Bumbershoot 2014 Recap
Saturday, August 30
Words by Nick Anderson
Photos by Jim Toohey
The bartender at the Five Point is bopping to the country music leaking from the jukebox as she taps orders into the POS. It’s 10:48 a.m., rain like a faucet and the lines here at Seattle’s best 24-hour diner are out the door, barflies draped along the length of the counter. They’re going to make rent at the Five today, maybe even this shift if the tins keep shaking with Bloody Marys. The regulars shake their heads while the staff just nods in agreement and the refrain is the same; a chuckle, an eye-roll and “Bumbershoot.”
This is old school Seattle; rain, alcohol for breakfast, and a certain resignation to the first day of an event that has defined the city for 43 years. Sure, there’s a certain amount of good-natured crabbiness about the festival. Tourists. Crowds. An even more ungodly amount of traffic. But everyone’s got tickets from some source and everybody has some act they want to check out at some point in the weekend, whether it’s Mac Demarco, Red Fang, La Luz or Wu-Tang Clan.
Among Seattle’s festivals, Bumbershoot comes the closest to being loved across the board. Capitol Hill Block Party? Too much vomit. Folklife Festival? Eh, it’s nice and everything, but it’s the equivalent of listening to your uncle opine on the Grateful Dead’s relevance. Doe Bay Festival? Well, if you can manage to get tickets in the 15 seconds before they sell out, it’s still way the hell out on Orcas Island. The worst you can say about Bumbershoot is that it’s too expensive (and it is) and that the crowds are terrible. For all intents and purposes, Bumbershoot accurately encapsulates Seattle’s character.
That character has been going through a seismic shift the last couple of years. The city is rapidly outgrowing its small-town quirks and the expansion is revealing some insecurities. The football team won the Super Bowl. Some white kid with a fondness for Dick’s cheeseburgers won a couple Grammy’s for a hip-hop record. There’s gay marriage, legal pot and a retailer website that’s taking over the South Lake Union neighborhood with all the subtlety of Genghis Khan. There’s a $15 dollar minimum wage, the highest in the country, and no one can afford rent. None of these things are inherently bad (well, the overlord website is…fuck those guys) it’s just that no one in the city seems to know what to make of it all. Is this a snug enclave of tech savvy bohemian artist-professionals content with their rainy ennui or is it a modern metropolitan powerhouse in the making, ready to show San Francisco how it’s supposed to be done? Is Seattle the Five Point, Elliott Bay Books and the Stranger or is it Panera Bread Company, Amazon and the Wall Street Journal? Seattle is on the cusp of a decision and that’s going to come at an oblique cost, one way or the other. Some facet of this city is going to suffer, money or culture, business or art, the banker or the poet. If I may just go ahead and (finally) break the fourth wall, just what the hell are we doing here, you guys? And how does Bumbershoot, the cultural touchstone of the city, reflect and comment on these changes and divisions?
Admittedly, that’s a lot to lay on a music and arts festival. At the end of the day, it’s just rock ‘n’ roll…except it isn’t anymore; it’s electronic, metal, rap, folk and a myriad other genres and styles, all twisting around each other, squirming for a place in the sun. Ultimately, there’s too much for one person to be able to see everything, though heaven knows I tried. I wanted to keep the acts I saw for this review as local as possible, to see what they had to say, whether expressly or inferred, about the issues mentioned above. So that means no Wu-Tang Clan, no Elvis Costello and the Imposters, and no whatever the hell Panic! At the Disco is. Not in this article anyway. I love two of those groups (and can probably hazard a guess about the third), but really, I’m not going to change anyone’s mind with my insights on whatever they chose to perform. If you saw the headliners, my opinion is as equally irrelevant as if you skipped them altogether.
All musings and ideas are my own; as far as I know, none of the performers I write about had anything more important on their mind than playing their best, selling some merch, and having a good time. But each band had its own voice and it’s enlightening to organize those voices to try and hear Seattle harmonize.
