Its nearly impossible to stroll Seattle over Labor Day weekend without overhearing some giddy chatter about Bumbershoot, the citys long running music and arts festival. Tucked behind the Chihuly Museum and iconic Space Needle, the festivals 74-acre grounds provided the perfect atmosphere for ticketholders to bask in the sunshine beneath lime and azure banners championing Art In The Great Northleft.”
Now in its 43rd installment (for those of you scoring at home, thats more than Coachella, Lollapalooza, SXSW, Sasquatch!, and Outside Lands, combined), Bumbershoot has firmly established itself as a festival to be savored by men, women, and kids of all ages and persuasions. One quick glance reveals small children frolicking in a concrete fountain, grayed seniors pumping the information booths for knowledge, gauge-eared teens huddling close, and hirsute hipsters hanging back.
Pangs of frenzied anticipation led fans to leap over the aluminum gates, rush the stage, and shove aside quivering security personnel for Kendrick Lamar’s set. Once onstage, the diminutive 56 rapper seized every opportunity to invigorate the crowd, calling for raised hands and soliciting fans to help fill in the desire-driven chorus of Backseat Freestyle. The entire arena chanted, All maw liffffe I want mo-nay and powahhhhh/ Respeck mah mind or die from lead showahhhhhhh!
Over at the comedy theater, Julie Klausner chronicled her recent escapades at the Minnesota State Fairs Internet Cat Video Festival while contemplating why she’d never tried PCP. A surprisingly capable singer, Klausner had the audience snort-laughing to country music parodies and vaguely raunchy sexual debasement. Oswalt, sheepish and sleepy-eyed, rambled on about trolling Twitter while bantering with Dannielle Henerson about Salons borderline racially offensive tweets.
Bumbershoots got something for everyone; theres no way to leave disappointed. Featuring over 200 music, comedy, poetry, art and dance acts spanning countless eras and genres — it’s a bargain, maybe the best we’ve had all summer. Looking back, though, the veterans had the last laugh. Here’s why.
Heart’s Bonham-Zeppelin encore
Topping Saturdays smorgasbord of music and art, Heart headlined the 11,000-capacity Key Arena. The Northwest hard rockers, inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, strutted confidently onto the Main Stage to the tune of sensual Eastern grooves and psychedelic magenta lightening. Zippos immediately ignited across the floor, as the veteran group waved enthusiastically at the buzzing crowd.
After opening with Barracuda, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson navigated Hearts thick back catalogue, tapping tunes from the nineteen hundred and seventies along with big love songs from the 80s and hits from their 2012 LP, Fanatic. Eager to give fans their moneys worth, Heart played through the first 45 minutes of their set without taking a breather. By the time they paused for a sip of water and round of intros, they had already played longer than most of the days spry whippersnappers.
Zaftig lead singer Ann Wilson, introduced by her slender sister Nancy as the one with the voice, offered profuse thanks to all the folks whod supported Heart through the decades. Ann tossed her head back, sending ripples through her jet-black curls, as her maroon and charcoal sequined blouse sparkled against black boots, black tights, and a clingy black dress.
The two sisters harmonized beautifully on springy, triumphant What About Love?, as Nancy and Ann echoed the songs titular line over and over. On subdued cut Dog and Butterfly, Nancy picked up a mandolin to showcase the bands oft-overlooked folk influences. Synth seeped These Dreams, off Harts self-titled 85 LP, had Ann Wilson purring soft and sweet: Darkness on the edge/ Shadows where I stand/ I search for the time/ On a watch with no hands. This dreamy sequence didnt last long, though; the very next song had Nancy and guitarist Craig Bartock launching a salvo of jarring, visceral riffs.
Calling onstage the mighty Jason Bonham, son of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John, Heart paid tribute to the English trailblazers with an encore of six covers, including Kashmir, Misty Mountain Hop, and Over the Hills and Far Away. On Immigrant Song, Ann Wilson channeled Plant with sharp, penetrating vocals. Wilsons voice sounded smoky and soulful alongside Seattles Total Experience Gospel Choir on Stairway to Heaven, as she ended the two-hour set with a spine-tingling yowl that earned Heart yet another standing O.
Photography by Kirk Stauffer.
Eric Burdon plays Sith Lord
Photo by Rochelle Shipman
Looking like a cross between an East London delinquent and malevolent Sith Lord, Eric Burdon hid his leathery epidermis from the blazing sun beneath a baggy hoodie fastened tight to his neck with a blue bandanna. Though Burdon looked more like a Star Wars villain than aging singer, the Animals front man sounded like a bluesy devil with raspy, gravelly vocals.
Burdon rifled through his biggest hits, including the wistful, nostalgic, When I Was Young. Croaking that he really did believe his fellow man, Burdon listed off the names of all four Beatles, Elvis Presley, and James Brown to honor these rock deities. But Burdon saved the best for last, inviting the crowd to sing along on contrite and remorseful blues number, The House of The Rising Sun. The feral frontman led the way as he bellowed, It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy/ And Lord I know I’m oneeeeee!
The Zombies revive the crowd
Photo by Allyce Andrew
Sundays surprisingly harsh sun had already disappeared behind the heliotrope and gold Experience Music Project by the time The Zombies plugged in at the Mural Stage. The Space Needle took on an eerie silvery glow, as half-deflated beach balls drifted listlessly through the crowd. Bumbershoots pasty attendees looked uncomfortably torched themselves, with many sporting pink facial blotches and vacant hydrated stares. Some seniors even looked like they belonged with the Flash Mob of soulless corpses parading the festival grounds throughout the weekend – fitting fans for The Zombies.
