Bumbershoot - The Seattle Music and Arts Festival

Continuing my attendance at music festivals this summer, I decided to cap the summer off with a return trip to Bumbershoot – the Seattle Music and Arts Festival. I had attended Bumbershoot in 2004, and had a great time, so I thought I would give it another go. In 2004, the main attraction for me had been the bands – the Pixies reunited that year, and it was also the year that the Killers took off and got huge. That Killers show, in a small venue was amazing. But the great thing about Bumbershoot is that it’s not just music – there’s a huge arts component – literature, theatre, a film festival. Lot’s going on. Which was good this year, as the band list wasn’t overwhelming. Nothing like Coachella anyway. 

Saturday September 1, 2007

Well the day started off well – Liverpool crushed Darby 6-0, early Saturday morning. I watched the first half, where the lads had it well in hand, then hit the road. The day went to hell at that point. The normal 2 ½ to 3 hour trip to Seattle took over 6 hours. The boarder was hell – 2 hours there alone. Then traffic on the other side was hellish as well. Unreal. Needless to say, I was late for the start of the festival. I had wanted to see the opening act on the main stage – Crowded House. But that was not to be. By the time I got checked into the hotel, it was after 2:00. The next band I wanted to see went on at 2:30 – by the time I got my pass and got into the venue, they were well into their set.

Seattle Harbor from my hotel window. 

Seattle Harbor from my hotel window. 

The Shins

From what I saw, it was a good set. The Shins are a fun, upbeat alt-rock band that has been doing the indie scene for a while. I don’t really know then that well, but there were lots of positive reviews. Strangely, their show at 3:00 in the afternoon had the biggest crowd that I saw all day! They were upbeat, fun and had the crowd into it.

Flatstock

After the Shins, I wandered into the Flatstock poster exhibit. They have a ton of exhibiters, all of who do concert posters for bands. There was some amazing art work in the place. Band posters are generally not my thing, but this one guy was doing these amazing silk screens, so I bought one.

After wandering out of the poster show, I stopped by the “Starbucks Stage”. This was one major difference I noticed between last time and this year – way more commercial. Last time, it was the Blues stage – this year, the “Starbucks Stage”. It’s a bit of stretch for a festival that promotes itself as “grass roots” to have so much sponsorship. Oh well, whatever works for them. The Honeydripper All Stars were half way through the set. I’m not a huge blues fan, but these guys are all blues legends from the south. It was awesome to watch. I stuck around for a while, then wandered off.

Lillydale

A local Seattle band that had some interesting reviews prior to the festival. I had highlighted them in a couple of different places. Part of the other reason I wanted to see them, was that the were playing in the Sky Church at the Experience Music Project (EMP). This is one of the best venues at the show. As you would imagine, being at the EMP, the sound is great. The venue holds somewhere around 100- 200 people (I imagine), has a 40 foot high video wall that must be 80 or 90 feet long. It is just an amazing venue for a small band to play.

The band was great! An upbeat, light alt-rock/pop act with a lot of energy. They remind of another band, but I can’t think of which one at the moment. Their bassist/back up vocalist really put on a great performance, and her vocals really added a great sound to the band. I really like strong female vocals in bands like these. Even with 54-40, I loved the line up they had for a while, with Coco Love Alcorn was doing the backing vocals. It just adds another dimension to the music.

Sadly enough, the band announced that this was their last show. I really liked their sound – it was a nice mix of mellow and upbeat stuff, and the band put on a good show. I picked up a CD, but I guess there will be no more.

Comedy Stage

After the Lillydale show, I wandered around some more. I decided to wander over to one of the three comedy stages, to check out one of the acts. Upon arrival, I was very glad that I had bought the upgraded pass. The line up was huge – at least twice the venue capacity. But, with my handy Platinum Pass in hand, I skipped the line and wandered in to grab a seat. The show was good – three acts, two of who were apparently famous comedians. They were OK – I’d seen better, but there were a few good laughs. Too many “terrorist” jokes for my liking.

Rodrigo y Gabriela

The highlight of the day, beyond a doubt. These guys had played at Coachella, and were the talk of the show. I had missed them, opting to see another band I was more familiar with. From their brief description – Mexican duo that used to be in a heavy metal band, playing acoustic guitar (no vocals) – you’ll have to forgive me for passing on them. After checking them out this time around – all I can say is… wow. I was blown away – they more than lived up to the hype!

