If you, like me up until a month ago, have no idea what Bumbershoot is and your knowledge of music festivals is limited to Coachella, this is the perfect article for you. I went into Labor Day weekend at Bumbershoot having done minimal research and expecting a completely different experience than what I actually felt. So you don't fall into the trap that I did: Bumbershoot is an annual arts festival in Seattle, which has been occurring for over fifty years—with this being its first year back since quarantine. It attempts to highlight local creatives, which tend to be mainly indie, rock, and country-leaning when it comes to music. However, it also includes many other kinds of artists, including designers, nail artists, and even cat circus performers!
It seems that somewhere in this massive range, the festival has lost sight of who it is trying to draw in. In 2019, The Seattle Times reported that "Bumbershoot’s target audience has been trending younger and that was clear as ever [that] year, with a lineup boasting enough collective Instagram followers to alter an election." Looking at the lineup now, I recognize each and every single name and would be buzzing with excitement to have the chance to see even one of them. However, this year seems to have taken an abrupt turn with the artists seeming to cater more to an older audience while many festival goers are in their late teens or twenties.
Part of this may have been influenced by AEG declining to renew its management contract for Bumbershoot in November 2019, as they were likely losing millions of dollars each year they produced and organized the festival. It seems that its new producers, Third Stone and New Rising Sun, have attempted to cut costs by selecting fewer prominent artists that young people gravitate to and instead reaching out to those that are more "underground." In doing this, the demographic that the festival caters to shifts from youth to those more nostalgic for what the festival used to be.
Instead of committing to this shift, however, Bumbershoot attempted to hold onto teenagers' attention with events such as High Fashion High, a fashion show curated and designed entirely by high school students. This resulted in an interesting mix of attendees, with neither group seeming to be fully immersed in the festival. I often saw people walk out of concerts and performances during the middle and the majority of those who stayed seemed to be somewhat out of touch with the experience.
Though I don't claim to be any kind of concert expert—again, I had no idea what Bumbershoot was up to until a few weeks ago—the crowds I saw seemed much less enthusiastic than those I've seen at other concerts. Even the artists seemed somewhat subdued, as compared to the energy and conversational manner of several previous artists invited to Bumbershoot in 2019. Any performer on that list engages with the concertgoers far more comfortably than what I saw this past weekend—it felt like a divide between the musicians and the audience, instead of them coming together to enjoy the performance. Having been to concerts and viewed videos of these previous performers taking their time with the concert and their audiences, I couldn't help but feel that each of the artists I saw were almost in a rush to play their piece and get off the stage. The only time this feeling was tempered was with the aforementioned High Fashion High show, although that also ended relatively quickly. This may have been a side product of their placements in a music festival, though I believe it was more likely due to their disengagement with the people at Bumbershoot; maybe the lackluster performances were due to their nature as less prominent artists, or rather, their status as less prominent artists were due to their lackluster performances.
Whatever it was that led to this lukewarm engagement on both sides of the stage, it seems to be indicative of how future years of Bumbershoot will play out. Though I might not be very knowledgeable about the art of an arts festival, one thing I do know is that I won't be returning to Bumbershoot next year.