There is very specific time and place for Irish folk punk. For me, that magical, fleeting window occurred during the summer between freshman and sophomore year of high school, when I attended my second Bumbershoot.
By this point, the concept of a ~music festival~ was planted firmly in my brain. After the previous year, when Against Me! left an indelible mark on the trajectory of my life, it behooved me to spend the precious hours of Bumbershoot scanning the aisles of provocative Flatstock posters, darting from the main stage to the Sky Church, and exploring as many new sounds and ideas as possible.
From rudimentary Google research, Seattle Center on Memorial Day weekend in 2005 seems to be the only time you could see both Lemony Snicket and Dashboard Confessional in the same place. Talk about bang for your buck. Plus, back then the festivities ran from Friday to Monday, making the formidable lineup easier to navigate and helped me understand the larger trends of the layout; Fisher Green hosts artists who could probably end up on the main stage a few years later, the Starbucks Stage is where you can (traditionally) park your parents for the day, Broad Street hosted friends of KEXP who, by association, are friends to us all. Each space provides a necessary component of the cultural ecosystem, allowing the festival to garner the reputation of creating a true grab-bag of entertainment. If you aren’t careening around the grounds wide-eyed like a loose pinball, you’re missing the point and, likely, valuable windows into different worlds.
I’ve told the story of seeing The Locust for years, if for no other reason than to reflect on the impressive pageantry of their live show. Unsurprisingly, the grindcore luminaries were slated for a late afternoon performance in the depths of the Exhibition Hall, a place I both love for acting as a respite from the rest of the festival and fear from taking numerous elbows to the dome. Waiting for the show to begin with a few friends, our arms crossed like NFL talent scouts, the low hum emanating from the stage was hedged by the appearance of five people in full-body suits, completely covered save for a few slits in the uniform to allow for sight and –as I came to learn from their performance –brief, episodic screeching.
While I left the show with my fair share of questions, I felt appreciative for the chance to see something beyond my radar. Sure, they exist in a genre of music that’s an easy punchline at times, but why shouldn’t a twenty-six second noise experiment called “Solar Panel Asses” be considered a legitimate song? I also started taking inventory of different crowds, fascinated by the fact that there was a devout audience for something that seemed so alien.
When it was finally time for Flogging Molly on Monday night, I was ready to close the weekend out with something familiar, brash, and somewhat chaotic. During the first song, my good friend was swept away in a sea of Kelly green and sweaty, dilapidated mohawks. He was a smaller guy so we assumed the worst and said a quick prayer in his memory before turning back to the show, which, to this day, is still some of the Thunderdomeist conditions I’ve lived through. Everywhere I looked I saw carnage – someone taking Chuck Taylors to the neck, a mosh pit somehow dictated by the gravitational pull of a kilt-bedecked giant – as if we were transported to the lower deck of a sinking warship. I watched people lose their footing and disappear into the commotion, something that I witnessed in horror, until other people, strangers probably, started reaching out to pulling them into safety.
I like to imagine someone from The Decemberists crowd helping out an unlucky soul from the Talib Kweli crowd or a diehard Digable Planets fan coming to the aid of a newly anointed Pharcyder. The ecosystem I mentioned before is only so plainly obvious at places like Bumbershoot, where people cease to identify with anything other than an intrinsic love and curiosity for music.
About an hour later, during their last song, my friends bursted with laughter as we watched our missing friend, thought to be gone forever, majestically breach from the crowd just mere feet from the stage.
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:
- Against Me! (2004)
- Iggy & The Stooges (2005)
- Kanye West (2006)
- John Legend (2007)
- Man Man (2008)
- Monotonix (2008)
- Patton Oswalt (2009)
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2011)