Sizing up Seattle’s summer festival offerings

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Typically the lineups for Seattle’s big three summer music festivals —  Bumbershoot, Capitol Hill Block Party and Sasquatch! (which for the sake of this blog post is being considered as a Seattle-area festival) — are revealed throughout the year which doesn’t allow for many opportunities to compare and contrast the events before they happen. That changed last week when the initial lineup for Bumbershoot was announced.

Although Sasquatch! officially sold out last month and both CHBP and Bumbershoot have only disclosed partial lineups now seems like as good a time as any to compare the three events prior to the beginning of Seattle’s summer concert season. Each of these festivals provides a different experience and it’s these experiences that define the festivals. Below I’ll provide a brief summary of each while also breaking down each event individually using five categories: price, lineup, changes from previous years, amenities and location/capacity.

A few quick observations before dissecting each festival:

  • Electronic dance music is proving to be more than a big trend for music festivals with all three fests featuring an EDM headliner (Pretty Lights, Major Lazer, Skrillex).
  • There isn’t a lot of overlap between the three festivals as far as their lineups are concerned. This is great for both the festivals and music fans as the different programming strategies used by each event have provided quality lineups.
  • Sasquatch! packs the most oomph in regards to having coveted names on the bill, but it’s also offers the least in terms of amenities and its tickets cost double what single-day Block Party and Bumbershoot tickets cost when broken down into a daily price point.
  • Block Party arguable downsized a bit this year but it looks to have still managed to keep its local neighborhood party vibe.
  • Bumbershoot bounced back from a year when many scoffed at its headliners to offer one of its best lineups in recent memory. It packs the most bang for the buck with a comedy lineup that has yet to be announced and more main stage acts to be announced soon.
  • Speaking of acts to be announced, more acts will be announced for Block Party as well. I would expect announcements from both CHBP and Bumbershoot to happen after Sasquatch! which could mean some bigger Sasquatch! artists may be making their way to Bumbershoot or Block Party this year.

Sasquatch! (May 25-28)

Summary: Sasquatch! has become the destination festival to attend for anyone who wants to see the next big thing before they’re actually the next big thing. Festival founder and curator Adam Zacks has become famous for booking buzz bands before they become nationwide sensations. He couples an always excellent undercard with headliners who are big enough to be a draw but not necessarily big enough to sell out a major arena-sized outdoor venue on their own. The Sasquatch! experience is equally about the journey to the festival, the music at the festival and the community built while hanging out with complete strangers in the middle of nowhere.

Price: $315 for a four-day pass. No single-day tickets offered.

Lineup: There are more than 100 artists performing at this year’s festival. Headliners include Jack White, Beck, Bon Iver, Pretty Lights, The Shins, Tenacious D, Girl Talk and The Roots. Undercard highlights include Metric, Tune Yards, Santigold, Explosions in the Sky, Wild Flag, Beirut, Fiest and Silversun Pickups.

Location and capacity: The Gorge Amphitheatre, located in a desolate and remote area Eastern Washington, has a capacity of around 25,000 for festivals which makes each day of Sasquatch! a relatively intimate affair compared to larger destination festivals.

Amenities: Campgrounds are available on site (ticket prices include camping costs) and chances are you will be camping if you attend because amenities such as hotels and restaurants are close to non-existent within 30 miles of the venue grounds. On the food tip Sasquatch! has relatively limited offerings as well and your best bet is to bring in your own food and water. While food offerings and lodging are limited, the upside to having a music festival smack dab in the middle of nowhere is the absolute beauty of the Gorge Amphitheatre, which is a large part of what makes Sasquatch! such a special event. It’s a site that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Changes: New this year is the Maine Stage, which will exclusively host local hip-hop artists. This brings the total number of stages at Sasquatch! to five (the Bigfoot, Yeti, Sasquatch!, Banana Shack stages are the other offerings). Also new is the ability for patrons to exit and re-enter the festival grounds.

Capitol Hill Block Party (July 20-22)

Summary: Capitol Hill Block Party is just that, a party. It’s three-days of sun-drenched fun in one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. This year Block Party has seemingly downsized a bit in the talent department putting more of an emphasis on local artists and giving CHBP more of a neighborhood party vibe instead of an event attempting to be a big-time music festival packed into a small space.

