by Mary Hubert
I had only been to Bumbershoot a smattering of times over the past few years, and each time had felt vaguely indifferent to the festival as a whole. Mediocre music, moderately priced tickets, and the same old street vendors as were prominent at every Seattle street fair, from University District to Ballard and back again. I walked in this past Saturday, therefore, with mixed expectations.
I was greeted by a very friendly press room, complete with bagels, and after a brief stop, I was on my way into the festival. The eclectic mix of street fair and festival I actually found myself enjoying – if ever there was a gap in the schedule of artists I wanted to see, it was comforting to know that I could at least peruse the wide array of jewelry, merchandise, and fair food available.
The first artist I saw was Dude York, playing inside the Seattle Center. With a subtle flash of my press pass, I was in. However, the queue of would-be attendees wasn’t so lucky. I immediately noticed the space left in the venue – with a little squeezing, all 25 people might have fit. Though the space felt open and uncrowded, for the people who had paid to get into a festival that they were unable to see music at, it was unfortunate. The same held true for many other events – Bill Nye was a wonderful show, but for the line out the door, and other comedy shows were sold out from the start of the day. For those who had come to see specific shows, they may have felt that their tickets had been wasted.
On the whole, the artists we saw were enjoyable. Dude York was some very mediocre punk rock – they channeled the Pixies, but with worse songwriting. However, Big Freedia was perfect in all her sassy glory – her shouted encouragement at twerking women were perfect, and her music spot-on. Mac DeMarco was fun country rock in all of its trucker hat, twangy glory, with some decent songwriting along with charming band members to boot.
Panic! At the Disco was, as usual, awful (why do people like these guys?), but the lead singer partially redeemed himself with one hell of a back flip. Bill Nye took me back to the 90s, again making me overly interested in science – in this instance, sun dials (did you know there’s one on Mars?). Elvis Costello was worth it for sheer celebrity viewing, though his guitar seemed to be about as big as he was, and Polica was hauntingly beautiful in its synth-pop meets soulful singer manner. The award for kick-ass show, however, went to Walk the Moon, whose extremely enthusiastic young lead singer and catchy songs like “Shut Up and Dance With Me” led everyone in the crowd to a dancing, singing, shaking high.
I left feeling like I had gotten my share of good music at a venue that, for downtown Seattle, did a pretty good job of hosting these people. Even the visual art was unique, and provided a welcome break from the madness. Photographs from the 1960s were compelling, and especially enjoyable were the playable video games, which visualized sound in a beautiful way.
All in all, Bumbershoot lived up to its reputation, and even surpassed it. Its idiosyncratic mixture of festival and Seattle street fair made it appealing, and the prevalence of decent artists made the music worthwhile. Most of all, I appreciated the effort that was made to appeal to a wide range of audiences. From Elvis Costello to Big Freedia to Panic! At the Disco to Wu Tang Clan, Bumbershoot on Saturday alone appealed to at least four demographics. Despite the overcrowding and the terrible quality of the maps, I found myself having a lovely time, and experiencing a wide array of artists that I typically wouldn’t have seen at a music festival.
The bottom line: Ultimately, Bumbershoot is what you make it. Next year, buy a ticket for one day, or two, depending on who’s playing, but rest assured that you’ll most definitely find something you like – provided you can get in.
Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.