Seattle's Labor Day weekend arts festival is too big for any single person. Here are four possible itineraries for festival-goers who want to focus on music, the arts, comedy or family activities. Plus a list of know-before-you-go essentials.
Bumbershoot is too big for any one person.
The city’s annual music and arts festival, produced by One Reel every Labor Day weekend, sprawls over Seattle Center grounds. This year it will feature about 300 stage performances — and that’s not event counting the art shows, site-specific works, circus acts on the lawn, buskers and kids’ programming.
Where to go? What to see and do? We offer four itineraries, based on various interests: arts, comedy, music and family fun.
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The rock ‘n’ roll headliners grab most of the attention at Bumbershoot — but the three-day shindig is a general arts festival, too, encompassing theater, dance, literature, the visual arts and more. If you’re so inclined, you can do the whole marathon without hearing a single guitar twang.
You can also avoid the crowds to a surprising degree, since most of the arts activity happens on two stages at Seattle Repertory Theatre and in the Northwest Rooms. Dance lovers can park themselves in the Bagley Wright Theatre where Seattle choreographer Mark Haim restages his solo “Goldberg Variations” for a dozen dancers (1:30 p.m. Saturday), former “Stomp” founder-member Yako Miyamoto presents his new taiko drumming/tap-dancing company, COBU (8:15 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, 3:45 p.m. Monday) and Pacific Northwest Ballet serves up a lively mix of contemporary dance (1 p.m. Monday).
Literary activity dominates the Rep’s smaller Leo Kreielsheimer Theatre, including pen-wielding chefs Tom Douglas and Kathleen Flinn (noon Saturday) and filmmaker-turned-memoirist Melvin Van Peebles (3:45 p.m. Sunday). The local writing scene will be discussed at “Great Northwest: Jess Walter, Kevin Sampsell, Kerry Cohen,” moderated by Seattle Times book editor Mary Ann Gwinn (3:30 p.m. Saturday).
The visual-arts highlight may be “The Seattle-Moscow Poster Show,” a sequel to earlier fascinating displays of poster art from Cuba and Iran. All art exhibits are open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday-Monday, with a free preview from noon to 7 p.m. Friday.
If improv theater is your passion, make your way to Seattle Center House where theater simple (2 p.m. Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Sunday), Improsia (5 p.m. Saturday) and “The Radio8Ball Show” (4:45 p.m. Monday) will all deliver off-the-cuff comedy/drama. Wing-It Productions is taking things one step further and staging an improvised rock opera, “Lease” (6:15 Monday).
And don’t forget the outdoor fun. This year it includes acrobatic troupe Wise Fool New Mexico and something called “Professor Humbug’s FleaCircus,” which may or may not be a real flea circus.
Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer
“Comedy has been increasingly popular at Bumbershoot,” says the festival’s public relations manager, Jennifer Orr. “So we decided to expand it this year.”
Now on three stages at Seattle Center, Bumbershoot’s comedy offerings are indeed growing. So popular are they, in fact, that Orr wants interested, potential patrons to consider using a daily “comedy pass” to secure a seat in specific shows.
Available at the Comedy Pass Distribution booth, located at the northwest corner of the Center House, the pass guarantees entrance to a specified show 15 minutes before the performance. Information about entrance to comedy shows is available at www.bumbershoot.org, in “Tickets and Stuff” on the “Info” menu.
Here are some highlights of the comedy program, organized by location. A complete schedule can be found on the festival’s Web site.
Charlotte Martin Theatre (Seattle Children’s Theatre): “Story Pirates After Dark Present ‘Found’ ” is a novel idea for a show: a multimedia program, put on by the New York City-based Story Pirates, using old letters, diary passages, shopping lists, etc. — many offered up by audience members — to create random jumping-off points for laughter (2:45 p.m. daily).
Charlyne Yi, the quirky artist and stand-up performer who can currently be seen in the mock documentary “Paper Heart,” appears at 8 p.m. daily. Opening for Yi is Patton Oswalt.
Intiman Theatre: Seattle-based Reggie Watts will bring his stream-of-consciousness stylings and popular music to a triple bill that includes comic Todd Barry (“The Wrestler”) and Matt Braunger, a series regular on Fox’s “MADtv” (3:45 p.m. Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, 7:15 p.m. Monday).
Russian-born Eugene Mirman (HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”) will freely dispense his dubious advice and skeptical, social reflections on all things (5:30 p.m. Saturday, 3:45 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Monday).
The Vera Project: “The Best of Seattle International Comedy Competition,” celebrating its 30th anniversary, will showcase past (though yet-to-be-identified) winners (3 p.m. Sunday).
Recently voted “Best Comedy Show” by Seattle Magazine, the People’s Republic of Komedy’s “Laff Hole” has been entertaining Emerald City audiences with sharp nonsense about Osama bin Laden, the proper way to say “Bless you” to a sneezer, and fireworks in Scotland (6:30 p.m. daily).
