Bumbershoot: Day One
Seattle Center; Seattle, WA

Taking the bus can be a daunting
task even for the most fearless explorer. Whirling south from the Ballard
neighborhood, I expected every stop to be packed with teens and twenty-somethings
eager to make it to through the pearly gates of Bumbershoot only to wait in a
contrived line to maybe, hopefully, possibly grab mainstage passes to check
out the unholy trifecta that was Hawthorne Heights, Yellowcard, and AFI.
Bumbershoot mistake #1: Making your paying customers waste hours under the
blistering sun to get an additional pass to see the mainstage action.
Thankfully I was armed with a press pass as well as no desire to check out the
bland trinity. I had bigger fish to fry.

I arrived, checked in, and then headed for the nearest musical stage. I
stumbled upon P:ano's set, which was winding down to much anticipation. The
band was on fire, adding fuel to what was to be an abnormally hot September
day for Seattle. Classify the band as chamber pop if you must, but today they
blazed a trail into jazz country. Perhaps it was the surroundings of the
jazz-sponsored stage they inhabited. No matter, they were sharp in front of an
older and appreciative audience. Playing to a crowd of no more than 80 either
brings out your best or your worst and P:ano happened to entertain 80 people

Not wanting to miss the speaking engagement of Charles Burns and Chuck
Palahniuk, I made a quiet exit and backtracked to Boeing Performance Arts
stage — the true beginning of my day. Burns, best known for his graphic novel
Black Hole as well as his cover illustrations for The Believer,
opened up with a slide presentation. At least it wasn't of his most recent
vacation. Much of the crowd was enthralled as he juxtaposed his favorite
comics of his youth with his sketches and stories. The more Burns settled in
to his speech, the more involved the audience became. I was beginning to
regret this misstep until Burns began to explore his work beyond the central
themes. Finding inspiration from his high school yearbooks, parallels between
the fictitious characters and the very real peers of Burns' yesteryear
overtook the presentation. After fielding a few benign questions from the
audience, Burns yielded the stage to big applause and bigger anticipation —
anticipation Chuck Palahniuk quickly met and exceeded. Ever since the days of
Fight Club's big screen adaptation, Palahniuk has been an author in
demand. His stories are larger than life and his details only blur the lines
between fantasy and reality. After showering the crowd with airplane bottles
of Wild Turkey and Crown Royal ("If you caught on of those and you're under
21, you're now breaking the law."), and showing us a suitcase of plastic
severed arms (which were inspected by Homeland Security) he read from "Guts,"
his prized story of childhood exploration through masturbation. If you've
heard it, consider yourself a survivor. I've never seen a room of men who
thought themselves to be tough as nails succumb to the uneasiness and sheer
brutality of Palahniuk’s descriptive prose. Thankfully I had eaten long before
journeying to Bumbershoot, so my stomach chose not to revolt. However, I saw
plenty of people make hasty b-lines for the exits. "Guts," is not for the
squeamish. Space Mountain be damned.

I slipped out shortly after Palahniuk wrapped up to avoid the exiting mass and
made my way back to the NW Court Lounge to catch Jarboe. After Palahniuk,
Jarboe's hushed beginnings weren't making the impression on me I desired.
After sitting on my hands for a few songs, I decided it was time to just
wander the grounds and see what I could find. My first stop was eavesdropping
on the set of Jaime Lidell. The set was very uneven, stretching from gnarled
soul to broken hip-hop. Perhaps I needed a different surrounding, or just a
beer or two in my stomach. Either way, I backtracked towards Key Arena to
check out the roller derby tournament and grab a beer from the stadium
concessions. Both were the mid-afternoon pick-me-up I needed. Ladies — all
elbows and knees, lukewarm beer, and the roars of a crowd enthralled by the
hometown all-star team beating the living hell out of a lesser team from
Carolina (North or South, we never were told. Perhaps it's like the Carolina
Panthers except without Steve Smith or Jake Delhomme) — were the recharge I
was looking for.

