Bumbershoot: a 2013 Preview and a 2012 Reflection

Bumbershoot-Preview 75There is always great music to discover, along with movies (a short film fest), dance, art, and lots of other surprises.

Bumbershoot-Preview 500

Summer is in full swing, and festivals are all over the place these days. Out here on the upper left corner of the U.S. (that’s Seattle, Washington to you), there are prominent festivals almost every weekend for the next month or so (Sub-Pop 25th Anniversary, Capitol Hill Block Party, Timberfest, and Pick-a-Thon, to name a few). However, for our family, nothing beats out Seattle’s centerpiece festival, Bumbershoot, which takes place every Labor Day Weekend.

My wife, Lorie, and I have been attending Bumbershoot, Seattle’s Music and Arts Festival, for more than a decade (since 1999). Our kids, Daisy (1st Grade, almost 7 years old) and Riley (preschool, 4 years old), have been attending since they were literally strapped to us. Bringing small children to a three day festival can be physically and psychologically challenging, but with great effort comes great reward.

The 2013 lineup is pretty impressive, with some of Seattle’s most prominent musical ambassadors old (Heart) and new (Death Cab for Cutie) alongside buzzy bands like Alt-J, Tegan and Sara, MGMT, and Matt & Kim just to name a few. There is always great music to discover, along with movies (a short film fest), dance, art, and lots of other surprises. At the end of the day, it’s always worth the time, effort, and money.

Why and how is it worth it? Let’s flashback to our family’s experience at the 2012 Bumbershoot music festival…

There were smaller crowds (sweet!), fewer stages (resulting in fewer acts and choices – bitter!), beautiful weather (sweet!), and security hassles at the main stage (bitter!), which made for another bittersweet Bumbershoot (in its 42nd year!). As always, the sweet far outweighs the bitter. Because ultimately, dancing with your family under the sun and stars is pretty sweet.

Here are the top 10 snapshots of our awesomely sweet and annoyingly bitter experiences from Bumbershoot 2012….

  1. Galumpha (sweet)

We kicked off the festival with this 3 person (2 men and a woman) group performing a hybrid of partners yoga, performance art, and modern dance. They showcased their strength, grace, and humor, while using props like Velcro balls (on their heads!), metal pots (on their butts!), a vat of dried rice (poured from the ceiling), and a colorful umbrella.

  1. Kids Zone (bittersweet)

While some may question the sanity of dragging small children to this (or any) large festival, others don’t. Bumbershoot is intended to be a family event, and a big section of the schedule and festival grounds are targeted directly at the kids. In a large tent, a group of annoyingly overly smiley attractive young people facilitated trivia, karaoke, dance, and silly little games for the kids to have prizes. Riley was able to take home a prize for our family (nice work, son). He and I also had some time to play around with the table activities (legos, clay, books, puzzles, coloring, drawing) sponsored by area museums. Outside of the tent was a sizable section of things for kids to ride and jump on (bouncy houses, slides, swings). But nothing beat the ZIP LINE, which was a lifetime highlight that Daisy and I experienced together while laugh-screaming.

  1. Gotye (bittersweet)

“Um, I don’t know. Except for ‘Somebody I Used to Know,’ I didn’t love any of the songs…but I didn’t not like any of the songs either…” – Daisy, on Gotye.

Another festival goer and I were talking about it later, and all we could say about Gotye’s performance was a baffled, “Interesting…”

The song that everybody seems to know is a good one, in my opinion. This man, Gotye, is more than a one-hit wonder. He has lots of talent and notoriety in his home country of Australia and across the pond in Europe. His album was pretty unremarkable, with only a couple of decent songs but no real standouts outside of THE song, making it hard to argue against the “one hit wonder” classification.

In his live performance, everything took on a better quality. The studio polish was still evident, in that the music the band played was synched up to the videos playing on screen behind the band. The images were interesting, and related to, or actual reproductions of, the videos for each song. Gotye himself did more than sing. He periodically jumped in on percussion or keyboards. He stood on stuff, danced around, and wiggled, so he got points for enthusiasm and showmanship. On the other hand, my wife related his percussive touches to being “SO Sheila E,” and not necessarily in a good way. All of this made it interesting…

As every song started, my kids asked what everyone else was thinking, “Is it this one? Is it ‘Somebody?’”

An awkward moment came, as I was feeling restless, after about 40 minutes of being trapped inside a dark arena on a sunny day. Gotye said that he was going to play a song that everyone can sing along to. He wanted the guys to sing a certain way and the girls another. It seemed like an intro to “Somebody I Used to Know,” but then it wasn’t, and the crowd didn’t really sing along. Interesting…

The next song was the infamous one, and people finally danced and sang but not overwhelmingly. He was silent for the second verse, allowing the mostly female crowd to sing the part of the woman. This was the most life the crowd showed. The song ended, and he started (without pause) into another, mellower song. Immediately, lines formed in the aisles as people ran outside to see something else. Meanwhile, Gotye soldiered on through the final song, without comment or thanks for the sing-a-long.


  1. Polecat (sweet)

Festivals are all about little golden discoveries. This celtic/bluegrass band from Bellingham had us doing little jigs. As they led an inspired sing-a-long for a cover of “Down Under,” a smiling teen next to me looked around in confusion commenting to her nearby friend, “Wow, a lot of people know this band, huh?”

