1 PM Starbucks Stage
Monday afternoon was easy. The crowds hadn’t yet swelled into unbearable, impossible to navigate masses (I hope I’m not the only one who felt that this year’s festival was way too crowded), and it was even a good time to stop along the vendor fairways and peruse the goods, although doing so made me wonder about the vendor vetting process—why was there a tent dedicated exclusively to high thread-count sheets? Who buys sheet sets at a music festival? Beyond the obvious import options, hemp threads, handmade jewelry, and the disappointing lack of artist related swag, there wasn’t too much exciting stuff to buy. The Bumbershoot gear was made out of incredibly soft bamboo, which was a nice touch, but I preferred the assortment of vintage clothing and sunglasses being sold a few stalls away.
The Starbucks stage was well attended, and the early afternoon crowd was geared up to hear some rock-n’-roll. Reignwolf plays big so no one was disappointed. Otherwise known as Jordon Cook, Reignwolf attacks the guitar like a vicious and starved canine might maul an unsuspecting bunny. His instruments (he used more than one gorgeous guitar during his set) didn’t even have time to be taken by surprise before being thoroughly shredded. This was exactly the kind of show I wanted to see at Bumbershoot. Reignwolf’s music made everyone move, it made everyone feel like they were experiencing the exhilaration of summer, it did not smack of an imminent and long winter, it did not suggest that Reignwolf’s life is primarily spent staring out into a mesh curtain of drizzle. It even made me feel as if this festival, which had started out on such low, dispassionate notes, might yet reach its climax.
2 PM Sub Pop Stage
The new Sub Pop acquisition, Debo Band, is an Ethiopian funk band out of Boston. That description may be a bit confusing, but their music is anything but. With brass, horns, strings, and an exceptional vocalist, Debo Band clarified a period of music that had been previously shrouded in historical ambiguity (at least for me). Of all African music (inspired or authentic), Ethiopian has always struck me as the least accessible. But what the band refers to as “swinging Addis” in reference to late 60s and early 70s pop from that region of Ethiopia, sounded fresh, lively, and enticing. I was glad to have wandered into this exhibition of global music, and especially excited to see Sub Pop representing a wholly different kind of talent.
2:15 PM Tune-In Stage
Monday was unofficially world music day at Bumbershoot, and while Debo Band finished out their set, Bombino, the stage name used by Tuareg guitarist and songwriter, Omara Moctar, kicked-off a lively set that had the audience on its feet and dancing from the first song. Their sound was a lot more rock and roll and a lot more contemporary than Debo Band’s, but their dress spoke to tradition and heritage, with three of the band members wearing veils (Wikipedia tells me it is Tuareg tradition for the men to wear veils, not the women) either fully wrapped around their heads, or across their shoulders as scarves. As the set wore on their beats became hypnotic and repetitive, which drained me, but only enlivened the throng of eager dancers at the front of the stage.
3 PM Sub Pop Stage
After battling to cross yet another enormous line, which had formed down the center of yet another major pedestrian thoroughfare (this time the Mainstage at Key Arena was to blame because entering Key Arena apparently requires a bag check, full physical, and an IQ test, and M83 was playing at 3:15 resulting in a line was very long and very immobile) on the other side of which sat the bathrooms (I honestly had to cut behind tents and scale a small cement wall in order to get into the bathrooms because of this line) I arrived at what was, for me, one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend: Ty Segall. Overshadowed by the all-promising lure of the long line, Ty Segall’s performance was the under attended highlight of my festival experience. Finally, Sub Pop’s weird digital screen made some sense, and the creepy twisted shots of Ty Segall and crew that illuminated the background actually looked psychedelic and professional, not like power point projects gone awry. With a female drummer, two electric guitarists, a bassist, and a set up that placed Segall at the far side of the stage instead of front and center, allowing for a less sycophantic appreciation of the music over the musician, Ty Segall’s show was bloody alive, and even came with a mosh pit.
