Bumbershoot Bumbering Along, Looking For Itself


Photo: Greg Roth

Intro by Greg Roth

Fall is almost upon us and the Northwest leaves are starting to turn a beautiful shade of yellow.  The summer to fall transition is a perfect and natural illustration: nothing stays the same. We, and our world around us, are in a perpetual state of change. Bumbershoot is in a state of change as well, figuring out who and what it is and what it wants to be. Bumbershoot definitely had a different feel this year. It was leaner, acts started later, there were not a lot of artists that folks were really buzzing about… In fact there was not an artist on the Bumbershoot Bill that could fill Key arena on a regular tour date. Bumbershoot 2015 just felt strange. A figurative and metaphoric dark cloud hung over Day One at Bumbershoot. The first day’s action had to be put on hold for a couple of hours due to the weather. Thunder, lightning and heavy showers forced many of the Bumbershooters, as well as the artists, to scurry for shelter. What seemed to be lacking, at least for the first two days, was the fun, energy and spirit of past Bumbershoots.

Bumbershoot hit a major crossroad in the last year by letting a major concert player, AEG come in like a white knight and assume all of One Reel’s debt. Bumbershoot was on life support and AEG came in six months before the festival to give it CPR and keep it going long enough to so that eventually the festival can hopefully generate income that exceeds their overhead and expenditures.

There are many that deride the festival every year. “It’s too expensive!” “It is too crowded!” “I don’t like the bands!” You get the point. To us, Bumbershoot is a local treasure. To lose it would be losing a small piece of the artistic heart of Seattle. Like Seafair, Folklife, and other annual summer rituals, Bumbershoot has become a wonderful Labor Day tradition celebrating the rich arts that Seattle has to offer. Of course, music is the cornerstone.

Generally, most major festival promoters have the luxury of pulling a massive lineup together a year in advance. AEG only had six months. The objective for this year was to book a festival using a combination of local, national and global artists with some bigger headline acts thrown in. AEG hoped to at least break even, but at this time we don’t know how the festival did financially. Based on seeing the half full seats in Memorial Stadium the first couple of days, it would be hard to think that AEG met their financial objectives. Hopefully, AEG made enough to stop the bleeding and can stage a more robust and sexier festival next year, while still keeping the Seattle/Northwest spirit and feel.

After attending the festival we were left with many questions. What’s next? What is Bumbershoot now? What is it going to be? Can Bumbershoot exist as a viable major market festival without losing its soul, or is it destined to become like the manufactured and corporate Coachella? Seasons change, so do we and so must Bumbershoot. The question is what will that change look like in the future?

All of that said, Bumbershoot 2015 did provide some special moments. Christine Mitchell shares her thoughts on Bumbershoot 2015 . . .


As mentioned above, it probably isn’t fair to get all in a twist over Bumbershoot. It was losing money hand over fist anyway, so credit is due to AEG for keeping the beast alive. That being said, here is some constructive criticism:

  • Local music is better found located in the heart of the festival. The size of the crowds at the stage where La Luz, Hobosexual, The Weather, and other PNW bands played in 2014 (next to the fountain) was at least twice the size of the lawn at this year’s Rhapsody Stage. That small space filled up and even spilled out into the surrounding flower beds, even though the location of the stage was extremely hard to access, with only one point of entry and exit in a far-flung corner of the grounds. This is Seattle’s festival; show some pride and give prominent placement to the players in our local scene.
  • Take better care of the next generation of music lovers and musicians. The Youngershoot area wasn’t as hard to access as the Rhapsody Stage, but it was actually harder to find (it was a tiny blip on the festival map, and the signage for the area was poor). Sadly, there wasn’t much there for kids to do. In previous years sponsors had set up a wide variety of games and activities for kids (in an easy to access area), but there didn’t seem to be much more than information booths and coloring pages. Wait! There was a music stage. It wasn’t evident by looking at the schedule, but the School of Rock House Band played on and off, with kid-friendly music acts playing between those times. What an incredible confidence boost it would have been for the kids participating in School of Rock if they had had better placement and access to a larger crowd.
  • Flatstock has become more and more anemic each year as fewer and fewer silk screen artists participate. One suggestion: bring the Zine and Record Fair tables that were located inside the Vera Project and move them into the Armory, and welcome more zine artists to participate and gain exposure.
  • The graffiti artists working at the festival were great: More Art, Please. Again, this is a festival flavored by our town; let’s not lose sight of the amazing talent that lives here.
  • Please don’t use a hashtag as part of a stage name. It’s embarrassing for everyone.

But, Bumbershoot was still a lot of fun. Even the hardcore rainstorms that blew through on Saturday reinforced the festival’s name and turned the day into a sort of sloggy adventure. Here are some highlights from Saturday and Sunday:

  • Grace Love and the True Loves played Saturday, and they were amazing! That voice. That hair. Grace Love OWNS you and you can’t say anything about it. Don’t even try. Go to their album release party at The Tractor on October 2. You won’t regret it.
  • The rain kicked in as Babes in Toyland started pounding the bejesus out of the #NeverTamed (ugh) Stage. Frontwoman Kat Bjelland and her guitar were pummeled by the downpour, and it seemed to just fire her up even more, her eyes nearly popping out of her head as she screamed and roared, forcing her guitar to utter belches of feedback.
  • The rain drenched Duke Evers’ lead guitarist and singer Josh Starkel’s on-point Bumbershoot ensemble, so he chose to take to the stage shirtless, his wet head flinging water droplets into the crowd whenever he veered off into a ferocious solo. Meanwhile, drummer Kyle Veazey seemed fairly dry and his usual all-smiles self. Duke Evers’ set also seemed more driven due to the weather and easily one of the best of the day on any stage.
  • The Memorial Stadium stage was cooking on Sunday, starting off with two legendary PNW acts: Dead Moon followed by The Melvins. Combine that with a wonderfully over-the-top set from The Fame Riot on the Rhapsody stage and delightfully rampant saxophones from Moon Hooch on the Starbucks Stage for a locally juicy afternoon.
  • Fox and the Law was sandwiched between two massive (and noteworthy) national acts, Social Distortion and Faith No More, yet they still gathered quite a loyal crowd. Social Distortion is aging punk for the masses and arguably the only “old school” draw of the mainstage acts; but they owned the stage and drew roars from the crowd. Faith No More’s beflowered stage and Hari Krishna getups had a spiritual vibe, but the all-or-nothing lighting was what really conveyed the mood of their bludgeoning music. Singer Mike Patton held the mic in his signature boxing ring style, obscuring his face, but the fury powered on through. His creepy grins between bellows were unforgettable.
  • One of the coolest additions this year was The Silent Disco at the EMP’s Sky Church. We walked in and were handed a pair of headphones. It was a dance party with three DJs playing three different mixes at the same time. Somehow they were all synced up; everyone would start to clap whenever one of those EDM blow-ups would crescendo, seemingly inside our heads. There were great graphics being projected and people dancing and having a great time.

It really was the music that held the festival together this year, coming together through different genres and knitting the community that was present together. And that’s something that will hopefully never change.

Christine Mitchell has been poring over album liner notes pretty much since she acquired the skill of reading, and figured out the basic structure of rock songs at an early age. Whether it’s the needle popping into the first groove of the record, the beeps that signal the beginning (or end) of a cassette tape, or digital numbers ticking off the seconds from zero, music brings Christine happiness, ponderous thought, opportunities for almost scientific study, and sometimes a few tears. When she started attending live shows two decades ago, a whole new piece of the puzzle clicked in and she has been hooked ever since.