Photography by Brittany Brassell and Breanne Joyce
Seattle’s Bumbershoot has been a local mainstay since 1971. It’s about as Seattle as you can get. The whole thing literally takes places under the all-seeing eye of the Space Needle. We even got a bit of gray skies and rain this year, all too appropriate considering the festival’s name.
For those who’ve attended one or more festivals over the summer, Bumbershoot feels like the day spa of musical destinations. There are countless food and clothing stands, massage sessions available, and you get to go home to rest and shower every night. Plus, two of the most magic words any festivalgoer will gasp at: indoor plumbing. It’s about as restful as you can get for three days of music outdoors.
Bumbershoot is also often praised as being extremely family-friendly. It’s not uncommon to see parents walking with their young kids through the crowds or teenagers enjoying their first taste of concert freedom. This year’s lineup strongly played up to that generational divide. Bands ranged from legacy acts like The Replacements and Elvis Costello to trending party rap like Danny Brown and Schoolboy Q. It was a chance to see young artists share a bill with the artists who laid the groundwork for them. Going from new wave to Wu-Tang could be a bit disorienting, but it offered a little bit of something for most everyone.
Most Amount Of Ass Everywhere
Ass. Butts. Rumps. Derriere. No matter how you phrase it, Big Freedia’s set was an ode to the human backside. Decked out in all black with silver jewelry and shades, she and her twerk team gave Bumbershoot an indoctrination on what bounce music is all about. This is why Big Freedia is going to conquer the world. Her ode to ass may seem exclusive for the club, but Big Freedia can’t be limited by these superficial boundaries. She can take an early afternoon set in the rain and turn it into the biggest party of the weekend.
Though her latest record, Just Be Free, is an adrenaline rush in itself, it’s an experience that really can only be translated correctly live. Most of the crowd up-front knew what they were in for and reveled in every twerk-filled moment, but it was more amazing watching the people in the back who just happened to find themselves there with mouths agape and awkward smiles. And no disrespect to Freedia’s killer dancers, but there was no bigger reaction than when the Queen Diva herself bent over on the DJ table and showed her own moves.
Headliner Your Dad Wishes You Would’ve Gone To
Elvis Costello and the Imposters
As mentioned earlier, Bumbershoot has a split generational demographic. Walking into Memorial Stadium, it was clear where all the older attendees had wandered off to: Elvis Costello and the Imposters career-spanning set. But the younger generation could’ve stood to learn a thing or two from “elders.” Costello’s set was as vibrant as his periwinkle hat. People danced in their seats and erupted in applause after every track. The band was in top form, sounding nearly indistinguishable from even Costello’s early records. Ask your dad to borrow some Costello records and mourn your decision to skip his set in favor of G-Eazy.
Most Bittersweet Moment
The Lonely Forest
The Lonely Forest has been a Seattle mainstay over the past nine years. In a way, it’s almost too appropriate that their last show would be a set at Bumbershoot. As the stage’s emcee introduced the band, he assured the crowd that this should be a celebration instead of a mourning. But it was hard advice to take. For their part, the band played in top form and focused the set on material from their fan-favorite sophomore album, We Sing The Body Electric!, bringing out deep cuts like “Centennial” and “They’re on to Something”, but they still brought out a fair amount of material from their Chris Walla-produced Arrows.
As frontman John Van Deusen bantered with the crowd, it became clear how many die-hard fans came out to give a proper send-off to the group. But despite how great they sounded and how much heartwarming camaraderie the band had, it was all undermined by the depressing notion that this was the last time any of us would see them perform again (assuming they don’t hit the reunion circuit later down the road). It was an emotional send-off with the band taking shots, embracing, and throwing themselves into the crowd.
Considering all of the drama between the RZA and Raekwon as of late, there was buzz around the festival all day on who was actually going to show up for the Wu-Tang Clan’s headlining performance. Those concerns were quickly put to rest. Aside from Method Man’s glaring absence from the lineup, the Wu took the stage in full force. The RZA came out spraying champagne over the crowd, chanting “Wu-tang killer bees,” repeating this action throughout the set. It set the tone right: this was going to be a celebration of all things Wu. The legendary hip-hop outfit ran through the majority of their seminal debut, Enter The Wu-Tang Clan: 36 Chambers, bringing the motherfucking ruckus and teaching patrons da mystery of chess boxing.
