Guerrilla Candy’s 5 insider tips for an excellent Bumbershoot experience

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2012.09.01: The Heavy @ Bumbershoot - TuneIn Stage, Seattle, WA

It’s Labor Day weekend which means it is time for my favorite music event of the year, Bumbershoot.

Now typically I would write up something like  “10 Must-see acts at Bumbershoot” or some other type of music bloggy post that attempts to guide you in the direction of some special gems in the Bumbershoot lineup. But I’m not going to do that this year. Besides,  let’s be honest here, you already have your mind made up about who you’ll be seeing at Bumbershoot. Don’t you?

So instead of pulling out that bit of music bloggery, I figured I would share with you some inside tips for how to make the most of your Bumbershoot experience that I have learned from my decades (that’s not a typo, it’s plural on purpose) of Bumbershooting. So here are five important tips for an excellent Bumbershoot experience.

Know where to find the best bathrooms. Roughly 33,000 people attend Bumbershoot daily and for the past several years there have been virtually no Honeybuckets on the festival grounds. This makes knowing where to go when you have to go important. And while all of the restrooms at Bumbershoot are typically pretty clean, there can be long lines and waiting in line could mean missing precious moments of your favorite acts. And the best bathrooms on the Seattle Center campus are located near the Children’s Theater. There’s almost always no line and the restrooms are clean, which are both always good things at a music festival.

Attend a KEXP session. I know what you’re thinking, the KEXP sessions are all sold out. And you’re right. Lucky KEXP listeners snagged up passes real quick on the station’s website. If you aren’t familiar with the KEXP Bumbershoot Music Lounge, it’s a secret location where artists deliver short sets in one of the best environments to see a band at Bumbershoot. And while all of the sessions are sold out, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t attend.

Sometimes KEXP listeners who reserve their tickets don’t show up to claim their spots at the music lounge and you can take their place. All you have to do is find the KEXP booth on the Bumbershoot grounds (last year it was located near the Tune In stage) and put your name on a list a for tickets to a session at the lounge. But you have to do this about 30 minutes before the scheduled session you want to attend. Keep in mind that this is not a guarantee that you’ll get into a session, but it’s definitely worth trying because the KEXP Music Lounge is consistently one of the best parts of Bumbershoot every year. You can find the schedule for the KEXP sessions over here.

Get in line early for comedy. Bumbershoot always offers a stellar comedy lineup and a few years ago the folks at One Reel started putting the comedy acts in bigger venues. But despite the larger-capacity rooms there still is more demand than there are seats for almost every comedy set. So trust me when I recommend that if you plan on seeing Doug Benson, Reggie Watts, Scott Auckerman,  Patton Oswalt or any of the other excellent funny folks during the weekend, be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early so you can secure your spot in the venue. It will be worth the wait. 

Also get in line early for the main stage. On that same note, the same year the comedy acts were moved to larger venues the main stage was moved to a slightly smaller venue in KeyArena. Yes, KeyArena is a very big room, but it almost always reaches capacity for the afternoon and evening headlining acts. And just because you have a ticket to the festival, that doesn’t guarantee access to the main stage. I recommend following the same 30-minute rule for comedy when it comes to the main stage. So if you really want to see Kendrick Lamar, fun., Heart, Death Cab, Bassnectar or any of the other headliners, be sure to get in line early. Trust me on this one too, because this advide is coming from a guy who wasn’t allowed access to see M83 last year because the venue was at capacity.

Soak in all of the arts (not just music). One of the things that makes Bumbershoot so unique and different from the Coachellas and Bonnaroos of the world is that it is a music AND arts festival. There’s more than just music to enjoy and every year I find something interesting and fun that doesn’t involve music and my Bumbershoot experience is so much better because of that discovery. So don’t be afraid to check out some short films, be an audience member for a podcast taping, enjoy some visual arts or attend one of the words and ideas panels. Bumbershoot has way more to offer than just music and if you don’t check out some of the arts portion of Seattle’s annual music and arts festival then you’re really missing out.

Bonus tip: Don’t be discouraged by the rain. There’s a chance it might rain this weekend. Get over it.  You’re attending an outdoor music festival in Seattle, so just embrace the rain when it inevitably comes because that’s what being in Seattle is all about. Bumbershoot is named after an umbrella after all, so plan accordingly and don’t let a few drops of rain ruin what could be your best experience at Bumbershoot ever.

Oh, and if you really, really must have recommendations for what to check out at Bumbershoot you can view my tentative schedule over here. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of those choices.

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, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.