With F-bombs falling like a mid-winter rain through the first sunny hours of this year’s Bumbershoot, the Total Experience Gospel Choir’s late afternoon set at the Starbucks Stage felt refreshingly out of line, subversive even.
Before a lawn of loungers—many seeming to be passing an idle moment or waiting for Charles Bradley’s later set—Pastor Pat Wright led her choir, ranging a half century in age and all wearing red T-shirts bearing the choirs name. It was all very sweet, the choir lightly miced and a little quiet for the large open space. Then Wright turned to the crowd. “Here’s another sing-along,” she said. “In E.” And with that the live band played the opening chords to “Amazing Grace.” Wright urged everyone to sing. Catching hints of the willing, she helped the crowd along.
“How sweet the sound,” she prompted, and the murmurs began to take shape in response.”
“That saved a wretch like me,” she continued, and the response became emboldened.
“I once was lost.” And the guy next to me, white sunglass and Doc Martens joined in.
“Was blind, but now I see.” And now I was singing along as Wright dropped her prompts and began repeating a very different kind of four-letter word than I had been hearing all day. “Oh Lord,” she sang. “Oh Lord … Oh Lord … O Lord.”
Ten minutes later I was in the SkyChurch at the EMP Museum for the first set of EDM at EMP, a new feature of the festival that has replaced the local music stage. I entered just in time for the opening set from Tyler Brown, one of eleven DJs booked by USC, the promoter responsible for the enormous Paradiso Festival that takes place in the Gorge Amphitheatre in the Spring.
As I entered, the vibe was decidedly high school dance, partially because the song Brown was remixing was Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”—a favorite at my own school days—and because the room was filling up predominantly with teenagers. It was quiet and no one was moving. “Turn it up!” someone yelled. One kid turned to another: “If you can hear me, this isn’t loud enough.” Then Brown left the console as the music played to welcome a visitor. A friend with what looked like a 5-year-old wanted to show the kid the rig. This was not looking good.
But then, not a minute later, Brown strapped on his headphones and administered the first bass drop of the night, delivering both the beat and the increased volume at the same time. Nice trick. The crowd began to move. Vanilla Ice bled into the next remix of another classic from my school days: TLC’s “Slugs.” The second big drop came shortly after, I could feel the bass batting at my chest. The complaints had ended, and the party was underway.
Just outside, on the Plaza Stage, Like Street Dive was finishing up its set, introducing a large crowd to its jazz-inflected indie soul. “We like to do covers,” said singer Rachel Price, who it must be said has got some mouth. “We’ve been doing this one the longest. Eight years.”
Then the band started in on a version of “I Want You Back,” by the Jackson 5. But this version of the Motown classic was delivered at half-speed, if that. The result was mesmerizing. Stripped of its rhythmic pulse, the song took on a melancholy air. But the instrumentation of brushed drums, stabbing stand-up bass and horn sustained the tension, the song turning into a breathtaking high-wire act. Before the end, Bridget Kearney delivered a shape-shifting bass solo that elicited wild applause from the audience. It felt, for a moment, like time stood still, or at least slowed down.
On my way back to the press center, I drifted past the Fountain Lawn Stage where Bay Area rapper Watsky was completing a spoken word piece over light jazzy instrumentation. I took it in. “I hear the sound of 20,000 heads being pulled collectively out of their asses,” he said. Then a few moments later: “7 billion 47 million people in the world and I have the audacity to think that I matter.”
The packed crowd knew exactly what he was talking about and responded unanimously. Then, breaking out of his spoken word meter, George Virden Watsky let the crowd know how much he was enjoying Bumbershoot.
“I enjoy the fuck out of every second of it, he said.”