Bumbershoot Festival 2012: Festival Review

Bumbershoot still remains one of the more diversely curated festivals in the nation. That is probably why they referred to it completely as Seattle’s Music & Arts Festival. In its 42nd year, the 2012 edition was not lacking in diversity, as the main headliners over the course of Labor Day Weekend varied from Jane’s Addiction to Mac Miller and Skrillex. With six musical stages, and a wealth of other stages hosting comedy acts, readings and various panels, it is impossible to catch everything over the weekend. So here are the highlights instead, not in any particular order of awesomeness.



M83 acquired quite a bit of hype this past year. In fact, 2011 may have been THEIR year. With their hit single “Midnight City,” it seemed like nearly everyone was jumping on the M83 band wagon. The funny thing about that is the band has actually been around for years; they released their first record in 2001. Securing a spot on the main stage for Bumbershoot 2012, M83 played to an audience packed with fans and those simply curious about the band.

After witnessing this performance, I can tell you that I’ve truly never seen anything like it. The intro was a spectacle all on its own with lasers and complex flashing lights that even I have a hard time describing. Both lead singer Anthony Gonzalez and keyboardist/back-up singer Morgan Kibby were extraordinarily entertaining. Their vocals were nearly spot-on with their record, but not in a lip-syching kind of way like we’re used to at the award shows. The instrumental drum solos were riveting and exciting. The performance was everything that I hoped it would be, but I’m afraid to say that it is unfortunate that all many are remembering is the crowd of kids rushing to the floor and causing mayhem break loose. You can read all about that mess here. KATIE NGUYEN



Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

This funk/soul band has been around since the mid-’90s, but if you didn’t know any better you would assume they formed in the early ‘70s. Carried on the shoulder by the spectacular voice of Sharon Jones and then brought to the forefront by the impeccable revivalist sound of the Dap-Kings, this big band lives up to all they hype their live show comes with. Despite playing on the main stage of the Key Arena, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were able to generate energy in the crowd that transported you straight back to a seedy bar in Motown Detroit. Their music is approachable by individuals of all ages, as are their tributes to the various dances of the ’60s and ’70s, which are like an instructional video led by Sharon Jones herself. Her spirit is infectious, even if you weren’t alive to experience the origins of the music the band aims to bring back to a new century. Sharon Jones’ energy, charisma, and stage performance are liable to make her and the Dap-Kings the best set of any festival they attend, and Bumbershoot was no different.


Fruit Bats

The Fruit Bats also come with an unnecessary tag of fame as guitarist/vocalist Eric Johnson also hangs out with The Shins. But the Fruit Bats couldn’t be more different despite maintaining a few similarities. The band plays their folk-rock tunes as if they are stuck on Venice Beach in the 1970s. Their cheery pop overtones carry the band, because in this day and age of supreme indie-depression on stage, it is nice to see a band actually having fun. PETER WOODBURN


Tony Bennett

You read that right. Tony Bennett. THE Tony Bennett played at Bumbershoot as he closed out his tour with a final stop in Seattle. Really, Tony Bennett should end up on anyone’s list of the best shows because seeing Bennett is a real treat. It isn’t like a man of his stature (and age!) hits the road that often, but at the young age of 86, Anthony Dominick Benedetto seems at least 20 years younger. Okay, maybe just 10 years younger. It was a seated affair on the mainstage floor as Bennett crooned his way through a 75-minute set with the charm of a younger self. I felt like I should have a complimentary martini and a pair of dice to roll for craps the entire time. And unlike other aging musicians (e.g. Bob Dylan), Bennett’s voice is still largely intact. He couldn’t hit his notes as well as he used tom but he wasn’t shorting his reputation at all. No doubt his backing band was top notch and kept Bennett flowing with well-timed jazz solos, but they never overshadowed Bennett. He told stories of how Bob Hope chose his marquee name like a grandfather telling stories to his grandchildren in front of a fireplace. Tony Bennett legitimately seemed like a nice guy, albeit a very successful nice guy. PETER WOODBURN


Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell comes with the Drive By Truckers tag of fame, but his own version of rock-and-roll comes in a very different vein. The 400 Unit are a bunch of musicians from Alabama. Together, to a criminally small crowd by late-night time slot standards, the group played a surprisingly tight country rock set that was completely captivating. Isbell’s guitar chops are spectacular in knowing just what his songs need. Sometimes he was off the charts, jamming out in a more rockabilly groove and other times he just used the simple subtly of chords to carry the country tune. The beauty of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is that Isbell sidesteps traditional country rock clichés while maintaining traditional country rock tones. It’s a fine line to tread and the band does it masterfully. Before you blink, a hour has passed by, but not in that feeling of last time. That satisfactory feeling of witnessing something great. PETER WOODBURN


Best Coast

Bethany Cosentino stood in the forefront of the main stage at Bumbershoot in the Key Arena, looking like quite a vision. Her voice wavered with the sweet melodies of her band’s songs and her female rockstar presence as a front woman did not go unrecognized. Since the main stage venue of Bumbershoot was moved into the Key Arena, there is no doubt that the atmosphere has shifted quite a bit. Just two years ago, concert attendees were basking in the sun at Memorial Stadium. Now, for the past two years, we have found ourselves shuffling our feet into the black hole that is the Key Arena. Best Coast’s springy tunes were designed to be performed in outside venues. However, being indoors completely transformed their upbeat set into one that was darker.

