Who Fucked Up Bumbershoot?

Who Fucked Up Bumbershoot?

For reasons unknown to me, Bumbershoot lost money last year even though it drew pretty big crowds and had one of the better musical lineups of the past decade, including The Replacements. As a result of the loss, One Reel handed over the reigns to AEG Live for 2015.

I hadn’t bought tickets in advance, and heard on Saturday that it was sold out that day. I really wanted to go on Sunday to See Israel Nash and Neko Case, so I checked the paper Sunday morning and read about how the torrential thunderstorm shut it down for a while. I’m glad I didn’t go that day. But that wasn’t the only thing wrong. I read this by Danny Westneat:

Tickets were surge-priced at an eye-watering $109, plus another $14 in service fees.

I can’t pay that, I thought. The first year I went to Bumbershoot, in 1985, a ticket cost only $4. Seriously, $4. Adjusting for inflation, $4 then equals $9 today. So somehow we’ve tacked a hundred bucks past inflation onto the value of what is euphemistically still called the city’s arts festival.

Only suddenly, even those $109 tickets weren’t for sale. The festival’s producer, the global sports and entertainment presenter Anschutz Entertainment Group, blocked all sales of Saturday-only tickets, even as it insisted the day was not sold out.

Why would it do this? Because it was pushing sales of higher-priced passes. Now we were told we could still go to Bumbershoot on Saturday, but only if we bought a three-day pass instead. The price for that? $189!

So I headed up to Seattle Center early thinking I’d have a better shot of getting a ticket if I was there when the box office opened. When I arrived there were no lines, and they were selling one-day tickets for $109. The ticket wasn’t paper. It was a tracking chip on a nylon bracelet designed to be non-transferable. (Anyone with minimal sewing skills or experience with Super Glue could make them transferrable).

I had an hour to kill before the gates opened, so I got some pizza and a beer at Pagliacci and started texting friends to find out when they’d be getting there. They were all planning on showing up around 1:00 when the gates opened.

I walked back down to the entry and was surprised to find a very long line of people waiting to get in. Forty-five minutes later the line started to move, but not very quickly because they were making everyone go through a very thorough search. Randy came walking in my direction just as I turned the corner towards the security gauntlet. He said, “Yeah I forgot to tell you about this. It’s really ridiculous”. And it was. I had to remove everything from my pockets, spread eagle, turn my back to the pat-down punks who clamped down on my legs from crotch to ankles and on my arms from pits to fingers. Seriously? Back in the good old days we bought tickets for reasonable prices and walked right in.

I think it was around 1:30 when we were free to walk the grounds. Israel Nash was scheduled to start at 2:15 at the Fisher Green stage. First thing I noticed on our way there was the lack of a stage northwest of the fountain like there usually is. However, there was a huge beer garden. Not just beer though, you could get cocktails this year. Beer has gone up to $8 and cocktails were $12. We went by that one and walked into a very large fenced-off beer garden a little left and back from the main viewing area on Fisher Green. Security guys checked our ID’s (We are old, why bother)? At least they gave us wrist bands so we wouldn’t have to pull out our ID’s every time we entered. Something so easy that they’ve never done before at Bumbershoot. So an improvement! Extra large drinking cages and an easy procedure for getting in and out of them.

One thing AEG got right was moving the Fisher Green stage to the south end of the lawn to take advantage of the hill that slopes down to the stage. The change made it a much better venue for viewing and listening to the shows.

As I stood there drinking my Hilliard’s 12 in a can, I surveyed the grounds and saw nothing much going on and not many people around the fountain and in the grass. That’s unusual for Bumbershoot. Normally there are dancing troupes, circus acts, and buskers entertaining the crowd as they go from show to show. None of that this year. Well the Sound Wave band went marching by once and played some music for a short while. There wasn’t even a KEXP booth anywhere around. Hmmmmm….

