Bumbershoot's opening day: contortionists, rock, funk and coffee stir-stick art
A report from opening day the Bumbershoot music and arts festival.
Seattle Times arts writer
Ticket information11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Monday, Seattle Center; $30 Economy (no mainstage access), $50 Standard (includes mainstage entry). Tickets are available only on site, at these two gates:
• Thomas Street (just south of EMP).
• Mercer Street (between Bagley Wright and Intiman theaters).
Kids 10 and younger get in free; mainstage access not included. Info: www.bumbershoot.org.
Bumbershoot Day TwoSunday highlights
Fresh Espresso: Seattle synthesizer party-rap duo that can get deep or go off the top of the head (2:15 p.m., Fisher Green)
Hey Marseilles: Seattle indie pop, powered by international rhythms. (2:15 p.m., Broad Street Stage)
Georgia Anne Muldrow and Declaime: Loose and fragmented California soul music, with shades of jazz and rap (4 p.m., Fisher Green)
"The McSweeney's Program": A look under the hood of one of the funniest, most literate sites on the Web (5:30 p.m. Sunday, Words & Ideas Stage).
Ra Ra Riot: A fun, poppy bridge from day to evening. (5:45 p.m., Broad Street Stage)
605 Collective: Brainy, limber modern dance from Canada (6 p.m., Performing Arts Stage)
Hole: Duck and cover: It's Courtney Love (7:30 p.m., Mainstage)
Billy Bragg: Influential English musician and political activist (8:30 p.m., Mural Amphitheatre)
Weezer: Gargantuan American pop-rock band (9:15 p.m., Mainstage)
The Dandy Warhols: Trippy, reverb-happy rock (9:15 p.m., Broad Street Stage)
Fatal Lucciauno: Poetry and rap from a son of the C.D. (9:30 p.m., EMP Sky Church)
There were bumbershoots at Bumbershoot, brought by festivalgoers in anticipation of downpours. But the rain held off and the sun even peeped through from time to time on the opening day of Seattle's annual Labor Day weekend arts and music festival.
Mainstage attractions didn't get started until the early evening. But for those making a day of it, there were lots of rewarding nooks and crannies to explore from midday onward.
The Performing Arts Stage was one of them — and its opening act, RICOCHET, was a highlight, delivering an acrobatics-contortionist routine that was physical theater at its most exquisite.
This brilliant duo pulled off gravity-defying, anatomy-confounding moves on the trapeze, a pair of stilts and each other. Laura Wilson, taking goofy joy in tying herself in knots, and Cohdi Harrell, doing somersaults on stilts with a bemused, faunlike air, were pure magic.
Alas, their show doesn't repeat Sunday or Monday. But there are some superhuman stunts being executed on the Bumbershoot grounds all weekend.
Bernard Hazen, who sometimes performs with Teatro ZinZanni, balances himself on planks that straddle rolling canisters and, while perched precariously, performs impeccable juggling routines. He and his partner, Nir Mor, who does some nifty tricks of his own on a free-standing ladder, will work a prime corner near the east entrance to the KeyArena both Sunday and Monday.
"I came here at 9:30 in the morning," Hazen said, "to catch this spot."
On the music front, the Indie Radio Stage is a fun spot to be. There, bands scheduled to play bigger Bumbershoot venues over the weekend are dropping by for short sets broadcast live on KEXP. The Head and the Heart's bouncy, piano-driven pop-rock and ballads were a nice fit for this intimate space.
So were Hey Marseilles, a seven-piece folk-rock band with an eclectic instrumental lineup that includes trumpet, violin, cello, accordion and keyboards. Short interviews with the bands are conducted midway through each set. Lead singer Matt Bishop, when asked how everyone was kept in the musical loop in such a large band, explained that they write "really long songs." Hey Marseilles' tunes weren't that long but they did have room to accommodate string passages, accordion doodles and the odd mariachi percussion break.
This year's Seattle Comeback Story, the return of the funk outfit Wheedle's Groove to the limelight thanks to a compilation CD and a film documentary made about them, drew a large crowd around the Fisher Green Stage. They all looked sharp in their fedoras (plus one Panama hat, one beret and one straw boater).
