Discovering the Secret of Life at Bumbershoot

I didn’t plan to drag two children under the age of 10 to all three days of Bumbershoot. But that is exactly what I did.

My festival preview lives here, and my survival guide is here. My compatriots over at Three Imaginary Girls and the KEXP blog (not my compatriots- just good coverage) have, I think, covered most of the shows. So I am free to talk about the secret of life. 

Dave B.

Dave B.

My Bumbershoot epiphany kind of snuck up on me. On day one we did festival things: snacks, sunscreen, trips to the bathroom. We saw Dave B.; I am convinced he is the next Lupe Fiasco. My daughter loved seeing someone who looked like her fronting Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, and I loved seeing a woman who could totally rock – on the banjo. It was a great festival day.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down

Day two began a little rough, with me getting hung up on logistics. Then we saw Kithkin distribute Cascadian eco-literature – not pamplets, actual books. They played drums and ocarina, jumped around, and ritually sacrificed hair from the keyboard player’s head. When they announced their appearance at Airwaves, they shared what they had learned so far of Icelandic witchcraft – not the history, the spells. Only their wholehearted, enthusiastic commitment convinces the crowd that their tribal schtick is anything but hopelessly dorky. Somewhere in the middle of “No Eyes,” something shifted.

So what if we had to stand in line to pay too much money for unhealthy food? So what if I already had blisters on my feet and forgot the camera? I could walk barefoot in the grass. It was a beautiful day and we were taking time to celebrate art. The air was electric with creative energy. And we could choose for these things to be true every day.



KithpixieAfter that I stopped sweating the details. We danced to the Redwood Plan. We heard the Mowglis as we explored the art exhibits. We bought random food and were happily surprised when it turned out to be edible. We were happily surprised again when stumbled on Mary Lambert, who had won my daughter’s heart at Rain City Rock Camp, performing in The Round. We found a spot in the shade in the solar oven called “Mural Ampitheater/Starbucks Stage” for the legendary Duke Robillard’s set. And Oh. My. God. The Grizzled Mighty. I was worried that show might be too rowdy to let the girls get up front, but we took our chances. The crowd was calm and generous; all the rowdy was on stage. Hell yeah.

Redwood Plan Recruits Next Gen Riot Grrls

Redwood Plan Recruits Next Gen Riot Grrls

My shy, serious four-year-old opened up like a time-lapsed flower. She could live like this; just enjoying whatever came up, finding food when hungry, shade when hot, stopping when Midday Veils caught our ears. How many times will I have to learn the lesson that trying to control everything doesn’t actually make things work out any better?


Grizzled Mighty



Day Three, watching the kids play in the fountain, I wished we could actually live like a festival. But vegetables must be eaten. Rent must be paid. Dripping in their bathing suits, the girls pushed to the front to see BellaMaine. The creative center of this Anacortes quartet is guitarist Nick and keyboardist Julianne, who are married to each other. They make traditional, pretty pop songs, but their personal story somehow makes its way into the performance. You can tell they are having a good time, this young couple making music every day with a toddler at home in their pretty little town by the sea. Somehow the kid gets fed and the rent gets paid, but for them, it’s not about logistics.



Long before I had kids, I read an article about a family trip in which they saw Many Wondrous Things. At the end, the author asked her daughter about her favorite memory. The answer: stopping to watch ants in a parking lot. I remembered this story at the end of day three.

Baroness has evolved from one of my favorite metal bands to one of my favorite indie bands, but I had never seen them live. Last year, when their bus crashed, I thought I might never get the chance. Everyone in the band was injured, and it looked like John Baizley might never recover enough to play guitar. Two band members took the crash as a sign to change the road they were on and left the band.

Baroness Soundcheck

Baroness Soundcheck

I remember how well I walked 54 weeks after getting hit by a car, and I wondered how Baizley’s guitar playing would sound now, backed by a half-new band. Even during soundcheck, the answer was ‘transcendent.’ In interviews, he has credited his recovery to his work ethic and creative drive. Devotion to art pulled him through.

My 9-year-old has become accustomed to front row, but expecting a mosh pit, we hung out near the back of the crowd, where my youngest threw horns from atop my shoulders, at least for the first couple songs. An hour set is long for someone that small. She usually gets tired about halfway through, and droops on my shoulder until the end. No matter how much I enjoy a set, a part of me is always balancing my enthusiasm against her stamina, hoping the end comes before we have to leave.


Because we were not up front, I could put her down when she got tired. Both girls sat on the ground playing with leaves of grass, apparently oblivious to the music. Absorbed in the music, I was surprised when Baroness left the stage after an hour.

The next morning, both girls asked to listen to Baroness.


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