In 2018, Bumbershoot is a youth music festival. Sure, some older folks come out to hear Blondie or Prince’s band The Revolution run through classic hits, or gather indoors to hear John Roderick and Ken Jennings amusingly wax about Disco Demolition Night, but the vast majority of festivalgoers seem to be a sub-30 crowd interested in primarily in dancing to The Chainsmokers or throwing their hands up with Lil Wayne (or, for a select few, moshing with the Regrettes). And there’s really nothing wrong with that. Trying to hold onto what Bumbershoot used to be—i.e., an affordable community arts festival for the whole family—seems like a fool’s errand in the current musical climate.
That said, after years of growing pains under the new corporate management of AEG Presents, Bumbershoot’s modern version finally felt comfortable in its Seattle Center space in 2018. Sans KeyArena as a venue, there were no oppressive KeyArena lines (Ex Hall feels like a more natural EDM home anyway); Cornish Playhouse and the Charlotte Martin Theatre were properly engaged for the reduced comedy slates; the KEXP space has fittingly become the de facto local stage; and the one night of Silent Disco at Chihuly Garden and Glass actually kinda ruled.
Bumbershoot might not be for everyone anymore, but at least it’s leaning into what it does well.
*When Blondie only has an hour to perform, the set becomes a fun-filled hits parade. Also, Debbie Harry tapped into the aesthetic of her old pal Andy Warhol, with a day-glo wig, oversized glasses, and a colorful overcoat that felt fittingly pop art.
*USC Presents’ Silent Disco on Friday night a Chihuly Garden and Glass was an absolute blast. For the uninitiated, patrons are given wireless headphones with channel and volume controls. Two DJs simultaneously perform different sets and people can toggle back-and-forth between the frequencies to suit their dancing moods (and the headphones light up blue or green depending on the channel, so you know what those around you are grooving too). It managed to capture the communal vibe of EDM and its building crescendos without feeling cramped or chaotic or loud (or, at least, only as loud as you want it to be). It’s a stress-free dance party that offers attendees control. Hopefully it can be a nightly occurrence at future Bumbershoots.
*During Eugene Mirman’s delightfully oddball stand-up comedy set, he joked about being around a Bumbershoots back before they figure out that kids don’t listen to indie rock. Well the one rock act that at least a small sect of the kids did embrace this year was The Regrettes. The poppy teenage punk band bounced around stage and whipped the crowd at KEXP into a lather, complete with mosh pits and a wall of death. The whole set was a blast (including an unexpected cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In the Name”), and I was finally able to pinpoint frontwoman Lydia Night’s precise charismatic vibe—it’s the long lost love child of Gwen Stefani and Phoebe from Friends.
*Look, I’m not going to fault anyone—especially the teens and young adults—from choosing Bumbershoot’s live music over listening to two old white guys talk about baseball and disco. That said, I almost squealed in my seat at the Charlotte Martin Theatre when Ken Jennings and John Roderick revealed their live episode of the Omnibus! podcast would chronicle the Chicago White Sox’s infamous Disco Demolition Night. The entire humorous and informative discussion about baseball promotional nights, coded-rockist cries against disco, and the mayhem of the event in question was a blast that I look forward to relistening to when it arrives in my Podcasts app feed.
*The first real public performance of Knife Knights—the new collobrative project from Erik Blood and Ishmael Butler—went down on Saturday at KEXP, and it did not disappoint. With a little help from their friends, they craft interdimensional hip-hop-laced funk that’s more about finding the flow than locking in a groove. It’s extrasensory music that washes over the soul with ease.
*Sunday’s early comedy lineup of Mike Mulloy, Andy Haynes, Chris Fairbanks, and Shane Torres at the Cornish Playhouse was one of the best Bumbershoot stand-up blocks I’ve seen in years. Mulloy especially stood out with a tight 5 minutes that was better than most sets on late night talk shows (get on it, televised comedy bookers).
*While the aforementioned Chris Fairbanks is quite an amusing stand-up, a musical improviser he is not. That meant hosts Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino had to do the heavy lifting with him as a guest during the live episode of Off Book: The Improvised Musical podcast. But that turned out to be its own treat. (It’s not that Fairbanks wasn’t game, he just didn’t have a knack for jumping in, rhyming, or remembering characters.) McKenna and Reino shouldering the load showed of their own musical improv skills (while strategically pimping Fairbanks for jokes) during a tale of nuclear waste-bred supervillians in the Montana wilderness.
*Skating Polly rips. That is all.
All photos in the choronological photo recap by Morgen Schuler.