Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Bumbershoot, the arts and culture festival that takes place every year during Labor Day weekend, has been a staple in the northwest for thirty-nine years. It brings a diverse and eclectic mix of artists and fans to the 74-acre Seattle Center campus every year. There are several stages that are dedicated to music, theater, literature, comedy and performance art, giving people the opportunity to discover something they might not have previously given a second thought to.

This year’s lineup, which was just unveiled last weekend, is no exception. It features performances by notable acts like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, De La Soul, Modest Mouse, Franz Ferdinand, Os Mutantes, Vivian Girls and David Cross.

Although the crowds can be large and intimidating, Bumbershoot has always been my favorite festival because of the opportunity to discover so many new things and become temporary neighbors with tens of thousands of my new closest friends.

Bumbershoot is produced by the nonprofit group One Reel. One Reel’s charming and candid Executive Director and Artistic Director of Festivals, Michele Scoleri, sat down with me in a conference room in One Reel’s Pioneer Square office to talk about all things Bumbershoot.

Which acts are you excited about seeing this year?

Ohhh…I’m excited for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, definitely; Os Mutantes, I’m definitely excited about that. There’s a bunch of up-and-coming artists I’m excited about like Mayer Hawthorne and Oren Lavie. People always ask me that but it’s really hard to say that I’m excited about one thing more than another. Of course, I’m not just excited about the music; I really love the arts component of the festival. I think it’s a really important part of Bumbershoot and really what makes it different than other festivals.

What are you doing differently than in past Bumbershoots?

Well, over the years, themes change or there are different programs. We have pretty much had the same mission throughout the years. This is the thirty-ninth Bumbershoot and we’ve always tried to represent as many music and arts genres as we can and to make sure we are representing regional artists in meaningful and significant way. Even though over the years, the national artists have increased, at its heart, the festival is so big because we have so many fantastic regional artists, you know not just Seattle but extending to Portland and Vancouver and not just in music but in all genres.

Bumbershoot is partners with AEG, what role do they have in putting on the festival?

They are a partner but they do not have any artistic control of the festival. I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about what it is that they do in terms of the festival; One Reel is a nonprofit and we produce the event. AEG came on a few years ago in a business relationship. They may be a resource because they are booking stuff all over the country but their relationship with us does not affect our budget and it doesn’t affect what we decide to do artistically. It’s always something that is worth mentioning because people will bring it up or write about it but they don’t do any booking for the event.

That’s why I asked so that you could explain the relationship, which, as you said, is a source of misunderstanding. One thing I like about this lineup is that even though I don’t have room for Sheryl Crow or Jason Mraz or Black Eyed Peas on my iPod, I’m glad you booked them because this festival isn’t geared to (just) indie rockers in their twenties and thirties.

Nope, it’s not.

Capitol Hill Block Party and Sasquatch are, but Bumbershoot isn’t.

I’m glad that you’re saying that. I think that with all of the other festivals that have exploded in the last few years, they have primarily been about indie rock. There are one or two that are hard rock-focused or hip hop-focused, but overall, they seem to be focused on indie rock. While that is a very important genre to Bumbershoot and to the world of music and it’s important to Seattle, we are really trying to make the festival have entry points for all kinds of people who like all kinds of things.

I have to ask this because I know that everyone who is reading this will expect me to ask. You just unveiled the price structure and after August 21, a single-day ticket will cost $50. That seems a little steep in this economy, no?

Yes, starting on the twenty-second of August (they go up to $50), but the advanced tickets that are on sale now are the same price as last year and our insider deal, which are sold out, have stayed the same price for the last three years.

There are a lot of people that say that they remember when Bumbershoot was free.

My feeling is that we were very sensitive to the economy this year, which is why we didn’t raise the advance prices and the insider deal hasn’t gone up in three years. If you were on our (mailing) list and took part in that sale, there’s a difference between buying a $25 ticket and buying a $50 ticket. You had the opportunity to do that and it was available. We also have our entry tickets for seniors, kids and people with disabilities: it’s only $15, so there is more inclusiveness there.

Also, if you look at all of the festivals around the country, I don’t know if there is any festival that is comparable to Bumbershoot that is the same amount, let alone less money than Bumbershoot. In terms of the national average, when people are writing about the festival nationally, they are writing about festivals all over the country and they look at the ticket prices they say “wow! This is a deal” and we do think it is still a deal. When you get back to when Bumbershoot was free, the next step people have to make is “what was being programmed at the festival?” It wasn’t Jason Mraz and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Black Eyed Peas. It wasn’t four slots of national acts on various stages, so the content increased a lot and the artist prices go up every year. In order for us to keep doing the festival and keeping pace with what we have to pay to get talent, there does have to be jumps in ticket prices, but I still believe that our ticket prices are very reasonable for what you get to do.

