Weather can make or break any outdoor music experience. Here in the Northwest, our infamous rain can turn that friendly mound of grass that you’ve been looking to get your groove in the sun on into a giant pile of muddy BumberPoo in just a few minutes. The weather was on our side big time at this past weekend’s annual Bumbershoot Festival with blue skies and temperatures that made the indoor venues a welcome respite from the heat at mid-day and kept the crowds in t-shirts and flip-flops well into the night.
As was expected, crowds were down this year from a seriously cramped 50,000 in 2009 to an estimated 35,000 or so, which felt about right to me. I’ve seen a lot of ink lately about the changes in the festival over the last couple of years and, like it or not, this is the new Bumbershoot with several pricing tiers offering multiple accessibility options and national headlining acts being displaced by an abundance of seriously talented local bands. It’s different now; it’s really two festivals in one setting. My people, I’m here to tell you that they’re both well worth the money and a hell of a lot of fun if you do it right.
The two Bumbershoots that we’re going to look at are “the Basic” $30/day pass and “the Platinum” $160/day pass. That’s right, having just typed that, I’m still standing by my previous statement that they’re both worth it. There is a Gold option, but if you’re there to listen to music, it’s really not much of an upgrade over a basic pass for an additional $70/day. I attended the festival on Saturday without using any “Platinum” privileges and again on Monday taking full advantage of my press credentials (the equivalent of a Platinum pass). Come along with me as I look back at those two very different experiences and… let’s go Bumbershootin’…
“The Basic Bumbershoot Experience” or “What $30 Gets You These Days”
Opening the festival was Seattle’s Campfire OK, a band that you should all be paying attention to. Artful and original without a hint of pretentiousness, Campfire OK was on my list of acts not to be missed. I never would have thought, based on their studio recordings, that their music could come across as upbeat and energetic at noon on a sunny day, but they pulled off one of the highlights of the festival right out of the gate.
5 minutes later and 100 feet away in a tiny tent, Grand Hallway put on a short set for a crowd that couldn’t have been more than thirty people. Tomo Nakayama has one of the most amazing voices in music and this was the smallest crowd that I had ever seen him perform before. I’d call it intimate, but the stage lighting and backdrop in this venue were just hideous. I didn’t let that affect my enjoyment of the show at all. I just closed my eyes and let myself be taken away into Tomo’s little world. His songs will do that to you if you let them.
A quick peek at Craft Spells was enough for me & I was off to catch me some hipster-free hip-hop courtesy of Champagne Champagne. Pearl & Sir Thomas always bring the hydroponics party, but I cut it short when the second-hand smoke started to kick in & stumbled back down to the lil’ tent with the big lights to revive my soul Motown-style with Pickwick. Galen & the boys already had the crowd of fifty or so shuffling their feet by the time I got there, and I love that acoustic version of Hacienda Motel with Michael getting his delta slide action on, but Pickwick feeds off crowd energy like Great Whites on a whale carcass and this wasn’t their stage or their crowd.
When the rest of the RFS crowd took off to the EMP for Pickwick’s fully amped dance party, I opted to catch Shabazz Palaces for the first time since the release of their monumental LP Black Up in June. No longer the enigma hiding behind his own shadow, Ish Butler seems prepped to lock up the heels of the hip-hop world. Halfway through their first song with TheeSatisfaction (Swerve?) I look over & there’s the rest of our gang looking seriously bummed… couldn’t get into the Pickwick show. Monstrous lines. I remind them that they have press passes & could have just sauntered in. Epic Fail.
Next up on the same stage is Little Dragon, Amy’s most anticipated show of the festival coming in & high on my list, but I’m fully prepped for a lesser experience than last winter’s sold-out show at the tiny Nectar Lounge. Little Dragon blew me away again this time, but for different reasons. At the club show, it was Yukimi’s amazing stage presence & voice that knocked my socks off, but it was the rest of the band’s live jamming that carried the show in front of the big outdoor crowd. Little Dragon is a force with a lot more weapons than Yukimi.
At the Mural Stage a bit later, Mavis Staples proved quickly that she’s still got the magic. Even if she wasn’t a living legend, she’d still be worth seeing live just to experience that heartfelt gospel coming straight from the depth of her soul. We chilled on a blanket and hardly said a word as we wound down from a full day of amazing music. Ok, actually I bailed a few minutes early to catch Minus the Bear’s last couple of songs because I get a lil’ tired of hearing songs about faith, but that lady’s still got it goin’ on.
Now, that’s one hell of an entertaining day (that went well into the night) for $30.
Continue to The New Bumbershoot: Side B – “Platinum”