As a seasoned Bumberfan on the verge of attending his tenth ‘shoot, I’m reflecting on the importance of the festival though a weekly column centered around a standout act from each year I’ve gone. Aside from wanting to ruminate on the past decade of OneReel’s masterful programming, this project is a leaner, less formulaic take on last year’s The Bumbershoot Project, where I wrote about every musical act booked for the 2013 festival.
I saw live music for the first time when I was fourteen. The summer between middle school and high school, the time when peers start to become temperamental creatures stuck between childhood and adulthood, I went to Bumbershoot with three of my best friends and I totally fucked up.
I was completely unaware of what it meant to be at a music festival. I’d gone to outdoor fairs and flea markets and of course “Done the Puyallup,” but I couldn’t understand why Bumbershoot felt so familiar to those events and also entirely separate. Perhaps, I realized years later, it was due to an atmosphere brimming with spontaneity.
In one’s early teen years, going places with your friends is amplified by the fact that you all eventually pile out of someone’s parent’s SUV or minivan like goddamn Navy SEALs, if Navy SEALs wore jeans that zip-off at the knee. Your unit moves tactically, full of embarrassing pubescent swagger. Encountering another group of people you know is a phenomenon in some ways, causing a ripple in the time space continuum so “We Dem Boys” starts to play from inside the Seattle Center fountain. Bear in mind that at this time Facebook had only been freshly stolen from the Winklevosses, so it was still archaically hard to keep tabs on everyone during the summer.
I believe Webster defines the term “music festival” as “a place to taste-test new artists and genres” (not really, but whatever). I should have been navigating the grounds, taking in the living and breathing organism of culture I’ve come to expect from the land of artisanal newsboy caps, where Shishkaberrys grow aplenty. If I had done some minor research, I’d have maybe checked out this cool young band from Las Vegas called The Killers or witness Nas do “Ether” or, at the very least, crossed Evanescence off my bucket list. (Though, to be fair, The Black Eyed Peas and Nickleback were headlining, so it was a pretty weird time in American history.) Instead we explored Seattle Center until late afternoon when we lined up for the first band I’d ever see at the first Bumbershoot I’d ever attend: Against Me!
In 2004, and a number of years since, Bumbershoot held many of their alternative rock and punk artists in the Exhibition Hall stage, a cavernous room decidedly separate from the festival both visually and sonically, to provide a more natural habitat for musical genres aligned to friendly punching and PBR belches. This is where I would later see These Arms Are Snakes and be pushed into the pit by a complete stranger, a confusing baptism that caused a very real “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” knee-jerk reaction.
The lights were on when we entered, though. People were seated, most cross-legged, facing an empty stage and keeping their conversations to a polite din. We quietly located a friend from school who had, coincidentally, shared “Reinventing Axl Rose” via AIM group chat some weeknight months ago, and sat in a small circle near the front. He was our concert Sherpa: he’d bought a shirt but didn’t wear it immediately, had the reflexive impulse to grab his camera at the right times, and, I would later realize from the hoarseness of his voice, knew every single lyric.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had listened to Against Me!’s music plenty but, when it came to the physicality of it, I was a dew-covered fawn. The band had come through town earlier that year and, when I asked my mom if I could go, and she asked where they were performing, I guessed they’d be playing at one of the stadiums. In reality, they played at The Vera Project where I’d later work as a volunteer. In the midst of Sherpa enlightenment, a promoter took the stage to thank Bumbershoot, us, and plug some product most likely, before the lights dropped and he brought out the band.
Here’s where time slowed way down: four shadowy figures took the stage before literally exploding into their first song. My brain had never heard sound like this before. They were triggering fresh synapses, causing my eyes to widen, searing into my brain what lay before me. And I probably even shit a little. While it helps to have a life-affirmingly great act like Against Me! introduce this dimension of music, I felt a noticeable shift afterwards. I started listening to anything I could get my hands on (for better or for worse), volunteered and interned for Seattle venues, supported local artists, joined the Youth Advisory Board for EMP’s Sound Off! competition, created and hosted several radio shows during college, scoured record stores for anything unusual, eventually started writing a blog, then writing for publications, then joining the editorial staff for those same places. This past January I drove my girlfriend and I to Leavenworth to cover, and support, a brand new music festival, mostly because the idea of it causes me to tunnel vision with excitement. One show sparked this hunger in me and it knows no bounds.
Ten years is a long time, sure, but I can trace a really visible path from now back to the exact moment everyone in the room stood up, their cheers drowned out by music, and moved as one. I haven’t missed Bumbershoot since.
This year’s Bumbershoot lineup includes Wu-Tang Clan, Elvis Costello, Afghan Whigs, Schoolboy Q, Mavis Staples, Capital Cities, The Replacements and hundreds more. Tickets are still available.
More in this series:
- 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)