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Originally published September 6, 2010 at 10:02 PM | Page modified September 7, 2010 at 6:55 AM

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After four decades, Bumbershoot continues to adapt

Crowds, a little rain, ticketing snafus, Bob Dylan — how Bumbershoot managed on its 40th anniversary.

Seattle Times staff reporter

After tepid threats all weekend, rain finally arrived at Bumbershoot early Monday afternoon. During the first two days of the music and arts festival, overcast days and cool evenings prevailed, monotone Seattle skies that provided a quintessential backdrop for Bumbershoot's 40th go-round.

On both those days, the festival sold out all 22,000 tickets to Memorial Stadium, according to Mikhael Mei Williams, marketing and communications director for festival organizer One Reel.

"This was the first time the main stage had the potential to sell out ahead of the festival," Williams said at Seattle Center on Monday, referring to a new two-tiered ticketing system that charged a premium for mainstage access. "That allowed us to provide a reduced rate for people that weren't interested in going [to the headlining acts]. It was an attempt to try to please both sides of the festival experience.

"It was new, it was an experiment," based on years of feedback from attendees, she continued. "I think at the end of the festival, when we look back at how things worked, then we'll be able to tell if it was a success or what needs to change."

Williams said she knew of no arrests and no public-safety concerns this year, but there were some early ticketing snafus.

On Saturday, several thousand attendees were forced to wait in long lines to pick up tickets from the will-call window of the box office. Williams explained that there was an unprecedented number of last-minute ticket purchases — perhaps due to an extension of the pre-sale discount period — 4,800, up from the usual 1,800.

In response, the festival beefed up its ticket-fulfillment department, building seven additional ticket windows and hiring extra customer-service agents.

On Sunday, Bumbershoot's ticket-fulfillment software crashed at the same time that Ticketmaster's online "print your ticket at home option" went down, again creating unexpectedly high demand for will-call pickup.

"It was the perfect storm at will call," Williams said. "We threw extra resources at it — more computer terminals, an outside box office — but it wasn't enough. It was really unfortunate and not something we'd want people to have as their first step into the grounds."

Williams said she e-mailed a personal apology to everyone affected and issued a public statement.

If nothing else, these struggles and successes demonstrate that, even in its 40th year, Bumbershoot remains a fluid festival, determined to adapt to maximize the value and experience for every attendee. Along with more ticket options and discount prices this year, the age for free children's admission was raised from 5 to 10.

On Monday, rain looked as though it might be factoring into the day's attendance. Parking lots near Seattle Center were not full, and foot traffic on the grounds flowed freely. But no overall attendance figures had yet been tallied. Bumbershoot typically attracts 40,000 to 65,000 people a day.

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"Until you get behind the scenes you really don't know how much planning is involved," Williams said. "As much as [Seattle Center] is a wonderful location because it's in the city and easy to access and navigate, there are inherent challenges for the same reasons."

One major coup this year was the booking of Bob Dylan as Saturday's mainstage headliner. That night Memorial Stadium was packed to the rafters, one of the biggest crowds many have ever witnessed at Bumbershoot.

"Chris Porter, the programming director, was saying we've been trying for years to get him to come, so it was a big deal for us to start the 40th festival," Williams said.

Jonathan Zwickel: 206-464-3239 or jzwickel@seattletimes.com

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