Tom Keogh, special to The Seattle Times
For music hounds, the biggest bummer at Bumbershoot every year is the Mainstage’s dual ticket system. You not only pay to get into the festival, you also have to secure a pass to get into Memorial Stadium to see the biggest acts each evening. The passes are available at three outdoor information booths (see accompanying info box). Once you have one, you still have to wait in a long line for the Mainstage headliners.
It’s best to do it halfway: Show up early to get a token, but throw caution to the wind about the line. Life is short. Wander around Seattle Center and check out stuff at other stages.
Mainstage (Memorial Stadium)
Sheryl Crow: Her songs are like John Grisham novels: Without even trying, you know them all (9:15 p.m. Saturday).
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “It’s Blitz” is the best album of 2009. Fact. And Karen O is a whispering, screaming, ninja-kicking fashionista. Yeah Yeah Yeahs was the best thing at Sasquatch!, if that’s any indication of how its Bumbershoot show might go (2:30 p.m. Sunday).
The Black Eyed Peas: Will.i.am is an incredible producer. BEP is almost too pop for its own good, but in the end: Will.i.am is an incredible producer (3 p.m. Monday).
Modest Mouse: No stretch to put this used-to-be local band on the Mainstage. Modest Mouse took a NW creation — aggro-folk indie-rock — and conquered the world with it. Death Cab was a great headlining choice last year, but Modest Mouse has teeth (9:30 p.m. Monday).
Sera Cahoone: Local country for people that hate cutesiness (5 p.m. Sunday).
The Cave Singers: Truly mystical-sounding drone-pop. Acoustic guitar-based and back-porchy, but with a perfect sense of how to build tension. And how much is too much (6:45 Monday).
Broad Street Stage
The Long Winters: Warm, fuzzy, indie pop from one of the genre’s great voices and deceptively simple songwriters, John Roderick (9:30 p.m. Saturday).
Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band: Restlessly shifting rock songs. Each song is like four songs, but they still only last for three minutes each (4:15 p.m. Sunday).
Fisher Green Stage
Mayer Hawthorne & The County: Throwback Motown soul, fronted by an erstwhile hip-hop DJ (4 p.m. Saturday).
De La Soul: The classic thinking-man’s rap group. Never preachy. Always two steps ahead. Not a bad song since it started on Long Island in the ’80s (9:30 p.m. Saturday).
Dyme Def: Local group raps, looks cool, does three-man weave (it’s a basketball thing) (2:15 p.m. Sunday).
EMP | SFM’s Sky Church
Past Lives: Seattle’s best rock band, on the right day. Ragged guitars and the most athletic drumming around (3:30 p.m. Saturday).
D. Black and Spaceman: Superstar rapping from the CD and South End (8 p.m. Sunday).
Wallpaper: Whip-smart rock with a careless delivery (6:15 Monday).
Truckasauras: “The future of techno” says the Internet. “My favorite electronic/hip-hop group,” says area blogger (7:45 Monday).
Andrew Matson, Seattle Times arts writer
There’s no need to find a sitter this year for Bumbershoot.
The festival features a whole lineup called “Youngershoot”: music and art devoted to fledgling tastes. Plus, kids 6-10 are just $15 at the gate with a paying adult, and 5 and under are free.
Park the youngsters at the Kids Pavilion in the Center House from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the festival. Not only will they have a good time, they just might learn a thing or two. There are classes on creating movies, music, gardens and gymnastics.
Also running all day is the Gage Drawing Jam, where anyone can pick up drawing from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Northwest Rooms in the Rainier Room. Supplies are provided. The result could be a masterpiece for the refrigerator.
Or spend some quality time starting at noon every day at Films4Families, catching movies together about goldfish, marbles and pirates.
Then, around 1 p.m. daily at the Northwest Court Stage, there are concerts geared just for kids. Saturday features The Not-It’s!, a band made up of veteran indie rockers. Sunday it’s the Central Services’ Board of Education, a pop-rock band influenced by WILCO. And Monday it’s Recess Monkey, a band made up of elementary-school teachers with a Beatles vibe. These bands make a point to entertain parents, too, so all ages can join in on the fun.
The Bumbershoot Web site (www.bumbershoot.org/youngershoot) also highlights acts that One Reel figures will appeal to all ages, including singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson, pop rocker Sheryl Crow and Seattle indie rock band The Long Winters (Saturday); Seattle reggae band Kore Ionz, rockabilly band The Dusty 45s and popular singer-songwriter Jason Mraz (Sunday); and Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle indie pop band Say Hi and orchestral pop band Grand Hallway (Monday).
Finally, God forbid, if you lose your little ones at the sprawling festival, there’s a way to track them down. Just register the kids at an information booth, and they’ll receive free corresponding wristbands. So if your brood is separated and the child is brought to the Bumbershoot staff, they can contact you for a happy ending.
Marian Liu, Seattle Times arts writer