Cyclecide human-powered carousel at Bumbershoot 2007.
|Founded by||City of Seattle|
|Date(s)||Labor Day weekend|
Bumbershoot is an annual international music and arts festival held in Seattle, Washington. One of North America's largest such festivals, it takes place every Labor Day weekend at the 74-acre (299,000 m²) Seattle Center, which was built for the 1962 World's Fair. Seattle Center includes both indoor theaters and outdoor stages. The name of the festival was taken from bumbershoot, a colloquial term for umbrella, probably coined in the 19th century as a portmanteau of the words umbrella and parachute.
The early years
Bumbershoot began as a city-funded ($25,000 budget) arts and music festival called "Mayor's Arts Festival", also known as "Festival '71", held at Seattle Center on August 13–15, 1971. This event had a total attendance of 125,000 visitors. Amidst the local economic depression triggered by the near collapse of Boeing, the festival attempted to revive local spirits, and was the largest event held in Seattle Center since the 1962 World's Fair. Talk radio host Irving Clark Jr. chaired the fair committee, and avant-garde impresario Anne Focke used one-fifth of the budget for light shows (which incorporated lasers, still something of a novelty at that time), computer graphics, enormous inflatable soft sculptures by the Land Truth Company, and an electronic jam session. Other events included dance, theater, folk music, arts and crafts, art cars, body painting, a Miss Hot Pants Contest, amateur motorcycle races, and one out-of-town performer: country singer Sheb Wooley.
In 1972, "Festival '72", held on July 21–23, took in 175,000 guests. In 1973 the festival adopted the present name "Bumbershoot", grew to five days, and pulled in 200,000 visitors. National acts included Cal Tjader, Joe Venuti, and John Handy. In 1974 it grew again, to 10 days and 325,000 visitors. The festival opened with a "Renaissance Processional" for the kilometer or so from downtown to the center; Mayor Wes Uhlman and most of the city council participated that year, in roles ranging from clowning to reading children's stories aloud to, in the mayor's case, running the Lost Child Center. Another prominent Bumbershoot event from this era was the Bumbernationals Artists' Soapbox Derby, which continued into the early 1980s. 1975's 11-day festival was produced by Parks Department employee John Chambless, a former University of Washington professor of history and philosophy who had produced the 1968 Sky River Festival, a Pacific Northwest hippie-era festival.
The late-1970s retreat
With declining government grant support, Bumbershoot tried to keep afloat on donations and sales of posters, buttons, and T-shirts, but poor weather hurt attendance some years and left the free Festival scrambling for more financially stable options. First, the festival retrenched on the number of days and on bringing in national talent. According to John Chambless, about 25 percent of the 1975 budget went to out-of-town talent; the 1976 festival was nearly 100 percent local and was cut to two weekends; in 1977, it was further cut to just Labor Day weekend; as it happened, in both 1977 and 1978, Labor Day weekend was rainy.
One Reel Takes Over
In 1980 the city brought in Northwest non-profit organization One Reel to produce the event; they have been running it ever since. A mid-1980s attempt by Seattle Center itself to wrest back control was overruled by the City Council.
According to its website, One Reel originated as a traveling show, "The One Reel Vaudeville Show" in 1972 and was founded by former One Reel president and CEO Norman Langill. One Reel has also operated Teatro Zinzanni, the "Summer Nights" concert series and "Family 4th at Lake Union" events.
As the One Reel Vaudeville Show, the organization had been involved in the event since its second year, 1972, but with their new role as festival producer came big change. Once again, the festival featured headlining national and international talent (acts that year included Emmylou Harris, Chuck Berry, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Etta James, Clifton Chenier, Eugene Fodor and Martin Mull), but added an admission charge. Initially that admission charge was US$2.50 a day (although there was a "Free Friday", a tradition lasted for over a decade); as of 2007, it had grown to US$40 a day, and to $62 by 2013. Substantial new premium ticket offerings have also been introduced, including Gold and Platinum passes, full-event tickets providing guaranteed inclusive admission to limited-seating events and reserved VIP seating at certain live music venues.
The new formula featured world-class acts while continuing to ground the festival on a bedrock of Pacific Northwest talent. Record numbers of art and music lovers flocked to the multiple indoor and outdoor stages, galleries, and food, art and craft vendors. Artists such as The Eurythmics, James Brown, Spinal Tap and Tina Turner shared the turf with art oddities like the gigantic flying pencil, the Bumbernationals soapbox derby and robotic art. Although initially resistant to hip hop, in the mid-'90s Bumbershoot introduced some of the first large-scale hip hop shows ever held in Seattle, a tradition that's still very much alive. From the ashes of the grunge rock scene came a new brand of Seattle sound; influential alternative rock bands such as Sleater Kinney, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie and Grand Archives have played Bumbershoot. In the new millennium, international artists have included groups such as Baba Maal, The Grand Kabuki Theatre of Japan, and an Ethiopian youth circus. The One Reel Film Festival, held within Bumbershoot, celebrates American independent film shorts. Bumbershoot incorporated new arts forms such as poetry slams and break dancing as well as older arts such as circus, contortion, aerial, and street theater.
One Reel signed a three-year programming and promotional agreement in 2008 with AEG Live, one of the largest for-profit international promoters of rock concerts and large events. The deal allowed AEG to assist One Reel with booking musical acts and sponsorship but ultimately proved unfruitful for both parties.
As the region's largest single showcase for regional talent, Bumbershoot became a cultural tastemaker. The festival—which has become Seattle's longest-lived music and arts festival—paved the way for other Seattle-area outdoor events, festivals, and happenings. Many of these, such as the Northwest Folklife Festival that premiered at Seattle Center on Memorial Day weekend nine months after the first Bumbershoot, have become established traditions in their own right.
- Mayor Greg Nickels' statement, Bumbershoot 2007 program, p. 4. claims "North America's largest urban arts festival".
- Kathy Mulady and Debera Carlton Harrell, City looking to breathe new life into Seattle Center, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 24, 2006. Accessed 4 September 2007.
- bumbershoot - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
- Dorpat 1999 says it had a budget of $25,000.
- Mayor Greg Nickels' statement, Bumbershoot 2007 program, p. 4.
- Dorpat reports this number but describes it as "an estimate inflated, perhaps, with euphoria".
- *Miller, Tom (October 4, 1969), "A Melting Pot at Sky River Festival", Rolling Stone (43): 34
- Bumbershoot History, official Bumbershoot site. Accessed online 4 September 2007.
- Bumbershoot Tickets at Official Site, Bumbershoot Ticket Sales, Accessed online 16 August 2008.
- Bumbershoot hopes new partnership will bring big headliners
- Paul Dorpat, Bumbershoot, HistoryLink.org Essay 1655, September 1, 1999; accessed September 4, 2007.
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