Whether you've already downloaded your schedule and plotted the logistics of getting from Bagley Wright to the Mural Amphitheater in 13 minutes flat or are still on the fence about braving the Labor Day crowds, Bumbershoot is right around the corner. You may be an Emerald City newbie who can't believe all you need is $35* bucks and a bus pass for a day's worth of big fun or one of those jaded Seattleites who are "so over" the people, traffic and headache that can go along with the 'Shoot. As someone who has experienced both feelings, I can relate. As do a lot of folks in Austin, TX and Chicago, IL who host big three-day festivals in the middle of their cities.
So let us size up the three by addressing some common festival factors and see which fest might be the one for you, along with a little advice for maximum festing fun. Perhaps you'll be inspired to road trip cross-country for one or both of the out-of -towners or find a better appreciation for the hot arts action in your own backyard.Just the Facts, Ma'am...
Austin City Limits- Now in its seventh year, this offshoot of the iconic TV program of the same name, has become the Texas destination festival. Generally held in the last weekend of September (this year the first weekend in October) to beat the summer heat, ACL is held at Zilker Park with an attendance of around 65,000 daily, enjoying eight music stages.
Bumbershoot- Seattle's Labor Day weekend arts fest has been in action in various forms since 1971 and attendance comes in at around 50,000 people per day. Held at Seattle Center, over 250 scheduled events take place in the Center's buildings and outdoor stages.
Lollapalooza-- The once-traveling alternative fest revamped in 2005 and settled in downtown Chicago's Grant Park. With crowds that can total 225,000, this early August event has seven stages of live music and a dance pavilion.
Sadly, with the expense of touring these days, there are only so many bands who can spend the entire summer on the road, resulting in crossover headlining artists. Had their plans not been upended by cancer, the Beastie Boys would have been headlining both Lollapalooza and ACL (both festivals are produced by C3 presents), and because they won't be playing, the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, who are scheduled to play Bumbershoot and ACL, stepped in for their 'Palooza slot. NW tour routing is also affected by the success of early summer's Sasquatch festival skimming the already depleted booking pool.
Bumbershoot and ACL excel in booking lots of local talent on their smaller stages, while the 'Palooza boasts an international roster that is Perry Farrell approved. Bumbershoot's biggest difference is the arts-centric programming, which makes it more than just a music fest. You'll get a smattering of film, dance, literature and poetry along with the additional crowds they draw (making this the only fest where you may run into your parents), as well as all genres of musical performance. Lollapalooza offers a little twang, hip hop and a extremely fun dance experience, with festival artists stepping in as DJs and heavy weights in the electronic world, but if your goal is of a rocking-out nature, you'll be happy. ACL is in Austin, so the programming is twang heavy but well-curated and by far the most laid back affair of the three.
Baby, We Got Your Money...
Whoever said money can't buy happiness hasn't attended a festival with Platinum credentials. So if what you require is a private, full-service cabana to enjoy your festival experience or you plan on fence jumping (a practice I don't advice after the horror of seeing a kid at the 'Palooza scale an eight-foot fence, jolt across rows of port-a-potties, and take a leap of Olympian proportions only to fall face first into a slew of security and be promptly escorted out muddied, bloodied and chagrined) or renegade busking for taco cash, all three of these events have something to offer you.
Bumbershoot- You can get tickets for $35 - $50 (tix are cheaper when you register as a "Bumberfan" at Bumbershoot.org) per day and a meal, two beers plus a bottle of water for just a hair under $25. You can bring your own snacks, picnic lunch and a couple of bottles of water (no glass please) for the ultimate in cheap fest-fooding. You're allowed re-entry into the festival with a hand stamp.
ACL- Individual day passes go quickly at $85, but are available. You can get two meals, two beers and a water for under $25. No re-entry for one day ticket holders.
Lollapalooza- Individual day tickets are available at $80, but hard to come by. You can get two meals, a beer and bottle of sweet leaf tea for under $25. You can bring two bottles of sealed water. No re-entry for one day ticket holders.
Bumbershoot- $120 (again cheaper as a Bumber fan) gets you a three-day wristband, unlimited ins-and-outs and puts you within walking distance of lower Queen Anne restaurants.
ACL- $135-185 (depending when you buy) could get you a three day wristband if they didn't sell out by around May each year. Unlimited in and outs with wristbands and you're within walking distance to Austin's Barton Springs' restaurant row.
Lollapalooza- $175 (early bird price) for all three days. Unlimited ins-and-outs, and all of downtown Chicago right outside the festival gates.
Bumbershoot - Always wondered who those rat bastards on the side of the Main Stage are? How did they get there? Is it as awesome as you've imagined it to be? Well, for $215 you can find out for yourself. Your gold pass will you get platform access. You'll also get into the air conditioned, goodie-laden VIP hospitality lounge, drink tickets for the beer garden and a few other amenities. $420 gets you a Platinum pass. This includes all the goods that come along with the Gold pass plus a few more drink tickets, special seating and entry to prime venues, and access to the intimate artist lounge performance space.