I’ve also been saying until I’ve been blue in the face that higher-profile artists like Katy Perry or De La Soul pay for acts like Hey Marseilles.

You’re right.

What I mean when I say that is that there are more people that will pay $50 a day to see Katy Perry or Black Eyed Peas than a really great local band. Black Eyed Peas had a number one hit last month.

Yeah, Black Eyed Peas are an act that we have been booking at the festival since they were playing small stages and we have been with them throughout that entire progress, so of course we want to have them now just as we wanted to have them when they were a much less-known band, so for us, that is very exciting.

Modest Mouse is another band that has been playing the festival since they were a much smaller band, so for us that is also very exciting.

I like that analogy and it is true that headliners do help support the more unknown gems and I think our goal is always to have someone who might buy a ticket for Katy Perry to come to the festival and discover something else, and not necessarily music.

Right and comedy is something that is always very popular every year. The lines are always very long.

Do you know about our free comedy pass? We did it last year but we’re doing it again this year. We’ve been doing the main stage passes for ten or eleven years but you’ll still get people that say “I didn’t know I needed a pass for that main stage show!”

That’s why I asked to do this interview, so that you can tell me and our readers about things like this.

The comedy pass, unlike the main stage shows where you need a pass to go to the evening shows, it is strongly suggested that you get the comedy pass; it will guarantee that you get in to that comedy show. It worked great last year but we wanted to get the word out this year that it definitely reduced the lines at the comedy lines significantly.

What you do is you go to the comedy booths and once a day you can get a guaranteed pass to a show. We do it one per person, per day so that we can give more people an opportunity to see a show. If you get a pass for that day, you are guaranteed to see at least one comedy show. You can still go back later to the stand-by line. This was where we created a situation where we could guarantee someone would go to a comedy show if they got a pass.

There is all kinds of info on our website right now for what language might be appropriate for what ages, if you want all of the details.

Thanks for clearing that up. I remember years ago, before I started covering the festival, standing in lines for hours. One year there was a mystery guest and it was Janeane Garafalo.

There will be another mystery guest this year, too.

I saw that and I will not be asking who it is; at least while the tape recorder is running. (I didn’t ask after I turned it off.) What are your favorite Bumbershoot memories?

This will be my tenth Bumbershoot that I’ve worked on, after I moved here from New York. The first year, I had never even been to a Bumbershoot before and it was definitely a trip. I was working more heavily on other projects and moved into Bumbershoot as I got to know Bumbershoot.

The thing I love about Bumbershoot is that it has become this three-day village in the middle of the city. I rarely leave that village during the festival. I think during the ten years, I’ve only left the grounds during the event once; it was to pick something up that we forgot in our office. I really love energy of the crowds and the performances, obviously. Some of my favorite performances were like Meredith Monk, which was a really cool thing to bring to Bumbershoot. I loved when we had Kiki and Herb.

I remember that!

You saw it! What did you think?

Oh it was a riot.

Yeah, I loved that. Musically, I really enjoyed when we had Iggy and the Stooges. Some of the performances that I’ve been impressed by are when we have had an artist on the main stage solo, acoustic. Tracy Chapman was amazing, she had command of the entire venue and I thought that was pretty amazing. Elvis Costello has done that in the past, too. Rodrigo y Gabriela was really electrifying on the Mural Stage. A couple of years ago we did the Rat City Rollergirls bout in Key Arena and that was amazing.

My favorite moments are when you’re doing something in this huge community for three days that is unexpected. You’re not just there for a rock festival or an art experience. It’s this amazing mishmash that is fun and cultural. It’s such a Seattle experience.

I also really love that you bring in local groups like One Pot last year or Radio8Ball this year.

Yeah, One Pot was a great thing to have. I had gone to a One Pot dinner a good year before Michael (Hebb) brought it to Bumbershoot. It was one of those things where I didn’t know how we would bring it to Bumbershoot but it was such a great experience and it felt like it needed to materialize at the festival. Michael and Bob (Redmond), our arts programmer, spent a lot of time working on that and I just thought it was really, really amazing.

You mentioned Radio8Ball, who are part of the (Theater Puget Sound) stage. I love that we have a whole venue dedicated to regional, live theater. I would really strongly advocate that people who do not go to theater all year-round, this is a really great opportunity. Take a chance on anything you might not go see year-round. Go see a theater performance, go see the visual arts and participate in them. You already bought a ticket; all of this is there for you. If you go in there with a mindset that you’re only going to see music, you’re going to miss out on what’s really wonderful about this festival.