A local attendee’s thorough review of Bumbershoot 2015

Downtown Seattle was taken over on Labor Day Weekend by multitudes of musicians, artists, and performers for the annual Bumbershoot Festival. Gracing the space of the 74-acre Seattle Center, the festival borrowed a science center, music museum, indoor event arena, outdoor event stadium, indoor food court, outdoor fountain, and multiple performance theaters to fully immerse its attendees in a provisional artistic and musical utopia.

Headlining musical artists for the three-day festival included The Weeknd, Faith No More, Ellie Goulding, Chance The Rapper, Zedd and Hozier. If you think the buck stops at music, you would be mistaken. Bumbershoot also hosted a myriad of comedians, dancers, local films showings, theatre performances, visual arts & spectacles, laser dome shows, silent discos and more.

Bumbershoot has an extensive history in Seattle, running now for almost a half century (45 years to be precise). It’s traditionally known for supporting Northwestern artists and musicians while also hosting big-name artists of the era. Once run by the City of Seattle and heavily subsidized by the government, it is now run by an entertainment conglomerate with no excess government support. Due to the change in ownership and funding, the festival has seen a progressive increase in ticket prices since its $4.00 price tag in 1985.

What sounds like the making of a promisingly stacked arts and music festival has been at the butt end of persistent local criticism. Two distinct arguments have been at the forefront of vocal critics: It’s too damn expensive, and ‘it’s just not the same as it used to be’.

For those who will step off their high horses, I’m here to reason with you and candidly say it was a remarkable festival, worthy of every penny. For the rest, I can’t sympathize with your lack of pre-planning and vague, nostalgic whines of a better yesterday.

Tickets went on sale in May for $65/day or $149/3-day pass. In a slow tiered progression, the prices went up to a final resting place of $109/day and $209/3-day pass. As goes with many other multi-day festivals, all Broadway plays, and most anniversary dinner reservations, planning ahead is key for best selection and discounted prices. If you don’t plan ahead, those who did are going to have it better than you.

I bought a 3-day pass the day they went on sale for that reason as well as the line-up having been already announced. Anyone who compares the $150 price tag for Bumbershoot’s lineup to this year’s Lollapalooza ($250), Electric Daisy Carnival ($329), Coachella ($375) or Ultra’s ($450) music festival ticket prices would realize Bumbershoot is a STEAL. (Are they keeping it old school enough for you yet, Seattleites?)


Photo: Bumbershoot

Day one started rough with a computer glitch that lead to a hefty Will Call line and had some waiting an hour or two to get in. For those who already had their tickets, the general entrance line moved smoothly and quickly at gates opening. Saturday also happened to be the busiest and most crowded day of the three, making the glitch perfectly ill timed. Sunday and Monday seemed to have run without incident, as there were short lines at gates opening.

After scanning my wristband and awaiting the green lights to glow, I entered and was greeted with laughing kids, dancing adults, Chipotle smells, and free chapstick. The all-ages event was lined with food vendors, local shopping tents, and all sorts of sponsors handing out free samples, quick pitches and smiling faces. Alcohol was served in specific fenced off areas only, typically next to the outdoor stages.

It didn’t take long to reach the epicenter of the grounds that featured a huge water fountain, a bamboo art installation, and ‘Bumbershoot’ spelled out in gigantic white balloons; All serving as foreground to the ever-present Space Needle just a couple hundred yards away. I hear your cries zealous Instagram users, it was a site to see and an epic #nofilter opportunity.

Five different music stages were scattered about the grounds along with almost all the surrounding buildings serving as some sort of destination for dance, theatre, film, visual arts or comedic stand up. An entire indoor section called The Armory was dedicated to sit-down food and drinks as well as a solid place to find a clean bathroom and water fill up station. Needless to say, there were more than enough resources to please the masses.

My first musical experience of the festival was an up-and-coming young rapper whose edge is explicitly detailing his struggles growing up as middle-class white kid from Philly. Lil Dicky is as much of a rapper as he is comedian, particularly when he ended his set by calling a random girl onstage and giving her an entertainingly awkward lap dance.

I walked over to Key Arena for K.Flay and RAC, both putting on solid and dazzling performances. At the same time, a big rain and lightning storm halted all outdoor performances for about a half hour. Once the weather cleared up, alerts via the Bumbershoot phone app went out saying things were back on as usual, just a little behind schedule.

Next I watched four short films via the ‘Best of SIFF 2015 – Round 1’ that were featured at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). All the films were top notch in story telling, emotional appeal and overall execution. I enjoyed them so much that I went back for Round 2 on Sunday and saw four more.

One of the more intriguing offerings of the weekend was a musical laser & light show in the Pacific Science Center’s Laser Dome. Each 45-minute show featured a specific artist such as Daft Punk, The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and many others. I volunteered for the Daft Punk showing and later the EDM feature, where both shows were absolutely mind-boggling. Any EDM or dance club light show fans would have a meltdown from pure joy. As an added bonus, the science center regularly puts on these shows every week for $5-10, depending on which day you go.

