Monday I tried out a new festival-going strategy--I got in, saw three amazing sets, and peaced. It was short but effective, and was a great


Monday's Bumbershoot: Charles Bradley Changes the World, One Song at a Time

Monday I tried out a new festival-going strategy--I got in, saw three amazing sets, and peaced. It was short but effective, and was a great way to tackle the final day of a monster endeavor like Bumbershoot. Here are some words about what I saw.

Lemolo's haunting songs fit perfectly in the hushed, womb-like interior of the EMP's upper stage. A reverent crowd filled the venue to capacity before their set even began. It was my first time seeing the duo of Meagan Grandall and Kendra Cox, and though I've caught a bit of buzz about them, I want to know why I haven't heard more. Their songs, at times dreamy, others tense, reminded me of a subdued (but similarly nuanced) Wye Oak. More, please.

The real star of the fest (and the set people will be talking about the most in months to come) belonged to Charles Bradley, aka "The Screaming Eagle of Soul." After a few warm-up songs from his band, Bradley took the stage clad in head-to-toe purple, with an embroidered jacket and sequined vest, and promptly proceeded to blow the audience away with his charisma and pipes. Where did this guy come from, in all his hip-swiveling, mike-manhandling glory, and why haven't I heard of him before? The KEXP blog has the story:

"Born in Florida but raised in Brooklyn, [Bradley] spent most of his childhood on the streets. After seeing James Brown live at an early age, he decided he wanted to be a performer and struggled to keep bands together and find stages to perform on throughout the rest of life. After spending the majority of his life working as a chef everywhere from a mental hospital in Maine to Alaska to California, Bradley eventually settled into working as a handyman back in Brooklyn, where he began to regularly put on James Brown-style performances in local clubs."

He was then discovered and signed to Daptone, home of Sharon Jones and the Budos Band, and released his debut record of original songs this year at age 62.

I'm young and dumb, so the existence of a soul performance as old-school as his was quite a revelation. Bradley's overall message of love and sweet goodbyes to the adoring crowd were nearly tear-inducing. If calling the set life-changing sounds too melodramatic, it was certainly life-affirming.

Bradley's set couldn't be topped, but Sharon Van Etten came a close second. The Brooklyn-based songwriter is old-school in her own way, in that she writes songs that are classic in content and structure. Her songs are timeless and brave, in the vein of greats like Sandy Denny or Neil Young. They're also hard to categorize. Beyond the fact that she's a singer/songwriter (I guess), it's difficult to describe her music. It's sometimes a little twangy and often fairly slow and sad. But it can also be bold, like on the electrifying "Peace Sign." Van Etten started and ended her set solo on electric guitar, but was joined by her band (drums and bass) for added punch on songs from the stellar Epic EP and some new material. My only wish is that she would tour with a backup singer to replicate some of the beautiful harmonies that grace her recordings.

Now that fest is over and the ballots are tallied, what's the verdict? To my mind, Bumbershoot did a great job programming acts from every genre, and there were many artists I wanted to see each day. Therefore, I found the new format a success. But with seemingly diminished attendance, will the festival organizers feel the same way? We'll have to wait and see what happens next year.

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