Well, Bumbershoot 2013 is history. As almost always it was chock-full of many unexpected and pleasant discoveries and very few disappointments. The advertising campaign this year boasted that musicologists around the world, okay, Seattle, got together and carefully curated an awesome lineup to try to please everyone. You know what, they were right. This year did seem more diverse than many others and did offer something for almost everyone. The biggest let down of Bumbershoot is the fact that you can’t possibly see everything you want to and it’s guaranteed at least two acts you want to see will overlap with each other. I ran around the grounds myself for three days straight, catching all or part of 40 musical acts and one comedy show and I still wasn’t able to see everything I wanted to. I’m a rock guy, so I apologize if my review is light on rap, especially some of the great up-and-coming Seattle talent, but I really don’t apologize for being light on the EDM coverage. I cover music, not noise. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the appeal of the genre unless the appeal is drug-fueled – which would make way too much sense.
There are many ways to experience Bumbershoot. You can secure a spot at one stage and stay there all day. You can check out the comedy shows, film, theatre and words and ideas panels. Or you can fill up on caffeine and zigzag through the festival like a chicken with its head cut off trying to see and take in everything you can. That’s what I tried to do.
The food vendors were back, but the best food was inside the Armory. With the addition of Plum, Bigfood, Skillet Counter and MOD Pizza there was no shortage of good eats. Someone could have made a killing selling fresh brains on a stick. The zombies roaming the grounds the entire weekend would have eaten those up, allowing more people to slip by undetected. George Washington showed up too. I don’t think he was a zombie. He just seemed like he was looking for a good time, and weed. I’m sure he didn’t have any trouble finding some either. He was pretty statue like on Saturday and by Monday was dancing in the street. That must have been some good stuff.
The day started out perfect at the Starbucks Stage as smooth jazz eased the crowd into the day. Jazz made a significant return to the lineup after years on the backburner. Local jazz station KPLU co-sponsored the stage. New age hippies of the 21st century danced in sandals and utili-kilts out on the Mural Amphitheatre lawn to the stylings of Matt Jorgenson +451 and Human Spirit, basically the same band except one has a trumpeter and the other does not. They were followed by Ernie Watts who was backed by local group New Stories. Watts is a jazz crossover legend who has played alongside greats from the Rolling Stones to Marvin Gaye. He was also a longtime member of the Johnny Carson Tonight Show band. The Robert Glasper Experiment followed this up with a high-energy set of psychedelic funk-jazz that upped the energy. I headed down past the TuneIn stage, known as the Fisher Green in previous years, and enjoyed the slick rhymes of Nacho Picasso, an up-and-coming Seattle rapper who was named as one to watch by multiple publications the last few years.
I headed over to the Fountain Lawn stage to catch Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, unfortunately my first disappointment of the weekend. I was looking forward to their unique brand of lo-fi country folk. It soon became apparent that either the sound mix was way off or leader Thao Nguyen’s vocals couldn’t meet the demands of the outdoor stage. Whatever the cause it was really disappointing mostly because their studio output is pretty great.
ZZ Ward delivered a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the Starbucks Stage in the form of insanely catchy R&B flavored blues rock. She was extremely successful in getting the mostly laid back Starbucks crowd up and moving to rave ups like “Put the Gun Down” and the hip-hop infused “Til the Casket Drops.”
Saturday night’s headlining show proved, for me, to be the highlight of the weekend. Recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Heart took KeyArena by storm for the final date of their Heartbreaker tour. It was nothing short of epic. The opener was the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience, basically a glorified Zeppelin cover band with the late John Bonham’s son as drummer. Bonham did this to pay tribute to his dad and Led Zeppelin. Late last year Bonham joined Heart on drums at the Kennedy Center Honors so I knew the audience was in for quite a night. Bonham’s band covered everything from “Ramble On” and “Whole Lotta Love” to “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” “When the Levee Breaks” and more. Their version of “The Ocean” was particularly heavy. It was also nice to hear “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” from perhaps Zeppelin’s most overlooked masterpiece, Prescence.
Heart came out and put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. They opened with the chugging guitar riff of “Barracuda” and didn’t let up until the last note. Ann Wilson was unreal. I know that she has been considered one of the best vocalists in rock for a very long time but to sound this good in her early sixties? Usually even the best vocalists lose some of their power and voice over time. Not Ann. At least not yet. Throughout the entire set she belted out note and pitch perfect vocals that frequently sent chills down my spine. The first instance of this happened when she sang the chorus of “What About Love?” It was one of those otherworldly transcendent musical moments that you witness far fewer times than you wish you would. They played nearly all their huge hits but eschewed “Dreamboat Annie” for “Dog and Butterfly,” the only questionable song choice of the night. Their newer material, represented by “Dear Old America,” rocks just as hard if not harder than the classics and fits perfectly alongside them in the setlist.
They played the other huge eighties hits, a slightly toned down version of “Alone” and the blockbuster “These Dreams.” I had no idea that Nancy sang lead on this song until I saw this set. Well, learn something new every day.
Nancy broke into an extended solo/intro for “Crazy On You” while Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready joined her on guitar. Two legendary Seattle guitarists rocking out side by side at a hometown show. A Seattle rock fan couldn’t ask for more. With that they were done with the “Heart” portion of the show.
They have always been known for their Zeppelin covers so it was no surprise when they came out to play a few. To play for half an hour though, it greatly exceeded all expectations. They started with an acoustic “Battle of Evermore,” a song they actually recorded as The Lovemongers, it makes an appearance on the defining soundtrack to Singles. They brought Jason Bonham back out to man the drum kit for the last five songs. “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Rain Song,” “Kashmir” and “Immigrant Song” were fired off in rapid succession. “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold”: With those lyrics Ann Wilson kicked off the greatest Zeppelin cover of the night, basically a recreation of the version of “Stairway to Heaven” they performed at the Kennedy Center. They brought out the Total Experience Gospel Choir, who had just performed their own set hours before, to accompany with backing vocals on the last couple verses.
Day One wrapped up with the most unbelievable performance and best headliner I think I’ve seen at Bumbershoot, period.