Afterthoughts: Bumbershoot 2011

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Bumbershoot 2011 is in the books and it was by far one of the best Bumbershoots I’ve attended out of the dozen or so times I have spent my Labor Day weekend at Seattle Center. This year was a bit of a transition for the festival with saw several noticeable changes including lower ticket prices, a noticeable lack of big-name headliners, a partnership with Decibel Festival, the shuffling of venues and stages and more.

Here are some closing thoughts about the 41st annual Bumbershoot and my experiences at Seattle Center during Labor Day weekend 2011. Lets’ start with the music.

Several local musicians delivered sets that easily had to be considered career milestones. The biggest breakout set came from Macklemore who had a capacity KeyArena hanging on every last one of his words.

Check out the video clip of his entrance to KeyArena above. He had the crowd that hyped for his entire set. The Key was packed with more than 12,000 screaming fans all hungry for the current crown jewel of our local hip-hop scene. Speaking as someone who follows the local scene closely and who has spent a little bit of time around Ben Haggerty, I couldn’t help but swell with local pride. Macklemore seems destine to move on to big things and when he does his Bumbershoot set will be likely be viewed as the jumping off point for his leap to stardom.

Earlier that same day Sol played one of the festival-opening slots at the new Fountain Lawn stage and it was the perfect way to start the second day of Bumbershoot. I’ve seen Sol about a dozen times now and this was by far the best set I’ve seen him deliver. Backed by a full band, he had all of the youthful Macklemore fans and many others eating out of the palms of his hands. Booking Sol the same day as Macklmore was a great move by the Bumbershoot brass. It’s an idea they might’ve got from here. ;)

Another local set that merits mention is Pickwick’s set at the third level of EMP. I shouldn’t need to tell you that Pickwick is worth paying attention to since all of my blogging buddies have been championing these guys for much longer than I have, but really you need to pay attention to Pickwick. Bumbershoot tries not to book the same local bands in back-to-back years so next time you might see Pickwick at Bumbershoot is in 2013 and if that happens there’s a good chance they’ll be performing a career-defining set similar to Macklemore’s KeyArena set.

Of course there were other impressive local sets throughout the weekend. Shelby Earle captivated with her beautiful voice. Curtains for You were a blast up at the third floor of the EMP. Head Like a Kite danced on stage wearing white, rhinestone-clad jumpsuits and HLAK leader Dave Einmo performed new Daydream Vacation material with Asya Smoosh. Lemolo wowed with a set of blissfully good dreamy pop. Vendetta Red squashed all fears of a reunion set disaster at the Exhibition Hall and Presidents of the USA had an early afternoon crowd dancing their asses off at KeyArena.

Outside of the locals there were many notable national acts that caught my attention. Urge Overkill played a tight set at the KEXP Music Lounge that included selections from their new album Rock n Roll Submarine. Trombone Shorty delivered what was by far my favorite non-local performance. Charles Bradley brought lots of sexy soul to the festival and Fitz and the Tantrums filled KeyArena with love serving as opener for Hall & Oates.

A few more observations and notes from Bumbershoot 2011:

  • I didn’t notice, but I was told there were no portable toilets set up on the festival grounds. Can someone please confirm/deny this?
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  • The Fountain Lawn stage replacing the Broad Street stage was a huge success. Placing a stage across from the Fisher Green stage made the festival grounds seem more intimate and definitely made it easier to navigate Bumbershoot throughout the weekend. An added bonus was the Toyota Free Yr Radio stage which was located next to the Fountain Lawn stage and featured several low-key performances from various Bumbershoot acts.
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  • Once again comedy was a huge success for Bumbershoot which meant once again hundreds of people were turned away from comedy sets because all the comedy passes were taken. The headlining comedy sets of Doug Loves Movies and Comedy Bang Bang took place in the Bagley Wright Theatre, which is a bigger venue than years past, but Bumbershoot still needs a larger venue for comedy. I’m not sure where this bigger venue will come from (perhaps some grant money can be secured so Mercer Arena can get retrofitted up to earthquake safety codes), but this needs to happen.
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  • The biggest flop of this year’s festival in my book was the addition of a stage at the third level of EMP. While the sound was terrific, it was a tough venue to get in and out of and difficult to navigate once you were inside due to the limited capacity. I much prefer the use of EMP’s Sky Church for local sets as opposed to it being a stage curated by the Decibel Festival. While the Sky Church worked well for the Decibel Fest acts because of its killer sound and the visual punch of Sky Church’s massive video screen, it would’ve been nice to have that flair and sound get used for some of the bands that played upstairs at EMP.
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  • KeyArena worked very well for a main stage venue, but what didn’t work well for me was the lack of big-name headliners. While the festival successfully returned a bit to its roots by reinventing itself into a smaller event based more around being a place for discovery than a destination festival, I considered all three headliners to be pretty weak sauce. Thankfully the undercard was so amazingly strong that in the end it didn’t really matter if  a big name was on the bill because I had so much fun discovering and enjoying all of the other great music Bumbershoot 2011 had to offer.You definitely got your money’s worth because there was so much to see and enjoy.  Bumbershoot gives you way more bang for your buck than any other festival out there.
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Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 13 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and former editor of the defunct music site Ear Candy.