If you are unfamiliar with Seattle’s Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival; basically it’s probably one of the more organized, locally focused, and better concert festivals of it’s kind. Held every Labor Day weekend since 1971 at the Seattle Center, which was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, Bumbershoot utilizes the center’s various indoor theaters, outdoor stages, McCaw Hall, and Memorial Stadium. The name of the festival was taken from bumbershoot, a colloquial term for umbrella, which makes sense for a city known for it’s constant rainy weather.
So, I arrived at Bumbershoot with some pretty high expectations. Not only did this year’s festival hold an impressive musical line-up, but they also featured some of my favorite comedians as well as plenty of local designers and artists.
First I watched a few songs by the Seattle based hip-hopper, Grynch. While I have kind of detached from underground hip-hop as of late, his energy as well as his hypeman (above) made for a nice introduction to Seattle hip-hop as well as the festival’s musical diversity.
Next I rolled up to catch Idiot Pilot…which was kind of a mistake. You see, I tried giving the band the benefit of the doubt due to a past tour with the Deftones (whom I enjoy) and their heavy self-proclaimed Radiohead influence. Well, I don’t remember Thom Yorke screaming his little head off like some kind of creature from a Rob Zombie movie. Not that I don’t dig screaming bands, but when you add techno-styled beats, alt-rock, emo-esque vocals, with bloodcurdling screams…it’s just painful to listen to. So, I ran away after half a song to catch The Constellations. While their psychedelic soul rock style may sound good on record, their performance is what really shines. However, once lead vocalist Elijah Jones started to rap, that’s when I had to move on to something a bit more substantial.
Next I caught a live recording of Jimmy Pardo’s Never Not Funny podcast with guest Greg Behrendt. As a fan of the show, it was nice to watch the chemistry between producer Matt Belknap, Pat Francis, and host Jimmy Pardo in a live setting. Not to mention how hilarious all three men are. The highlight had to have been when Pat Francis explained how he pranks people on eBay once he’s won a bid on a random and ridiculous product. This one being a Best of Art Garfunkel CD. The prank involved asking the seller to wrap the album in a 42″ flat screen TV box as a gag gift for his wife; who hates Art because he has “Jew Teeth.”
Among the many bands and comedians at Bumbershoot, there were your fair share of street performers. Most of which were drawing impressively sizable crowds that held up their cell phone cameras to capture the “magic.”
Next, I stepped out and caught a few songs by folk singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle. I first heard him on the recent John Prine tribute album and was drawn to his humor and playful style that refreshingly differs from other artists that are similar in sound. I see myself seeking for his records in the near future and catching him live again sometime soon.
[mp3] Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues from Harlem River Blues (2010)
Afterward, I found myself wandering around and hearing a few songs by Seattle-local freak-folk act Feral Children, the amazing Jamie Lidell, and of course Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I might not be the only one saying this but I see Ed Sharpe becoming the break-out live band of 2010, even though their mediocre album came out mid-last year. Since then the band has drawn enormous crowds at festivals and increased their fanbase tenfold. It’s been kind of nice to watch since the band has been so humble about their recent and well-deserved uprising.
[mp3] Feral Children – On a Frozen Beach from Brand New Blood (2010)
[mp3] Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Janglin (RAC Mix) from Janglin (RAC Mix) (2010)
After eating what seemed like a brick of curly fries, I made my way to camp out at the main stage to see The Decemberists, Neko Case, and Bob Dylan. Seeing The Decemberists again was a big deal for me mainly because I hadn’t seen them perform older songs since The Crane Wife tour in 2006. I did see them at Treasure Island Music Festival in 2009, but they played all of Hazards of Love from beginning to end with no older material. This time around was like a ‘Greatest Hits’ with songs like Billy Liar, 16 Military Wives, The Island as well as new songs Down by the Water and June Hymn. Overall, the band was very tight with a fair share of crowd participation especially on 16 Military Wives.
[mp3] The Decemberists – The Rake’s Song from The Hazards of Love (2009)
This was my first time experiencing the amazing and powerful Neko Case. For such a small woman, there is quite a bit of fire coming from this intensely talented performer. Playing a fair share from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and last year’s brilliant Middle Cyclone, Neko wowed the appreciative Seattle crowd with adorable charm and admirable wisdom. Around the close of her set, she proceeded to dedicate a few songs to her missing three legged cat, Wayne. She proclaimed that if Wayne did end up dying by coyote, at least it was in a battle at it’s most basic natural level. To which she began appropriately playing This Tornado Loves You. To quote the person standing next to me that night, “No offense to Bob, but that’s going to tough to top.”
While I was very excited to see Bob Dylan perform, I was skeptical on whether or not this was going to be as mind-blowing as it was witnessing Al Green or Stevie Wonder perform this year. I kept asking these aging hippies peppered throughout the crowd about his recent appearances and I got the same answer every time, “Oh he’s amazing! You won’t regret it!” Fair enough. However once Bob kicked off with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, it became a game of “Guess Which Dylan Song This Is!” Apparently these 60 year old Dylan fans like guessing games but some of us don’t like to try to translate garbled vocals from a guy whose vocals were already distorted. I even found myself trying to say to myself, “Well…I like this version, it’s a bluesy-er and rusty version…yeah! That’s it!” It wasn’t hard to eventually give up on that thought and just admire the talented backing band and enjoy the fact that this 100 year old cowboy geisha is actually the Bob Dylan that created some of my favorite records. I was, for lack of a better word, content with his performance.
Setlist (courtesy of The Examiner)
1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (Bob on keyboard then guitar)
2. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (Bob on guitar)
3. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Bob on guitar)
4. Just Like A Woman (Bob on keyboard)
5. Rollin’ And Tumblin’ (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on electric mandolin)
6. Desolation Row (Bob on keyboard)
7. Cold Irons Bound (Bob center stage with harp)
8. Tangled Up In Blue (Bob center stage with harp)
9. Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
10. Simple Twist Of Fate (Bob on guitar)
11. Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
12. Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob center stage with harp)
13. Jolene (Bob on keyboard)
14. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)
While day one consisted of me familiarizing myself with the grounds and camping out at the Main Stage, I was impressed with what I saw so far. Bumbershoot was quickly becoming one of my favorite festivals of the year.
written by Shawn Robbins
photos by Shawn Robbins and Erin Lodi