Bumbershoot 2014: Day 3

Bad Things

Monday, Labor Day, brought yet another sunny day to the people of Seattle, a hearty portion of whom came out for the final day of 2014’s Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival. This 3rd and final day of Bumbershoot saw yet another slew of diverse artistic acts take the stage in a festival that many agreed was altogether different than those held in recent years. There was a lot of talk going into the weekend about how the 2014 lineup represented a more home-spun and decidedly anti-corporate tradition that has customarily set Bumbershoot apart from other big-name festivals. The festival organizers spread their money around this year to get as many outstanding acts as possible, a shift from their recent habit of pitching over the lion’s share of their funds to get big names like Bob Dylan or Tony Bennett to headline. While entertaining, and popular enough across older demographics to turbo-charge ticket sales, these acts always seemed out of place in a setting like Bumbershoot.

There was no threat of this on Monday, where a gaggle of quality groups and performers, most of whom with little national recognition, got an opportunity to earn some fans. One of the first into Monday’s fray was Gold & Youth, a Canadian outfit that sounds a little like The Smiths crossed with MGMT. Their set was upbeat and energetic, and the early arrivals that made it over to catch their 12:30 performance all seemed entirely satisfied with the day’s rock and roll reveille. They played on the end zone stage, one of the smallest of the festival, yet Gold & Youth blasted through their set like a headliner performing on the main stage. And while the next band to take the end zone stage harnessed a similar level of enthusiasm and artistic gusto as Gold & Youth, their abilities didn’t quite match those of their predecessor.

Bad Things was formed by X-Games and Olympic champ Shaun White, and is a sort of college radio alt. rock creature. While it’s often easy to chastise musicians, athletes, or actors for trying to cross into another genre (remember when Eddie Murphy released an album?), Mr. White seems to have thrown the same diligence and dedication behind his playing as he has in the past on the slopes or half-pipe. The thing of it is, the guy is in a mediocre band helmed by a front-man (Davis LeDuke) that has no tangible sense of pitch or key. Put simply, Bad Things is a decent band burdened with a lousy lead singer. Many audience members tried to stick it out for a while, if only to watch an Olympic gold medalist shred, yet other more compelling acts called and lured them away.

Rev Horton Heat

One such alternative was Campfire OK, which went on at 2 p.m. A Seattle-based band with a folk-rock identity and a power-pop sound, Campfire OK is a hard band to absorb on the first listen. The appearance of banjos and horns hint at a brighter, more pop-esque act, yet the subtle psychedelic undercurrents and piercing high tenor vocals of lead singer Mychal Cohen suggest that there’s more percolating beneath the surface. On Monday, the musicianship of each performer was unquestioned, for the set Campfire OK unleashed was beyond tight and seemed to own the undivided attention of everyone in attendance. Indeed, were it not for the intimate, limited-seating performance of Reverend Horton Heat at 2:30 in the K.E.X.P. Music Lounge, this particular journalist would have stayed through the entire duration of Campfire OK’s set (although it should be noted that the band announced that they were changing their name from Campfire OK to The Weather as of Monday’s performance).

Reverend Horton Heat has been churning out their unique blend of kamikaze rockabilly for nearly thirty years, and has made a career out of fusing country, surf rock, big band, and punk genres into a sound that some have termed “Psychobilly.” Their brief afternoon set in the K.E.X.P. Music Lounge was like an injection of amphetamines straight into the eyeballs of the lucky two hundred or so that packed into the small theater to watch the trio shred. The audience seemed barely able to contain itself as Jim Heath savaged his Gretsch 6120 whilst Jimbo Wallace slapped his standup bass like it had back-sassed him. In all, Reverend Horton Heat wasted little time during their all-too-brief set (the longer, proper one at 10 p.m. on Monday evening made up for this), and plowed through a series of knee-slapping, head-banging tunes that had most of the assembled audience dancing in their seats.


