Recently, while wandering the streets of downtown Bellingham in search of a morning-after breakfast to heal the night-before ills I’d inflicted on my person, I found myself involved in a conversation that took a turn, as these things so often do, from idle chitchat to musings of the musical kind.
As we meandered, the talk touched on a variety of music-related subjects before finally settling on Bumbershoot in general and the festival lineup in particular. Per usual, as with all matters musical in this region, opinions were both decisive and strong.
“Skrillex?” said one of the people involved, a man whose relationship with music seems to be more of a torrid affair than a casual fling. “I don’t think so.”
His demeanor suggested he was personally offended by the addition of the half-shaven, beat-dropping phenom to Bumbershoot’s 2012 lineup, and that attitude got me thinking.
Having attended my fair share of Bumbershoots over the years, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of visiting my vocal derision on such acts I deemed unworthy—using my own arbitrary system of measuring such things, of course—of playing Seattle’s biggest music festival. Those were the days when I felt the only way to properly leverage the money I’d spent on my Bumbershoot pass was to schedule myself down to the very last second to make certain I saw every band I wanted to see, without—more importantly—not seeing a single minute of any band I either knew I didn’t like or—more likely—had a feeling I didn’t like.
Needless to say, such an approach was both limiting and exhausting.
But that all changed. One year, I found myself with nothing to do during the long Labor Day weekend when Bumbershoot takes place, and in possession of a festival pass that had been bequeathed upon me by someone who’d made “better” plans at the last minute. With a warning that, “You can have this, but there’s no one playing this year that’s really worth seeing,” I found myself with a pass but without the time or inclination to carefully plan my personal Bumbershoot outing as I’d always done before.
So, flying by the seat of my pants, I took myself to the festival to judge its worthiness for myself. And, in doing so, checked out a slew of bands that wouldn’t have made it onto my overly selective roster and forever freed myself from the tyranny of, well, myself. At least as such tyranny applies to Bumbershoot anyway.
This is not to say that if I were attending this year’s installment of Bumbershoot, I would simply fly by the seat of my pants, totally ignorant of who was playing when. Rather, I would make a tentative plan and then see where the weekend took me. I’d like to think my plan would look something like the following:
Since I’m not the earliest riser, I’m guessing I’d probably miss Saturday’s earliest bands. But I’d try and roll in with time to jumpstart my day with the electro-pop hip-hop of Don’t Talk to the Cops. Our very own Polecat plays soon thereafter, and I wouldn’t miss them, as I never tire of seeing local bands—especially ones as excellent as Polecat—play on bigger stages for larger audiences. Of course, this means missing Mainstage performer Missy Higgins, but such are the sacrifices Bumbershoot requires one to make. From there, I’d probably give Skerik’s Bandalabra a pass in favor of watching erstwhile Bellingham band Black Breath slay the crowd at this festival (as they’ve done so well at Capitol Hill Block Party) with their hard-hitting metal. After that, I’d train my ear on Gotye—maybe—even though his breakup anthem, “Somebody that I Used to Know,” would no doubt be stuck in my head for the rest of the day, if not the entire festival. The next couple of hours of the Saturday’s festival, I’d spend in pure musical exploration, wandering from King Khan to THEESatisfaction to Heartless Bastards to Eight and a Half, and hitting bands and points in between. I’d skip Mainstage performer Awolnation in order to see Oberhofer and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and then do it again, giving Jane’s Addiction a pass (sorry, Perry Farrell) to see Damien Jurado and M. Ward. At this point, although the festival itself has a few hours left in it, I probably wouldn’t, and I’d stop seeking music and have to seek some sleep in order to make it back to the Sunday’s festival.
Refreshed and revived, the first couple of hours of Sunday’s Bumbershoot before the can’t-miss Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings take the Mainstage would be my own, which you’re just as likely to find me hanging out by the stages of Eighteen Individual Eyes and Theoretics as you are Gold Leaves and Katie Kate. After Sharon makes me swoon with soul, it’s a tossup between the lush harmonies of Barcelona and the youthful hip-hop energy of KnowMads, but when Tony Bennett shows up on the Mainstage shortly thereafter, I have a feeling I’d probably be there. Because it’s Tony Bennett, for the love of Pete. After Bennett, changing things up might be in order, which means I’d likely point myself in the direction of the Young Evils and the Dirtbombs (although the Fruit Bats and AM & Shawn Lee intrigue as well), but I’d certainly put emo pioneers the Promise Ring on my schedule, if for no other reason than they’re wrapping up their once-a-decade tour in Seattle. Mudhoney plays shortly thereafter, and since my imaginary Bumbershoot outing means I would have to miss their Sat., Sept. 1 show at the Wild Buffalo, I sure as hell wouldn’t miss them perform at the festival. Since I have a soft spot for old-school soul music, Lee Fields & the Expressions would be next on the list, before ending my night in proper retro style with the inimitable Wanda Jackson & the Dusty 45s. Of course, the party rages on long past Wanda, so I’d probably peek in on Mac Miller on my way out the gate to see if his reputation as a party starter is borne out in real life.
Come Monday, I’ll no doubt be worn out, both aurally and physically, but Bumbershoot is a marathon, not a sprint, so I’d lace up and get in the race again—although in abbreviated fashion. Which means I’d likely miss all that comes before Best Coast takes the Mainstage (sorry, the Cellar Door, Reignwolf, Noah Gundersen, et al). After that, it’s a tossup between the Mexican Elvis El Vez and the theatrics of Foxy Shazam, as it will be a short while later when I’m forced to choose between Mainstager M83 and Ty Segall. After that, the world is my musical oyster, meaning I’ll be able to bounce around between bands and genres, seeing artists as varied as Syria’s Omar Souleyman, the sweet melodies of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the powerful songwriting of Bryan John Appleby, the slowcore of Low, the folk-pop of Hey Marseilles, and more. At this point, I’m probably going to need a break, although I could see my attention being grabbed by the likes of the Vaselines and Passion Pit.
Then, of course, we have Skrillex, who will close out the Mainstage and the festival. So, to the man who sneered out “Skrillex?” during the sidewalk conversation that spawned this imaginary Bumbershoot ride, I simply say, “Yeah, Skrillex. Why not?”
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