Why this year matters: A Bumbershoot 2015 preview

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A lot has been written about Bumbershoot 2015 and the state of affairs of One Reel, the non-profit organization that has been responsible for the festival for decades, throughout the past 12 months and most of it isn’t positive.

There’s been reports about One Reel owing the city roughly $900,000, One Reel laying off employees, One Reel not paying people who worked during last year’s festival, the takeover of music programming by AEG Live and lots of other ugly news during the off-season for Seattle’s annual music and arts festival. But I’m not here to write about all the negative stuff, if you want to read all about it then click the linked text above (but I also recommend reading this Seattle Times piece and this Seattle Met article in order to get a better feel for the bigger picture).

In case you haven’t figured it out, the bottom line is Bumbershoot is in trouble. From everything I’ve read, it looks like Bumbershoot 2015 almost didn’t happen. And if attendance is poor this year then there’s a possibility of Bumbershoot going away completely in the not-too-distant future. And that is something I don’t want to happen and that is why this year’s Bumbershoot really, really matters.

One of my favorite musical memories of my childhood is of my parents taking me to Bumbershoot when I was 10-years-old and we saw Little Richard at the Coliseum (which is now KeyArena). I’ve since seen hundreds (thousands?) of bands perform at various venues throughout the Seattle Center campus and have countless amazing musical memories from Bumbershoots past, but hearing “Long Tall Sally” and “Tutti Fruity” live stands tall above them all.

More vibraslap please: Cake performing at Deck the Hall Ball in 2010.

More vibraslap please: Cake performing at Deck the Hall Ball in 2010.

As a new dad I want my kid to have those same experiences and if Bumbershoot goes away then there’s one less opportunity for those magic moments to take place. Sure there are avenues outside of Bumbershoot for me to take my kid to see living legends perform, but there’s just something special about Bumbershoot. It’s in  the heart of the city. It takes place right before school starts (typically). It provides one final blast blast of summer fun. And it is packed with legends (again, typically).

Any Bumbershoot fan will tell you that this year’s festival is different. The lineup skews toward modern pop, and  except for Lee “Scratch” Perry and a few others it mostly skimps on the legends. The comedy lacks the sizzle of big-name talent that it has had in years past and the ticket prices have increased. And while it is easy to play the role of angry old man and shake my fists at this year’s Bumbershoot because it’s so different than what’s become the expected Bumbershoot norm, I am going to do the exact opposite.

I think all of these changes are good for the festival because if Bumbershoot didn’t adapt and change the then the festival wouldn’t survive. Yes, AEG Live is a large, for-profit corporation (they book Coachella among other major fests) and One Reel is a small local non-profit. But this isn’t a case of a major corporation coming in and ruining a small local company. The team AEG Live has handling Bumbershoot is all local and it consists of people I have worked with previously who are pretty good at their jobs (including Chad Queirolo, who booked the Showbox for many, many years and had the unenviable task of booking all the music for this year’s festival). I have faith that they will respect the history of the festival and work on ways to improve Bumbershoot while helping it thrive in the current music fest environment.

Atmosphere at Capitol Hill Block Party 2010. Jason Tang photo

Atmosphere at Capitol Hill Block Party 2010. Jason Tang photo

As for the lineup, I welcome the fresh take on what Bumbershoot can offer. While it seems like anyone over 40 has been aged-out of Bumbershoot this year, the talent on the bill is still quite remarkable. Past music lineups have attempted to offer something for everyone, and have done so rather successfully. This year’s music lineup appears to strategically reach out to Millennials, who have more disposable income than Boomers who expect to see expensive legacy acts at Bumbershoot, and the Gen X crowd that is still Jonesing for a festival experience that offers familiar names.

Kudos to Bumbershoot for nabbing Ellie Goulding, The Weeknd, Chance the Rapper, Hozier, Bassnectar, and Zedd. These acts and others (Big Data, Kacey Musgraves, Brandon Flowers) will have the younger crowd flocking to Seattle Center. And artists like Cake, Faith No More, Atmosphere, Babes in Toyland and others pull the nostalgia strings of the Gen X crowd and will likely have that demographic well represented this Labor Day weekend. Attracting a younger crowd, pulling at the nostalgia of the (relatively) older demographic and increasing ticket prices could be the formula that leads to profitability.

Smart booking and targeting a specific audience are only a few of the things that I believe will help this year’s Bumbershoot bring the festival closer to the black (another thing that will help: lots of sunshine). Hopefully these tactics work and will allow Bumbershoot to provide opportunities for legends to perform throughout the Seattle Center campus for many years to come.

All of that said, here are my picks for four things to do at Bumbershoot 2015.

Find your new favorite local artist
While the  national names may skew young and for some, unrecognizable, Bumbershoot remains a local festival and its music lineup is roughly 30 percent local. This means there is plenty of local talent to discover. I recommend Grace Love and the True Loves and my pals in Smokey Brights on Saturday,  Constant Lovers, The Fame Riot and Fox and the Law on Sunday and Dave B and Brothers From Another on Monday.

Have a few laughs
Yes, I am aware that I took a slight dig at the comedy lineup earlier, but that doesn’t mean this year’s comedy offerings won’t make you laugh. From what I’ve read about her, Bridget Everett should be hilarious. The writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine should be funny and The A.V. Club is a part of The Onion so there’s guaranteed laughs aplenty. Also, Puddles Pity Party involves a clown, and clowns are always funny, right?

Enjoy the art part of Seattle’s arts and music festival
What’s an arts festival with some actual art? The awesome poster convention that is Flatstock will once again be at the Center House Armory and the new and exciting SHT Show, which will feature artwork from Seattle, Havana and Tehran will also be on display.

See a legend in the making
Just because there isn’t an abundance of legacy acts on the bill doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of legends-to-be performing at the festival. Kacey Musgraves is one of the fastest-rising names in modern country. The Punch Brothers are more or less modern kings of Americana. Although he’s a relative newcomer to the world of R&B The Weeknd is undoubtedly a part of the future of pop music. Add artists like these into the mix with established acts such as Ben Harper, Neko Case and Built to Spill and you have yourself the makings of a great weekend filled with amazing music.






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.