While the weather in Seattle is always cause for concern, the two biggest problems at this year’s Bumbershoot were 1) deciding who to see at the seven musical stages, three comedy venues, and four film and performing arts venues (not to mention the studio galleries), and 2) competing with the large crowds of people drawn out by the quality of the performers and the unusually sunny conditions. No simple answers to these dilemmas existed. One simply had to choose who or what to see knowing that something else good was happening nearby, and that, not mater what choice you made, hundreds of other people were sure to make the same one.
That said, the three-day event still held many highlights: in the first concert I attended, beloved Australian act Crowded House played old hits and new songs to a crowd that included Seattle native Eddie Vedder (who later joined the group for two songs). On the other end of the weekend, the closing night’s bill saw me happily bouncing between the revamped Wu Tang Clan extravaganza, Steve Earle’s stirring folk-rock revival, the funk of the Greyboy Allstars, and the crunchy punk-like stylings of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (all taking place at the same time).
Held at the Seattle Center—former home of the 1960 World’s Fair—Bumbershoot boasted a roomy multi-acre facility with two fountains, lots of shady places, and both indoor and outdoor restrooms. The biggest names played the Samsung Mainstage, a cavernous locale suited more for sporting events than music. Of course, it did offer plenty of bleacher seating and a stage elevated high enough for all to see. The artists used to arena rock performances—Fergie and Panic! At the Disco most notably—used it well. While Fergie’s vocals lacked projection, her energetic stage presence and choreography were fun to watch. Similarly, P!ATD’s use of multicolored lights and smoke turned the band’s show into a celebration for party seekers. Other acts, like John Legend and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, gave solid musical performances but seemed a little lost in all that space – the sound system was simply unable to carry the intimacy of their sets beyond the first dozen rows.
At the opposite side of the spectrum was radio station KEXP’s secret music lounge, which hosted more than a dozen private shows for VIPs holding special tickets and listeners who knew where to pick up individual passes. The climate-controlled, cushion-seated room felt luxurious after experiencing the noisy crowds outside. All the acts that performed in the KEXP locale also played bigger venues, but these 30- to 45-minute shows were special. Among the highlights: Eddie Argos of London’s Art Brut rallied the audience, begging to take them to the “Top of the Pops”; Allison Moorer joined her self-proclaimed American patriot husband Steve Earle on an anti-war anthem; Seattle’s own Fleet Foxes offered their transcendent take on freak folk; and more traditional British folkie Bert Jansch transported the crowd with nimble fingerings and rasping vocals.
The members of the audience ranged in age, and it seemed that many families had attended together, only to split up to see different artists. There was even a people-powered, environmentally friendly carnival with rides for the kids. In terms of older citizens, a group of about 50 grey-haired men and women gathered in front of the Starbucks Stage as soon as the gates opened and demanded (successfully) that the sound person put on the Beatles’ “Good Morning”.
One of the more amusing pastimes was keeping track of the cover songs played by artists over the course of the weekend. After dropping “a sexy song, one about boys and girls fucking”, Panic segued into the Band’s “The Weight”—an incongruous pairing if ever there was one. My Brightest Diamond sang a lovely, operatic version of Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over”, while Ted Leo and the Pharmacists ended the night with Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”. Allison Moorer (again performing with Earle for a song during her set) sang Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”—changing the lyrics about the soldiers to “young boys and girls” to reflect the current situation of the troops. And, for their part, Art Brut broke deliciously into Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” mid-set.
Other performers just played their own stuff. The best-received acts included indie-rock darlings the Shins, who some consider local heroes because they record for Seattle’s Sub Pop label; ribald Gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello, whose bawdy “purple” behavior got people shouting and dancing; Lupe Fiasco, whose hip-hop histrionics garnered an animated call-and-response reaction; and Joss Stone, whose fans seemed to know every word. It should be noted that the comedy acts were also well-attended, and almost all of the performances—including acts like Janeane Garofalo, Eugene Miraman, Fred Armisen, and the Cody Rivers Show—were booked full more than an hour before they started. That’s despite the fact that each comedian did at least three separate sets.
All things considered, whether music, comedy, or whatever, all of the shows had large and enthusiastic audiences. By that measure alone, Bumbershoot 2007 could be said to be a roaring success.