The Bumbershoot festival began in 1971, it’s the longest running music and arts festival in the region and easily the best known in the Northwest. Despite having lived the better part of 29 years in the PNW, I’d never attended Bumbershoot. There’s no specific reason for this, I just never went. I was highly intrigued by last years lineup, but I took a vacation instead. At first glance this years lineup seemed lackluster, it was missing classic heavy hitters, and I didn’t and still don’t consider Skrillex a heavy hitter. Tony Bennet was a cheap ploy to give the festival a “something for everyone feel.” Then there was Jane’s Addiction, who if I really wanted to see live I’d just build a time machine to take me back to 1990.
What popped out to me initially was Deep Sea Diver, Ana Tijoux, How Did This Get Made, Kumail Nanjiani, Reignwolf and a few others. I would call the lineup something more like, “something for a broad group of people, but not necessarily everyone.” Upon further inspection I found a whole host of awesome looking acts, that would easily fill out my schedule for Labor Day weekend.
The thing to remember about Bumbershoot is that it is first and foremost an ARTS festival, this includes dozens of small performance groups who set up shop on any grassy patch to perform. But let’s be honest, people flock to the festival every year to see the bands, and maybe the comedy. For my part, I acted as if Bumbershoot was a three day music and comedy festival and ignored anything that didn’t fit into those two categories. Besides, when the week of rolled around and I finalized my schedule for the weekend, there was more than enough music and comedy to fit into three days.
Bumbershoot, doesn’t have the magic of a location festival like Sasquatch, which at times felt like reporting from a war zone*, where there was spotty internet at best and dirty unkempt people from the campsites all around, including myself. Recovering from Sasquatch took days, and I prepared for months before heading out. Bumbershoot takes place in the heart of a major metropolitan city, I was picked up and dropped off everyday by my wife and two week old baby. I returned to the festival each day fresh and showered. But unlike Sasquatch where the lineup is 2/3 unknowns or rising stars, Bumbershoot is full of notable acts, their rising stars are already household names in many circles.
Arriving on Saturday I immediately did what I did at Sasquatch, find my way around. Map in hand I walked from stage to stage mentally marking out where they were so that when I was pressed for time I could quickly get from one stage to the next. My first observation was that this was a smaller location than Sasquatch, with dozens of naturally designed and claustrophobic walkways, lined with food and craft vendors.
Ron Funches, Dan Soder, Doug Benson
The Intiman and Bagley Wright Theaters housed all the comedy this year, and my first show was at Intiman to see three comedians, two of which I was familiar with, the third was a complete enigma to me.
Ron Funches, I’d seen a year and a half earlier opening for Eugene Mirman at the Crocodile. Of the lesser known comedians making their mark at the festival Funches was perhaps the best. Though he recently moved to Los Angeles, he’s originally from Portland and that Northwest sensibility permeates his standup. His delivery is slow and measured to full effect, where he’ll make a statement and slowly amend that statement many beats later.
Dan Soder, is part of that group of comedians cutting their teeth in the minor leagues of New York, waiting for the call up to the Majors in Los Angeles. Generally I find those comedians to be hit or miss, many still rock the oversized sport coat and begin with, “so the subway’s weird.” Dan Soder wasn’t this type of comedian, his set felt original, and while he won’t stand out as something totally original, he doesn’t feel overly derivative. By the time he moves to LA, he’ll really be someone to watch.
Doug Benson, you could say this threesome was all building to Doug, whose a well known comedian, as much for his standup as his podcasted shows, Doug Loves Movies and The Benson Interruption. Honestly, I felt that Doug was upstaged by Ron and Dan. At first this bugged me that he wasn’t more impressive, but when I really thought about it later that night I realized that while I like Doug’s standup, I prefer him improvising on his shows. That’s his wheelhouse and that’s where, to me, he shines.
sera cahoone at bumbershoot 2012
My favorite stage at Bumbershoot was the Sub Pop stage, not only was it the most visually appealing stage with optimal location and a big beautiful video screen dwarfing the artists, it also hosted the most consistently exciting acts. For me those exciting acts began with Sera Cahoone, a folksy singer/songwriter who on occasion borders on classic country.
She’s not all that dissimilar to Damien Jurado, but for pure comparisons sake I’d say that she’s a more country/folk Aimee Mann. It was a beautiful and soulful way to begin the music portion of Bumbershoot. Cahoone tightropes her way between dark and almost gothic sounds with bright beats and toe tapping tones.
Her third solo album Deer Creek Canyon, is scheduled for a September 25th release and judging by what I heard at Bumbershoot and the first single Naked, It’s definitely going to be worth picking up.
king khan and the shrines at bumbershoot 2012
King Khan & The Shrines
There were a number of bands that I penciled in on my schedule based purely on how interesting they looked or sounded. I was hoping to find another Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and King Khan fit the bill perfectly.
Khan was one of a number of bands from Montreal at Bumbershoot, but they were easily one of the most standout. Khan entered the stage in a glittery gold shirt, white tooth necklace, and three foot feathered headdress embellished with gold discs. A funky look for some seriously funky music. A cross between 70’s funk, 50’s doo-wop, and a little 90’s garage rock thrown in at the end. They rocked the stage in a put-a-smile-on-your-face kind of way.
I wish I could have stayed longer through their set, they had that “anything could happen” vibe going, but I had a series of bands I had to get around to.
the barr brothers at bumbershoot 2012
The Barr Brothers
If I had any complaints about Bumbershoot this year it would be the scheduling. At times I found there to be a serious lack of musical acts, while at others every stage seemed to be filled with bands you wanted to see. The Barr Brothers were the middle show of three I ran around to get to.
