Drunk At A Show: Bumbershoot 2017
Bumbershoot has been an institution in Seattle since its inception in 1971. Along with Sasquatch, it’s the biggest music festival hosted in Washington State. Bumbershoot’s landscape has changed a lot since its inception. Anything as culturally significant as a music and arts festival is going to undergo changes as it ages, and the signs of the times were particularly noticeable this season. In 2015, Bumbershoot was deep in debt. Its rise out of its poor financial situation came primarily from a takeover by AEG Live, one of the biggest music promoters in the US. This caused some stir, and has since given a different color to the festival. The feedback to the differences in acts playing, style, and demographic attendance dovetails with a trend of nation-wide reticence towards larger, more established music festivals from fans who would have been more than likely to attend in prior years.
This change in mentality was spurred by multiple factors. The rise and mainstream-ization of the supersized EDM festival, the disturbing politics of Coachella owner Philip Anschutz, and bigger festivals dripping with more and more unavoidable corporate sponsorship and brandalism. Music festivals are catering to different forces than festival goers are used to, and Bumbershoot is no exception. The acts booked for the fest catered to a younger crowd, with just enough acts sprinkled in to keep old heads buying tickets. You could see the business model in the attendees. The festival was a mass of 17-year-old Lana Del Rey clones. Parents pockets paved the Seattle center streets.
All of these things aside, this writer enjoyed the acts they saw at the festival. At the end of the day, times and marketing demographics can be what they inevitably have to be under late capitalism, but the band plays on. In this case, literally. There has been a lot of coverage of Bumbershoot in Seattle publications, and I honestly don’t know why people would need to read write ups of festivals that curate so much digestible information about all the acts that are playing. The following is merely my experience with the festival, from one blood-filled body to another. As this writer is not omnipresent, I was not able to see every act in attendance, but I caught a few highlights of Friday and Saturday.
I started Saturday at the comedy stages. Bo Johnson gave a relaxed, self deprecating set about serial killers and his own laid-backness, but the standout of the evening was the shows MC and performer Monica Nevi. Nevi’s set was compelling, and clearly seasoned. From the cool darkness of the Charlotte Martin theater I emerged into the blasting sunlight to catch queer internet rap and production phenom Kevin Abstract. Abstract's billing was strange, given the success and virality of his art collective Brockhampton. What was even more surprising was when half of Brockhampton appeared onstage at the beginning of his set, and proceeded to play crew cuts for the next half hour. The show could have easily dominated in Key Arena with other major rap headliners of the fest. The show was great, even if it was being viewed at 4 in the afternoon.
Post-Brockhampton, I was lucky enough to stumble into more fantastic comedy. Hometown Hero, El Sanchez, opened things up with a casually serious set about queerness, relationships, identity, and how the fuck you tell your parents about all those things. Sanchez’s style flowed like an intimate conversation, regardless of the weight of her topics. They were followed by Joel Kim Booster, a comic who brought to life the 2017 horrors of accidentally fucking a Trump supporter right after the election. The main event of the evening was Margaret Cho, who came out in what she identified as ‘festival attire’. She talked about sex and rape and abortion, a mixture cocktail of all the things that would make my mother say her ears were curling. Margaret Cho creates a space with her comedy where anything can and does and will inevitably exist. Everything is capable of being brought up. Everything is unpackable, and if anything bites, she bites it harder. Her laser eye for aggressive, deconstructive humor hits in the heart and the intestines with equal strength.
I emerged from comedy to Tacocat’s heralding the end of their set with “I Hate the Weekend.” If you haven’t seen Seattle pop punk legends, Tacocat, perform, you should at least once, even if you never have to again. Tacocat finished up, I got drunk, and emerged out of a haze to see Conner Orbest’s post-emo alt-country. The emotion and narratives in Orbest’s entire catalogue is a masterclass in songwriting.
I am now drunker than is optimal and I’m pretty sure The Roots are playing, but I am in a beer garden, and it’s difficult to see what’s happening through the miasma of smiling hipsters. I get clear, and Black Thoughts’ seasoned approach to steeze is as big as Questlove’s attack. The following day I was hungover. My experiences were way less interesting, so here’s a rundown of everything worthwhile I was able to see;
The first act I saw at the KEXP stage, Craters is the perfect goth band. The foundation of the music was noisy and harsh, but sheens of synth pop likability and really fucking solid bass riffs tied the music together into the perfect cocktail or everything that made goth what it was. Between sets the singer regaled the audience with tour stories of self-identified vampires who tried to tell her she was their soulmate, and other road oddities. The show was amazing.
Lil Yachty is probably the biggest household name in Soundcloud rap. Much of this hype comes from how polarizing his body of work is, with old heads notoriously criticizing Yachty’s lighter approach to music making and lower emphasis on lyrical depth. Yachty is unencumbered by haters, and the fun and vigor of his tour leading up to this performance are proof. The set banged, and there were no unhappy faces in the crowd. The main arena stage was set up for youth.
It’s stated most audibly in Staples’ Sophomore release Summertime ‘06, and restated in his aesthetic stylings, lifestyle choices, and performances: Vince Staples is one of the greatest minimalists of our time. That being said, the songs and dance-heavy beats of Big Fish Theory provided a background for a much more festival-centric show than Staples’ older, more bleak material. An all-black clad Staples stalked the stage under an orange wash with nothing but an orange screen and a smoke machine. He closed with previously retired banger "Blue Suede" before going into "Norf Norf." Regardless of how personal the performance and themes of "Norf Norf" are, Vince demanded the entire audience sing the whole thing back to him, particular the immortal chorus “I ain’t never ran from nothin' but the police.”
Solange’s staging looks like a creamy, nu-wave interpretation of The Fantastics, and when her band enters the staging it becomes a diorama of black excellence. Solange’s backup singers and rhythm and brass sections were entrancing, and their shifting in and out of choreography around Solange’s incredible performance was godlike. The afrocentrism of the set was even more pronounced when Solange sang “F.U.B.U.” to the only POC person in the front row.