlement still had no name, though some informally called it ‘Jam’” — for
good reason. The book History of Whatcom County admits, “It may almost be said that the jam was the father of Ferndale.”
Yet it did not take long to take that Log Jam out of my eye Friday night as I attended the first night of the city’s annual two-day Talent Revue in the Ferndale High Auditorium. In front of a dark black backdrop with smoke machine bellowing, 20-plus local acts and a trio of comic emcees sang, played and danced to their utmost.
From the opening act, a preteen beanpole sporting a glittery stars and stripes top hat belting out the National Anthem, to the closing high school drum line get-up-and-go-home number, it was amateur hour in the best sense of the term.
None of the performers were paid to be there. No prizes were to be had other than personal and communal bragging rights.
What we watched was a revue, not a tryout. Performers auditioned for the honor, practiced together, and gave it their best shot. The performances were uneven, of course. But none of them were boring and many were quite good — and a few had impressive comic timing.
One Fulgencio Schonborn dramatically struggled through mic issues to give us “Dramatic Song.” “If you don’t speak English, this probably sounds pretty good,” he sang and boasted to our laughter.
Coming back from the juice, cookies and bathroom break, we saw the starkest contrast of the night. A dancing band and horns section brought us their energetic, funny, retro interpretation of Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1,000 Dances.” That was a tough act to follow for lone female musician Ellie McLaurin. Her song choice made it harder still.
Australian pop band 5 Seconds of Summer recorded “Gotta Get Out” with several men with guitars playing and singing together. The Australians’ performance was still muted compared to any version of “1,000 Dances” ever recorded, so it was a reasonable expectation McLaurin would be dead meat up there, with her own chosen song title as the punch line.
McLaurin pushed back against that expectation by putting what looked like everything she had into it. Her “Gotta Get Out” was an impressive and exhausting performance. I dared not go back the next night to see if she had anything left.