If I’m honest, I usually hate multi-stage festivals. I don’t like that you pay for the chance to see a bunch of bands and they all overlap and there’s no way you can see them all. I don’t enjoy waiting in line while I miss some of those bands.
That said, I still had fun at Bumbershoot on Sunday. Here are a few of my personal highlights.
I started the morning by visiting the Counterculture Comix and Flatstock displays. The Counterculture Comix collection was an impressive array of local comic art. I appreciated the old Rocket covers and Sub Pop cassettes and zines, in particular. Flatstock continues to impress with great poster art from both locals and out-of-towners.
Hey Marseilles drew a substantial crowd (the singer remarked that it was an “unnecessarily significant number” of audience members) and delighted fans with their feel-good orchestral pop. They’ve just gone national with their record, and I think fans of Death Cab or The Decemberists will be pleased with their multi-instrumental approach to songwriting. They sounded great at the festival and were the highlight of the early shows for me.
As a member of the press, I could not pass up the opportunity to get in to the Hole End Session. I waited in the requisite line with my press peers (Rolling Stone Brazil, for example!) and we made our way up the back stairs to a room in McCaw Hall to witness the crazy. We were not disappointed.
Courtney did play a few songs, but she also talked. For what seemed like hours, she rambled on and on in random directions, often changing thought in the middle of sentences. She mentioned she might not play later in the evening because of a death threat, she went on a strange rant about Jonathan Poneman, the founder of Sub Pop, and then about how her song “Samantha” was written to be as bad-ass as Trent Reznor’s songs, even though she forgot some of the lyrics as she sang it. The End Session was difficult to watch and hilarious at the same time. (Sort of like Love’s life, I’m sure.) She went on to chat with Charles Cross (who is working on the Kurt Cobain biopic) about cast members, mentioned how she remembers Cobain’s “peen,” and then she and current Hole guitarist Micko Larkin did a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.” Since I want to share that misery with you, here’s a video.
After the End Session horrors, I ran over to the Center Square Stage to see if my favorite New Jersey punks, The Bouncing Souls, were still playing. I caught the last four songs of their set and spent my time dancing around the mosh pit singing with my finger in the air. Bumbershoot officials were trying to hold back the fun, but the kids and I still did our best to enjoy ourselves.
The true highlight of my Bumbershoot experience was the set by Billy Bragg late Sunday night. The punk troubadour has been singing for upwards of thirty years and remains relevant and poignant today. It was just him, his electric guitar, and a chilly “British summer night,” but the crowd was treated to something special.
Bragg brought lefty politics and dry British humor to the stage, singing his classic originals as well as a thoughtful group of covers: Guthrie tunes, a Dylan song, and a modified Bob Marley song, calling on various influences and continuing traditions of political singers before him. He taught us new words and phrases (“manly tumescence,” for example) and reinforced old ideas while a few of us sang along.
Throughout the set, he reminded us that the enemy of any change is cynicism and made us believe that we were the ones that had the power to change the world. Perhaps if he was a crazy-rambling blonde widow of a famously talented musician or if he was a bespectacled pop-hook genius with terrible lyrics and a good videographer, he would have gotten the widespread notoriety his ideas deserve. I guess he’ll just have to settle for being amazing instead.
Billy Bragg setlist:
- The World Turned Upside Down
- Greetings to the New Brunette
- To Have and to Have Not
- I Ain’t Got No Home (Woody Guthrie cover)
- Ingrid Bergman (Woody Guthrie cover)
- Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key
- NPWA (No Power Without Accountability)
- Times They Are a-Changin’ (Bob Dylan cover)
- Levi Stubbs’ Tears
- One Love (Bob Marley cover, “drop the debt” modified)
- I Keep Faith
- Power in a Union
- Encore: New England