Like many Seattleites, Sol and Seattle Center go back a ways. Walking through campus, as he did a few weeks ago to catch a concert outside KEXP, the prominent hometown rapper can “feel that nostalgia of all these different life experiences.”

The grade school field trips to Seattle Children’s Theatre and Pacific Science Center. Commingling with other teenagers from other parts of the city at Bite of Seattle. Seeing his first rap show at Bumbershoot — a festival he’ll play for the fourth time this summer.

“My earliest experiences of leaving the house are probably Seattle Center-based,” he says fondly. “It feels like the cultural nucleus of Seattle.”

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That cultural nucleus, like the rest of the world, has had its share of disruptions the past few years. When the pandemic hit, the summer festivals and cultural events that enliven the public space in the heart of the city gave way to testing sites and emergency shelters, while Climate Pledge Arena construction and other projects tore up swaths of the campus. Live music came crawling back in the summer of 2021, though it’d take another year for the industry’s post-lockdown boom to really explode.

Despite newer events sprouting up from under the Space Needle’s shadow in that time — including laid-back indie fest Day In Day Out (Aug. 12-13 this year) and various EDM bashes, like Higher Ground with Diplo (Aug. 6) — Seattle Center’s concert comeback has been a little spottier. Until now.


This summer sees the return of several of the campus’ largest core events: Bumbershoot, KEXP’s Concerts at the Mural, and Bite of Seattle, the long-running food fest that also books a ton of local bands. With the last of these tentpole events rejoining a summer slate dotted with new traditions and music stars packing the since-completed Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle Center is reemerging as the city’s premier concert destination, drawing a wide range of audiences and communities (often at the same time) to a campus that holds a unique place in Seattle’s civic and cultural life.


“It feels like we’re slamming in three years of work in, like, three months,” said Marc Jones, Seattle Center’s director of marketing.

While a busy calendar at the still-shiny Climate Pledge Arena made the pyramid palace one of the top-selling arenas in the world last year, according to concert trade magazine Pollstar, it’s taken Seattle Center, on the whole, longer to get all cylinders firing again. Both the new-look Bumbershoot (Sept. 2-3) and Bite of Seattle (July 21-23) are restarting after leadership changes, and some of the grassroots events in the multicultural Festál series have needed more time to rebuild volunteer bases, says Seattle Center’s interim director Marshall Foster.

Now, Seattle Center brass are hoping the buzz from the Kraken’s recent playoff push (which also pushed parking revenues “a couple hundred thousand” dollars over projections, Foster says) will continue into a summer with 50-plus music events bookended by capstone festivals Northwest Folklife (May 25-27) and Bumbershoot. And that figure doesn’t include shows at on-campus venues like the all-ages Vera Project and Climate Pledge Arena, which has another strong summer, highlighted by two-night stands with superstars Madonna and Drake.

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Seattle Center leaders are hoping for activity to return to pre-pandemic levels when the campus would see around 12 million annual visits.

“We had a great first and second quarter, so I think we’re going to blow 2019 out of the water numbers-wise,” Jones says.

Over Memorial Day weekend, a still-ramping-up Folklife will bring 3,500 performers to its 23 staging areas around campus. Seattle Center, the community-centric music and cultural event’s home since its 1972 inception, has long stood out as a festival site that strikes a balance between typical urban fests that block streets or fill rock clubs (a la Capitol Hill Block Party) and what Folklife’s managing director Reese Tanimura calls “cow pasture” festivals in remote rural locations.

“Seattle Center is really unique in that it’s an open space, so you have green areas, you have places where you can put up tents and stages,” she says. But being in the city, “there’s restaurants a couple blocks away, there’s transit to and from, which I think does make it this unique place where you get some of the best of both worlds.”

The built-in décor of the iconographic Space Needle and International Fountain doesn’t hurt either.