"We've got so much music," one of the musicians said. "We've got 35 to 40 years of music to try to jam into 45 minutes." The surprise number in their set: a soulful cover of the Beatles' "Hey Jude."
With the skies looking threatening, the Northwest Rooms lured some festivalgoers indoors. Jonathan Brilliant's "The Bumbershoot Piece" drew oohs and ahs from adults, and considerable interest from children who explored its tent-like structure. Brilliant's piece, constructed entirely from coffee stir sticks, was built in six days and is part of a globe-hopping "Have Stick Will Travel World Tour" he's conducting.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com
On the mainstage
It was Folk Rock Night at Bumbershoot on Saturday evening, with a Memorial Stadium bill that began with the popular Portland band The Decemberists, followed by one-time Tacoma gal Neko Case and culminating with über-troubadour Bob Dylan, in his first-ever Bumbershoot stand.
Given that Dylan is the Godfather of folk rock, the guy who dared meld the two musical idioms in the 1960s to the initial horror of purists, it was an inspired billing conceptually. These artists are all hybridists, fusing various strands of American roots and pop music to arrive at their own distinctive sounds.
But the triple headliner program proved to be a mixed bag -- in part because of the well-known eccentricities of Dylan as a live performer, but also because literate lyrics are made to be heard, word by word by word.
The Decemberists fared best at getting their odes across, along with the creativity and crispness of their instrumental arrangements. This indie group continues to forge a highly individual route, informed by '60s British neo-folk and heavy metal, with Colin Meloy's robust vocals and myth-making lyrics garnished by elements of acoustic Americana.
Highlights were several numbers from the group's upcoming album, with folksy, acoustic vibes -- including the harmonica-rich "Down by the Water," and resonant "June Hymn."
The Decemberists also got around to their heavier, darker, rock-based material, like "The Rake's Song" from their last album, "The Hazards of Love."
Case is another synthesizer of genres, though in an earlier era her full-bodied, rockabilly-hued voice might have landed her top billing at the Grand Ole Opry. If her potent singing bears a twang and a throb, she can rock out too. And the lyrics to her well-harmonized odes of romantic desire and misadventure are ambitious -- like when, in the title tune off her recent album, "Middle Cyclone," she sings of riding "the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love."
With her casual dress, tousled red locks and friendly lack of airs, Case is a disarming performer who, at Bumbershoot, kept dedicating songs to her missing three-legged cat. But the harsh stadium sound mix didn't do her any favors, blurring her lyrics and coarsening the textures of her music.
Her set was a model of lucidity compared to Dylan's, however.
The stadium filled up for the fabled and matchless singer-songwriter, a slightly-built, iconic figure in dark suit and Panama hat. As he swung through "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," the crowd was right with him, singing lustily along on the "Everybody must get stoned!" chorus.
But Dylan's current back-up band stresses hard-driving rock. Added to the sludgy amplification and the extreme raggedness of his singing voice, one was lucky to make out a lyric here and there per song, in the 90-minute set.
This is nothing new: Dylan's shows have long been unpredictable and erratic. And he displayed considerable vigor at Bumbershoot, as he switched instrumentally between harmonica, guitar and keyboards.
One couldn't help feel, though, that those who hadn't already done some deep listening of such masterful Dylan classics as "Desolation Row," "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Highway 61 Revisited" wouldn't know why, from the live versions, he'd been ranked a genius and compared to William Blake.
It's not so much that Dylan radically simplifies the melodies of his songs to accommodate his narrowing vocal range, or that he rephrases them into something akin to folk-rap tunes.
The big loss is of the cosmological, poetic wordscapes Dylan conjures, with their biblical and folkloric allusions, and multiple meanings.
If only to pay homage to his achievement and influence on a half-century of popular music, Dylan may still be worth seeing live. But to really "get" him, you have to head back to his recorded body of work -- longingly and gratefully.
Misha Berson, Seattle Times arts writer
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