Fly Moon Royalty: Fisher Green Stage-11:45AM
The first act of the first day played like they were headlining the third night. At one point, lead vocalist Adra Boo comments that they’d been partying the night before, so she’s feeling a little rough, though you’d never know it by the way she’s hitting notes and commanding the stage. The Fisher Green Stage boasts two big screens flanking the performers which include, along with Adra, DJ/producer/MC Action J, a back-up singer whose name I didn’t catch, and four dancers. It all looks impressive, especially considering it’s not even noon and the sky is dripping. Adra is not here to fuck around; she’s got Style, at one point pulling out a hand fan, batting it to the beat. It’s a pretty class move. And she’s got the voice to back it up, the notes never faltering even this early in the day. Action J is a quintessential compliment, knowing when to let her sing and when to step from around his DJ rig and lay down a verse. The music itself is a hybrid of hip-hop and electronic soul and, miracle of miracles, it sounds great coming out of the monitors, the beats crisp and clear. The bass fills out the low-end but stays precise, never sounding like it’s coming out of the back of a teenager’s Honda. I still find it surprising that music like this is coming out of Seattle. Sure, we’ve had hip-hop forever and we’ve seen our fair share of talented soul vocalists, but to see it evolve into a group who’s down to put on a flat-out professional show for a festival crowd before lunchtime is heartening in the extreme. I can’t imagine Fly Moon Royalty is going to have to play this early again but I appreciate a band who makes it worth it when they do.
Modern Kin: Pavilion Stage-12:30 p.m.
I’ve never seen Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives but I’ve got it on good authority from friends that their shows are, without Internet hyperbole, heart-rending. Tears are shed with not an Instagram account in sight, so I believe them to be the real deal. Modern Kin is the band stripped down to a three-piece, and they’ve got kids pushed up front at the Pavilion stage before the show even starts. Once the band kicks in, it’s clear why. Drew has a helluva vocal range and the band sound like today’s stadium rock (ie. Arcade Fire) gone feral. A lot of bands around the PNW, like Kithkin and Baltic Cousins, have been aiming for this kind of sound and as great as those bands are, I think Modern Kin has hit upon the big league formula. At one point they break out a cover of Tom Waits’ “Make it Rain,” a song with the potential to come crashing down around them, but they fucking own it, playing to the song’s original power while finding a hidden torque beneath. Drew is a fearless vocalist, combining complexly constructed lyrics with ragged-but-right harmonies backed by a band that holds the bottom end down. (And at one point, bassist Kris Doty traded her stand-up for a Rickenbacker, a personal favorite instrument of mine, so bonus points.) They’re growing some dark roots down in Portland and I like that musicians aren’t afraid to cultivate folk into something beyond finger-picking 1-4-5 progressions and lyrics about valleys or rivers or some other shit they’ve never actually experienced.
Dude York: Pavilion Stage-1:45 p.m.
There’s something about smartmouth rock ‘n’ roll that just warms my icy, cynical heart. Dude York hit my sweet spot from the moment they got ahold of a microphone. The band is tight, throwing out deceptively simple garage rock with talented musicianship and well-placed hooks. But there’s something else to them that makes me melt. They’re young and they’re playing rock ‘n’ roll with a sincere heart and a crooked smile. They remind me that you can wholeheartedly believe in something as simple as a power chord and still laugh at it. Guitarist/vocalist Peter Richard has a great stage presence, coming off like Bruce Springsteen’s twitchy nephew and Andrew Hall’s banter is an argument in favor of letting drummers have microphones (which may sound mean, but trust me, experience proves me right). For a band this young to be calling this city home while they crank out tunes that sound like they should be opening for the Jam is commendable. There’s a storied history of wise-ass rockers in Seattle and it’s nice to see someone keeping the tradition alive.
Cumulus: Pavillion Stage-3:00 p.m.