While Folklife marks the unofficial start of “Summer at the Center” and Seattle’s festival season more broadly, Seattle Center was humming a few weeks ago when a Kraken game, the Spirit of Africa Festál event, Seattle Opera, a Seattle University graduation and KEXP’s first Northwest Courtyard concert of the year had disparate audiences converging on campus.


“All these things were happening all at once and, honestly, I was a little worried that things were going to clash,” says Tilly Rodina, KEXP’s director of community engagement. “Everything happened so beautifully and we found — our event was free and open to the public — that people were looking for this kind of thing. So, even if they didn’t come specifically for our event, but they just happened to be on campus, they would find their way toward the live music.”

It remains to be seen how much cross-pollination KEXP’s free Concerts at the Mural will see when it returns on the first three Thursdays in August. (A lineup announcement for the series, which draws 1,500-2,100 fans each night, is expected in the coming weeks.) Both intentional and unintentional, Foster says that sort of “public mixing” of different crowds and cultures is “some of the magic of Seattle Center. That’s always been part of who we are.”

Fifteen years ago, attending her first Folklife helped a new-in-town Tanimura learn about the city and its people, after living between Hawaii and the Midwest her entire life. Between all the events and cultural attractions, ranging from the opera to the punk-rooted Vera Project, bringing “auxiliary eyes” to one another, Tanimura says, “People just walk on and they can learn about groups that they’ve never seen, communities that maybe they didn’t even know were in the region. To me, that’s part of the power of having this space in the place that it is and in the way that it is.”

She just hopes it can stay that way at a time when Seattle is struggling with displacement.

While Tanimura calls Seattle Center a “fantastic partner” with Folklife, she thinks it and other public cultural spaces are somewhat underutilized, in part due to logistical barriers that hamper event producers. She also sees accessibility issues with Climate Pledge Arena concerts or Kraken games bringing increased parking costs and up to 17,000 fans, potentially turning away would-be attendees for other cultural events.

“Having that presence of communities in a centralized location in a city that … does feel a little bit hostile sometimes, or it doesn’t feel as welcoming, to have that partnership with this beautiful space that has a lot of assets, and to be able to create something that hopefully does feel inclusive and welcoming, I think that’s invaluable,” Tanimura says.


Seattle Center leaders say they’ve tried to mitigate potential event-night congestion by staggering start times, aggressively steering people toward public transportation and allowing arts organizations to sell prepaid parking passes so their patrons can reserve space in nearby lots.

With Seattle Center shaping up to be a bustling concert draw this season, future summers should be even busier once Memorial Stadium is redeveloped through a public-private partnership. The city and Seattle Public Schools, which owns the stadium, have received two bids to rebuild and operate the aging facility. A proposal from the One Roof Foundation, an entity linked to the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena operators the Oak View Group, would rebuild a sports and entertainment venue that could handle more than 10,000 spectators. The competing bid is from a commercial real estate firm that’s working with AEG Worldwide, the concert industry power that runs the Showbox and previously helmed Bumbershoot and Marymoor Park’s summer concert series.

“We’re expecting that to become a major summer music venue again,” Foster says. “When the weather’s great and we all want to be outside together enjoying music — almost everybody has a story about an experience they had in Memorial Stadium. We haven’t had that benefit for quite some time, and that’s a core reason we are doing this partnership with the district, to be able to bring that music programming back into the campus.”

Whenever the thing’s built, save some Bumbershoot stage time for Sol. While the festival was an important steppingstone in his career, having gone from playing an opening day side stage at 12:30 p.m. to becoming a career touring artist, the veteran rhymer sees events like Bumbershoot, in communal spaces like Seattle Center, as a way for people to break out of their respective cultural bubbles — divisions he says the city has grappled with amid its population boom.

“What a city and a community needs in order to be healthy is communication,” he says. “And in order for us to communicate, we have to see each other. We have to be able to hear each other, talk to each other, share space.”

See you on the lawn this summer.