The SunBreak’s Roundtable Bumbershoot Analysis

by on September 6, 2011

The Trey McIntire Project (Photo: MvB)

Audrey: Bumbershoot earned a Like this for this year’s experience. The weather was perfect, the mood was laid-back, and, I don’t care if it hurts the bottom line, but I appreciated a not-too-crowded festival. Although with One Reel buying bargain basement and local acts, maybe they ended up making good money after all.

Seth: Thumbs up for the new format of many quality acts over a few headliners. Every stage I passed had something interesting, every show I attended was good. Honestly, the biggest issue was that there were so many good shows I didn’t know what to pick. Overall, very pleased with One Reel’s management of the festival. Maybe I set a low bar, but if garbage gets picked up, the restrooms are clean, and the band shows up, I’m happy. You’re paying $45 for a full day of entertainment–don’t expect a luxury experience.

Tony‘s overarching observations: I didn’t miss the perceived lack of Big Names: Hell, I didn’t catch one Key Arena Bumbershoot headliner. That paucity of superstar acts might’ve cut into the attendance on Saturday, which felt sparsely-peopled. That was probably bad news for Bumbershoot, but it was nice to navigate Seattle Center without being asscheek-to-asscheek with other Bumbershooters for one day, at least. (Sunday and Monday lived up to the Fest’s customary sardine-can-packedness.)

Trombone Shorty (Photo: MvB)

The quality of music that peopled Bumbershoot 2011 was, I thought, aces—the most consistent I’ve experienced in ages. If attendance for musical acts falls short of expectations, I might almost blame that consistency. No empty-headed pop acts du jour? No faceless cover bands grinding out bland reggae/jazz/classic rock covers? That notion, in and of itself, is a pretty nervy one. I’ll tip my hat to One Reel for taking the aesthetic—if not necessarily financial—high road.

Josh: Replacing Memorial Stadium with Key Arena on the sunniest Bumbershoot of all time was unfortunate timing, but it did open the doors for nostalgia: with two hometown bands, the Lonely Forest and Macklemore setting themselves up for a “Who wore it better?” of classic Sonics jerseys. For both bands, it seemed like getting the chance to wearing that shirt in that place validated a whole lot of long hours of hard fame-climbing work.

Although they were “only” the opening act for the mid-festival headliner, this really felt like the festival of Macklemore. I knew that he was popular, but the swarms of kids lining up and snaking throughout the festival grounds two hours before doors to Key Arena opened blew away my expectations of his fanbase. It was the only time I saw the venue anywhere near capacity and the crush at the front row barricade was the most intense of the weekend. With so many bands making their names little by little all over the place via the internet, his seemingly locally-powered tidal wave ride seems almost like a throwback. His sentimental hiphop probably won’t find its way into my own personal iPod heavy rotation playlist, but his ability to attract and enthrall a crowd was probably the most impressive and astonishing discovery of the festival.

Lemolo (Photo: MvB)

Katelyn‘s highlight the first: “Who’s that, crooning over there?” I wondered aloud, emerging from the press room yesterday morning, licking the remains of a stale Krispy Kreme from my fingers. Turns out Lemolo was doing an extra mini-set at the Toyota tent, and turns out Lemolo is as good as I was promised. (Watch this and then tell me you’re not enthralled.) Lemolo confirmed my initial impressions later at the EMP. I’ll be listening again, next time around fewer people, the better to be able to fully feel all those feelings. That mini-set gave me confidence that my day would be full of happy finds, which is the attitude you need in order to survive any music festival.

Audrey: Yes, I saw the Lemolo at EMP, and those ladies know exactly what they’re doing.

Josh: Their quiet delight at having a “sold out” crowd at EMP’s Level 3 hearing the songs written, recorded, and practiced in their bedrooms was certainly charming.

Katelyn‘s highlight the second: I watched a father demonstrate to his son with special needs the best ways to cheer on Head Like A Kite. (Mighta teared up a little bit.) Best practices for cheering on HLAK include lots of pointing in the air, dancing, and clapping, if you need a refresher. HLAK is entertaining and groovy as hell–even better with Tilson (formerly of The Saturday Knights) on the mic, and better yet with Asy from Smoosh and Tilson both guesting on stage. I need an album. So do you, and so does that dad, just for being a good person who’s contributing to beauty and love in this world. Someone get on that.

Josh: I was dubious about the festival moving a stage from Broad Street (make way for glass sculptures?) to the Fountain Lawn, but I think that it ended up working really well. Compacting the festival sprawl made band browsing and general music discovery a lot easier and the scheduling worked so that there wasn’t too much in the way of sound bleed from other stages. (Except for Movin 92.5. I have no idea why they were allowed to set up camp next to a stage blasting incongruous music into the walkways while indie bands are playing.)

MvB: A trio of young Dublin novelists took over the Leo K. Theatre: Chris Binchy read from Five Days Apart, Kevin Holohan from The Brother’s Lot, and Claire Kilroy from an unpublished piece that left you with an urge to bash in a keg of Guinness with your head and drink deep. Taken together, it was a snapshot of modern Ireland: Holohan’s satiric take on the Church’s pedophilia scandal, Binchy’s unsettled, Emerald-Tiger love triangle, and Kilroy’s aching hangover haunted by memories of excess. Binchy was feuding with mics and other objects; describing his novel’s nervous narrator, he leaned on the podium–which, on wheels, skittered away, and his arms flailed and then wrapped themselves around himself for protection.

