For the first time in a handful of years, rain greeted the attendees of Bumbershoot 2014 when they made their way to the Seattle Center grounds on Saturday morning. The annual music and arts festival is held over the course of the Labor Day weekend each year, a holiday residents of the Pacific Northwest secretly, privately dread a bit, as it signals the unofficial end of summer, and the egress of colder, damper days ahead. The hearty music stalwarts of Seattle were undeterred, however, and came downtown with ponchos, umbrellas, hats, and a haughty rain-or-shine disposition.
The first day of the festival promised some of the most exciting acts of Bumbershoot, after all, with big names such as Elvis Costello and Wu Tang Clan anchoring the lineup. Bumbershoot audience members, many of them from the Pacific Northwest, weren’t going to be deterred by something so trivial and ordinary as rain, thus things kicked off in earnest right as the first acts began taking the stage at noon.
The Lonely Forest is an indie rock four-piece from Anacortes, Washington, and was an early standout of the day. Scheduled for an intimate performance in the K.E.X.P. music lounge at 12:30 p.m., the band played a magnificent set to a small crowd of 200 that had gathered to watch one of the tightest acts of the entire festival. This performance, was a warm-up for their main set later that afternoon, and showcased the same delicate yet powerful vocals from lead-man John Van Deusen that local fans and Bumbershoot regulars have come to know so well. The Lonely Forest frequents this area often (this was their 4th Bumbershoot appearance), and their music is lyrically thoughtful, yet sports an alt. rock backbone that sets it firmly within the region’s classic Grunge sub-culture.
Halfway through their set, Van Deusen announced that The Lonely Forest was disbanding after their performance that evening, a proclamation that was met by more than a few muffled gasps from the assembled crowd. What followed was a crushing, emotional, and altogether committed performance from an earnest, hard-working band that played with no regrets, and nothing held in reserve. Later, just before their main set’s last song, The Lonely Forest gathered by the drum kit for one final toast, where they all took a shot to say farewell to each other and the band whose music they had worked tirelessly to bring to the masses. After they played their final number, Van Deusen and his guitarist both bowed, and then took stage dives into the crowd, where they were carried for a time before being gently set down and swallowed up by the masses. It was a fitting send-off to the band, whose short, magnificent career followed a similar trajectory.
Dude York played early in the afternoon as well, yet unlike The Lonely Forest, they seemed to be on the other end of their professional musical journey. A young, scrappy band that also hails from Washington State, Dude York sounds like a less troubled version of The Pixies mixed with a Bouncing Souls undercurrent. The band played like they were happy just to be there, and seemed to delight in their ability to chitchat with the audience, which was equally enthusiastic about the opportunity to engage with a frisky band early in the day.
And speaking of getting the audience going during the first half of Saturday, nobody pulled this trick off better than Panic! at the Disco, whose jubilant, turbo-charged set got the main stage audience dancing just before 3 p.m. A true 21st century pop rock act, the band has been churning out its unique blend of eclectic hits for a decade, and despite lineup changes and the steady progression and evolution of their sound, its identity has remained intact. Front-man Brendon Urie, clad in a solid gold jacket and matching gold microphone, actively explored the stage, and got an audience that was just getting revved up for a long day’s worth of music whipped into a nice little frenzy. Encouragement such as this is important for the all-day festival crowd, which must simultaneously keep their engines warm whilst not overheating too quickly.
So as to temper this, and to keep this particular Gonzo journalist’s mind and legs strong, a return to the K.E.X.P. music lounge was necessary, where another intimate performance was scheduled. The Both, a mini-super-group of sorts consisting of Ted Leo and Aimee Mann, played a tight set that showcased the ripping power chords of Mr. Leo tempered by the more folksy twang of Ms. Mann. The pair shared vocalist duties during their set, yet came together at times to harmonize in small pockets that elevated the songs to an altogether higher plane. The sharp repartee that passed between the two was nearly as entertaining as their music, which was the perfect antidote to a Bumbershoot audience that was creeping up on the day’s halfway point.
The Both offered up the perfect buffer for Saturday, for after their smaller mid-day set, many made their way back to the main stage, where one of the festival’s biggest names was scheduled to play just after 6. Elvis Costello has been churning out a motley offering of punk anthems, rock ballads, and new wave standards for forty years, and every inch of this diverse musical palate was on display when the British crooner took the stage. A crowd of forty and fifty-somethings danced with tempered enthusiasm beside kids who were still a handful of years away from being able to drink, yet all seemed to find a nice, common ground in front of an entertainer whose inventive compositions and off-kilter lyrics laid the foundation for an entire generation of musicians. Mr. Costello played for well over an hour to a grateful crowd that basked in the glory of a true music legend, one playing against a muffled sunset long-since obscured by rain-burdened clouds.
These same clouds parted right around 9, when mid-west indie rock darlings Walk the Moon took the stage. Although a stiff breeze cooled a crowd dampened by a day’s worth of on-and-off showers, few of the people watching Walk the Moon seemed to notice, as most were dancing their ever-loving asses off. An electro-pop and rock act that feels like one-part of Montreal, and two-parts The Police (with just a dash of Passion Pit), this quartet isn’t quite as musically tight as any of those other three bands, yet are just as much fun, and got the audience gathered before the Fountain Lawn Stage hot and sweaty in spite of the elements. What’s more, Walk the Moon kept a majority of the crowd there through the end of their set at ten, despite the fact that the day’s headliner, Wu Tang Clan, was scheduled to go on at 9:45 that evening.
This was an impressive feat, yet a somewhat hollow one, as it turned out. Wu Tang Clan kept the weary main stage audience waiting nearly a half hour, and only came on after small pockets of festival-goers started making their way for the exits. Bumbershoot is a three day festival, after all, and demands a certain level of endurance for those looking to drink in the acts from an entire Labor Day weekend. This may be why the audience was only half on-board with the often aggressive nature of Wu Tang Clan when they did finally take the stage and tried to get peoples’ hands in the air despite the fact that many just didn’t care. Although a bunch of folks seemed eager to participate at first, this enthusiasm waned after a while, and most seemed content to just sit back and enjoy the show. Indeed, it was a decent one at that, and was a fitting end to what amounted to the opening salvo of a three-day weekend assembled for the musically stout of heart, and the few journalists hearty enough to come along for the ride.
Article & Photos by Warren Cantrell
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