The rock and pop shows were well-attended, but the arts offerings attracted few, and there were rumblings about the ticket prices this year.
Despite a surprise downpour Saturday afternoon that delayed some programming, Bumbershoot — in a make-or-break year under new management by concert promoter AEG — sold upward of 80,000 tickets over Labor Day weekend.
That was enough to assure that there will be a Bumbershoot 2016, said AEG regional marketing director Andy Roe.
The promoters did a superb job with the music programming, which pleased the youthful crowds that flocked to the grounds, especially for Saturday’s blockbuster program.
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That included a brilliant show by Chicago’s Chance the Rapper, who demonstrated masterful timing and a brilliant sense of narrative as he slipped from rap to song to rap and back, especially on “Pusha Man/Paranoia.”
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Over at Memorial Stadium, top-knotted Canadian vocalist The Weeknd — Saturday’s biggest draw — capped a soulful, Stevie Wonder-like set with his hits, “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills,” coming back for an encore on “Wicked Games.”
In an understated but equally satisfying show, straight-shooting new country star Kacey Musgraves delivered her wry commentaries on small-town life and its traditionalist expectations of women with a clear voice and steady gait. The Punch Brothers dazzled the crowd with rocked-up, jazzed-up bluegrass on Fisher Green.
Neko Case, in a relaxed, goofy mood, and for some reason wearing a lime-green-and-orange safety vest, blessed fans with her sad, vulnerable crooning on “Look For Me I’ll Be Around.”
Other memorable musical moments included a killer rendition of the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” by raunchy belter Elle King; poppy explosions by EDM artist ZEDD on his remix of Selena Gomez’s “I Want You to Know”; the tough punk grooves of Deep Creep; and the tuneful arcs of Brandon Flowers (The Killers). There wasn’t much jazz at Bumbershoot, but Tyrone Brown nailed “Lush Life” in a theater piece about composer Billy Strayhorn.
The nonmusic programming, done by displaced Bumbershoot presenter One Reel, was not often well-attended, which was no surprise. Patrons paid $109 a day to see the Weeknd, not local dancers.
However, authors Jess Walter and Sherman Alexie drew a good house Sunday for a live recording of an episode of the podcast “A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment.” The audience gasped with delight when it heard the names of the afternoon’s special guests: singer-songwriters Rachel Flotard and Case, who delivered a haunting a capella song “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.”
The “Laugh Riot” showcase Sunday drew a third of a house, but featured the most vaudevillian, Bumbershoot-nostaligic moment of the weekend, with Sam Miller playing a potbellied Santa Claus pretending to be a wrestler.
The Best of SIFF Round Two films were uniformly excellent; young dancer Kim Lusk offered quick-change shifts from robotic to rubbery in the “Maximum Velocity” dance showcase; and an informative exhibit about Seattle’s early punk-rock scene was a nice surprise.
Crowds laughed ecstatically at blowzy comic Bridget Everett, but unless the supposed transgression of a woman talking dirty struck you as funny in and of itself, it wasn’t.
But programming weak or strong — and it was mostly strong — it was hard not to ask, Was this really Bumbershoot?
It didn’t feel like it. There were no guys on stilts, jugglers or quirky papier-mâché sculptures. The lawns were sliced and diced by white picket fences and green-covered cyclone fences, dividing the real estate into drinking gardens and V.I.P. sections.
When you walked through the gates, frisked from shoulder to toe, you could hear the boom of the 60-foot Fisher Green stage, winged by video screens. This felt like Sasquatch!, not Bumbershoot.
And there’s nothing wrong with Sasquatch!. But maybe it’s time One Reel and the arts community started talking about presenting an arts festival. Because for now, Bumbershoot as we knew it has been saved.
But it’s also pretty much gone.