  1. King Kahn and the Shrines (sweet)

I have not seen this garage/soul band live in the flesh, but I have seen online video of several performances. They have a reputation for being unpredictable, volatile, and a little dangerous. Alcohol and drugs may fuel some of that insanity, but sometimes people are just crazy. However, the performance that we saw was not crazy – instead it was tight and full of professional, calculated showmanship. It was raunchy and silly but not messy. A friend and I hypothesized that it was related to the time of the day (mid/late afternoon): not so late that the drinks have really begun flowing and not so early that they are all still waking up. So, if you want to see them at their most professional, see them between 3-4 in the afternoon.

  1. THEE Satisfaction/The Heavy (bitter)

These great bands were ones that I was looking forward to seeing. However, instead of enjoying them, I was managing the complete meltdown of my family. Lorie was overwhelmed by loud music and cranky. Riley saw Gummy Bears somewhere (we didn’t know where) and was screaming about it. Daisy was tired, but didn’t want to leave. I was wondering why we were at a festival with young children. Great bands, lots of dancing, but the Van Zeyls needed a time out…

  1. Niki and the Dove (sweet)

The female half of this electro-pop duo was perfect role model for girls—attractive, but normal looking and obviously having fun, rather than just spewing sexuality. She used several props (headdress, tambourine, wacky hat, scarves) throughout the set, combined with a Eurythmics/Kate Bush kind of feel. In other words, the perfect band to dance around to with your 7 year-old daughter.

  1. Eldridge Gravy and the Court Supreme (sweet)

Three female singers, three horns, and a huge lead singer with a purple velour top hat worked together with the rest of the (large) band to make the crowd wiggle, jiggle, bounce, and shake. Proof that Seattle’s funk scene is supreme.

  1. M83 (bittersweet)

With the electronic rhythms and reverb overlay to everything they do, M83 seemed like the perfect band to see in the Key Arena, a venue I typically try to avoid due to horrible sound and annoying security. However, the young crowd (mostly teens and young adults) enthusiastically and willingly participated in everything that the band threw at them.

Wordless singing of melodies, hands in the air, energetic dancing, and jumping was everywhere.

But, there was a curious thing. The security team was limiting access to the main floor, for reasons that no one understood. It was the middle of the afternoon on a sunny day, the floor was only about one-third full, and the crowd appeared joyous, celebratory, and respectful. This respectfulness began to wane as the line to get onto the main floor began to stretch longer and longer, even as the main floor continued to appear mostly empty. Eventually, the long line of fans pushed against the gatekeepers to the main floor, and the whole venue got excited. Mob mentality quickly emerged.

I was standing on the non-crowded floor with my 45 pound son napping in a backpack on my back, watching this all unfold in front of me. After observing some uncomfortable pushing, the crowd that was being held back broke through the security line, and each time fans made it through, the place erupted in cheers. Eventually, the singer for M83 told everyone to chill out, and that the teens who were jumping the lines were not cool, but then played both sides of the fence and told everyone to go crazy and have a great time, as they broke into “Midnight City,” one of their most popular songs, causing the place to explode with rapturous enthusiasm.

During the song, it looked as if one of the security personnel was hurt (a male security guy was pushing back at the line and stumbled to the ground), which seemed to deflate the rebellion almost immediately. I relayed this story to a friend later, who commented, “Well, he didn’t need to put himself in harm’s way, and he contributed to the creation of the incident.” A stinging, but accurate, assessment.

  1. Passion Pit (Super surprisingly sweet)

This band is huge in our house, partly due to their single from a couple years back, “Sleepyhead,” which coincided with a large sleep debt that we had thanks to our then-even-younger children. Also, they have a song on their new album called “Cry Like a Ghost” with the chorus “Sylvia – right back where you came from,” which my kids love (their Oma is named Silvia). And, the band is really, really danceable.

But….I have seen them live and felt they were mightily disappointing.

AND…they were not coming on until 9:15 p.m. on the last day. The kids were tired and cranky and my wife had her first day of school the next day (she is a high school counselor/teacher). Daisy was not having any “let’s just go home” talk and refused to leave without seeing Passion Pit. Good call, Daisy.

This turned out to be not just a highlight for the festival, but a major milestone/exhibition of awesomeness for our kids. The outdoor stage was packed, it was a beautiful night, and we were parked on the periphery of the crowd to allow for dancing room.

As soon as they started playing, my kids began playing with one of the many “balloons” that were being thrown around…the kind that were semi-clear, hot dog shaped, and had some kind of dusty stuff on them (condoms, duh). I found this a little unsettling, and wondered how to address it, if at all, until the ones that they were playing with popped.

Almost immediately, two young adult females offered them their ACTUAL balloon…and they all danced and played for the rest of the set. “Danced and played” is an understatement.

Actually, what happened was Riley ran in circles and weaved in and out of the crowd and dancers, while occasionally dropping to lead a small group of young adults/teens in yoga poses. Daisy hopped around and danced with her new young adult friends. Both kids were dripping with sweat and beaming ear to ear by the end of the show.  

Though they never played “Cry Like a Ghost,” the band sounded great, the weather was beautiful, and we left satiated, exhausted, and a little sad about the end of another Bumbershoot…and counting the days until the next one.

Bumbershoot 2013….coming soon. | Tony Van Zeyl

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