ACL- Eight Ben Franklins and one Grant get you semi-celebrity treatment. You'll have access to facials, meals, a gourmet happy hour, air-conditioned bathrooms, booze, booze, booze and what I'm sure is a very fancy wristband/laminate. Which will be pretty in the glaring sunlight as you're sweating with the masses. No side stage for you.
Lollapalooza- Again, $850 is the magic number. You'll enjoy two VIP lounges on either side of the expansive grounds, platform stage views, gourmet lunch and dinner buffets, an insane amount of liquor, air-conditioned potties, spa treatments and shaded seating.
Lollapalooza- For an undisclosed amount that varies with the size of your party, you and your 20-45 closest friends can enjoy the festival from your own private tent and viewing platform, giving you a sightline of two stages, (and all the peasants with mere wristbands) a personal wait staff to attend to your whims, enough booze to bathe in and a light buffet. You and your guests will tinkle in air conditioned comfort, have personalized fancy pants credentials and "more," which, for the for cost of this experience, should include personal physic reading via foot massage from festival founder Perry Farrell.
Pros of $$ and under:
The bliss of losing yourself in a sea of strangers united in one sweet musical moment. And the cheaper price increases your festival satisfaction and feeling you've gotten your money's worth.
Cons: If you like to get your drink on, you'll end up spending near the VIP price on booze. Having no choice other than a Depends undergarment or the port-a-can at its Sunday-evening rankest to relieve yourself.
Pros of $$$ and Up: All of the purposefully obvious things, plus getting to have your sweet festival moment mere feet away from the band.
Cons: Once you've experienced the VIP treatment, its almost impossible to be satisfied attending on the cheap again. And having to squelch feelings of poseur-dom knowing you've bought your way side stage.
And the Golden Band Aid Goes To...
Unless you take the Cabana Route it's your poor ole' tootsies that will ultimately pay the price for three days of festing. You can wear your worn-to-the bone, old ass converse or six inch platform boots, but the inevitable mixture of sweat and shoe friction will result in a blister(s) that will ruin your festival experience more quickly than Woodstock's fabled brown acid.
Lollapalooza is the king when it comes to grounds that can take a toll on your feet. Grant Park is large enough to support four main stages, two on either side of the park and it is nearly impossible to make it quickly from one side of the grounds to the other. You need to decide early what part of the park you're going to start your day on and where you'll be entering and camp there until you're ready to see what's on the other side. In-and-outs are no help, as almost everyone is routed through a main gate that is a maze of barrier-laden sidewalks. These are great for herding folks in, but would be a nightmare if, God forbid, a lot of people needed to get out in a hurry.
ACL's main entrance is a bit of a hike, albeit a beautiful one, across Lady Bird Lake, but once you're on the grounds it's pretty easy to get from one side of the event to the other. The imitate nature can be a disadvantage however, as you can occasionally get noise bleeding between stages.
Bumbershoot's entry is a bit easier as public transit will drop you off with in a couple of blocks of festival entrances and after your first year in attendance you can easily figure out how to make your way to opposing sides of the grounds.
When it comes to avoiding foot pain all together, my personal strategy to beating blisters involves making a "cast" of high quality band-aids around your most likely to blister areas and a good pair of no show socks. Some folks swear by stick anti-perspirant applied to the tops of your feet and backs of your heels to avoid moisture, but you need to be diligent and keep reapplying throughout the day. Stick deodorant is a lifesaver when it comes to another fest pest (for the ladies anyway), thigh friction. A little rub across the areas that will be making contact will have you all set for a chafe-free day.
Sidenote: Think you can get around the blister problem via flip-flops? Entering a port-a-can wearing flip-flops is the bacterial equivalent of taking a poop on your own feet.
Love 'em or hate 'em, our patchouli-scented friends are a staple at outdoor concerts. Catching butterflies and spitting in the face of both razor and soap manufactures, these hemp-wearing homies serve as the connection to our festive forefathers, run the majority of the craft booths you'll find at these events and remind you to stop and really feeeeel the music, man.
Austin hippies are the purest to the stereotype, yet the most unobtrusive festival attendees. Chicago hippies were sparse indeed, maybe due to the hefty festival price tag and I found the grounds to be blissfully drum circle free. Seattle's bearded brethren, sad to say, are the most overtly obnoxious of the bunch, "jamming" whenever the mood strikes them, haphazardly passing out, scolding you for not recycling, then asking you for change and smuggling things like kittens and homemade instruments onto festival grounds. The nicer side of Hippiedom is exhibited in the Greening of all three events, who each have web pages devoted to their earth friendly practices.