It started pretty much as you would expect – this guy and girl walk out on stage with a couple of acoustic guitars. The crowd was huge, and buzzing unlike anything I’d see so far at the festival – the sense of expectation was palpable in the air. And then there was this explosion of sound coming out of these two acoustic guitars! Now, let’s be honest here – I’m no musician, and my ear for music is not the most refined, but these two (especially Gabriela), made sounds come out of these acoustic guitars that are unlike anything I’ve ever heard. In working through a range of music from (what I assume was) traditional Mexican, Flamenco, Pink Floyd (they had the whole crowd singing Wish You Were Here – here it is from Coachella) and into their own creations, they made these two guitars sound like an entire backing band. They created electric guitars, drums; a whole range of sounds. Hell, at one point Rodrigo was “scratching” the guitar strings, and you’d have assumed he was scratching vinyl, as well as any DJ. And the music was only part of it. For two people on stage, playing with more pace and energy than anyone I’ve ever seen, they still were able to engage the crowd, and get the crowd into the show. It was amazing. Especially Gabriela – when she played, you could hardly see her hands, other than this blur over the guitar.

These guys became known with a version of Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven, which is amazing. Have a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNc5o9TU0t0

Panic! At the Disco

After RyG, this show was just a major disappointment. They’re an average band, playing non-descript music – could be anyone.

Sunday September 2, 2007

A great start to the day – slept in, read my book for a bit, then had a leisurely breakfast. It was nice. After breakfast, I headed out for the day, and started it with a trip to the Sci-Fi Museum and the Experience Music Project (EMP).

Detail from the EMP

Detail from the EMP

The main fountain at Seattle Center

The main fountain at Seattle Center

The Sci-Fi Museum is very cool. As you’d expect, there’s lots of props from various movies and TV shows (including stuff from the new Battlestar Galactica – the best show on TV), but also has a lot of books, manuscripts and some great interactive exhibits. It’s well worth a trip if you’re ever in Seattle.

The EMP is pretty cool as well. I’m not a huge music history buff, so it’s not that much of a draw for me. There was a music of Disney exhibit that was small, but interesting. Since the EMP entrance was free with the Sci-Fi museum, it was worth a look. A little after noon, I headed over to the festival.

It was a bit of an odd day for me today. I was a bit out of sorts and restless, and my mind seemed to be on anything and everything but the festival. I ended up wandering around a lot, jumping from act to act; two or three songs at one stage then on to the next stage for a couple. And so on. No one act could really hold my attention for too long. It seems that all the other things going on in my life right now are weighing fairly heavily on my mind.

The Trucks

I started at one of the outdoor stages, and watched a few songs of the set by the trucks. I actually got there about half way through the set. It was an OK set – fairly typical indie rock band. Some catchy tunes, but nothing over-the-top spectacular.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Back at the Main Stage, I strolled in part way through their set. Now these guys I really liked a lot! Big, heavy, bluesy guitars, with tons of bass and heavy vocals. I saw one description that referred to them as “psychedelic fuzz-rock” and that was the best description I had heard. The first song totally reminded me of a Deep Purple, and you could see the influence of that eras rock bands on the group. Unfortunately, I had to bail before the end of their set to go to see the comedy show I wanted to attend next.

And this is where the value of the upgraded Platinum Pass really came in handy! The next event I wanted to see was a comedy show, featuring Janeane Garofalo. I used my handy little pass to walk past the whole line, five minutes before the doors were to have opened for the show. Pissed off a lot of people who were waiting in line, and a lot more that were not going to get in at all. As it turned out, the people sitting next to me had waited in line for two hours, in order to see the show. Me, I’m just not that patient – I don’t “do” lines… It was well worth the extra money to guarantee the acts you want to see.

Craig Baldo, Janeane Garofalo and Al Madrigal

My second comedy show of the festival – and this one was much better! All three performers were hysterically funny. The show opened with Craig Baldo, who did this wicked set where he described making a mixed tape for a girl that dumped him. Complete with sound bites from various songs, it was way funnier than I’m making it sound. Janeane’s set was awesome – very political, and very focused on Canada. I guess she’s been up in Ottawa filming a movie, so us Canadian’s provided good fodder for her show. As always, her humor is very self-deprecating. The final part of the show al Madrigal is a “half Mexican” performer that played upon his lack of Mexican heritage, growing up in a “white environment”. This was a solid set from beginning to end, and had me laughing so hard my sides hurt when I left.

After the comedy show was over I went to go check out a band called the Horrorpops, who seemed interesting. But they had cancelled. Not sure why. Left with a bit of dilemma, I wandered over to the 1Reel Film Festival, as a show was about to start. This was a collection of shorts entitled Love and (Sometimes) Happiness. There were four films –Quincy and Althea, El Relevo, Sad Story of a Knave, and I Hate Musicals. All four were very good, but I Hate Musicalswas fantastic.

