Bumbershoot: 50 Years Of Celebrating Art & Artists

photographer Christopher Nelson Bumbershoot
THREADING THE NEEDLE: The iconic Space Needle looms over an enthusiastic crowd at Bumbershoot. The art and music festival celebrates its 50th anniversary at the Seattle Center, a 74-acre arts, education and entertainment complex, Sept. 2-3. (photo by: Chistopher Nelson)

Bumbershoot, Seattle’s much-loved music and arts festival, is returning for its 50th installment Sept. 2-3 across the Emerald City’s sprawling Seattle Center with new producers, programs and purpose.

Festival producers New Rising Sun and partner/nonprofit arts and education organization Third Stone, in addition to presenting an eclectic music lineup and arts program, are introducing the tuition-free Bumbershoot Workforce Development Program, designed to create a pipeline to support next-generation music industry professionals and lay the groundwork for a more equitable and inclusive music scene.

Some of the region’s best music artists including Olympia, Washington’s own Sleater-Kinney, Sunny Day Real Estate and Band of Horses will join Brittany Howard, AFI, The Revivalists, Jawbreaker, DOMi & JD Beck, Zhu, Durand Jones and Fatboy Slim across the festival’s multiple stages.

Bumbershoot will also utilize space throughout the 74-acre Seattle Center, including Fisher Pavilion and The Art Not Terminal to present art installations, a Bumbershoot 50th Anniversary retrospective and an arena tour for future production and tour managers.

The dual-organization model of partners Third Stone, a nonprofit entity, and New Rising Sun, a Washington Social Purpose Corporation, is designed to reimagine Bumbershoot, not simply revive what Rolling Stone once called “the mother of festivals.”

New Rising Sun co-founders Steven Severin and Joe Paganelli may be new to producing Bumbershoot, but they are concert industry veterans who have deep connections to the festival as fans and members of the community.

“When we started thinking about how we wanted to do this, we didn’t want to recreate it, or create a festival that has already been done,” Severin says. “We’ve all done other festivals, been promoters, worked in every aspect of the music industry there is, and we wanted to do something different and more akin to the Pacific Northwest and the Seattle Center campus, and that’s more fun.”

One goal for organizers was to keep Bumbershoot affordable and therefore more inclusive. Single-day early bird tickets at $50 ($85 for two days) are already sold out; the remaining tickets are still priced at a comparatively modest $65 per day ($110 for two). Along with music and art, ticket buyers can also participate in community building – what Paganelli calls the “Community Engage Fest” model.

“How many promoters get to pick up the reins after 50 years of amazing production and creation of an audience fan base? We feel the weight of that every day and we push ourselves driven by that fact,” Paganelli says. “But the community engagement model is an opportunity for festivals to interact with a larger story to tell around the Bumbershoot workforce development program and training.

“It’s a great opportunity for a festival to try the community engagement model, where we can really drive community benefit at the same time we live up to the creative legacy that Bumbershoot has been.”

And that creative legacy includes putting local talent front and center, not just on music stages but throughout the Bumbershoot grounds. The 2023 edition will include everything from augmented reality contemporary art and remote-controlled sculpture to a cat circus.

“A big focus is bringing the arts back to Bumbershoot – which hadn’t really been a part of it for so many years,” Severin says. “As you’re looking at spreadsheet economics and figuring out what adds up and what budgets out, it’s a lot harder to figure out what its value is. I could tell you exactly how many tickets Lizzo will sell, what the ticket prices are, how much she’ll need to get paid, and so on, and I understand the value of that.

“It’s much harder to figure out what a 100-foot-tall sculpture, that people just come and look at, what that’s worth. It’s harder to value it. And we just sort of said we didn’t care. That’s what we wanted to do. We think that’s what the people in the Northwest want, and we just went ahead and did it. And so far, the response has been phenomenal.”