Israel Nash
Israel Nash

Israel Nash came on stage promptly at 2:15. The sound system was high quality, so the show sounded great – all thirty minutes of it. A thirty-minute set? I know sets are short at festivals, but I’ve never seen one scheduled for 30 minutes at Bumbershoot before. You’d think they could do 40 minutes and have twenty between acts. Nope. 30 between acts. Israel did invite us all to come and see him on Saturday, December 12th at The Crocodile for a whole show.

The misses arrived via Über in time to see Michael Cronin at 3:15 play his thirty-minute set. She also felt violated going through the pat-down search area, but somehow she managed to get an airport mini of vodka past them. I didn’t ask where she stashed it.

Michael Cronin
Michael Cronin

We had some time before the next act, so we visited the cocktail lounge on the Fountain Lawn. Like I said before, there wasn’t much happening on the lawn, and that’s a bad thing. It’s just not Bumbershoot if there isn’t stuff like this going on to entertain the crowd. The misses picked up some free stuff from the Coppola winery booth, and then we went back to Fisher Green to see Nikki Lane, a country singer I’d never heard of before.

Nikki Lane
Nikki Lane

We all liked her show. Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham from Social Distortion joined her for one song, and she closed her set with a great cover of Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere“.

After that show we went to the Wild Turkey Bus.


They scanned all our wrist bands. I asked why, and they said so we couldn’t come back the same day. Tracking chips? Do you like tracking chips and whiskey? No I do not like tracking chips and whiskey! The rye whiskey was good though.

Randy and I headed over to the Memorial Stadium to catch a bit of Social Distortion. We stopped for fried oysters before heading through the gate where we had to get scanned again before entering. They moved the stage back to the West end of the stadium this year. I liked it on the North side last year. Worked great for The Replacements. Social D sounded great. Quite a production with the huge stage and big screens (making Mike Ness’s tat’s very large). We caught “Ball and Chain” and a few other songs before heading out. We soon found we were supposed to get scanned again before exiting. I asked why and was told that you had to scan out to so you could get scanned back in on the same day. Huh? Why? I can’t think of a good reason. Can anyone? Do you like Social D and wrist-band scans? No I do NOT like Social D and wrist-band scans! Social D was good though.

The Punch Brothers were on when we got back to Fisher Green. There was a large crowd on the lawn that appreciated their music. I wasn’t all that into their muted acoustic music, but they got to play for an hour or so before Neko Case, because the set-times grew longer as the day progressed. If I was in charge of scheduling, I would have switched their time with Israel Nash’s morning slot so he could have played an hour-long set of Laurel-Canyon-style, electric-guitar music leading into Neko’s show.

Neko Case with Rachel Flotard
Neko Case with Rachel Flotard

Neko saluted Washington State firefighters, who have sacrificed a lot this year – some their lives – trying to control huge forest fires in the Okanagan Valley, by wearing a fluorescent firefighter vest and firefighter boots. She played a loose set of songs spanning her career. Her voice was strong with perfect pitch as usual, and she had a good time connecting with her backup singer Rachel Flotard who retired from Visqueen a few years ago.

After the show we did what we always do.

Café Mecca
Café Mecca

At the Mecca we discussed what was good and bad about this year’s Bumbershoot. Good: big drinking cages with easy entry and exit, Fisher Green stage location, sound quality, and great performances. Bad: Expensive, short sets, tracking chips, aggressive pat-down searches, and the lack of performance art on the lawns – the stuff that makes it Bumbershoot instead of just another music festival.

Is this what Bumbershoot will be in future years? The Seattle Times already reported that the festival was a success and will be back next year. But if it’s this fucked up, I’ll probably give up on it after the thirty or so years I’ve attended.

One thought on “Who Fucked Up Bumbershoot?

  1. Good post, Brad. Bumbershoot used to be a luxury for music lovers in Seattle and a venue for anyone passionate about music to pick and choose their shows base. It’s become an extravagance. SIFF was once so far out of my price range that I couldn’t justify more than a few films. Understanding now that it’s a remarkable value for what you get reminds me how out of reach Bumbershoot has become.

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