Despite, the lack of natural light and uncomfortable seating, Best Coast delivered a performance the best way they could. Cosentino was glorious and beautiful. Her band was supportive and complimentary. The best moment of the set was hearing Cosentino drone out the band’s hit “Boyfriend.” It was my junior high/high school diary in a nutshell and it was not only relatable, but by the end of the set I could agree on one thing: Bethany Cosentino was a lot like her fans. KATIE NGUYEN


The Dirtbombs

By their second song, the famed garage-punk band from Detroit were already sweating, and doing it to a crowd that seemed largely ignorant of who the band was — myself included. Lead singer Mick Collins spent more time jumping in the air than planted on the ground, and the band plowed through their entire set in about half their allotment. To fill it up, the band embarked on a closing set that was more psych-space-fuzz in sound with the supreme energy of punk rock. One of the drummers took his snare into the crowd for an impromptu drum circle, Collins manned the empty vacant drums set, guitars and basses were switched and chaos ensued for a good 10 to 15 minutes.


Bryan John Appleby

I always have a little bit of a soft spot for local artists who I am seeing for the first time. For the past year and a half, I have heard nothing but great things about Bryan John Appleby. He is a Seattle native and friends with members of Campfire OK and Lemolo — two bands that I have seen many times and have even performed with the singer, but somehow I managed to miss those sets. Bryan John Appleby performed at a new stage this year at Bumbershoot called The Promenade. Settled into the nook of McCaw Hall, the setup for this stage looked like an absolute dream.

As I approached the stage maneuvering my way through the crowd, the audience stood eerily quiet, hooked on every note and word sung. Appleby impressed us all with his range performing both solo and with a backup band. His performance was soft, but not forgotten — delicate, but not cautious. Out of all the sets I watched that day nothing seemed more comfortable than Bryan John Appleby’s. Stowed away from the hustle and bustle that Bumbershoot typically is, Appleby was kind of like the music festival’s best kept secret. Instead of feeling like I was packed in a sardine can and melting under the hot sun, I was surrounded by such beauty and support. Fans were not competing to get to the front of the stage; they were just happy to be able to see him at all. And Appleby welcomed everyone into this space as if it was an intimate setting almost reminiscent of a living room show. The rug up on the stage may have contributed to that last fleeting thought. KATIE NGUYEN



Seattle welcomed Canadian singer Valerie Poxleitner AKA Lights with open arms on the third day of Bumbershoot. Known for her bubbly performances and electronic pop sound, Lights was surprisingly very calm during her set. I’m not exactly sure what my expectations were since this was my first time seeing her live, but I believe I thought her set would be just as upbeat as her music. Instead, we were given a performance that seemed like a stripped down version of a set. Maybe that was the singer’s plan all along, though. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the crowd who expected a high energy performance, but I was even more intrigued and pleasantly taken aback by the set that was presented to us.

Lights was simply glorious on stage that night. It was hard to believe that there were even those around me who had never heard of her before. Nearby, I kept hearing, “Wait – who is this singer?!” from a few people, but without even knowing her name, it didn’t take long for others to realize that they were witnessing a fantastic performance. Dancing teenagers and adult head bobbers were groovin’ to the sound of Lights from sunset until dusk. KATIE NGUYEN



Oh, Skrillex: the grungily hairstyled man who brought dubstep to the Grammys. Whisper his name into the ears of most contemporary music listening youngsters, and you’re bound to elicit a gut-based reaction in either the positive or the affirmative, with most of the reactions probably a bit more intense than is warranted. He has become a scapegoat for those who hate the dubstep womp, and a beacon of hope for those who appreciate electronic music of any form reaching the American mainstream. Upon entering Key Arena to see him close out Bumbershoot, I had essentially no expectations, save for the fact that I knew the visual set-up would be elaborate and full of LED madness and lasers. I hadn’t really heard his music, didn’t have any personal opinions about his sociological import or lack thereof, and felt completely open to any possibilities. But I definitely didn’t expect to like his performance. I thought, if anything, that I would feel fairly neutral about it. Turns out that as soon as I entered the arena, a flip switched, and I couldn’t have been more fascinated. Before long, I had indefinitely concluded that Skrillex is a talented dude and a very dynamic DJ. More than a half an hour or more or his set was comprised of things like tech-house and breaks, creating a much more dynamic set than one of solely dubstep, and what had been a desire to watch only here songs shortly turned into nearly an hour. More than anything, I appreciated the fact that an entire arena of people who may otherwise care less for dance music were some of the most stoked people I have seen at a show in years. The last time I remember such exuberance and energy was at Atmosphere at Bumbershoot years prior and at occasional moments at rave massives. But those moments had been unsustained and brief. At Skrillex, the energy was non-stop, and the only other show that has come even remotely close was that of LCD Soundsystem at The Gorge, where everyone in the audience was screaming and dancing his and her heads off. I have no complaints. Skrillex is perfectly solid in my book.



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