Photo: Bumbershoot

Photo: Bumbershoot

After an epic laser experience, four big performances were coming up: Cake, The Weeknd, Lindsey Stirling, and Chance The Rapper. Surprisingly, the biggest disappointment of the entire weekend for me was Cake’s performance. Lead singer John McCrea announced he was suffering through a cold and his voice was dying. He also shared that he was heavily medicated and cheerfully downed a cough drop thrown to him onstage from a fan. Their set started about a half hour late due to the rainstorm, and they didn’t make up for the lost time and instead called it quits at the original cut off time. This was after McCrea spewed a handful of diverse keepsakes such as “we’re all going to die, very soon, so enjoy tonight” and “Seattle has very tall buildings, that’s neat.” I’ll have what he’s having.

The Weeknd was one of my absolute favorite discoveries of the festival, and one of the best overall performances of the event. Enthusiastic with a stunning voice, Abel Tesfaye killed it. The same goes for Lindsey Stirling who had a jam packed, enthralling performance complete with back up dancers, a violin-guitar riff off, and acrobatics of a skilled dancer. Chance the Rapper was the last performer for Saturday and a walk-by of the mile long line to get in was the closest I got to seeing him. Two headliners with overlapping schedules will lead to long lines, and I’m happy in choosing Lindsey instead.

Days two and three of Bumbershoot were just as impressively diverse. A Breakdance Competition took place all day at the Dance Stage, while a schedule of theatrical, comedic and philosophical performances played at the Black Box Stage, Words & Ideas Stages, and the Comedy at the Playhouse & Bagley stages. The tall, dark and handsome Brandon Flowers, who’s doing his own thing until he circles back to The Killers, delightfully fronted a band of musicians from trumpets to back up singers while his voice did the rest of the work.

I saw ‘America’s favorite dying lounge act: The Lampshades’ with Kate Flannery, formerly known as Meredith from The Office. There were a few walk outs during the performance as it was a bit of odd humor at times, but the sing along with comedian Dana Snyder at the end pulled it together. My favorite comedian of the weekend was hands down Mike Lawrence. His on-the-spot one liners and hilarious story telling was reminiscent of a tortured Floridian, and his lengthy work with Comedy Central supports that he’ll be doing it big in coming years.

Brand New preceded Social Distortion at Memorial Stadium and was a refreshingly punk-rooted rock & roll jam session complete with satisfying jaunty screams from Jesse Lacey while Mike Ness and the boys followed up with a solid, boisterous and old-school grunge set. It was a great logistical set up on Bumbershoot’s behalf, enticing the younger generation of Brand New fans to stick around for the older west coast punk squad.

Sunday and Monday were heavy electronic days with scheduled performances from Keys N Krates, Zedd, Flosstradamus, and Bassnectar. There was even a silent disco featuring Candyland in the EMP Museum’s Sky Church.

Photo: Bumbershoot

Photo: Bumbershoot

Flosstradamus’ trappy dubstep kept the crowd wide-eyed and energized, with Zedd coloring the arena with upbeat covers of mainstream hits and some sick remixing. I sacrificed the last 15 minutes of Zedd’s set to run over and secure my spot in line for Candyland’s set. I was handed a pair of headphones that were blasting Candyland’s live set as I walked into the heated dance room, full of a silently gyrating and jumping crowd. It was equally enjoyable as it was entertaining.

The final hours of Bumbershoot were left to none other than Ellie Goulding, Hozier, Keys N Krates and Bassnectar. I opted out of experiencing Hozier due to personal conflict with the overhyped ‘Take Me To Church’, but did opt in to see Ellie Goulding as I had been anxiously waiting to see her live for a while.

Despite touring with Katy Perry and firing a bazooka in Taylor Swift’s music video, Ellie was a bit more docile than I was hoping for (just one backup dancer please, maybe two?) but her voice was absolutely phenomenal. She hit every key perfectly. When she did head bang, it was like a real life Pantene commercial, with oversized jerseys and angst.

Last but not least was Bassnectar. A basshead myself, I was stoked to see what Lorin would create, especially with Bumbershoot being his third festival heading of the weekend. (following Nocturnal Wonderland and Made in America Fest) When he opened with 808, switched to a Hendrix guitar lick, followed by Raw Charles and Science Fiction, I knew the next hour and a half was going to be beautiful. He showed an MLK montage, dropped Bohemian Rhapsody, and because it’s Seattle, mixed in Nirvana to the crowd’s enjoyment. His set was absolutely extraordinary.

Bumbershoot 2015 was a huge success in my book. Despite some long lines, one rain delay and inflated alcohol prices, the overall execution was solid. It was by far the most culturally diverse music & arts festival I have ever attended, and I wholeheartedly plan on returning next year.