Friday, September 10, 2010

Bumbershoot ~ Seattle's Music and Arts Festival

While the Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer, it's become a tradition of ours to head up to Seattle to relax among friends, indulge in good food and wine, and, just as importantly, enjoy Bumbershoot.

This year was no different ~ and, while the Seattle weather conditions were mostly favorable on Saturday and Sunday, we didn't let a little rain that fell on Labor Day dampen our enthusiasm for wanting to hear great music and absorb the wonderful culture that awaited us at Bumbershoot.

The marquee at
Seattle Center
says it all.
Bumbershoot, Seattle's annual music and arts festival, is produced by the non-profit arts organization One Reel in collaboration with Seattle Center. It has played an important role in Seattle's transformation as one of the most imaginative music and arts-filled cities in the country.

Last weekend, Bumbershoot celebrated its 40th anniversary.  It first started in August 1971 with a promise of "Fun for Everyone."  Since then, it's become North America's largest urban arts festival, and every year, the 74-acre Seattle Center campus surrounding the iconic Space Needle has turned into an area rich in community and spirit, and full of inspiring and important music, arts, dance and film.

Bumbershoot 2010:
Neko Case performs on the
Bumbershoot main stage
on Saturday night.
Since 1994, my wife and I have attended Bumbershoot 14 of 17 years (missing only 1995, 2001 and 2003).  Over the years, we've seen a lot of enjoyable and memorable music acts, including:  Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Neko Case, Blondie, the Shins, Bruce Hornsby, Crowded House, Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin, Jenny & Johnny, Laura Veirs, Iris Dement, Zero 7,  Bo Diddley, Natalie MacMaster, Mayer Hawthorne, Estelle, Nada Surf, Matt and Kim, Lenka, Mates of State, Rodrigo y Gabriela, the Clientele, Josh Ritter, Alejandro Escovedo, Sonya Kitchell, Justin Townes Earle, the Avett Brothers and Elvis Perkins.  The list goes on ... The Bumbershoot venues come in all sizes, big and small, quaint and ornate: Main stage, backyard stage, mural stage, Northwest Court, EMP Sky Church, McCaw Hall.

Northwest Court intimacy:
Elvis Perkins performs
during 2009 Bumbershoot
At Bumbershoot, we've also seen outstanding ballet performed by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, laughed at improvisational comedy, engaged in serious and not-so-serious art, watched Roller Derby, and applauded impromptu performances by buskers and jugglers around the Seattle Center grounds.

This year, we bought tickets for two of the three days and attended the Bumbershoot festivities on Saturday and Monday. We allowed ourselves a break on Sunday and, instead, spent the afternoon at Safeco Field watching Ichiro and the Mariners play the Cleveland Indians.  Then, we enjoyed a relaxing evening with our host friends at their home, grilling chicken kabobs and sweet corn and sipping Oregon pinot noir.

Justin Townes Earle:
Singing "Harlem River Blues"
On Saturday, we caught sets by Plants and Animals, Justin Townes Earle, the Budos Band, Ozomatli, Neko Case and, finally, Bob Dylan, who enthralled thousands on the main stage for 75 minutes mixing something old with something new ~ and everything original.  We returned Monday afternoon and evening ~ oftentimes donning rain ponchos to stay dry from the soggy weather ~ and enjoyed sets by The Clientele, Greg Laswell, Bomba Estereo, Jenny & Johnny, Laura Veirs and the English Beat.

The Clientele:
Melancholy pop with a spin
of surreal literary lyrics
The Clientele is one of my favorite British bands, one I've been wanting to hear live since discovering their melancholy pop infused with surreal literary lyricism about three years ago.  I spent much of their set standing right up at the lip of the stage, great for absorbing their reverb sound and shooting lots of photos.  As an added bonus, I got to meet the band during a CD signing session held adjacent to the stage that followed their set.  "Sorry for the crummy weather," I said to guitarist and bandleader Alasdair MacLean. "No worries," he replied. "We're used to it."  Spoken like a true Brit who, obviously, puts up with lots of soggy weather across the pond.

Another thrill was seeing one of the first live shows by the recently formed Jenny & Johnny (Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice), who played a fantastic one-hour set in support of their newly released CD "I'm Having Fun Now."  Great songs, great fun.

At Bumbershoot 2010:
Exhausted and wet,
but it was time
and money well spent.
Of the thousands who attended Bumbershoot on Labor Day, I was singled out by a reporter from KIRO-TV, the local CBS affiliate, who interviewed me for that night's 11 p.m. newscast.  My sound bite earned me about 15 seconds of fame and, it being a slow news day, the reporter's Bumbershoot story led the newscast.

By the time we left Bumbershoot on Monday night, the skies surrounding the Seattle Center were cloudy, the air chilly and we were all exhausted and a little wet.  Yet, this annual end of summer celebration and fun with our friends was time and money well spent.

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