Blues with a purpose

Inaugural blues fest to benefit Bayside Housing

Posted 9/11/19

When it comes to singing the blues, perhaps one of the best topics is homelessness, says Ahmad Babbahar, better known as Harlem Ren.

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Blues with a purpose

Inaugural blues fest to benefit Bayside Housing


When it comes to singing the blues, perhaps one of the best topics is homelessness, says Ahmad Babbahar, better known as Harlem Ren.

“My father ended up being homeless in his life. He was a musician. So, anything I can do for the cause and to help people transition is cool.”

Babbahar is one of several acts from the Port Townsend area taking the stage during the inaugural Skunk Island Blues Festival Sept. 14. Proceeds from the show benefit Bayside Housing and Services.

“We have a lot of blues out here anyways, when we have music in the restaurant, and the bands that play are super champions of what we are doing so we wanted to make it a cool place to jam,” said Bethany Smith, Old Alcohol Plant events coordinator.

Bayside Housing offers temporary housing for veterans, seniors and people who are working and need housing in order to obtain or retain a job.

Smith invites attendees to dress up as the Blues Brothers to celebrate the event.

However, instead of eating four fried chickens and a Coke with a side of some dry white toast, Smith recommends the pig roast by Chef Troy.

“He roasts it in the ground like pit barbecue and it will be like a buffet,” Smith said. “He does a great job with the buffet.”

The festival lineup includes Babbahar, Hounds of Townsend with John “Greyhound” Maxwell, Badd Dog Blues with Andy Koch and Lost in the Shuffle with Gerry Sherman.

“Music is such a universal language, so anytime you can play and let people hear what you do, and can slide in a little message in there, that is cool,” said Babbahar.

Sherman has been working with the Old Alcohol Plant since it opened a few years ago, and stands behind their mission at Bayside.

“I think what they are doing with Bayside is great,” he said. “We have some wonderful local blues musicians, and there are a lot more of them in the Northwest.”

He predicted the festival can grow with local players who are gaining an audience. “I can see quite a future, Sherman said. ”John Maxwell is pretty well known and is becoming a national act.”

Sherman said the site is attractive both because of its beauty and history.

Sherman said the venue is closer than people imagine. “Hopefully, we will have a great showing and a lot of people enjoying the music and helping to benefit Bayside.”

Lost in the Shuffle opens the festival.

“We do some of my originals, and the other guitar player and harmonica player, Ralph Baker, we kind of switch between vocals,” Sherman said. “He has his style of stuff and I have my style of stuff and it is pretty much blues.”

Sherman grew up in New England, and said exposure to the folk movement there during the 1960s got him into the blues.“They were intrigued and interested about the older blues musicians that in their day had been really good musicians and very popular in the south and into Chicago.”

Transitional housing

The transitional housing program, located in the building adjacent to the Old Alcohol Plant Inn in Port Hadlock, has grown from eight rooms to 20 rooms since its opening in 2016. The facility recently moved its first families into newly renovated rooms capable of hosting them, a goal since it opened in 2016, according to Gary Keister, owner of the Old Alcohol Plant.

Bayside also recently passed 17,400 bednights, Keister has said.

By comparison, numbers provided by Bayside from June 2017 reported 5,427 total bednights. Its guest count at the time was 12, about half the current number, Keister said.

In 2017, the average length of stay was 124 days, with the shortest being 27 and the longest 380. Since then, Keister said the average has risen above 200. Meanwhile, the waiting list sits at 60 to 80 people at any given time.

Smith said the nonprofit hopes to raise about $5,000, after expenses are paid, during the festival.

“We need to hire a new development director, but we have a wishlist on the website, which has all the things we need,” Smith said. “Of course the money can go towards the general things we need to keep the program going, including keeping the hotel rooms up for the guests and replacing bedding that gets worn out.”

The 20 rooms available at Bayside are always occupied, Smith said.

This is due to a lack of housing in Jefferson County, affordable or otherwise, that was underestimated by the founders of Bayside.

“We have a wait list.”

The residents are primarily referred by OlyCAP, Jefferson Healthcare, Dove House, Discovery Behavioral Health, and the Serenity House shelter in Port Angeles. Those with jobs or fixed incomes such as social security pay 30% of their incomes, while those without income pay nothing.

The program is subsidized by profits from the Old Alcohol Plant and three fundraisers a year: The Townsend Bay Music Festival in the summer, the Skunk Island Festival in the Fall, and the annual Bayside Gala. This year’s Townsend Bay Music Festival essentially matched last year’s raised sum of $7,500.

Bayside offers residents classes on subjects such as financial literacy, a “Women to Women” listening circle, and an art therapy class taught by a former resident. Bayside staff help residents obtain IDs if necessary, and volunteers drive residents to the hospital and food banks.

“We help them fill out Section 8 vouchers and applications for housing and it also gives them an address, which is huge in identification and opening a bank account,” Smith said.

Gardening classes are offered to Bayside staff and residents in the numerous vegetable and flower gardens that dot the property. These gardens are harvested by the two resident gardeners for the Inn’s restaurant, Spirits Bar and Grill, with some vegetables donated to Bayside’s weekly Sunday resident dinners.

Bayside residents can volunteer in the dye garden, which grows plants used to make fabric dyes, and can even farm their own plots.

Those interested in being volunteers at Bayside, with opportunities to help drive residents or host the Sunday dinners, among other things, call (360) 385-4637 or email

This article includes material from The Leader’s archive.


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