Though the sun came up just a touch after 6:30 in the morning on Sunday, September 2nd, most who’d spent a full day at Bumbershoot the previous day weren’t awake to witness the occurrence. No, after a full day of quality cuts, copious sun, crappy carnival cuisine, and in some cases, cold cocktails, a full night’s (and morning’s) rest was required. This was altogether appropriate, however, as the second day’s entertainment promised to be just as explosive, if not more so, than the first’s.
Indeed, because Saturday’s line-up had been so diverse, both in terms of style and personal familiarity, a healthy amount of bourbon was needed in the hours after the final set’s conclusion to sort through notes, and organize reflections for my initial dispatch. Emerging from the whiskey fog early Sunday afternoon, I immediately realized the folly of the late-night whiskey consortium of one, and hastily assembled a bag for the day’s acts. All panic was for naught, however, as I arrived in plenty of time to catch Sunday’s first notable act, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who opened up the day’s entertainment on the Main Stage.
A funk/soul/R&B powerhouse, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have made a name for themselves these last couple of years due to a fantastic string of big-time collaborations and even bigger endorsements. Though often likened to Tina Turner, Sharon Jones is really more like a female version of James Brown: her powerful, take-no-prisoners stage-presence like a punch to the throat (in a good way). For an hour, the band cranked out a relentless series of funky rhythm and blues riffs that about took the ceiling off the venue: an arena that was really just getting warmed up for maybe the biggest act of the day, one scheduled to go on at 3:15 p.m.
This, of course, was Mr. Tony Bennett, a man so respected and undeniably cool that he couldn’t be bothered to play later on, after dark, like a normal headliner. One of the last
crooners from the music industry’s old guard, Tony Bennett is alive, well, and in surprisingly wonderful form! At 86, the guy slid across the stage and belted out his signature hits like a man half his age, and surprised many in attendance (this author included) with his ability to navigate the full breadth of his vocal range. In the audience, the festivals patrons looked on with content, placid smiles as Bennett rattled off hit after hit, interjecting stories about how Bob Hope discovered the young crooner, or the day Hank Williams called him on the phone to give him grief for covering “Cold, Cold Heart.”
It was amazing to watch one of the last big-name singers perform live, for they aren’t making them like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Mel Torme’, or Tony Bennett any more. It was with this sad thought in my mind that I left the main stage area, and made my way to the Seattle Center’s eastern edge, where there was an Elvis Parade scheduled. Elvis was also a big-name solo act in the 1950’s, though he was decidedly rock and roll, and it seemed fitting to head that direction next; the parade was still a while off, however, necessitating some buffer acts to fill about an hour.
In this vein, there first came The Jezabels, which Bumbershoot’s official program described as an “Australian goth-pop outfit.” The Aussies turned out to be just as convoluted, muddled, and confused as the four-word program description, something that didn’t keep this journalist at their set for too terribly long, though if I’d known what I was getting into next, I might very well have lingered.
Yes, the next buffer-band was Yelawolf, a dirty-South style rock-hip-hop disaster that sounded like Kid Rock trying to cover Rage Against the Machine…badly. It was a confusing mish-mash of styles that got all the Escalade-driving 19 year olds in the audience fired up: each of them howling rapturously and in a way that made it seem like there was a Mountain Dew clearance sale in effect nearby. Again, your humble author didn’t stay through much of the set, yet by this point it hardly mattered, for the event I’d been waiting for was finally underway.
The Elvis Parade was an ebullient celebration of The King, and was composed of a brass band, unicyclist, juggler, and rhythm section: each and every one of them dressed as some variation of Mr. Presley. Though the Seattle Center’s grounds were packed with the congested throngs of care-free festival goers, all moved aside willingly to allow the Parade’s passing as the army of Elvis impersonators snaked their brass-band/unicycle/juggling act through Bumbershoot. To try and describe the magnificence of the scene would be a futile effort, so let it suffice to simply say that it was six different shades of bad-ass, and something this journalist will never forget.
Next up was Detroit’s rock heavies, The Dirtbombs, whose late-afternoon set jarred Seattle back into its proper emotional position. Truly, the day’s recent acts had shifted the city’s musical meter into curious territory, for what began as a welcome segue into rhythm, funk, jazz, and soul at the beginning of Sunday had taken a foul turn, and had recovered only slightly after the appearance of about two dozen Elvises. Likewise, The Dirtbombs helped get things on the proper track, and thrashed the Grunge-loving Bumbershoot audience back into the proper musical hemisphere. Though they sported a decidedly mid-West metal flavor befitting their Motor City roots, The Dirtbombs were exactly what the crowd needed to pull them back into the proper frame of mind, an entirely necessary thing for those moving from there to a nearby stage, where Mudhoney was scheduled to perform at 6:45.
Roundly regarded as one of the pioneers of Grunge, Mudhoneyhas been melting the faces of Seattle audiences since 1988, and performed no less a service Sunday evening. More of
a stripped-down, garage-style rock and roll blend that sounds like it was composed at the bottom of a swamp, Mudhoney’s music speaks to an earlier time, before Seattle’s early-90’s renaissance: when the town was still known simply as the home of aluminum plant workers, lumberjacks, and serial killers. Watching Mudhoney play, there was a tangible sense of this, for as the band thrashed through its old catalogue, one could hear the frustrated wailing of a band that wrote songs about a bleak world, bleaker prospects, and what it meant to make noise as a defiant act against this misery.
For anyone who sat through the entire set, the Grunge onslaught likely proved unrecoverable, as the power of lead singer Mark Arm’s shattering vocals brought most in attendance to the limits of endurance. For my own part, though Wanda Jackson and the Dusty 45’s looked like it was going to be a fantastic show, and Lee Fields & the Expressions promised to be an entirely acceptable buffer performance until that act, the rock had simply taken too much out of me, and I had to retire for the day. This is what good music can do to a person: it can suck all the enjoyment out of a man or woman: leaving nothing for another act, however brilliant they’re rumored to be.
Besides, the third and final day of the Bumbershoot Music Festival loomed on the horizon, one that promised some of the biggest names of the entire event. For that, a journalist needs rest and time for reflection, something this author got plenty of not long after the sun set on a musically satisfied city.
[Check back soon! Warren wraps up Lost in Reviews’ Bumbershoot coverage with write-ups and pictures of Reignwolf, Best Coast, Fishbone, The Vaselines, Lights, and Passion Pit!]
By Warren Cantrell
Photos by Tahna Edwards