Bumbershoot, Seattle’s end-of-summer, arts and music festival, is part of the long standing, sad-but-true, local joke about summer. Offering an abundance of indoor venues and activities—more than most summer festival coordinators would consider reasonable—and named with a wink to the umbrellas that historically accessorize festival attire (Bumbershoot’s website has a FAQ which reads: “May I bring an umbrella?”), Bumbershoot is a manifestation of the adaptability and devil-may-care attitude that Seattleites take, by necessity, toward their beloved nemesis: the rain. (Nota bene: a true local will never carry an umbrella; obviously a rain coat will be sufficient. The FAQ exists for visitors and tourists because we are a polite city, and because we want to be able to recognize non-locals in the crowd.) Unfortunately, if the recent trend of late-breaking summer continues in Seattle, Bumbershoot may have to change its name, or at least its mindset.
3:30 PM Sub Pop Stage
There’s a certain kind of music that 37 inches of rain, spread out over nine months, inspires. There’s a subdued quality to the performances that dampness evokes, a slow rocking, eyes-closed, day-dreaming nod of the head (physical expressions of mundane pain, discomfort without real suffering, pain that is closely related to boredom, boredom which can be seen reflected in the mirror of nightly audiences across Seattle.) Seattle musicians can perform these muted motions while playing their most upbeat jam. Even—as Sera Cahoone proved—while wearing sunglasses, on the most gloriously blue-sky-filled day, on the first day of what was, for most people, a three day weekend. The former drummer for Band of Horses, managed to strum a brilliant blue guitar, glowing in the sun, and still evoke Seattle’s dreary winters with her simple lack of energy and enthusiasm. The Sub Pop label to which she is signed has its own stage at Bumbershoot this year, and Cahoone’s early performance was honestly not the stage’s most memorable. Having opted out of the indoor, much anticipated Seattle debut of Belgian-Australian boy wonder Gotye (pronounced Goh-tee-yay) for fear that he would sing his ridiculous, pop-music-addict’s new drug, “Somebody I used to know,” and ruin my ability to hear any other song for the rest of the festival, I endured as Cahoone and her band played songs that were beautiful, but unremarkable.
4 PM Starbucks Stage
Ayron Jones and The Way were my next stop, a band that has been described as a crossing between Stevie Ray Vaughn and Nirvana, and while I didn’t find it to be quite as chaotic as all that, I was happy to hear some rock and roll, and pleased to see that the Starbucks Stage wouldn’t just be for old folk-singing folks this year.
4:15 PM Fisher Green aka Tune-In Stage
Why does this stage have two names? I hope I wasn’t the only one who felt like festival management was a little out of touch this year (more on that later). Somebody sent the local alternative news magazine The Stranger a schedule that wound up like sour milk: in the trash. The Stranger offers really comprehensive pre-game coverage of Bumbershoot every year, but this year, not only were acts missing from the festival schedule, but the schedule for the stage known as “Tune-In” on the Bumbershoot website, the mobile app*, and in within festival itself was listed in the paper under the headline “Fisher Green.” This was the same schedule that was widely available within the venue via strategically placed newspaper boxes. This was the festival’s official schedule. Party fail? As a repeat customer, I did not suffer dramatic casualties due to this typo/oversight/last minute change, but I’d be willing to wager that others did.
Who were we talking about? Oh, that’s right: King Kahn & the Shrines. How were they? They were awesome. Ask me to put together a show that will pull an I’ve-accepted-my-fate-summer-is-over-even-though-it-never-started zombie away from eating the flesh of her neighbors, and I will give you King Kahn & the Shrines. That’s right: King Kahn will give your zombie her soul back.
*By which I mean to say iPhone app—there is no Android equivalent. Stop scouring the web you silly, pedestrian, Android user.
5:15 PM Sub Pop Stage
Thee Satisfaction is probably my favorite local band, and they are definitely my favorite female hip-hop artists. They bill themselves as psychedelic, feministic, etc., etc., insert awesome adjective here, etc., but it’s all totally unnecessary. Thee Satisfaction is doing something truly original with hip-hip, and that’s almost all I need to say. Standing front-and-center isn’t always the best way to experience a band (even if it is a frequently vied for concert position), but I’ve seen Thee Satisfaction live three times since first hearing them at last year’s Capitol Hill Block Party, and this performance was by far their strongest. With unexpected decisions being made on every level of production and creation, this duo has recently breached the wall of nationwide popularity with refreshingly good reason.
5:45 PM Starbucks Stage
Heartless Bastards are a band you might hear at a Ballard bar called The Tractor. They weren’t bad; they weren’t great.
About five minutes after leaving this venue, I began to worry that I am simply too old to enjoy anything that involves other people because now I am thirty and officially a curmudgeon.
I then proceed to rationalize my way out of this suspected “old-person” condition by reminding myself how much I loved Thee Satisfaction and King Kahn.
So I’m a snob, not a people hating hermit. Sweet relief.