For most of the verses, the clan rapped together with select spotlights on each member. Though little material from the rest of their catalog was featured, it was a crowd-pleaser for casual fans and diehards alike. Just to see the Wu enjoying themselves and putting aside the drama was a prize within itself. The RZA positioned himself as the lead, with most every track ending with him giving diatribes and hyping the crowd. He’s often been seen as the mastermind who keeps it all together, and the group’s Bumbershoot set proved that he can still rally the troops when the world needs the Wu.
Best Guitar Tone
Bumbershoot’s lineup was so packed full of legacy acts from the ‘80s that it’d be easy to get lost in the shuffle. Dream Syndicate made themselves known and drew in their loyal fans with frontman Steve Wynn’s scorching, brutal guitar tone. During their opening number, a cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”, the band made it clear that they weren’t here to play mild-mannered versions of their former selves; Dream Syncidate was there to melt faces. This tenacity carried over tenfold as they transitioned into their 1983 single “Tell Me When It’s Over”, giving a brutal twist on the track’s chunky guitar chords. The band was able to hold their own against bands half their age playing the festival, sounding meaner and fiercer than they did in their heyday.
Best Pandering To The Audience
Real Estate closed out Bumbershoot at the Fountain Stage, opposite Foster the People’s main stage set. Basking under the glow of the Space Needle at twilight with their hazy indie rock felt like a very appropriate end to the festival, and Real Estate seized the moment. The group threw out as many references to the city as they could, like pointing out how vocalist Martin Courtney attended Evergreen State College (which is actually in Olympia, but we’ll let that one slide). Bassist Alex Bleeker chimed in between songs, continuing to offer praise by saying, “This is the most Seattle show we’ve ever played,” and “This song’s about how much we love playing in Seattle.” He’d also randomly name out Seattle clichés, like Frasier and the Supersonics (R.I.P.), and was met with applause each time.
Aside from the constant buttering up of the audience, the band played a set that heavily featured tracks from their latest album, Atlas. It was one of the mellowest sets of the weekend, with patrons swaying while drinking San Pellegrino and putting the weekend’s partying to rest. The anxiety of tracks like “Crimes” and “Talking Backwards” were harsh premonitions of the work week to come for many in the audience, but it was easy to miss beneath the sweet guitar reverb.
Best ‘90s Revival
The first time I heard Luscious Jackson was when they played on the high school dance episode of The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Almost immediately, I identified them as one of the coolest girl bands of the ’90s, a HAIM for the previous generation. Opening with “Here”, which was featured in both Pete and Pete and Clueless, my adolescent suspicions were proven. It was the band’s first set in Seattle in 15 years, with several fans around me shouting, “Yeah, that’s stupid!” Their scratchy guitar lines and funky bass riffs had most on their feet, dancing along to hits like “Naked Eye”. While the ’90s are predominantly caricaturized as flannel and grunge, Luscious Jackson’s set was a reminder of some of the off-the-wall indie pop that primed audiences for the likes of LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip. Their disco grooves with “I could care less” attitude is even more relevant today than ever.
Most Forward-Thinking Set
Bumbershoot’s lineup boasted acts like Dream Syndicate and Mission of Burma as largely influential, and Twin Shadow was all the proof they needed. Frontman George Lewis Jr. exuded their tenacious spirit, donning a black Les Paul and leather jacket. But even still, Lewis and his band weren’t just living in the past – they were prepping for their own next steps. Their Bumbershoot set was a particular treat since it was one of a few shows that was not canceled on their planned Eclipse tour. While the group played cuts from their two records, Forget and Confess, they played several new songs from their upcoming album. They even brought out “Old Love/New Love”, their contribution to the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack.
