Many of us have a fond collection of memories from Bumbershoots past.  Bumbershoot used to be special. It’s still quite possibly the largest arts festival in the U.S.  As a kid I worshipped two things, JD Salinger and local bands.     I was a good kid with one foot in the alternative scene and one foot in the safe zone of the band nerds. When Bumbershoot came around this year, I was excited to finally approach it from a parent perspective so I took my 14 year old son on a field trip to take it some arts.

 Back in the day we’d just pack like sardines into a car with the older kids or take the bus down to Seattle Center.    You knew us, we were good kids but rebellious in our own right.   We never wore Birkenstocks or Fluevogs BECAUSE they were cool…. We envied those guys with Mohawks and spray-painted anarchy symbols on their leather jackets but we were the quietly intellectual observers.  We could easily be happy just seeing our icons in action or identifying with their artists way through their live music. 

             I realize I am sounding too cliché, but it did seem like yesterday I was standing in the fountain probably the first time I had ever ingested hard alcohol, slipping in my sandals on the steep fountain edge only to toss my smoothie right smack in the middle of my plain white t-shirt.  I Rinsed it off in the fountain.  Yes, a bad idea.  The spray did not fixate on the big red stain but instead blasted my whole upper half, thousands cheering for me as I was in my white T-shirt drenched and intoxicated.  Eeks.  Yes, moms I was seventeen at the time.  This was really as bad as my Bumberhoot experience ever got, no one was hurt or mad, just embarrassed.

    We were a friendly bunch, no gangs, no guns, we didn’t even smoke.  We would head for the center of Seattle proudly wearing our Jonny Rotten or Iggy-Pop T-shirts.  We’d have memorized the whole concert schedule before even arriving – it was THAT important to us.   That little nip of Black Velvet in the car did indeed make the large crowds less annoying, it was like a challenge with the faces blurred to weave through a maze where at the end, when we came up for air, we were right-smack in front of our next musical love affair! I lived for Labor Day weekend.

     Perhaps I stayed away too long to appreciate it again?  I had thought I stayed away because of the price, but now know, it’s the crowds. Thank God for the comedians this year, cause the festival wasn’t near what it used to be.  I needed some comedic therapy to remedy my angst.  I found myself more than once saying “What do you mean its maximum capacity? I have a ticket in my hand that ensures I get in?”   I wanted my child to take in the arts the way I did….to eat elephant ears while listening to music, to relax enough to nod my head and feel the music enough to feel the tug inside that prompted me to want to dance and wonder whether I should. This feeling never came. The lines were unreasonable even for a festival.  Every bathroom had at least two stalls out of order.  If that doesn’t let on the crowds were overbearing I don’t know what does. Too many people were let in the gates.  The toilets couldn’t even handle the number of patrons descending upon Seattle Center.

     We stood in lines to see the big new band, Rolling Stones’ New band of the year and after an hour of waiting in a winding mess of people, a line so long it prompted a need for a volunteer job simply standing with a sign that said END OF LINE, no can do.  We showed up for shows, smiling, hopeful seekers of culture and adventure. Here you would have to dig deep to find the patience to wait in a two hour line and come away unaffected by this phrase  “max capacity, disperse people-get outta here it’s full, you’re not getting in!”   My mom voice quietly chimed inwardly, how rude.    Wow, this is not an arts festival, its Disneyland.   Bumbershoot has changed.

In Previous years if I went to see Cake, or Robin Hitchcock or Lou Reed or happen upon Reggie Watts to the left of me while in line I was taking it in and pleased.  But the crowds on most stages were so jamm- packed you couldn’t see the musicians from where you stood.  At 65 dollars a day times two (cause who goes alone) you should get to see the band you came out to see.  

     That’s right 65 bucks at the door.  If you purchased online add a nine dollar “handling fee.”  A five dollar savings if you planned ahead. I was fully accepting you get what you pay for, but not Seattlites at Bumbershoot anymore.   There was no sense of the arts display being the most important part of the festival.  Greedy ticket-takers are the most important part of the festival.  Packing in as many people as possible, getting them thru the gates to buy three dollar sample sized Ben and Jerry’s ice cream seemed the prominent theme.  Getting people so frustrated they end up spending all their money in the beer garden because they didn’t get to see the artist they set out to see was the theme. I have now dubbed this festival Bummershoot!    Mainly because I brought my kid to see some music and we were there from 2-7 and saw two songs from one band, the Mowglies and three comedians.  After the frustration of the day, I even let go of the fact my child learned the P word and giggled at a joke about children being molested by the king of pop as the best thing that ever happened to them.  ……this seemed like something funny after my day at Bumbershoot, Uggh, not good.    This loyal patron with more than fifteen years of Bumbershoot experiences will forever see this festival as a money-grubbing greedy scene that’s not about sharing art with the masses.  The lack of crowd capping at the entry gates ruins the festival.  Period.  I will forever call it Bummershoot. I am crushed.  As for my son, he says “mom-I have no interest in coming to this next year.”   Guess we’ll stick to first Thursday art walks and School of Rock.

One thought on “Bummershoot

  1. Hmm, interesting. I don’t think I could have sprung for 65 tickets because I remember it being crowded back in the 80’s but your description sounds miserable. But who are these people you are describing that you hung around with? I thought we were different… But Robyn Hitchcock, fun memories. I have fun memories of the exploratory spirit of music we pursued. I still enjoy it, its just that the music is very different. I am sorry you had no fun, that is really Not Okay. Try coming to Folklife festival with us on Memorial Day weekend, we have a blast, maybe if only because our expectations are very low because it is free. Our teen companions love it each year, I think Boy would too, it is very, very artsy. and weird. definitely different. I remember seeing a lesbian story teller at bumbershoot one year, that was an eye opener for me. And I remember being asked to dance by a one-legged man. Always the magnet for the different ones, thanks for the retrospective. :o)

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