6:00 PM Fisher Green from here on out known as Tune-In Stage
It was hot and now it’s basically cold, and I probably didn’t bring warm enough clothing, and I haven’t yet mentioned the weird new screens on any of the stages or even the weird new stage, ceremonially named “The Promenade,” which sort of makes you feel like the mouse at the end of a twisted and possibly sadistic tech-nerd maze aimed at helping designers tweak the specs on an app for next year’s horrible zombie RPG—which will only be available to users of iPhone 4 and above.*
Oh, The Heavy. They played. I watched their overly large selves play like giant shadows on the twin overly large screens encroaching either side of the stage. It was surreal. It was silly. The Heavy are pretty good, but I don’t have anything constructive to say about them. I’m probably going to get fired from this gig for being so honest with you, so I hope you appreciate it.
*Did I mention how jilted I am by the lack of an Android Bumbershoot app? Did you know that Andriod is basically the phone equivalent of a PC, and that the PC King, Microsoft gah-zillionaire, “job creator,” malaria killer, and (I’m willing to hypothesize: Bumbershoot donor) Bill Gates lives, breathes, and listens to music in the fair city of Seattle?!
7:30 PM Starbucks Stage
The only defining feature of Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s show was that my pen, my perfectly functional, filled with ink pen, decided to die. Thus even my remarkable revelations re: why Jason needs so many units will forever remain a mystery.
7:45 PM In-Tune Stage
Having suffered the indignance of begging, nay bribing a KEXP* intern for a pen (under the dusty and slightly snarling stare of a very pretty, but perhaps very pen-hating co-ed intern) (only to have my original pen spring into action arbitrarily, hours later, under no particularly remarkable circumstances (excepting the opportunity to openly mock me) ), I attended the underwhelming “so-sad-boy” performance by City and Colour, a band whose name has fully embraced, intentionally or no, the nature of Seattle-specific hipster irony. The band was as apathetic as the crowd. With a bass player reminded me of the character Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, and a lead singer’s voice said, “I’m lonely but filled with hope,” and I couldn’t help but be distracted by the audience member with the enormous red beard who reminded me of my best friend from grad school so much that I nearly hug-tackled him.
*KEXP is Seattle’s best independent radio station. Its interns opinions about pens do not reflect the opinions of KEXP or its members.
8:45 PM Sub Pop Stage
I will admit that I approached this show from the vista of the adjacent beer garden. Each outdoor festival venue, with the exception of the new, narrow, too far out of the way, Promenade Stage has one of these, equipped with a variety of tables, chairs (many covered by just-in-case rain tents), and open lawn spaces. At the In-Tune Stage, the beer garden is a fine place to enjoy the staged show. The In-Tune garden is located on a hill facing its venue, and it is vast. The Sub Pop beer garden leaves something to be desired by way of both visibility and personal space. It’s not possible to sit on the earth and watch a show with your beer in hand, and it’s not possible to stand with out being run into. This garden is a contact sport, which is too bad because Sub Pop’s new standard for signing artists requires that they sound a lot like The Helio Sequence. The Helio Sequence is a Seattle based band, so they drew an understandably large, committed crowd. But they are pop music without the “pop.” Ethereal, dream within a dream, style singing and lyrics that ultimately make you want to sit. While the lead singer managed to avoid the Gyote style monotone that is has taken a recent surge in popularity, and their second song maintained a particularly lively, staccato vibration, and they managed to make a lot of noise for a two man band (a fact that can be attributed to the wonders of technology which permit ghost bass lines), there was nothing particularly inspiring about their performance as a whole.
9:45 PM In-Tune Stage
M. Ward. If I say something mean about M. Ward after all of this griping, you won’t believe me anymore. You’ll think I’m a troll, instigating comments and tweets by implying that almost the entire first day of Bumbershoot was a wash. I can hear you now: “She didn’t even go see Gotye!” Listen, I know that M. Ward has participated in the creative monster making of all your most loved musicians: Nora Jones, Zooey Deschanel, and Bright Eyes to name a few. And I also understand that if, as you read this, you are (or could be) happily listening to Bright Eyes screeching about how the calendar hung itself and imagining that your affection for the song probably means you are into punk, or thinking Zooey Deschanel is really a pretty good example of a popular female vocalist, then we aren’t going to be agreeing on much of anything anyway. Thus, your opinion of my opinion of the live performance of M. Ward at Bumbershoot is not something that will fatally wound your super-secret sense of pride at your excellent musical taste, and hopefully it will not wound mine either. So, I’m just going to say it: M. Ward was the final snore. I was so bored of trying not to be bored by all of these bands who were each a strum away from playing the other’s songs that I asked an audience member his opinion of the show. John Clark, a twenty-something Seattle native who admitted that he’d come to see Colour and City play but stayed to see M. Ward at the same stage out of sheer laziness, put it best when he said, simply, “The screens are cool. It’s like the front row experience.”