As a melting pot of bubbling tweens, suburban families, eager theater-types, and worn-down hippies, Bumbershoot tries to please everyone by offering the barns-width of variety of art forms. There are few other festivals where you can go from the intimacy of a brick-walled comedy venue to the booming dome of an indoor stadium, finishing the night off sitting in the grass of a cozy natural amphitheater. In this regard, Bumbershoot has it all.
But the zoo of staff and volunteers helping to run the large outdoor venue often gave it the feel of a circus - a chaotic swirl of slacking responsibility and "it ain't my problem" attitude. However, when bureaucratic issues weren't standing in the way (twice, I ran into issues of grunting and shoving from the staff at the Key Arena), the experience itself had a chance to shine. And shine it did.
While the first day of any festival always comes with its fair share of getting into the swing of things, day one at Bumbershoot was the calm before the storm - a day of relative peace before a tsunami of eager guests tore through the floodgates.
Patton Oswalt - also an attendee for all three days and a seemingly lynch pin part of many other comedic acts - gave his comic two cents in a riotous but short live stand-up bit then handed the majority of his hour long performance off to his "guests." Thankfully, most of these featured comics were up to snuff with a raunchy, ritzy-girl persona from Natasha Leggero being the ultimate breadwinner when it came to the laugh bank.
But the first real standout came in the form of Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience - the surprise hit of the festival. This four piece tribute band arched through a killer set of the much beloved 70s rock gods Led Zeppelin with abundantly rehearsed talent. Each note was so uncanny that if you closed your eyes you would swear you were listening to the salty croon of Robert Plant, the fiery licks of Jimmy Page and the sweet synchronization of drum legend John Bonham. But son Jason Bonham's gushing love of his now-deceased father was moving not only in his reverent reflection of his father's music. "I never told him this while he was alive," Bonham says, "but I do this for the love of my Dad."
Back in the SIFF Theater for more shorts was a true standout going by the name of Woody, which I will say now will be a strong contender, if not a shoe in, for Best Animated Short come Oscar season. The animation was breath taking and the story was simple, heartfelt, and unique - all the elements a short needs to sustain a breathless audience and garnish the buzz needed to get the nod.
Other noticeable spotlights of the day included a top notch Main Stage show from the Canadian duo Tegan and Sara, a comedy set led by a nest-haired, but certainly not feather-brained, Morgan Murphy, and a star-bedazzled lawn performance from bubbly synth-driven alt-pop band, Matt & Kim. The two-piece Grizzled Mighty played with sloppy mania and almost had the crowd possessed if not for the regular misplacing of time from drummer Whitney Petty. This chick could certainly bang her head but keeping a regular rhythm proved quite an insurmountable issue that ultimately left the band stranded in a sea of time, in desperate hopes of a metronome.
The Zombies, authors of one of the best and most-underrated albums of the 1960s "Odyssey and Oracle," came to stage in my eyes as Gods and left as mere pensioners. The culprit of this diametric perspective shift? A dangerously bipolar set. Much like watching The Rolling Stones this day and age, anything that wasn't a certified 60s classic just felt flat. Waffling between superbly performed classics such as "She's Not There," "I Love You," "A Rose for Emily," "Tell Her No" and "Time of the Season" and a string of new tunes that felt like little more than old men's 12 bar blues, The Zombies let old school fans and themselves down.
Even with the knowledge that these late great performers aim for a 11th hour redemption, it still feels too little, too late and a sidetrack from the show that I, for one, came to see. As a lover of all things 60s, it was a sad reality to realize that they would largely opt out of the songs that made them such a growing sleeper hit for the past fifty years and favor a bag of new tricks. The Zombies still do have a pulse, but it was weaker than I'd hoped for.
The last day, on glorious Labor Day itself, was characterized by the same mild Seattle sun and zombie-esque crowds shuffling between Russian dumplings and custom-made poster art but it was the final day which meant a requisite cramming in of all things grand.
Heading to the MainStage for two back-to-back performances from Alt-J and MGMT, I ran aground a hefty three-man security team that couldn't seem to wrap their head around the idea of a Press Pass and so I wound up stuck in the nosebleed section for two of the bands I most wanted to see. Luckily, both shows were so packed full of energy that it was hard to let the low levels of authority and illusions of grandeur sour things entirely.
Held in place by a hypnotic light show, Alt J took to the stage crooning out some killer harmonies and pounding melodies. While they sometimes drifted too far into the down tempo, when they picked things up there was a palpable sense of talent unhinged in their staccato vocals and pounding synth.
Finally, the sun set on Bumbershoot with a lengthy folk-bluegrass set by Trampled by Turtles. Closing out the festival was the five-man group playing a what's-what of folk string instruments. The guitar, acoustic bass, banjo, mandolin, and violin were each plucked with splinter-carving frenzy as the band beamed through a set marked by up-tempoed string-alongs and mellowed-out, somber cawing from lead singer Dave Simonett, leading up to a cathartic rendition of "Alone" that symbolically book-ended the three day festival. Like Cinderella's carriage melting into a pumpkin, as the clock struck midnight, the doors of Bumbershoot transformed back into the casual spread of Seattle Center...until next year.
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