Price: $85 for a three-day pass. Single-day tickets are not on sale.

Lineup: Roughly 100 artists are promised to be spread across six stages. Headliners include Major Lazer, Neko Case and Fitz and the Tantrums. Undercard highlights include Grimes, Phantogram, Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic & DJ Bog Wiz, Diplo, Thee Oh Sees, The Lumineers and Dam-Funk. More acts will be announced in the coming weeks.

Location and capacity: East Pine St between Broadway and 12th Avenue, which is more or less the heart of Capitol Hill. Organizers estimate average daily capacity to be between 8,000 and 10,000. CHBP is an all-ages festival, but unlike Bumbershoot and Sasquatch! some of its stages are located in areas where you need to be of legal drinking age to enjoy the festivities (The Cha Cha, Neumos, Barboza and Havana). The indoor venues aren’t recommend for the claustrophobic because they tend to get crowded very quickly and can be difficult to navigate.

Amenities: There isn’t much missing as far as amenities are concerned here. There are hotels in the area if you travel to Block Party and the in-and-out privileges allow you to leave whenever you like so if you need to feed a meter or feed your dog at home you can easily do so. Speaking of feeding meters, one of the big downsides is the availability of parking. Consider taking the bus or carpooling. Once you arrive you won’t be starved for food options because there are food trucks on site and several restaurants are near the festival grounds.

Changes: Two new stages were added to this year’s festival. Both Barboza, located underneath Neumos, and Havana will host bands. Organizers promised additional changes to the festival would be announced as Block Party gets closer during an interview with KEXP when the lineup was announced.

Bumbershoot (Sept. 1-3)

Summary: Bumbershoot isn’t strictly about music. It’s a music and arts festival and it truly delivers with the arts. Comedy, visual art, film, spoken word and just about every other discipline of the arts imaginable is offered. It’s the longest-running festival on this list and unlike its peers Bumbershoot offers plenty of family friendly fare and is programmed with a broad audience in mind, making it the best festival in terms of value.

Price: $110 for three-day pass or $40 for a single-day. A ticket good for any day of the festival costs $45. Prices will increase throughout the summer with a final day-of-show price of $135 for three-day pass or $55 for a single day.

Lineup: More than 100 acts with headliners that include Tony Bennett, Jane’s Addiction, Skrillex, Mac Miller, M83, Big Sean and Passion Pit. Undercard highlights include The Heavy, AWOLNATION, Keane, Yelawolf, Mudhoney, Wanda Jackson and The Vaselines. Additional main stage acts are expected to be announced throughout the summer.

Location and capacity: The Seattle Center’s 72-acre campus averages a total attendance of around 100,000 during Bumbershoot.

Amenities: Like CHBP Bumbershoot takes place in an urban environment so there are plenty of food and lodging options available outside of the festival grounds. Parking isn’t much of a problem thanks to several nearby parking garages and lots of bus lines head directly to the Seattle Center. Last year there was a noticeable lack of Honey Buckets but most of the indoor venues have restrooms (pro tip: the best bathrooms are near the Children’s Museum in the Center House). It’s worth noting that Bumbershoot is the only festival on this list that has an indoor main stage, which is a small perk considering the unpredictability of Seattle’s weather and the trouble Sasquatch! has had in past years with weather issues. As an added bonus there are all sorts of tourist attractions within walking distance including the Space Needle, Pike Place Market and EMP Museum.

Changes: Bumbershoot will be offering music programming by date with Americana featured one day, jazz and blues another day and world music another day. A stage co-curated by Sub Pop will feature artists from the seminal Seattle label. There will also be a stage called The Promenade, which will be located outside of McCaw Hall. The stage will feature a combination of up-and-coming rock bands and singer/songwriters. It will also host Canadian bands on the first day of the festival with the help of the M for Montreal music festival which is curating the stage that day. The metal lineup, which has yet to be announced, will be co-curated by El Corazon.


Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 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, and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.