4 PM Tune-In Stage
Omar Souleyman is hilarious. Imagine a younger, beardless, more Syrian, less crazy looking Saddam Hussein, wearing his aviators and ghutrah, smiling down affectionately on an audience filled with folks dressed and ready to rave, clapping his hands and encouraging the audience to bounce while intermittently singing a few lines from traditional Middle Eastern songs to the accompaniment of a single keyboardist dropping pre-recorded drum beats and crazy synthesized rhythms, and you will have perfectly imagined the entirety of Souleyman’s performance. To further flip your expectations, Souleyman watched the crowd as if they were the ones performing for him, and he was just the occasional audio addition. Never have I seen a performer enjoy his audience so much, and the effects were clear, the audience loved him loving them, which made for one hell of a dance party.
4:30 PM The Promenade Stage
The Pharmacy plays the kind of music I might have loved if I had never moved to the Pacific Northwest. It’s the kind of music that feels real, it feels indie, and off-the-beaten path, it’s the kind of music that’s never heard on the radio by a teenaged girl from small town Michigan. And the band is the real deal too, they looked like they had actually huffed and puffed their way directly to Seattle from Humbolt County in a Volkswagon camper, maybe tie-dying shirts to make a few bucks along the way. Big sun hats, long hair, and wink to alternative medicine were the name of the game, and I loved it all, or I would have loved it all if it wasn’t such an omnipresent look and feel amongst musicians in my new native culture. Still, if I had to pick a band from Bumbershoot 2012 that reminded me of the Cave Singers and the Fleet Foxes but still seemed to deserve their own following, it would be The Pharmacy. At the very least, they won the award for band I’d most like to hang out with after the show.
6:15 PM Starbucks Stage
I haven’t yet mentioned an important aspect of every festival experience, and I will do so now because watching The Pharmacy gave me the munchies, so before I actually headed to the Starbucks Beer Garden (my target location for that evening’s beverage consumption because the artist billed was someone I’d never heard of before, but who was described in the festival literature as an internet sensation, which I figured—correctly—would mean it’s adjacent beer garden wouldn’t feature an extended line (Always remember when attending a festival: teenagers can’t drink.)). I first went in search of food. Here is my complaint: a local festival smack dab in the heart of a city filled with much-loved, highly evolved, street food vendors should not feature the random, nameless, unpalatable garbage that more out of the way (say in the middle of the desert or in a forest) festivals offer by necessity. The collection of overpriced, traveling county-fair food trucks must have been given allowance to swarm the festival with their greasy, unimaginative garbage for a reason, but I could have left the festival and traveled less than a mile in any direction and probably found a heavenly, locally made, burrito, so their presence at Bumbershoot felt unacceptable. Why not invite our better, local options inside? The one food vendor I recognized was Ballard Brothers, so I settled for a burger.
Regarding that internet pop sensation? I think her music played at the Superbowl because she won some YouTube contest. I do not think I want to say anything else about her.
The beer, however, was good.
6:45 PM Sub Pop Stage
This day was also the unofficial day of Sub Pop’s redemption. Low was a unique blast of we-take-our-name-quite-literally alternative rock. Highlighting growling, droning bass lines that packed a more ominous it’s-the-end-of-days-and-we-don’t-give-a-damn punch than any anarchist punk band or death metal maniac could have, Low put on one hell of a discomforting performance. And I mean that in a good way. Quick readers poll: female drummers—fad or feminism finally gaining purchase in the music world? It seems to me that the harder the band, the more likely it is to have a female drummer, at least at Bumbershoot, at least today.
7:15 PM Exeunt
With my ears ringing and my feet tingling, I finally accepted that there was a limit to what could reasonably be expected of my body and soul, gave up trying to convince myself that waiting forty-five minutes to watch Hey Marseilles was the right thing to do, and went home. I walked past the deflating dinosaur that had straddled Youngershoot’s inflatable slide, surveyed the wreckage left behind at the free Slurpee table, and dodged streams of freshly showered incoming festival goers who reminded me of how happy I was that this year, as last year, it hadn’t rained. Who knows, if this trend continues maybe next year’s line-up won’t look so much like a Death Cab for Cutie Pandora station. Hey, a girl can dream.
**Photographs taken by Steven Smith