But the moment that front man Colin Blunstone belted out the first line of I Love You, everyone perked up. Life was restored to the wilted crowd as the 68-year-old Blunstone delivered commanding, clarion vocals. His diction was impeccable; every lyric was crisp and clear. And though his skin drooped and sagged, Blunstones well-conditioned voice packed a glottal wallop.
Keyboard maestro Rod Argent, wearing a tight black t-shirt that showcased his taut forearms, threw a coquettish gaze toward the crowd as his digits blurred across dual keyboards on Breathe Out, Breathe In. Tapping more contemporary material, the band serenaded fans with what Blunstone hailed as the delicious accosting guitar finger picking of Tom Toomey on Any Other Way. Gospel ditty Cant Nobody Love You had Argent and Blunstone playing off each other perfectly, showing no signs of the ill will that kept the band apart for most of the past five decades.
Photo by Allyce Andrew
Argent took the crowd way back in time to 1967 in lamenting that The Zombies visionary concept album, Odyssey and Oracle, was an initial flop. It didnt do well for some reason, shrugged Argent. But good things come to those who wait. The beaming keyboardist boasted that Odyssey and Oracle sells more now than it has ever before, smirking as he bragged that The Jams Paul Weller told me its his favorite album of all time. Playing the LPs first two cuts in reverse order, the British Invaders followed bittersweet ballad A Rose For Emily with jaunty pop tune Care of Cell 44. Finishing off their journey through Odyssey and Oracle with Time of the Season, Jim Rodfords hip jolting bass gave way to Blunstones iconic dum bum bum, AAACCCCHHH, sounding like he just enjoyed that first slug of frosty beer on a searing afternoon.
After covering The Alan Parson Project (Old and Wise) and a pair of Argent tunes, The Zombies closed with Shes Not There. Leading into the songs final verse, Rod Argent concocted a molten one-handed electric piano solo that segued seamlessly into Blunstones scathing indictment, Her voice was soft and cool/ Her eyes were clear and bright/ But she’s not thereeeeee! Hosting their instruments skyward, The Zombies locked arms and bowed low to acknowledge their enthused fans. Maybe more bands ought to tale 40-year hiatuses?
Transatlanticism turns 10
Photo by Suzi Pratt
By 4:00 p.m., the line to get into Key Arena for Death Cab for Cutie was wrapped around the entire festival. Fans waited patiently in the stagnant cue, crossing their fingers with hopes of bettering their odds. For some, the wait was for naught; thousands were turned away empty-handed. But for those lucky enough to gain entry, it was well worth the wait.
The Bellingham, WA group delighted longtime fans by playing Transatlanticism straight through (!) in honor of the albums 10th anniversary. The tightly packed floor swayed back and forth on opener The New Year, as singer Ben Gibbard bemoaned, I wish the world was flat like the old days/ Then I could travel just by folding a map. Channeling this theme of painful geographic separation, Transatlanticism had the singer sounding emotionally wounded as he gently purred, I need you so much closer.
Photo by Suzi Pratt
Wasting no time in speedily introducing his band, Gibbard warned that he would eschew the usual jokes and quips so he could squeeze in as many songs as possible. Were gonna play the record from start to finish, proclaimed a grinning Gibbard. Behind a furrowed brow, the singer clenched and released his mic in rapid succession on The Sound of Settling, rhythmically bouncing back and forth to Jason McGerrs drumbeat.
That concludes part one of the program, piped Death Cabs front man after A Lack of Color. Shifting to post-Transatlanticism material, the band launched into I Will Posses Your Heart, off 2008s Narrow Stairs. Building with a buoyant piano and pulsating bass, Gibbard incessantly echoed the songs eponymous chorus as the crowd joined in. After promising that theyd see everyone again next year, the Northwest quartet trotted back on stage for a bombastic encore that sent the drained crowd home with wide smiles and ringing ears.
Superchunk bids summer adieu
Photo by Suzi Pratt
Thanking fans for letting Superchunk entertain them through the last 20 minutes or so of summer, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina trailblazers leaned heavily on their new LP, I Hate Music, while mixing in ’90s hits throughout their set. Labor Days retreating sun polished the Space Needle in warm buttery hues, as Superchunk spun off FOH alongside a twinkling piano and reverberating power chords. Offering its condolences to the press during the great exodus of the photographers, Superchunk pondered the cloudy origins of the music worlds three song rule.
Singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan also waxed poetic about his first trip to Seattle, recounting a tour of Sub Pop and feeling that music can transform a city. Switching emotive gears, Me & You & Jackie Mitoo had a bitter McCaughan whining about how music sometimes falls short (“I hate music, what is it worth?/ Can’t bring anyone back to this earth!). Later, Jon Wurster kept a flawless drumbeat on Punch Me Harder, as the charismatic percussionist flashed his pearly whites for the crowd.
Photo by Allyce Andrew
From McCaughans trembling head singing on Crossed Wires, to his half dozen scissor kicks on Out of the Sun, the Merge Records co-founder turned in an energetic and vigorous performance. Among the sets many highlights was 1994s The First Part, which featured the singers delightfully unapologetic confession, We’re drunk in the selfless relentless caresses, atop a thrashing Gibson.
Photographer: Allyce Andrew, Suzi Pratt