Music

Bumbershoot

Songs of Seattle

Thursday, September 3, 2015

With the first real rain of the season now upon us, it occurs to me that I’ve never been to a rainy Bumbershoot. Typically, when my Labor Day weekend has been spent at the Seattle Center and its trademark music festival, the experience is associated with heat—and lots of it. My memories are marked, not just by music, but also by the combination of high temperatures and many bodies in constant motion and close proximity.

It’s not nearly as sexy as it sounds.

And though we’ve gone from drought conditions to slightly wetter drought conditions of late, it’s looking as though the weather forecast for the festival whose name is literally synonymous with “umbrella” calls for nothing but sunshine. Luckily, attendees will also be spared the nailing heat of the Bumbershoots of my memories; instead they’ll be treated to what could be Seattle’s last perfect summer weekend of the year.

What I’m trying to say is it’s shaping to be an ideal weekend to go to Bumbershoot.

In a world of overpriced—and possibly overhyped—music festivals, Bumbershoot, which is one of the largest events of its kind in the nation, remains a pretty good deal. A three-day pass will run less than $200, about half of the price of admission to Coachella (shuttle to the venue and camping not included), and Seattle offers a helluva lot more amenities than does Indio, Calif. And while we all love to grouse about the lineup of such massive musical endeavors—whatever that lineup might be—the truth is, any such festival is bound to book bands you know you love, bands you might be curious about and bands you secretly just want to hate-watch (c’mon, I can’t be the only one here). Inevitably, a giant festival will also book something that surprises you, and isn’t that actually the most compelling reason to ante up for a weekend pass?

Per usual, Bumbershoot offers up music of all the persuasions I describe—and so much more. The bands may score the lion’s share of the press, but the weekend is also rife with dance, theater, film, comedy, visual art, performing arts, “words and ideas,” the kid-oriented Youngershoot, and something the festival lumps under the umbrella of “spectacles.” Much of this nonmusical entertainment is more local in nature than the big-ticket bands tend to be, and there’s a high premium placed on ingenuity and inventiveness.

But back to the music.

Bumbershoot, which began nearly half a century ago, used to be a somewhat grassroots, squarely regional affair. It remained so for many years—the festival’s history is scattered throughout with big names, but not in the stacked fashion it is today—but its modern era has been one marked by cycles of both boom and bust. After becoming too big for its own britches (and incurring the financial hit that rapid, artificial growth sometimes brings), in recent years, the event has settled into a blend of famous acts that will drive ticket sales, and then bands and musicians of varying sizes and genres that round out the mix and keep things interesting—or as interesting as a giant festival ever gets. Seattle bands are still tapped to play, but their numbers have waned enough over the years that their participation is more symbolic than central to the proceedings.

Months ago, back when Bumbershoot was booking this year’s roster of talent, giving the Weeknd a headlining slot might’ve been something of a gamble or, at the very least, an educated guess. Since then, the Canadian PBR&B (yes, that is a musical genre and no, I couldn’t make something like that up if I tried) artist has unleashed the number-one hit (and my pick for song of the summer) “I Can’t Feel My Face,” and become one of the most talked-about artists of the current musical landscape. He’ll be joined on Saturday by Chance the Rapper, Cake, Fitz and the Tantrums, Atmosphere, Babes in Toyland, Kacey Musgraves, Jamestown Revival, On An On, K. Flay, and more.

Even though Sunday’s headliner, Faith No More, does not actually hail from the Pacific Northwest, it would be tough to imagine a band that would be more like catnip to a certain fairly sizey portion of old-school Seattleites. Those not particularly interested in them might find themselves bellying up to Social Distortion (because you can’t book an event featuring rock bands without Social D showing up somewhere, it seems), Brand New, Flosstradamus, Neko Case, the Melvins, Lee “Scratch” Perry, the Cave Singers, Dead Moon, Fox and the Law, the Constant Lovers, and a slew of others.

If you don’t have schizophrenia from the sheer variety of music you’ve taken in by Monday, plenty awaits, notably Ellie Goulding and Hozier (now’s your chance to find out if his set list includes more than “Take Me to Church”), Bassnectar, Ben Harper, Brandon Flowers (hey, I don’t book these things), Devotchka, Peaches, Minus the Bear, Hey Marseilles, Kris Orlowski, Nacho Picasso, the Grizzled Mighty (featuring former Bellinghamster and total badass drummer Lupe Flores), Brothers from Another, and plenty of others I’ve failed to mention.

Should a weekend pass be more music festival than you can commit to, single-day passes (also reasonably priced) are also available, so making a day of it is a real possibility—but you might as well go all out for potentially the last perfect weekend of the summer.

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