Still, it’s not just about the music at Bumbershoot. One of the hottest acts of the 2014 festival happened to be a comedy set by actress Janeane Garofalo, whose performances took place in an indoor theater (the limited seats for which were highly coveted). Ms. Garofalo performed with two other comedians, Beth Stelling & Rory Scovel, both of whom seemed far more prepared than their big-name colleague. Indeed, while the material of the other two hinted at somewhat defined and planned sets, Ms. Garofalo appeared to be winging it. And while the audience enjoyed itself, there was a general sense that all of the waiting in line to get into the show wasn’t quite worth the end result.

Things rebounded with Bomba Estereo, a Columbian quartet that went on just after 6 p.m, yet treated their set as if it was a midnight dance party. Bomba Estereo swings a pretty wide stick in terms of its genre classification, but if forced to pinpoint it, one might call it electroclash dance pop in the vein of fellow South Americans C.S.S. Lead singer Liliana Saumet, a tiny woman with a slight build, occupied every inch of the stage, and infected the audience with her manic fervor and zeal. As she belted out lyrics and leapt from one end of the stage to the other, a late-afternoon crowd weary from a day’s worth of unrelenting sun and a weekend jam-packed with artistic excellence found itself revitalized.

Bomba Estereo

Bomba Estereo acted as a nice counterpoint to another band that started their set on a nearby stage just as the Columbians finished theirs. Nada Surf has been cranking out a heady brand of east coast alt. rock for over twenty years now, and Monday evening’s stripped-down, unobtrusive band delighted Seattle residents nostalgic for their city’s mid-90s heyday. Indeed, after the ass-shaking and pogo hopping of Bomba Estereo, Nada Surf was a nice change of pace: an opportunity for many to catch their breath. Even so, this was not to last…

Neon Trees went on at 8 p.m., and whether it was the timing of their set and lighting display with the growing darkness, or just the vitality of lead-man Tyler Glenn, their presence seemed to illuminate the night. A new wave-ish electro-pop and rock act, Neon Trees turned it up to 11 with their performance, and was embraced by a grateful crowd that seemed more than willing to sing and dance along. It was a spectacular sight, for if a person with no knowledge of pop culture or current events came along, they might have just as easily assumed that Neon Trees was the biggest band in the world. This would have been a reasonable assumption, as just about every person within earshot of the stage was screaming lyrics back at the performers as they played, and dancing like they had just a handful of hours left to do so before it became illegal.

Nada Surf

And that’s the sad, fascinating, mind-boggling irony of Bumbershoot, and acts like Neon Trees. Although the group has achieved a commendable level of success, what with songs of theirs making it on Glee, and another landing in a Buick Verano commercial, Neon Trees hasn’t won any Grammys, and isn’t a part of the national discussion on music in the same way that “artists” like Miley Cyrus or One Direction are. Bands like Neon Trees might get lucky, and hit it big with a catchy single that allows them to build on their considerable musical talents, and evolve as fully-rounded musicians, but most acts won’t be as lucky. As the disintegration of The Lonely Forest showed us on Saturday, entirely worthy, inspiring, innovative artists give up the dream every day despite a healthy catalogue of fantastic music and relentless touring.

As Foster the People played into the evening, and closed out Bumbershoot’s main stage, the line between big-name acts that can land on their feet as the headliner of a popular music festival, and those that fail to catch on for no good reason whatsoever, became thinner and fainter. A grand weekend, truly, yet it served to shine a spotlight on a tragic, almost invisible distinction that has, and will continue to, define the music industry for some time. Some artists that don’t deserve their success get it in spades, and others that do might only ever catch a whiff of artistic validation before being forced to break up. The former camp might draw the big crowds, but it is the latter that makes Bumbershoot such a special festival, one worth going to year after year: if only to catch a glimpse of those special, fleeting bands before they are swallowed up again by the industry and the masses.


Article & Photos by Warren Cantrell

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