Want to enjoy your grass on the grass? Be smart and in any of these cities you'll be just fine, or so I've, umm, heard. Pot and outdoor music are a marriage made in fiscal heaven for festival promoters (three words: Big City Burrito) and as long as you're discreet, no one should be up in your business. Seattle is, however, the only city I've ever seen anyone busted for smoking doobage at an event. In fact, Seattle events in general are pretty cop-heavy compared to events in other big cities, which depending on your take either makes you feel really safe or really paranoid. About $40 should take care of your "needs" in all three cities, again, so I've heard. If none of the aforementioned hippies are available to hook you up, look for a chick in something like a vintage, polyester Holly Hobby nightie, ripped fishnets and lunchbox purse, she obviously knows where the good drugs are.
Kids six and under are going to Bumbershoot for free and discounts exist for kids up to ten years old (see Bumbershoot.org for more details), and they can safely rock the day away at Youngershoot, activities and music especially for the little music lover.
ACL and the 'Palooza both have policies letting kids under ten in for free with a paying adult (how many kids per adult is left to the discretion of the gate official), making these events excellent bargains for hyper-breeders.
At the cleverly named Austin Kiddie Limits you can see big time artists playing the biggest little stage in Texas. Kidapalooza (now an actual event unto itself in LA) offers the most comprehensive kid entertainment, a virtual rock camp for kids within the festival. Your kid can get guitar lessons, a fake tat and a faux hawk all for the price of your ticket. Just remember if you're going to take your offspring to the living Sociology class that is an outdoor music festival be prepared for all the uncomfortable conversations (What's that smell? What are those people doing to each other? And at Bumbershoot this year, what are "Lady Humps"?) its bound to stir up.
The fickle whims of mother nature can make or break your festival experience. ACL guarantees you warm, really warm, weather and previously a dust bowl condition referred to by locals as "Zilker lung" for its ability to linger. But a replant of hearty grass means the park will be so green "you could go barefoot" (which makes me think again of the porta-johns and those foot covers doctors wear in the ER). You need a lot of sunscreen, water, a hat and stamina to deal with the 90+ degree temps.
Lolla is completely unpredictable, this year it rained on the first day alerting me to the fact that when wet, Grant Park smells like a farm and the kitty litter they use to soak up the mud only leads to a stinky clay like substance that you have to scrape off the back of your legs. The rest of the fest was hot until evening when the breeze off the water kicked in, making for idyllic weather. Pack a little of everything, for every type of weather for maximum comfort.
Seattle has had a strange summer weather-wise, but I recommend if you're going to a festival called Bumbershoot, you should probably bring one. B'shoot does provide the most indoor activities of the three, however, and in-and-outs will let you retreat somewhere else to wait out any major rains at places like nearby Easy Street Records.
And After the Show it's the After Party...
The three fests sponsor producer approved after parties, which are priced separately from the event. Lolla and ACL book bands playing the event in clubs throughout town. Austin's club district is under a $10 cab ride from Zilker Park and the bus will take you right to Sixth Street.
The Chicago shows on the other hand, are spread throughout the city and require a little research. I found this out after a well worth it $30 cab ride to see Fleet Foxes at the Metro, a small club close to Wrigley Field. If time is not of the essence, jump on hopstop.com and find a route via public transit that will get you there for $2.25.
Bumbershoot's only sanctioned after party is Bumbershoot-A-Go-Go featuring Emerald City Soul Club DJs. It's 21+, starts at 11pm, and is free with ID.
And After the Party... It's the Hotel Lobby...
All events of this nature have partner hotels which offer packages and festival rates. The best deal however is to go to betterbidding.com to find out for how much and where people are getting great deals on Priceline and Hotwire. We heard of folks pulling down $80 three star (and up) rooms right across from Grant Park. The farther away you're willing to be from the event the cheaper rooms will be, so do the math on transportation costs and see what fits your budget best. Keep in mind staying close to the fest does increase your odds for getting your festival hookup back to your room.
Kick out the (Traffic) Jams...
Seattle is slowly starting to figure out what major cities like Chicago already have. If you truly want to reduce traffic congestion downtown you have to take away people's ability to park. The mass of people leaving Lollapalooza (cheering in mass and singing down the street) slowed traffic more than actual cars did and the train was within walking distance of the exit. Seattle falls in the middle of this continuum as lower Queen Anne provides close-in parking, at a premium, during events that can provide quite a cluster fuck of people and cars around eleven PM, but it's a reasonable walk into downtown and public transit is close,cheap and available. And it's one of the few times a year the monorail actually serves a purpose.
Despite having the cheapest public transit of the three, Austin is still the most traveled to of the fests via car. The local transit agency does provide a shuttle to Republic Square and downtown, near ample parking and hotel options.
*All ticket prices mentioned in this piece were accurate at the time they were written, prices and availability often change as events approach. Consult www.bumbershoot.org, www.aclfestival.com, and www.lollapalooza.com for the most up-to-date information.