Despite what I feel is a rather boring name, I was throughly impressed by The Bar Brothers. Another band from Montreal, they felt like a more etherial Head and the Heart. They had that very addicting Americana feel to them, but with added harp and atmospheric swirling sounds.
What I loved about them, was their ability to go from that etherial sound right into an edgier distorted rock song. That’s a tough transition to pull off but they did it with ease and grace.
THEESatisfaction at bumbershoot 2012
There were a few carryovers from Sasquatch into Bumbershoot, as I’m sure there is every year and the Seattle Hip-Hop duo THEESatisfaction was one of them. Stretched between two other shows at Sasquatch I missed most of their performance at and was determined to make up for that here.
It’s straight up Salt-n-Pepa with an undercurrent of classic Jazz, and R&B/soul, all fused together with original modern electronic samplings. It wasn’t until this performance that I realized just how Salt-n-Pepa esque they really were. It wasn’t the last time I would feel like a band was giving off a major blast from the 90’s past.
They played a killer set, with more music than I was even aware they had in their repertoire. As an added bonus was a special guest appearance by the other Sub Pop hip-hop duo, Shabazz Palaces who joined THEESatisfaction for the last few songs. It was a special treat that turned an awesome performance into a great one.
Paul F. Tompkins & Friends (Real & Fake) featuring Jen Kirkman & Kumail Nanjiani
This was one of the bizarre comedy shows I saw over the weekend. I knew all three comedians well, and had seen all many years before they were household names on the Upright Citizens Brigade stage in Los Angeles. Essentially it was three standup performances by Tompkins, Kirkman, and Nanjiani, with two others performances by “classic” Tompkins characters Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, and Gary Marshall.
I believe that there was also supposed to be an appearance from another of his characters, Cake Boss, but due to an extended and hilarious audience interaction from Tompkins to start the show, where he smashed two pairs of sunglasses tossed on stage to the idiotic horror of their owner. This was followed by Tompkins and the audience member striking a deal for repayment of the glasses in exchange for keeping his mouth shut for the show.
Jen Kirkman, is a long time favorite comedienne, she has a unique ability to take what could be a tragic or embarrassing moment and turn it into something funny. Talk of her divorce and inability to become a cougar dominated the set with hilarious results. I’m still not quite sure why she’s not more recognizable yet, because she’s just that good.
Kumail Nanjiani, right up there in my top five comedians, I consider him to be the hottest comedic commodity. I hate to mention this because he’s much more than his race, but being from Pakistan peppers his routine. He speaks about American culture, not as someone who doesn’t understand it, but rather as someone who desperately wanted to become a part of it in his youth, and is now living out that fantasy in adulthood, only to realize just how fucked up parts of that culture is. I was literally giddy to learn that he’s recording his first album on October 4th.
Paul F. Tompkins, Paul is a very funny guy. He’s the kind of guy who could read the phone book and make it funny, but his characters don’t quite work in monologue form. They’re not nearly as well crafted as Andy Daly’s, and what becomes the most entertaining is watching Paul fight through laughing at the ridiculousness of what he’s saying. I would rather have just seen longer stand up from all three comedians.
oberhofer at bumbershoot 2012
Occasionally at Bumbershoot I would have little gaps in my schedule that allowed for me to kill some time at a performance I’d not previously planned for. Oberhofer was one of these performances. Right off the bat I knew this wasn’t exactly my thing, fast, hard, 1980’s style punk rock, that took me back to the Ramones.
That’s not to say I couldn’t appreciate them musically, I stayed for quite a few songs, not because I had nothing better to do, but because I was enjoying myself. I’ve found that I have an ability to enjoy a band live even when I have little desire to buy or listen to their album.
alela diane at bumbershoot 2012
A number of the weekends best performers were hidden deep in the Promenade stage bordering McCaw Hall, this is where I found Portland singer/songwriter Alela Diane. She was part of a group of women musicians including Sera Cahoone and Katie Herzig who all played a similar style of country-folk-Americana.
Alela’s most recent album, Alela Diane and the Wild Divine, is a full band release, but for this performance she went at it solo, which filled the cavernous stage with haunting and beautiful melodies.
the helio sequence at bumbershoot 2012
The Helio Sequence
My evening ended with the long time Portland duo The Helio Sequence, tearing it up at the Sub Pop stage. There’s no other way to describe what they do beyond indie-pop/rock. Often dreamy electronic heightened melodies that have a surprisingly large feel to them.
Live they’re simplified to a simple drum kit and guitar, which gives the listener a totally new way to experience their music. It’s one of the reasons I love live shows, it’s not just like watching a live version of your favorite albums, it’s a totally new experience.
Unlike Sasquatch, where I felt a need to stay through at least the final main stage show of the evening, I left Bumbershoot when the sun went down. Bumbershoot After Hours was essentially a heavily promoted rave that would be taking place in the evening, and I wanted to be no where near the festival grounds when the ravers emerge from their glowstick holes. Dawned in hot pink tutus and neon paint, grinding up against each other, strangers, and any object that might be nearby is too much for any rational person to comprehend, so I split.
The one show I ended up missing, was Damien Jurado, which was a real shame. On the other hand I know what Damien has to offer having just seen him at Sasquatch and felt perfectly okay missing him this time around. I’m sure his set was spectacular as always.
It was a busy first day, but thankfully I was able to return home to a hot meal and a warm shower where I could rid myself of the buckets of sweat that had leaked through my clothes throughout the day. I won’t say I was blown away by Day one of Bumbershoot, but then again I always knew that Saturday looked like the least compelling on paper.
*I am aware how this makes me sound….like an idiot.