Bumbershoot Day One: Revving Up
Bumbershoot is easily the biggest music festival of the year here in Seattle, and we have quite a few in these parts. (Of course, there’s also film, comedy, and visual arts at Bumbershoot, not to mention the highly notable Flatstock event, where concert poster artists show off and peddle their wares. Nothing to shake one’s finger at, for sure, but the music is unquestionably the main attraction for many.)
Like most years at Bumbershoot, the line-up this year runs the gamut from big-name pop stars like the Black-Eyed Peas and Katy Perry to folks people like me love, like Todd Snider and Dave Alvin, and undefinable bands like Elvis Perkins in Dearland. Day One offered little in the way of artists up my alley – most of those are crammed into the other two days – so I spent much of the time wandering around, taking in music I never would have heard elsewhere.
The best set of the day came from Carrie Rodriguez, who broke me of Festival Inattention, hopping from tenor guitar to fiddle and electric uke. Rodriguez and guitarist Hans Holson stole the set when they delivered a fiddle-and-mandolin instrumental. “I Don’t Wanna Play House Anymore,” which she co-wrote with Chip Taylor for her first album, and “Absence,” a co-write with the inimitable Mary Gauthier, were her finest moments. On the latter, Rodriguez attacked her fiddle like it had done something wrong, sawing hard then pulling far back to let Holson deliver a kicking guitar solo.
The other main highlight came from Old 97s, who played ahead of main stage headliner Sheryl Crow. Bassist Murray Hammond took a memorable turn on Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” The band was clearly ready to rock hard. “Doreen” and “Salome” were their finest moments. I got a few minutes to chat with Hammond and frontman Rhett Miller backstage before their set. I’ll share that Q&A with you later in the weekend, once I’ve had a chance to transcribe it (I have to run back to the festival in 30 minutes to start what’s sure to be a busy Day Tw0).
I ducked out a little early from the Old 97s set to catch the buzz band, Elvis Perkins in Dearland. I’d caught that band at Folks Fest back in 2006. They were a highlight of that weekend for me then, but have since become a much-discussed troupe among my fellow music bloggers here in Seattle. I was curious how much had changed and how much tighter they’ve become.
Perkins opened solo with crowd-pleaser “1 2 3 Goodbye,” before being joined by his band. “Chains Chains Chains,” for which he noted the band just filmed a video with Sean Pecknold (brother of Fleet Fox Robin), was the strongest tune I heard. It’s a beautiful video, so I’ll share it with you:
Another nearby stage had a band called OTEP, whose hard-drumming carried over into Perkins’ set. It was distracting and unfortunate, but the band still captivated the overflowing crowd.
I headed back to the main stage to catch Sheryl Crow, one of my guilty pleasures for the weekend. I’d seen her at a bar in Orlando back in ’94, I think. Tuesday Night Music Club had just dropped and she was an up-and-coming entity at that time, opening for Blues Traveler. I haven’t seen her in concert since then, and she’s become a bit of big deal, so I was curious how much her live show had changed. The verdict: unsurprisingly she’s still got it. She shocked the heck out of me when she pulled out a harmonica and played it. Not the way so many pop artists might “play” harmonica. I kind of wished she’d do more of that. It popped her up a few rungs in the roots cred ladder in my brain, such as it is. Then she closed the whole night with Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” which was interesting. She went whole hog into that one, with the rock star moves and everything. There were a few yelps that sounded a little silly, but she mostly nailed it.
It was a nice closer to what had been a day of little note, far as my tastes are concerned. (With little rootsy music to indulge in, I even spent a few songs listening to Katy Perry earlier in the day. Turns out she sings far better than her recordings would portray, and has a lot of theatrical stage presence – maybe she’ll wind up in the theater.)
Ahead today, I’ll be catching local social-conscience hip-hop troupe Common Market, followed by Sera Cahoone in special intimate sets, before heading out to the festival at large. I plan on taking in the Honey Brothers, Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women, Brett Dennen, Todd Snider, Paul Oscher, and whatever else I happen upon. Thunderstorms are predicted for throughout the day – appropriate, since the festival’s named for an umbrella. Still, being a proper Seattleite, I don’t own a bumbershoot myself. I enter this busy festival day determined to stay mostly dry. I’ll let you know how it goes.