This story has been updated. In an earlier version, the vocalist in Robert Glasper’s band was indentified incorrectly. The error has been corrected.
Years ago, in the 1980s, you rarely heard rap music at Bumbershoot.
How times have changed.
Saturday, the splendid opening day of the three-day festival, was a full-on, fabulous salute to great black music, with rap ringing out from every corner — from performances by jazz saxophonist Ernie Watts to Compton, Calif., rapper Kendrick Lamar. Very few African-Americans were in the ample crowd, though.
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Bumbershoot sold 120,000 advance admissions this year. Festival organizers expect an exuberant turnout.
Sunny skies and warm temperatures brought out folks from far and wide, dressed down in shorts and sandals, with lots of tanned skin on parade, thanks to the unusually dry summer everyone has so thoroughly enjoyed.
Rappers were everywhere, including hard-hitting recent local discovery Dave B, who has a winning wide smile, to Nacho Picasso, with comic-book obscenities. These rappers performed on outdoor stages for all to hear, though that did not seem to bother the boomers in the crowd.
“We’re amazed by how well-behaved and courteous everyone is,” said Judy Spiro, 62, of Edmonds, who said she has been coming to Bumbershoot since the 1970s.
Spiro said her 28-year-old daughter, who was on a world tour, had sent her advice about which acts to see. She encouraged other people to bring their children to Bumbershoot, despite the language and content on display.
“If you don’t bring your kids with you,” said Spiro, “they’re going to experience it alone.”
The jazz set by Watts and Seattle trio New Stories sparkled with spiritual fire and a swaying, soulful tone that was reprised with a hip-hop flavor by the atmospheric strains of pianist Robert Glasper and his hypnotic vocalist, Case Benjamin, who delivered one of the best sets of the day. Glasper drew a pack of young people pressed close to the stage, who were delighted when he closed his set with a J Dilla cover.
Indoors, at KeyArena, new rap star Joey Bada$$ gave off an old-school vibe, with scratching turntables, thumping bass, electronic cymbal “chks” and straight-ahead flows.
But the tuneful Lamar, wearing a Dodgers cap and T-shirt on the same stage, owned the day. Criticized after his last Bumbershoot show for lacking stage charisma, Lamar seemed determined to overcompensate, jacking up the crowd again and again, working sections against each other to see who could yell the loudest. Though this became tiresome, his music — including his songs “Money Tree,” “(Expletive) Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Swimming Pool,” extolling California hedonism with swaying charm and creative phrase-lengths — did not.
Around the grounds there were other pleasures to be had. On the newly named Next 50 Stage (west of EMP), Down North combined James Brown-style funk with psychedelic guitar, with flash dancing frontman Anthony Briscoe.
Sometime Macklemore sidekick Hollis opened the festival with an atmospheric set on the Fisher Lawn, and the unlikely group Thao & The Get Down Stay Down entertained a large crowd on the Fountain Lawn with its unusual country rock combination of fiddle, bass clarinet, trumpet and bottleneck slide guitar.
A lot of songs on every stage seemed to involve marijuana, and the crowd was on the same wavelength, perhaps because of the recent legalization (though not in public) of the popular herb. Its smell was everywhere, indoors and out.
The dressed-for-summer crowd was also peppered with many people in zombie costumes, with varying degrees of convincing red gore on pallid makeup. From time to time, the zombies formed flash mobs on the grounds.
The visual-arts exhibits were the usual Bumbershoot mix of charm and whimsy, with an accent on futurism. Jonathan Schipper’s city of salt, being built by a robot, should be fun to watch as it grows throughout the remainder of Labor Day weekend, in the Fisher Pavilion. “Magic Sync” is also a lot of hands-on fun, as patrons can “compose” a piece of music by touching individual pads that sync up with each other.
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When a band has a borderline unpronounceable name, you might expect it to be a bunch of hipsters on a quest for avant-garde obscurity. But !!! (you say “chk chk chk”) bopped the TuneIn stage at 6:15 with bubblegum electrofunk in the style of Chromeo or The Scissor Sisters.
Lead singer Nic Offer is the world’s sexiest doofus, dancing across the stage, posing like Derek Zoolander, pursing his lips. But his voice has an impressive range, from a Jim Morrison growl to the falsetto he relies on more often. All their songs are earworms, and it fit nicely with the open air venue in the early evening.
Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires
Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires took the crowd to church at 8 p.m. at the Mural Amphitheater. Literally, he said, “If you want to go to church, raise your hands!” Everybody did. Then, the Total Experience Gospel Choir filed on stage to accompany Bradley and the band on “Why Is It So Hard?”
Since James Brown boogied off this mortal coil, it’s safe to say that Bradley — called “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” — is the hardest working man in show business. “Why Is It So Hard?” details his decades-long journey to make it in the music industry before releasing two albums on Daptone Records: “No Time for Dreaming” in 2011 and “Victim of Love” this year. Finally in the well-earned limelight, he takes the job seriously.
On stage, he wears a purple sequined jacket, sweats profusely, flaps his arms like an eagle, and belts the rawest funk and soul you’ll ever hear. Bradley is in the habit of telling his audiences that he loves them, and his act proves his sincerity.
Way before Macklemore, Heart was showing the world that Seattleites knew how to craft hit singles. The Wilson sisters opened their 9:45 p.m. KeyArena set with “Barracuda” and the waterfall of fan favorites continued to pour. All the good ones: “Crazy on You,” “Magic Man” and more.
The set was high quality, if a little homogeneous. Heart’s digestible blend of melody and heavy rock — with avid hometown loyalty thrown in to the recipe — was a deftly calculated headliner choice for Bumbershoot day one.
But the Led Zeppelin covers in the encore were the icing on the cake. They had Jason Bonham, the son of Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, on the kit, and Ann Wilson’s voice, as ever, verged on operatic, especially on “Kashmir.”
The only real letdown was the light show. So far, Sasquatch 2013 is walking all over Bumbershoot 2013 in the lighting department. But Heart is a group of veteran musicians, and don’t need the flashiest technology to back them up. They filled a 90-minute set to the brim with ease.
Joseph Sutton-Holcomb, special to The Seattle Times