Nothing, Nowhere: what a perfect metaphor for Bumbershoot 2019. People used to flock to my town of Seattle to attend our once-amazing Labor Day festival. Now, it’s all the producers can do, to coax locals into coming. — I only went because I got in for free. You see, I’m 70. At 65, I was excited, because I knew Bumbershoot would start letting me in for free. And…. the new company took over our festival, and someone raised the age to 70. They figured I’d be dead. But I’m alive. It’s their festival that’s looking DOA.
Let me say right now: if you did have a good time this year, I’m glad. You may not have 40+ years of Bumbershoots to compare this year to. Or you fit that specific demographic the production company targeted. I’m not asking that anything be taken away from you. I want them to add back what was taken, when AEG took over.
I probably attended my first Bumbershoot in 1974. I paid around $3 to get in. I’ve seen what it was, x 40. Yes, I figure I’ve been to about 40 years of Bumbershoot. And, I can tell you what it’s missing: half of the music stages; half of the acts, almost all of the food booths, almost all of the arts and crafts booths; the huge art installations; the Flatstock poster artists exhibiting their excellent work…. And now, it’s missing the crowds. Bumbershoot 2018 saw attendance plunge to half that of normal. Well, I think they lost more folks this year.
But what was really missing? Diversity. At present, there is very little diversity in the music. And age-wise, there is almost no diversity. Here’s a photo of a group of average Bumbershoot 2019 attendees.
I love young people. I don’t expect the festival to be a “boomer” festival. It hasn’t been one for years; but it’s still been fun. Now, it’s not fun. Because the entire event seems to be aimed at the under-21 crowd. At this juncture, they could get rid of the super-pricey beer gardens — who is there to patronize them? — And let me say this: these young people are also getting the short end of the stick. I heard two young women talking. One turned to the other, and said, dejectedly, “I’m bored”. And I wasn’t shocked. They are also getting a very vanilla, narrow-broadcast event.
Historically, a Bumbershoot audience was an all-ages mix. Which I loved. The all-ages mix reflected the festival’s offerings and vice versa. That’s no longer the case. And, if you program Bumbershoot to appeal to one age group, you should change the name. And, you have no claim to the goodwill the festival has built over the years; you have no right to call it Seattle’s Arts and Music festival. It’s not.
Rather than going to see any of the performers this year, I walked the grounds, talked to people, and took the photos you see here. Because with two exceptions, there was no one I wanted to see. Also, the incredible drama surrounding this year’s headlining acts just left me feeling wrung out. You know?? — So instead, I talked with attendees (young and old), long-time Seattle Center employees, festival security staffers, vendor tent employees, arts and crafts people…. And, so many people expressed a level of “bummed-out” that would have amazed me. But I was bummed out too, so…. not amazed.
What could be done to bring back a diverse, successful, fun Bumbershoot? Well, I understand AEG’s contract is expiring now. (Yay!) They’ve produced the festival for the last five years. We’re supposed to be so grateful that they “saved” the festival.They didn’t. They got the rights to the name, and then put on their own, blah, un-festival, on Seattle Center’s grounds. One Reel, the non-profit that was once synonymous with Bumbershoot, was relegated to producing the arts part of the event. — I’d like to see One Reel restored to its proper place — as the entity that produces Bumbershoot. — If they can get the funding. Or, we need to find another arts organization/producer who can do a festival that pays respect to the intention of the original event: getting everyone together, to enjoy a diverse offering of great arts and music, at an affordable price.
I’ll mainly let my captioned photography do the talking for the rest of this blog piece. Following are some things that puzzled me, some things I really didn’t like, and some that I did like.
Instead of all kinds of amazing things to do, presented by artists, arts organizations, and the festival itself, now we have “vendor tents”. Corporations and companies set up tents and canopies where one can participate in activities centering around that particular company’s products. Now, to me, that sounds like something you wouldn’t need a ticket to do. But paying to be marketed is the thing now.
OK, a little more talking. I viewed virtually all of Bumbershoot 2019’s art in one hour. I walked the grounds, where I saw, and photographed an array of random art pieces. I remember when whole rooms would be turned into one giant art piece. Now, we have scattered, small, humble art pieces, that I can’t even say qualify as eye candy. Except…. A/NT Gallery, Seattle Center’s great artists’ coop, presented a show in their International Fountain Pavilion entitled, “The Collectives”, featuring works by members of several Seattle art collectives, including Soil, shift, Gallery 110, Fogue, and (of course) A/NT. I liked this exhibit, due to its focus on “the people’s art”. Also, I have an ongoing love affair with A/NT Gallery. In December, I’ll play my 47th monthly exhibit opening gala for A/NT. It’s always a joy to share my music, while A/NT’s wonderful artists share their work, with an all-ages crowd.
Disclaimer: I attended day one, and day three. I had a pass for Saturday, but fate, and a squirrel, intervened. I got up, and was just about to start getting my fine self ready to go, when our building’s power went out. So you can either say I was cursed, or saved, by a power outage — caused by a poor squirrel who made the fatal error of deciding to chomp down on our power line. So, I have a good excuse. And, instead of saying, “Well, you only went two days”, say, “Oh, the poor squirrel!”. — But that’s nothing! When I was getting ready to go today, a sharp-shinned hawk suddenly swooped into my back yard, with a squirrel in its talons! While it was a bad weekend for me, I thanked my lucky stars that I was not born a squirrel. (Not making this up.)
Notes. For those who just can’t get enough:
BTW, my blog pieces do get read. I’m approaching 55,000 views. Hopefully this review will help make things better. We need a new driver at the festival’s wheel. My review of the 2015 festival got scads of views. But I don’t think it helped any. I tried….
Ironically, while I (along with my late wife, Sally Jo Davis) am in the Paul Dorpat movie from 2001, “BumberChronicles”, due to my ardent love of Bumbershoot, AEG has blocked me from commenting on their FB page. They don’t take well to criticism. Especially from people who know the Emperor is ungarbed.