If there’s anything I’ve learned from working in Pioneer Square (and once

If there’s anything I’ve learned from working in Pioneer Square (and once being punched in the stomach in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district), it’s the first rule of zombie defense: Don’t make eye contact. With this guiding principle in mind, navigating Bumbershoot 2013’s zombie flashmob–as mumbling, makeup-caked actors dragged their feet while clogging up vital traffic flow–was annoying, but manageable. My mantra: Don’t look up, just keep walking.

No, it was Saturday’s musical acts that had me scratching my head. I missed Seattle Weekly’s recommended festival opener The Flavr Blue but made it in time to catch rapper Nacho Picasso’s set, an artist we hyped in our preview coverage as “a conversely playful and sinister MC with a syrupy delivery and a proclivity for blunts and surrealistic imagery.”

That’s putting it one way. Another, in the rapper’s own voice, might include words like “orgies,” niggas,” “my dick,” and “skull fuck.” Yet such “blunt” lyricism begs the question: Just how do you talk about a rap artist who makes 2 Live Crew look like Wayne Brady? And how could anyone NOT be uncomfortable as young families with picnic blankets spread on the TuneIn Stage lawn assisted their toddlers with cartwheels as Picasso spat, “So I skull fucked her/Left my thumbs in her eye sockets”?

Anybody else catch that? Or is no one really listening anymore?

A 2011 Pitchfork review of For The Glory said “Picasso proves that you don’t need to practice the art of storytelling when you’ve mastered the art of saying nothing.” To me, that reads: “Picasso doesn’t really say much.” But the album’s rating–7.9, a decent mark for the famously tough music blog–indicates something else, some deeper resonance on indie-pop culture radar.

So there he was, this young rapper with nothing much to say, who had a crowd of tweens, teens, and families eating it up. “Even the grey haired bespectacled man standing next to me was bopping along,” writes our own Kelton Sears. The experience brought to mind the words of Paste writer Matt Price, who penned this response to Miley Cyrus’ recent controversial performance on the MTV Video Music Awards: “We’ve become a society that just watches bad shit happen.”

I happily accepted a phone call during Picasso’s set as an excuse to leave, and killed some time at the Fisher Pavilion beer garden. Diamond Rings was up then, but the Toronto-based artist’s synth-based set was largely uninspired–front man John O’Regan looked like Vanilla Ice dressed up like Max Hedroom doing Duran Duran songs. I headed for the Plaza Stage and some food.

Halfway through a veggie burger, I ran into former Seattle Weekly Music Editor Chris Kornelis. We caught Davidson Hart Kingsbery’s set of down-home Ballard twang–good, but the parking lot projected a menacing glare, which appeared to keep the crowd at a minimum–and we moved along to check out Kendrick Lamar.

For details there, Dan Person does an excellent job of describing the scene, but at one of the first KeyArena Bumbershoot shows since I-502 passed, I’ll put it this way: you could smell the energy. I caught a contact high and floated out of the stadium for some fresh air.

Breezing pass ZZ Ward, Beat Connection, and Gus + Scout, I was ready to call it a day. Nothing was really compelling, reeling me in. Got me thinking: is Bumbershoot now just a teen fest, and us older types simply haven’t got the memo? Seriously, did that grey-haired bespectacled man really like Nacho Picasso, or was he just there because…he was just there, like a zombie?