Newer and lesser-known bands often perform some of the more interesting shows at music festivals. Two musicians with Seattle ties, Madeline Kenney and Jason McCue, will get their chance to impress at Bumbershoot.
There are big-font bands and there are little-font bands. For the headliners and mainstage performers whose names are emblazed in giant type atop festival posters, Bumbershoot is near the end of the summer circuit. But for little-font bands, tucked away on smaller stages, Bumbershoot might be the biggest festival they play and the best chance to leave an impression on an unsuspecting crowd.
This year’s installment of Bumbershoot (Sept. 1-3) at Seattle Center once again mines the local music scene for known acts like Tacocat and less known like Jason McCue. Production company AEG took over the festival three years ago and was quickly able to bring in big-name electronic music and hip-hop acts that appeal to younger crowds, while keeping a robust cast of local talent.
Don’t let the small font fool you. The bands at the bottom of the festival poster, playing early in the day, often put on interesting and memorable shows. Many of these bands have local ties and in some cases went to Bumbershoot as teenagers.
“I’m mildly freaking out,” said Madeline Kenney, who grew up in Redmond but now lives in Oakland, California. “I’m on the same poster, a different font size, with Solange.”
Kenney, whose songs are a warm embrace of fuzzy guitar loops and smart lyrics, plays at 3:20 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, on the Monster Energy Stage at Fisher Green. She’s been playing music since kindergarten, and attended Bumbershoot as a teenager, but the route to making it her profession was circuitous, including four universities while studying neurosciences and a baking apprenticeship in Oakland. “The life of a musician doesn’t conform to a baker’s life,” she said.
Jason McCue wasn’t raised in the Seattle area like Kenney, but the Seattle University student did watch Bumbershoot performances on YouTube from his childhood home in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
McCue, a singer-songwriter with a hypnotic warbly voice, gained notoriety after this year’s Sound Off!, a battle of the bands at MoPOP for musicians 21 and younger. Past participants include Naked Giants, Fauna Shade, the Lonely Forest and Schoolyard Heroes. Unlike those bands that have had success since Sound Off!, McCue won the competition. Something he never expected, nor did he expect where winning Sound Off! would lead him.
“I applied not ever expecting to be selected and now I’m playing Bumbershoot,” McCue said. “It still hasn’t set in that I’m playing Bumbershoot.”
Kenney shares that same feeling of awe. She never thought that would be her on a Bumbershoot stage. Playing in front of a hometown audience means a bit more because her first full-length album, “Night Night At The First Landing,” on Company Records, is set for release Friday, and a supporting tour kicks off Sept. 7 in San Francisco. “I love playing shows. I just want to play shows forever,” she said.
Her show at Bumbershoot will be a family affair. Kenney’s parents will be there, and her brother is heading down from Bellingham to man her merch table.
While Kenney is well down the path of being a professional musician, that question is still unanswered for McCue. The 21-year-old environmental-studies major is entering his senior year at Seattle University and is recording songs in his bedroom with a $30 microphone plugged into his laptop. He mostly plays house parties but has started picking up more gigs since he won Sound Off!
“Really, I want to have fun with everything right now. Recording music is like my video games,” McCue said. “I’m going to keep going at the rate I’m going and see what happens.”
That is a good mindset to have going into his Bumbershoot performance. McCue has the difficult task of kicking the festival off on the Monster Energy Stage at Fisher Green at 3:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, along with Peach Pit at 2:55 p.m. at the Mural Amphitheatre and The Spider Ferns at 3 p.m. on the KEXP stage.
The size of the stage or audience doesn’t bother McCue. He is appreciative and still wide-eyed about being included. One of the advantages of playing early on the first day is that McCue will have a chance to see some of his favorite acts such as Weezer and The Roots.
“It’s a very surreal feeling to know about the greats who have been there before,” he said.