Much has been made of the seemingly huge drop-off of big-name headliners for this year's Bumbershoot Festival. Last year there was Bob Dylan, and in 2009 we saw Katy Perry, Sheryl Crow, Fergie, Death Cab for Cutie, and Modest Mouse. The 2011 lineup is topped by Daryl Hall and John Oates. This is not a commentary on the artists (I personally really dig Hall and Oates); this is all about what Bumbershoot was willing to spend to attract the bigger-name artists, and its decision to pass on marquee acts to keep the festival affordable (and in business). This change hasn't sat well with many folks who remember Bumbershoot as a festival that regularly capped the summer with some of the biggest names in music.
Seattle is a funny town. We hate the headliners when they come, and feel left out and small when they don't. But does it really matter to you who is headlining? Do you go to festivals for the headliner, or do you go for the whole experience, and perhaps even the chance of discovering something new?
In Europe, where my band has spent a fair amount of time touring and where the major cities and countries are much closer to one another than in the States, there has been an explosion in the summer-festival circuit. I've seen bills packed with the likes of Sweden's mellow The Soundtrack of Our Lives and the Gutter Twins, topped off with a little Slipknot. And Korn, Journey, Mastodon, Ghost, and Foreigner all together, with a dubstep tent somewhere in between.
It is not just the odd combinations of artists that I find rather appealing and fresh. It is the knowledge that I will more than likely discover something new, an artist that re-inspires a guy like me.
It's not about the headliners. Heck, you can go see those guys when they are passing through town on their big-ass tours. I've always felt that experiencing artists whom you'd otherwise maybe never get a chance to see—or know to see—coupled with odd groupings of artists from all sorts of different genres, is what truly makes a good music festival even better. And Bumbershoot has plenty of that.
Red Fang, a kick-ass band I saw this past June in Clisson, France, is playing Saturday. As is Campfire Ok, a band I've heard nothing but good things about. Having a chance to maybe see them on the same day as Red Fang and Pentagram? Now this is getting interesting . . .
Vendetta Red are on a redux as a band, and that could be a very good thing. And I know that The Jim Jones Revue could have a chance at stealing this whole festival when they play on Sunday. Or will the Butthole Surfers have something to say, and prove my headliner theory wrong?
But, honestly, when I look at the Bumbershoot lineup for this year, it is a dazzling array of mysterium. Who ARE half of these artists? Am I admitting that I am not so cool anymore when I admit that I don't know who a whole swath of these acts are? Who cares? That is the fun bit about a music festival, the discovery.
So quit your griping about how Bumbershoot has been diminished. Just go out and see something new, and rediscover what has always made Seattle a different sort of music town, one that celebrates all kinds of genres while maintaining a sense of humor and grace.
Duff McKagan is the former bassist for Guns N' Roses and the leader of Seattle band Loaded. His column runs every Thursday at seattleweekly.com/reverb.