In a state like Washington, it’s hard to give a festival like Bumbershoot a cliche motto like “Summer’s last bang” or the “Unofficial end to summer”. Why? Because our weather is far too unpredictable. I have covered the festival now for many years and have experienced everything short of a September blizzard. This year in particular reminded me of my first Bumbershoots, the beginning of a summer scorcher rather than a crisp entry into the fall.
As I made my way down I-5 from Bellingham, I watched the thermometer in my car rise and fall through the many micro-climates the Puget Sound has to offer finally settling in around 90 degrees as I waited in North Seattle traffic. Bumbershoot is a bit of a different festival when it comes to attending. Unless you live in Seattle, have accommodating friends who live there or manage to snag a hotel far in advance, there is no camping. Your main goal – if you’re like me – is avoiding bad traffic and finding a decent place to park. Mercer is usually a safe bet, so I zipped into the first lot I saw and started the short trek to get my credentials.
The media room at Cornish Playhouse isn’t nearly as nice as the space they had a few years ago a few blocks down the road and I am sure many of One Reel’s team would agree with me. With that being said, picking up credentials is always a painless process at Bumbershoot and for that, I am grateful.
My first stop was the Western Washington Honda Dealers Main Stage for I M U R. It was the band’s first show here in the United States despite calling Vancouver home. Jenny Lea’s flawless voice filled Memorial Stadium as the band played their chill brand of experimental electronic music. It can be a bit intimidating playing such a large stage that early; especially on a Friday, but I M UR made every listener there feel like they were part of the laid back jam session they were having on stage.
I then made my way to the Monster Energy Fisher Green Stage to catch PVRIS‘s set. Although I consider myself to be on top of most things music, I will be the first to admit that although I had heard a lot of good things Lynn Gunn and the crew, I didn’t know much of their catalog. As a big fan of synth-pop artist, Lights, I was excited to see what PVRIS had ready for the crowd. Gunn came out…well….guns a blazing, immediately getting the crowd energized.
You could certainly tell that she was much more comfortable tickling the synth and playing guitar than she was without any instrument at all, but even the few times where all she had was a mic, she still managed to shake any awkwardness off by constantly asking the crowd to jump with her (side note, this crowd had the worst rhythm I’ve ever experienced, but we’ll give them a pass due to the fact they were more than likely contact high at the very least). Where Lights is more “synth-pop”, PVRIS certainly starts to venture over the line to “synth-rock” or at least that’s how their live show comes across. Gunn’s vocals – almost a dead ringer for Beth Gibbons – were overpowered by the instruments at times (this was not her fault, but rather a common issue at festivals early in the day), but she still managed to shine through and put on a hell of a show for the afternoon crowd.
After that it was time for me to camp out back at Memorial Stadium for a couple of sets. First up was Foster The People. I was actually pretty excited for this set, as I had meant to check them out years ago, but never did end up finding a show that I was able to go to. The transformed football field started to fill in as the start of the set neared, but I couldn’t help, but wonder how many of the people were just trying to get a good spot for the much hyped Big Sean set which was happening only 30 minutes after Foster The People. The Los Angeles natives came to play regardless. Lead singer, Mark Foster’s voice was absolutely perfect as they played a mix of newer songs and favorites from their wildly popular album, Torches. Foster only stopped swaying, grooving and flat out rocking to speak out against the alt-right, racism, sexism and homophobia stating, “We’re here to bring you joy. We can use joy as a weapon against these things. Let’s use this weapon.” After the set ended, much of the crowd dispersed answering the question, they were 100% there for Foster The People.
Big Sean was another act I was looking forward to since the lineup was announced. The guy makes up a decent portion of my workout playlist and I couldn’t wait to see him bring that energy to Seattle. Now I know that many artists use the “I love you (insert city)” as a cliche thing to get the crowd going, but if that’s what Big Sean was doing, he certainly knows how to sell it.
After playing a few songs off of his latest album, he stopped to say, “You know, they were kind of…warning me about the fact that a lot of you out there are drinking and smoking a ton of weed. Nobody needed to tell me that, this is f*****g Washington and you guys know how to party! You have the best weed, you guys know what’s up.” As you could imagine, that drew a large roar from the crowd. Big Sean went on to play several favorites including, “Dance (A$$)” and his track with Drake and Kanye West, “Blessings”, then stopping during the middle of his set to ask the crowd to join him in a moment of silence for the city of Houston, as well as the political turmoil that the USA is experiencing right now. It was certainly refreshing to see so many artists using their platform in this way.
My final stop of the day was the Mural Amphitheatre, a small stage underneath the glow of the Space Needle. The headliner for the stage Friday was the Pacific Northwest’s own, ZZ Ward. The Roseburg, Oregon resident played the same exact stage in 2014, only that time it was a mid day show. For those who haven’t experienced Bumbershoot before, there is something kind of magical about the final show at the Mural Amphitheatre. As I said, the stage sits underneath the Space Needle and many of the “festival kids” are busy with the EDM shows at Key Arena or whoever is closing out the main stage at Memorial Stadium. Most of the people at the Mural stage are there because they want to hear talent in its rawest form and ZZ Ward delivered just that. Her jaw-dropping voice was pitch perfect throughout every song and her wailing harmonica was easily the best I have ever seen live. When not playing an instrument, Ward became the conductor, leading her fans into a frenzy full of clapping, stomping and dancing as she clawed at the air, fists pumping the whole way. As she weaved her way through many musical influences including hip-hop and southern rock, it became more and more apparent, ZZ Ward is not your ordinary blues artist. The woman is a mother effing rock star. Of course, it helps that her band is absolutely phenomenal as well.
And so ended my 2017 Bumbershoot experience as I passed the torch on to Aaron Mannari and Sarah Draughon to cover the weekend shows. Unlike the past few years, there was no need for a hoodie or raincoat, as the temperature was still a comfortable 75 degrees as I jogged back to my car just after 10PM. Even though I had an hour and half still left to drive by myself before I was home, the energy from Day 1 was more than enough than I needed to get me there.
Editor in Chief of Lemonade Magazine