The Pavilion Stage was packed for the majority of the day, with people eagerly waiting outside, held in check by staff holding up a sign declaring “Show Full.” Of the three bands I saw there on Saturday, Cumulus had the densest crowd and they did their best to earn them. Immediately, Alexandra Niedzalkowski’s gorgeous vocals jumped out at me. They were so pretty that I almost wrote this band off as just another indie-twee upstart until guitarist Lance Umble unleashed a tone that would do the grimiest of punk rocker’s proud. I had to rock back on my heels a little bit because it was so unexpected…BUT IT FIT. Admittedly, I do not keep up with indie-pop as much as I probably should (I prefer to listen to Cheap Trick) but if Cumulus is the state of the genre in Seattle today, I’m going to have to pay more attention. I was fully expecting to leave this show early to get lunch or charge my phone (hey, I’m only human) but I stayed for the whole set, just to hear how that gnarly guitar was going to play off that heavenly voice. There were three moments when I really felt that the dichotomy of modern Seattle was represented by the music I saw at Bumbershoot and this was the first of them-hearing Alexandra’s almost-annoyingly perfect vocals backed by this beastly tone. It was like if the Big Bad Wolf was Little Red Riding Hood’s protective older brother.
Cataldo: End Zone Stage-4:15 p.m.
For the most part, I think the production staff did a great job with scheduling and stage delegation. This was a much less crowded Bumbershoot than in years past and there was an easy flow between stages. The scheduling was likewise, with no major conflicts of interest and I don’t think that any band was too negatively impacted by their set time. The exception would be Cataldo, who got stuck on the End Zone Stage, which was jammed at one end of Memorial Stadium at a weird angle to the Main Stage, making for an annoying walk. I think the goal was to create some kind of symbiosis between the two, with the crowd moving between them. I don’t know how it worked out for other bands, but it kind of fucked Cataldo, who followed Panic! At the Disco, a band with whom I doubt they share much of a fanbase. Which is too bad, because Cataldo deserve better. The audience who did show up proved to be loyal, with most of them singing along for the majority of the set. Cataldo commanded my respect and were my second epiphanous instance of Seattle’s peculiar split-personality. They played their song “The Beast,” introducing it as their “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and it’s a work of pop craftsmanship so polished and complete it could be used to sell chewing gum. During the chorus vocalist Eric Anderson calmly but forcefully drops a “motherfucker” right after a line of Latin (Translation: Do Not Touch Me) and in doing so, effectively hamstrings any chewing gum selling potential the song has. It’s a badass move (and satisfying as, ahem, a motherfucker) and it encapsulates Seattle’s shifting attitude perfectly. The city is nice, pretty and everyone’s oh-so-happy to be here. But in the middle of all of it, there’s an attitude that is unimpressed and sick of all the surrounding bullshit and just wants to piss in the nearest reservoir.
Black Weirdo: Words and Ideas Stage-5:15 p.m.
By far the most powerful and enlightening performance I attended. I know fuck-all about being black or gay and even less about what it’s like to be either in the hip-hop community, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I entered the lecture hall. I’m familiar with THEESatisfaction, having played with them at the Blue Moon years ago, and I read Larry Mizell Jr.’s columns in the Stranger, so I had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be a “normal” conversation about the state of hip-hop in Seattle, but I was still unprepared for the speakers stories to be so moving. The discussion started off with moderator Larry having everyone on the panel tell a snippet of their personal story; where they grew up, how they got involved with the Black Weirdo collective and what it means to them. The conversation moved on from there, touching on music, race, sexuality, Seattle, dancing and hip-hop conservatism (which I didn’t even know was a thing but it’s amazing what you learn when you just shut-up and listen), before settling into a Q&A session with the audience. The overarching theme of the panel was love and family and it was pretty fucking humbling to hear each person share their story of feeling ostracized from their respective community and having to build their own. My own weirdness is all self-inflicted, as I’ve always been able to choose, well, really whatever I want, as far as a social circle goes (being a straight, white male is lucky like that) so hearing a group of strangers bravely tell their stories to a room full of people was inspiring. These folks are involved in one of the most vital, creative communities in Seattle and, though everyone was quick to point out how white the city’s demographic is (which it undoubtedly is), there’s a lot of hometown love. Seattle’s predominantly white culture has a long way to go before it’s truly diverse, but I can’t help but feel a little hopeful that we may, in some ways, have a leg up on some other parts of the country. We’re a city of outsiders, but we’re prone to some self-satisfied hybrid of tunnel vision, where we can only see what we’ve accomplished and are blind to the challenges that lie ahead. For what it’s worth, this is what I took away from my brief time with Black Weirdo-that I doubt I would feel entirely comfortable attending a Black Weirdo dance party (just imagining what I look like dancing to hip-hop is enough to fill me with crippling dread), but I don’t doubt that I’d be welcomed. And it would probably be pretty fucking cool.