The Apples in Stereo, Ryan Shaw, This Providence

As mentioned previously. Most of the day was spent wandering from act to act. Over the course of an hour or so, I was all three of these bands. Frankly, none of them stand out as being exceptional, although Apples in Stereo did seem pretty good. Maybe if I had been in a different frame of mind.

This Providence also seemed like a pretty good act, with lots of big guitars and high energy music. Their problem was they had to compete with my memories from the last time I was in that venue – The Killers, at Bumbershoot three years prior. Tough act to follow.

Sean Paul

The “worldwide ambassador of dancehall” – very famous, if you’re into that type of music, so I figured I should at least see a bit of his act. For the uninitiated, dancehall is a type of Jamaican popular music, characterized by a DJ singing and rapping over danceable music. The rhythm in dancehall is much faster than in reggae, sometimes with drum machines replacing acoustic sets. 

Frankly, it never did much for me so I sat through a few songs and left. I was pretty beat by this point, and called it a night.

The Main Stage

The Main Stage

Monday September 3, 2007

The day started pretty slow, with me sleeping in until around 11:00. At that point I got ready, packed up my stuff and checked out of the hotel. Then I wandered back over to the festival for the last day. I was in a bit better frame of mind today, and was a bit more focused on the music. I actually spent some parts of the day checking out the various artists a bit more carefully, and also went back to the Flatstock poster show for a second look. It was good to mix in some of the more artistic stuff with the music. I picked up a very cool set of playing cards, and a couple of small art pieces to add to the collection.

Smoosh

Again, I was a bit late for the start of the first act. Smoosh is a female duo – two sisters – one playing drums, the other keyboards. Bit of an odd combo, but they seemed to be having a good time. And apparently have opened for Pearl Jam. Who knew? The lead singer has a nice voice, and they were definitely putting on a show for the crowd, that seemed very into it. Very happy, upbeat indie-pop, as you might expect from a couple of teenage girls. The set was short (plus I was late), so I didn’t see a lot of them. Seemed OK at best.

After Smoosh I wandered over towards the Main Stage to catch Joss Stone. Along the way, at the Esurance Stage I caught a bit of Adrian Xavier’s gig. I really like reggae – it’s a great sound, and this guy sounded fabulous. Until I started paying attention to the lyrics – religious crap. And that was the end of that.

Joss Stone

One of the big headline acts for the festival, I wasn’t expecting much. I wandered into the Main Stage and stayed long enough to confirm my suspicions. It just wasn’t for me. She’s got an amazing voice, and great stage presence. She was putting on an amazing performance, but it just wasn’t my thing.

The Blakes

Back to the Sound Transit Stage for what proved to be a very fun set. These guys are a pretty straight forward rock and roll band, which reminded me of classic 60’s rock bands. They put on a high energy performance, and really engaged the crowd. A local band, they seem to have a pretty strong following. The set was very engaging, even if the music wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

After The Blakes, I headed over to see another set of movies at the 1Reel Film Festival. This time it was award winners from the Seattle Independent Film Festival (SIFF). This batch included Fortune Hunters, High Maintenance, Pierre and Tommy the Kid. Three of the four were exceptional. Fortune Hunters had the directors in the audience, and we found out they are trying to turn it from a short film, into a feature film. It was a great hour of cinema.

Kill Hannah

Now this is why I come to festivals like this. I had never heard of this band, but they are the real deal. They put on a wicked set, had amazing stage presence and just totally rock the joint. Their sound is somewhere between The Killers and something harder like AFI. You could tell that these guys are on the rise. Their act was polished and tight. They moved well between songs, revving the crowd up with their bigger hits, plus mixing in some newer stuff. And it seems they’ve caught the attention of some of rock and roll’s heavy weights.

For the second last song, they brought in a friend of the band to “help” them out with a song. Out strolls Duff McKagan from Velvet Revolver (formerly with Guns N’ Roses), and they rip into Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell. It was an amazing cover – although I have to suspect that half the audience wasn’t as familiar with the material as they might have liked… Damn I’m getting old!

All in all, a great set, and a band to watch in the future. I picked up a CD and will give it a couple of listens.

Performance art

Performance art

And that was the end of the festival for me. All in all it was a really good event. As expected, the musical side of it wasn’t nearly as good as my previous time (but without the Pixies, how could it be?!), but the overall event was still really great. I got to see some new bands, and may have found one or two that make the play list. The arts side of the event was top notch, and I pick up a few things for my collection. All in all, a very good weekend.