I absorbed the last bit of air conditioning I could muster and headed south to
catch Laura Veirs. While her performance wasn't as rousing or rocking as I was
hoping, she had a captive audience and the help of Karl Blau to help her power
through "Fire Snakes" and "Galaxies" in front of the hometown crowd. As she
was picking up steam, I decided my goodwill was needed elsewhere. I grabbed my
pack and headed to the far south end of Seattle Center to catch Rogue Wave
entertaining the chill, pro-KEXP crowd gathered 'round the Backyard Stage. By
now the temperature was beginning to cool and shade was taking over most stage
areas, so many in the crowd grabbed a large piece of land and set up camp. I
watched the crowd as the band plowed through the best Out of the Shadow
and Descended Like Vultures have to offer. I liked this crowd — it was
quiet, receptive, and captivated without the rowdy teenage hipsters or the
obnoxious 40 year-olds drunk and stumblebum as if Bumbershoot was their first
day out in the world. Of course I hate them — because I'm destined to become
one of them.

Soaking up enough indie music to last me for awhile, I made my way towards the
roller derby tourney once more to empty my bladder. After a quick peek to see
the hometown Rat City Rollergirls blasting the visiting San Francisco team, I
exited the premises to hear the members of NOMO finishing up their soundcheck.
Hearing the blast of horns, I figured a change of pace was needed. I strolled
over to the Bumbrella stage and was rewarded with free-jazz blasts of
saxophone and trumpet accompanied by African-influenced beats. The herd of
wanderers was quickly summoned over to watch Nomo's set from the first note.
Not one band attracted as much diversity, appreciation, and devotion as NOMO.
The music melted away my sadness that pitcher Hideo Nomo was not part of the
band, but I'm sure Bumbershoot could have used a decent hurler in case of an

The moving bug bit me again, but I still had 30 minutes to kill until
Alejandro Escovedo took the More Music Stage, so I returned to the homebase of
the NW Court to catch the improv stylings of PK and What Army. NOMO may have
advertised 4 horns, but PK and What Army boasted as many as 13 (during one of
my counts) out of the 17 people I was able to catch onstage. It was a
psych-jazz free-for-all as the band wailed and conductor/composer/all-around
nice guy PK led the band like a true-to-life Bugs Bunny. The music was
mind-melting and I began to contemplate leaving the festival right then and
there, for who was able to usurp PK from day one's top perch? Surely not
Alejandro Escovedo.

My decision to stay and let it ride on Alejandro Escovedo was a wise one. Two
guitars, a bass, a synth, and a cello certainly bested PK and his army on this
day. After Escovedo's battles with Hepatitis C, it was good to see the man
back on stage and tearing everything to shreds. Escovedo and his backing band
didn't take one note off, quickly gathering the passers-by with each number.
It's no secret that my first musical love was alt-country and roots rock —
Escovedo being a poster boy for the genre after Wilco left for greener
pastures, but tonight Escovedo was about nothing more than turning every one
of his songs into one giant mass of molten rock. Song after song he made new
fans. I noticed a rush to the nearby Tower Records tent, presumably people
looking to nab a few Escovedo albums. Unfortunately I couldn't stay for the
entire set — Deerhoof was calling towards the north end and I answered.

I made it to Deerhoof's stage in time to grab a beer and pull up a seat in the
beer garden before the doors opened and the Pitchfork indier-than-thou kids
began their fashion show: vintage t-shirts, obscure band t-shirts, shaggy yet
well-groomed hair. This is the uniform of the indie kid generation. Some of
the kids seemed thrilled to be seeing Deerhoof — usually the band is relegated
to the over 21 crowd — but I noticed the majority of people were just here
because folks like us tell them to. Don't misconstrue my words, I don't think
we have that much power and hold on the indie blog readers, but I'm sure many
of these festival-goers who happen to read sites just like Tiny Mix Tapes were
just towing the indie kid line. Unfortunately, their lack of energy rubbed off
on Deerhoof and the band's set never took off. They were doomed from the start
when the snare head broke on the first smack of the stick. Halfway through the
torture, I downed another beer and ran to check out Of Montreal at the
Backyard Stage. Sadly, I made it just in time to catch their last gasps. Both
tracks were ridiculously over-electronic and the crowd seemed restless. I was
growing tired and restless as well and decided it was time to endure the
trauma hell ride back home.

Photo: Ben Clark

(Day One)
(Day Two)
(Day Three)