Grayskul: End Zone Stage-7:45 p.m.
From the moment Grayskul took the stage, they were down to set the crowd off. At one point, JFK mentioned that he wouldn’t be rapping if it wasn’t for Wu-Tang Clan, who were playing the Main Stage following them. Opening for an artistic hero is a shot of adrenaline to any performance and you could feel the energy pouring off the stage. Onry Osbourne was everywhere, at one point disappearing into the crowd only to reappear again seconds later on the opposite end of the stage. They wanted that crowd riled up and by God they did it. It’s a uniquely Seattle thing that I’ve noticed, having played music around the country, that our artists want to do everything to break down the barrier between the performance and the audience. There’s a cliche about Seattle audiences standing quietly with their arms crossed, but really, for a lot performances that posture just makes sense. Some music is meant to be passively experienced and some is meant to be physically digested: You take it in and release it by dancing or simply losing your shit. Grayskul was decidedly in the latter category and they spread across the crowd like flood waters. It was here that I had my final experience of the new Seattle at Bumbershoot. In front of me were two guys, one in a neon green tank top and Yankees baseball cap and the other in torn, filthy Carhartts and a Pig Destroyer hat. Both of them were feeling the band. Yankees pulled out a vaporizer pen, loaded it up and took a puff. Pig Destroyer noticed and gave him the, “Right on, man” look (YOU KNOW THE LOOK). Without hesitation, Yankees handed the vape over and Pig Destroyer graciously accepted, took a hit, and handed it back. They fist-bumped and turned back to the music.
The clock is crawling to midnight and the Five Point is still full. The charming resignation of the morning has been replaced by glassy-eyed tension: It’s been a long first day and everyone’s had maybe one too many of whatever their own particular poison is. The bartender is still swiftly slinging drinks, but their bop has been replaced by a strut that brooks no bullshit. A group of guys are at the bar’s angle, too loud and too aggressive. They’re chanting meaningless numbers and taking impolite liberties with female patrons. Not complete assholes, but definitely douchebags. The Five Point staff reacts like a team of white blood cells corralling a virus; a busboy, bartender, and doorman stepping up on all sides to let them know that a certain measure of behavior is required and they are not living up to it. The guys recognize the situation, pay their tab, and leave, but not before good-naturedly informing everyone that it’s no big deal-they’re from Detroit. Once they’re gone, the regulars shake their heads while the staff just nods in agreement. It’s a bold new Seattle we’re living in but hey, you guys…I think it’s gonna be OK.
Nick Anderson is our newest contributor. He also plays in a rock and roll band called Hounds of the Wild Hunt.
More Bumbershoot 2014 coverage:
- Photo Set: Bomba Estereo
- Bumbershoot 2014 Day 3 Recap: Seattle Puts its Dancin’ Shoes On
- Bumbershoot 2014 Day 2 Recap:A Magical, Line-Free Sunday
- Photo Set: Negativland @ Bumbershoot 2014
- Bumbershoot 2014 Day 1 Recap: Gemma Avoids “The Twerk Talk”
Great Moments in Bumbershoot History:
- Against Me! (2004)
- The Locust & Flogging Molly (2005)
- Iggy & The Stooges (2005)
- Kanye West (2006)
- John Legend (2007)
- Man Man (2008)
- Monotonix (2008)
- Patton Oswalt (2009)
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2011)
- Tony Bennett (2012)
- Panel: Barsuk Celebrates 15 Years (2013)