On our bucket list for years, the Music Festival Wizard finally managed to check in at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival. The largest arts festival in the country and one of the biggest fests in the Northwest, Bumbershoot is a true veteran of the scene — this year they celebrated their 43rd birthday. Check out some of their incredible historical lineups to get an idea of how this festival has been rocking Seattle since 1970.
Trivia Sidenote: What’s In a Name?
Bumbershoot is oldie-time slang for an umbrella, a nod to the vastness of programming offered at the festival, and that also at some point, you will probably need an umbrella, which you forgot to pack.
Party at the Space Needle
Sitting in Space Needle’s iconic shadow, the Bumbershoot grounds resemble your typical downtown park festival with four major stages and a large stadium mainstage area. The venue mixes in nicely with permanent theaters and auditoriums with plenty of places to duck in from the weather and — indoor bathrooms! Also big perks for plenty of green space to kick off your shoes and kick up your heels along with a gushing fountain to cool off in when the dayball finally shows up.
If Bumbershoot played out as a straight music festival, the schedule would work like a dream, but with so many other happenings, we frequently found ourselves with “festanxiety” — that desperate feeling that you’re missing an amazing act (usually while watching an amazing act). We spent the bulk of our time making the easy commute between the Fountain and Fisher Stages. These two back to back stages always had something interesting happening, alternating between hardcore and world music. Unsurprisingly, the Starbucks Stage seemed like the chillest area with a perfectly graded grassy hill.
Besides the Music
Like we mentioned in our preview, Bumbershoot is a lot more than music. Art galleries were scattered across the grounds with the always excellent Flatstock showcasing “I-want-that-now” posters of festivals and bands. We ducked in for a theater showing of Alligators and Debutantes, watched live recordings of podcasts for Doug Benson and Pete Holmes, and learned how The Onion staff chooses headlines. You have absolutely got to be on your toes to catch some of the more popular shows, especially the comedy acts.
Family Friendly Factor
Bumbershoot’s real strength in that this is a true mega-festival for families. Kids under ten get in free, and the hip parents of Seattle take full advantage. Drinkers are quarantined into five or so drinking pens leaving most of the festival grounds free of that one stumbling dude that looks like he’s going to trip over your kid. During Doug Benson’s second comedy set, he declared Bumbershoot should rebrand itself “Bumbershoot: Festival of Babies”, mainly because babies kept heckling his movie podcast, but he’s right — never have we seen so many kids at a festival this size. They even have a dedicated kid’s area designated Youngershoot with plenty of kid friendly activities.
Drinking and Eating
Got to dock points here. In a city like Seattle, the food choices were uninspired and geared more towards typical festival food. With Budweiser as a sponsor, selections were limited to Shocktop and the delightful abomination known as Budweiser Mang-O-Rita because nothing says summertime like a terrible mango flavored malt beverage served in a can. The beer gardens were an odd affair requiring drinkers to show their identification every single time instead of a wristband. They were frequently packed leaving us wistfully gazing at the emptier and green lawns that lay closer to the stage, sort of like a jail for adults.
Lodging and Travel
PAX Prime, a gigantic gaming convention, took place on the same weekend snagging just about every hotel room in the city ($250 for a Motel 6?). Once again we gladly found affordable lodging on AirBnB (I’m starting to feel like their pitch man). This time we went on a wild card adventure staying on Bainbridge Island which ended up being a scenic thirty minute ferry ride into the city. Can’t gush enough about how fun it is to travel this way.
The Final Word
There’s no question why Bumbershoot has been festivaling for over four decades. With such a deep lineup of music, comedy, and art, this super family-friendly festival delivers a stellar experience over Labor Day Weekend.