Audrey: With the reduced number of “must-see” music acts, I managed to catch W’Him W’Him, Marya Sea Kaminski, and a lot of comedy. For the most part, the comedy podcasts feel like performances more for the comedians than for the audience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not funny all the same. My favorite bit from the weekend was Eugene Mirman, of course. He can read me the phone book funny.

There was an interesting (and telling) Seattle moment at the Anthony Jeselnik set, when the notorious-for-his-roasts wiseass made a couple cracks about an audience member who wasn’t feeling his style of comedy. I’m sure Jeselnik feels validated by walkouts at his offensive humor (jokes about rape, abortion, murder, the Holocaust, and whatnot), but this was just a cheap shot simply to be cruel, and it bummed me out when the target was amongst the first of his walkouts. Way to harsh my buzz, brah.

Spectrum Dance Theater (Photo: MvB)

MvB: You expect Bumbershoot to deliver the musical goods–I was thrilled to see the Bagley Wright packed full for the world premiere of Spectrum Dance Theater’s Euclidean Spaces and the Trey McIntire Project’s Americana-tinged suite of works. Byrd’s was “pure dance” he told everyone–”No politics. Maybe we’ve had too much of politics,” he said, to applause. McIntire, who has the wingspan of an NBA player, is both modern and intensely vernacular, a fusion which reminded me distantly of Aaron Copland’s reinvention of American music. I thought I heard Seattle Symphony’s new music director, Ludovic Morlot, tell an SRO Bagley Wright that this was the Symphony’s first appearance at Bumbershoot. He brought along a chamber-sized group of players, not the whole orchestra. Except for a merlot/Morlot joke, it was as casual as can be.

YACHT (Photo: MvB)

Tony: The Jim Jones Revue pounded out fuzzed-up caveman rockabilly-cum-garage rock, and put on what just may be the most scorching live rock show I have ever seen in my life. I also fell hard for YACHT’s hyper spin on old-school new wave: lead singers Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans play like anime versions of pop music frontpeople, they’re so energized.

MvB: Maybe I just wanted to shake my groove thing? Who knew? Trombone Shorty, Charles Bradley, Little Dragon, YACHT and their glee-inducing teen dance party onstage, these were a few of my favorite things–all actually unknown to me before I ventured onto Bumbershoot grounds, which strikes me as good festival-ing. It was less hectic than some years (Saturday afternoon was downright slow), and I found myself listening to full sets more, rather than catching the first three songs and moving on.

You am I (Photo: MvB)

Tony: Australian power-pop geniuses You am I likewise put on a stunner of a live performance, with lead singer Tim Rogers straddling the perfect line between arena-rock-god posturing and self-deprecating wit. The guy’s also an engaging raconteur—stay tuned for my interview with him, posting later this week.

Katelyn‘s highlight the third: Walking into the Key to the strains of Big Boi’s “The Way You Move” rendition. Highlight the fourth: Walking out of the Key after ten minutes of Big Boi’s lackluster Outkast medley.

Tony: In a Bumbershoot crowded with solid-to-great hip-hop, Champagne Champagne brought the most bang for the live buck, working the crowd with ragged and unflagging energy. And you’ll probably hear this sentiment parroted ad nauseum from every wag in attendance, but Charles Bradley’s sandpaper rasp and hard-won delivery provided the most transcendental hour of Bumbershoot for me. He’s James Brown, Bobby Womack, and Al Green; all rolled into one humble, nuanced, amazing 62-year-old package.

Charles Bradley (Photo: MvB)

Seth: Charles Bradley, “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” was all anyone could talk about Monday, both before his set and after. During–well, let’s let the two teenagers on shrooms sum up how everyone was feeling. One grabbed the other by the face, and intoned importantly: “Dude! This is happening…RIGHT…NOW.”

Katelyn‘s highlight the fifth: Feeling safe to leave Bumbershoot early with the knowledge that Truckasaurus will be playing the Decibel Festival later this month (and that Twitter would shortly be blowing up with so many Hall & Oates updates that I wouldn’t even know I’d missed the show).

Seth: Some among the Hall & Oates crowd got restless when, instead of just churning through their hits, they played several less notable songs, and then did a seven-minute jam version of “Sarah Smile.” For “Private Eyes,” we had to wait until the second encore–but ending with that clap-friendly song was a nice touch.

Josh: What I learned about Hall & Oates was that I don’t know that many Hall & Oates songs. And that I didn’t know that they were such a jam band. And that poor Oates had lost his signature mustache. At one point, he joking guilted some kids in the front row to take off their fake tribute Oatestaches.

Seth: Would just like to commend the three people I saw Monday wearing walking foot casts. That’s some serious dedication.

Josh: On the topic of injuries, the sight of an “absolutely no skateboarding” signs all around a brand new skate park were almost more conceptually interesting than the temporary art installation displacing the skateboarders.

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