Bumbershoot to Lose More Than Staff? Or Will It Become a Longer Fest? Multiple Weekends?

Laura Musselman
Courtney Love, with Hole, at Bumbershoot 2010.
Last week, One Reel--the umbrella non-profit that runs Bumbershoot--laid off eight of their 14 festival staffers; folks who run the Family Fourth and Bumbershoot. Executive director Jon Stone says the primary factors included low sponsorship and attendance at Bumbershoot, the latter of which he blames primarily on the economy and weather.

Stone says attendance was in the neighborhood of 103,000 over three days, down from about 150,000 the festival averaged a decade ago when artist fees and ticket prices were lower and the festival was a four-day event. The bulk of this year's attendees, Stone said, opted to pay for the standard ticket--which was $40 in advance, and included access to all shows, including the mainstage--versus the new economy ticket that included everything but the mainstage, and was $22. In fact, Stone says that while 90 percent of the mainstage tickets were sold, only 38 percent of their projected economy tickets were purchased.

"Now we really have that mandate in front of us to find something that works," he says. "What we did this year doesn't really work."

Here's what else Stone says about changes that could be in store for the Northwest's largest music and arts festival moving forward:

Big-money acts the future of the fest?

Stone says there are two schools of thought regarding what draws people to the festival: Big-money celebrity acts (Bob Dylan, Hole, etc.), or the rest of the lineup of smaller artists that are less familiar but lend to a discovery and experimental-based festival experience.

"Now we see what peoples' buying habits were, at least for this year. People clearly bought that mainstage, celebrity artist experience," he says. "They did not buy into the 'everything except that' camp. But that's not necessarily what Bumbershoot's soul is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be about discovering new music and art."

Full-priced tickets for headliner sets?

Stone says One Reel has, for years, considered going to a model used by the likes of Summerfest in Milwaukee, by charging a full price to see the headlining sets--what you would pay to see someone like Dylan in a non-festival setting, closer to $80 than $40--and a much lower rate for a ticket to the rest of the festival.

"Bumbershoot does not charge market rate for its entertainment," he says. "I don't want to change that. But it's hard."

Will it shed another day?

Bumbershoot moved from four to three days in 2006, but Stone says there is no chance of moving to two days in 2011. If anything, he'd like to extend the festival, perhaps bringing back Fridays, or maybe spreading the festival out over two weekends, or the entire year somehow.

"It can't get smaller. That makes no sense," Stone says. "That [Friday] fix was a direct-response with what was happening with the rise of costs in the marketplace. If it keeps going like it's going for another couple years, the festival's going to be right back in the same place. [Cutting another day is] a plan that leads to nowhere."

More sponsorship?

"In order to keep moving forward and keep giving people what they want in the festival, we need to reach out and find new kinds of local partnerships," Stone says. "For all of the sponsorship money that the festival brings in, the vast majority of that is from out of state. There is not a heck of a lot of local sponsorship of the festival. This is interesting. Why is that?"

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