Playing a side stage, Twin Shadow had all of the charisma of a headliner act. Lewis’s guitar solo on “Castles in the Snow” saw him throwing himself on the ground and embracing the epic virtue of the guitar squeal. Seeing Twin Shadow play “Golden Light” while bathed in golden light should be mandatory. Though they played during the day, the booming bass and synthesizers briefly made the grassy Fountain Stage feel like a cinematic night club.
Most Manic Set
How Mac DeMarco is able to smoke that many cigarettes onstage and not pass out is an accomplishment in itself. Even when he crowd surfed, DeMarco was spotted trying to light up another while his fans carried him across the lawn. It was just one of countless, carefree, “What am I doing here?” moments in his set. As he mentioned many times throughout, this was a “rock and roll show.” This meant that the sleek and lackadaisical sounds of his albums Salad Days and 2 were appropriately amped and rearranged to be more punk than AM radio. During tracks like “Ode to Viceroy”, lines that would normally call for a slow drawl were instead screamed with punk rock vigor. Rock and Roll Nightclub standout “I’m a Man” became a rowdy ’70s anthem with snarls and growls.
Between tracks, DeMarco would trade one-liners with his band, handing out advice like, “If you’re feeling really bloated, drink a lot of beer.” Their absurdist brand of humor went dark as they pretended their old guitarist had died, calling up to the clouds, giving snarky asides like, “Smoke one with Cobain for me.” Near the end of the set, DeMarco brought a random fan named Jackson onstage for an extended rasta-inspired jam session, consisting mainly of DeMarco leading his new pal in chanting the word “jamming” over and over again.
For his part, Jackson matched DeMarco on his bizarre brand of humor with a faux Bob Marley accent and even chugged DeMarco’s booze. As the band wrapped up, they put an arena-sized arrangement on 2 closer “Together”. The delicate love ballad became a rugged guitar jam, with DeMarco nailing an a impressively high falsetto chorus. For all their ludicrous behavior, the band was extremely well put together. Jokes were a plenty, but they weren’t messing around with those frequent guitar solos.
Most Sarcastic Set
“Maybe when we grow up they’ll let us play in the dark,” Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg remarked sarcastically, referring to their early evening slot on the lineup. But it only seemed appropriate because The Mats’ history is full of them never quite breaking through to mainstream ubiquity. Though Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson were the only original members in the group’s lineup, the set was full of quintessential Mats moments. The two playfully chided each other and the crowd any chance they could with Westerberg introducing “Achin’ to Be” from Don’t Tell a Soul with, “This is from our country western phase that didn’t go so good” and later teasing, “Would you like to hear a song by Lorde?” As a beach ball bounced around the crowd, Stinson took to the mic, saying, “Send that balloon my way. I’ve got a knife.” The years haven’t taken the punk edge out of the band.
And they’ve done very little to Westerberg’s voice, either. If anything, his body has finally caught up to the harsh, weathered gravel of his stirring singing. Opening with “Favorite Thing” from Let It Be, Stinson and Westerberg proved they could still rip as hard as they did in the mid-’80s. They blazed through fan favorites like “I Will Dare” and “Color Me Impressed” with the sharpness of punk elder statesmen. But it’s not a great Mats show until things go wrong. During “Androgynous”, Westerberg had issues switching guitars so he opted instead to just sing and carry the mic around like a lounge crooner. As he joked about getting to sit down, Stinson snapped, “Anyone got a fucking couch for this guy?” – referring to their recent Coachella performance with Billie Joe Armstrong. Westerberg fumbled through the words, laughing at himself, until a roadie finally brought him a new guitar. He did a pirouette toward his instrument but then couldn’t get it to work as the song slowly fell apart to its conclusion. For all of its messiness, it was completely true to who the Mats were and still are.
During the first song of their encore, “Left of the Dial”, Westerberg took his guitar and mic stand down to the photo pit, playing the entire track while looking up at his band. They churned through hits like “Bastards of Young”, “Can’t Hardly Wait”, and “Alex Chilton” as the crowd bounced across the floor. I looked around and saw middle-aged guys in Big Star shirts in front of me and braces-clad teens on my left and right. For all their years of trying to break through, the Mats have still found an audience that transcends generations. These loser anthems clearly still hold true after all these years.
Photographer: Brittany Brassell