Bumbershoot: Day Three
Seattle Center; Seattle, WA
day three be any worse than day two? The bill was far from stacked. I was
growing weary from the large crowds, the long miles, and the exhausting heat.
My goal was to gut it out to catch festival closer A Tribe Called Quest, but
it was not to be. Sorry to spoil the ending so early. How often does a hip-hop
group reunite and immediately tour? Never mind — bad rhetorical question.
The first (and quite possibly only) positive of the day was the lack of crowd
compared to Sunday's free-for-all. Most of that can be attributed to the
winding line to score a pass to the main stage to catch the Steve Miller Band.
Any Midwesterner can tell you it's easy to catch Steve Miller and his band any
summer of any year. From 1992-2003 (when I left the Hoosier state) I can
safely say the Miller played at least once a year in Indiana. I don't know his
track record for Washington, but judging by the size of the line and the wide
discrepancy of age groups, he must rarely play the state. Sadly Steve Miller
fans, I didn't waste the time of checking out the greatest hits concert that
I've seen before. I knew that even with a depleted roster of artists and
comedians, I could find better ways of entertaining myself.
Just as quickly as I said those words, they would become my dooming moment.
But not for awhile. My first break of the day came with the relative ease of
getting into the Arj Barker/Morgan Murphy/Paul F. Tompkins show. Sunday's
press debacle aside, the staff had no problem throwing me in front of the
line. I was assured that I would be able to get in later to see the show
featuring Zach Galifianakis while chatting up the staff, so my hopes of
lasting until A Tribe Called Quest were burning eternal. As for the show
itself, Arj Barker was tearing shit up left and right. For fear of ruining his
material (and making myself sound like a fool), I won't divulge his
repertoire. I will just pressure you to catch his act should it roll into your
town. In an age when unfunny comedians (Carlos Mencia, Ray Romano, Kevin
James, et. al.) get millions of dollars and attract an audience with a
shortage of funny bones, it was great to get genuine laughs out of Barker.
Even the elderly set in attendance were copping an extra puff from their
oxygen tanks. Unfortunately, his momentum was stopped quickly by the unfunny
Morgan Murphy. Her Stephen Wright shtick was not working on the crowd at all —
not because no one enjoys Wright's deadpan delivery and observational humor,
but because Murphy just wasn't capable of pulling any of it off with her own
spin. Paul F. Tompkins came out to try to save the show, but the wind was out
of the sails by then. The crowd had lost interest thanks to Murphy, and
Tompkins had no shot of recovering.
No matter how boring and uninspired Morgan Murphy's set may have been, it
could never have trumped the destruction and ennui of Greil Marcus' reading.
Sitting in the same seat in the same auditorium that gifted me the dual attack
of Charles Burns and Chuck Palahniuk, Marcus read sections from his latest
novel — particularly talking about Alan Ginsburg. In a moment of sheer
hypocrisy, Marcus accused Ginsburg of loving the sound of his own voice. Pot
meet kettle. I barely stomached half an hour of Marcus' rhetoric. It was
thick, messy, and most of all, boring. It wasn't his monotone delivery or
pompous posture, but the material itself. The passages were cold and
unrelenting. There was no soul to his book, and what's worse was he clearly
wrote the novel for a group that no longer cares about what he has to say.
Clearly, Greil Marcus has lost touch with his readership. I was hoping his
fellatio on Bob Dylan in the music edition of The Believer was just due
to his obsession with Dylan — not born out of being out-of-touch. Nothing
could be further from the truth. Marcus is stuck in the 60s, both musically
and socially. I'll never claim to be half the critic or writer Marcus is, but
to see a man who should be admired for his work a generation ago fall into a
recycled pattern of telling the same stories with few changes is truly
saddening. I might have shed a tear had I not been fighting off sleep.
I followed the mass exodus (apparently I wasn't alone in my assessment
considering Marcus' generational peers couldn't leave the auditorium fast
enough) and decided to check out the Indie Market. While chatting up some
McSweeneys employees while I bought David Byrne's The New Sins, I
heard the faint sounds from the NW Court. Heading over to the stage, I caught
the middle of Jacqui Naylor's set. Her form of jazz is definitely aimed for
the Norah Jones/Lizz Wright/Madeline Peyroux set, not because she happens to
be a female jazz singer, but because of the nature of her slow, cautious
melodies. Her backing band was fantastic, nailing traditional jazz standards
with ease. Even each member's solo was to be applauded and admired. Too bad
Naylor just doesn't have the pizzazz of a Jones or Wright.
I decided it was time to make haste towards the Intiman Theatre to catch Zach
Galifianakis. Having been assured a seat, I still wanted to beat the crowd.
The line waiting to get in was large (as expected — it had been all weekend),
but as I made my way to the front, the same staffers who had guaranteed my
entry told me to go away. Once again, denied after being told it would be no
problem to get in to the show. The one comedian I wanted to see all weekend
and I was denied. I wasn't upset that I was going to miss him so much as I was
upset that I let myself get excited at the promise of entrance by staffers who
sent mixed messages to most of the press corp all damn weekend. I felt even
sorrier for those in line that would be told they'd get in but were turned
away as well. Hopefully Bumbershoot organizers will take notice of how in
demand certain acts were and accordingly fix the problem. When someone buys a
ticket to get into a festival to see certain acts and artists, there shouldn't
be a competition and a waiting game to maybe, hopefully, possibly see someone.
After hauling ass to try to get into the comedic interpretation/breakdown of
R. Kelly's hip-hopera "Trapped in the Closet" and being denied once more, I
gave up and called it a festival. I was too tired to fight anymore, and the
crowd was swelling in size.
One good day doesn't trump the mismanagement, confusion, and errors of two
days. Bumbershoot 2006 will go down as a massive failure. I'm sure plenty
festival goers will say they had a good time, and I'm sure they did. But as
for overall presentation, Bumbershoot is happy to skimp on the important
features. The staff that dealt directly with the press and paying customer at
the ticket booths, markets, and lounges were fantastic. However, the staff
that played hardball, bullied patrons, didn't know their heads from their
asses, and didn't get their facts straight ran wild all over Bumbershoot. What
should be an experience to catch bands you love and discover new loves (if any
members of PK and What Army comes across this — please e-mail me pronto)
turned out to be nothing more than another run-of-the-mill mistake of a
festival. Will I do it again next year? Probably — there's a bit of an
optimist in all my pessimism, but I'll be ready to endure a lot of hell to
enjoy just a little purgatory.