While Bumbershoot is technically attached to our big sister to the north, as one of the largest festivals of its kind in North America, the three-day festival cannot be ignored just because it is 35 miles outside Tacoma city limits.
As one of the largest showcases for regional and national music acts, Bumbershoot is a tastemaker for the Pacific Northwest music scene, and many a Tacoman plans their Labor Day weekend around the lineup. The festival is packed to the brim with musical acts, performing artists, visual artists and the works of local filmmakers and, as always, is a perfect sendoff into fall as the official end of the summer outdoor music season in Tacoma and Seattle.
Here is a brief rundown of the weekend, and a couple of interviews with some artists we are most excited to see take the stage at the iconic Northwest event.
Starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, the festival kicks off with family friendly interactive performances of Blueman Group, local film (check out Saturday afternoon for viewings of the top five films from Seattle’s 48 hour film festival), comedy and arts panels before diving into what we all really care about at Bumbershoot: the music.
Highlights for Saturday include locally based and nationally loved enigmatic hip-hop of Shabaz Palaces, the sophisticated alt-rock of Minus the Bear and the soulful, New Hampshire-born crooner Ray LaMontagne.
Sunday features an animated film showcase, a Shakespeare improv set, as well as the local hip-hop of Seattle’s own Mad Rad and Macklemore. Sunday also brings the old-school punk scene to the forefront with performances by NoMeansNo, Broken Social Scene, Anti-Flag and the Butthole Surfers.
Monday gets a little retro as the final day of the festival puts the always beloved “yacht rockers” Hall and Oates on the main stage, and more flashbacks from the 1990s with Urge Overkill, The Reverend Horton Heat, and a much anticipated reunion show for the rootsy rocking trio of Grant Lee Buffalo.
Motopony – who got its start in Tacoma close to two years ago – will be representing T-town in a big way at noon.
We spoke with the latter two musicians to get a feel for what it is like to play one of the bigger festival shows in the nation.
For Grant Lee Buffalo, it will be their largest North American show since reuniting after a more than 11-year hiatus. It will also be the first opportunity for Pacific Northwest fans old and new to see the full lineup play in their back yard.
For rising star Motopony, success has come quick, and on the tails of their first full-length release with label tinyOGRE Entertainment, getting a chance to swing the bat at the big leagues of American summer music festivals is considered a rite of passage for the relative newcomers on the music scene.
“It’s been a while…” said Grant Lee Phillips, frontman for Los Angeles’ Grant Lee Buffalo – a band that punctuated the 1990s with four of their rocking, rootsy, Americana-infused albums before going their separate ways in 1998.
“It all came and went so fast. Back in the ‘90s I think we’d always (had) a mutual curiosity of what it would be like to one day pull it back together. Paul and I ran into each other in Seattle and began to talk… little by little we began to tiptoe towards this reunion.”
Throughout the lifespan of Grant Lee Buffalo – which included bassist Paul Kimble, and drummer Josef Peters, four diverse independent releases, countless tours opening for the likes of REM, Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins and a handful of commercially recognized radio singles – the band created a strong cult following that has remained, and continued to grow today.
Each band member has since been successful in their own rights as solo artists, film composers and producers, but according to Phillips, coming back together to their youthful first love of the Buffalo was inevitable.
“We haven’t been broken up – we’ve been on a long residency in the Mojave and we’ve finally got a weekend off,” Phillips laughed. “There has been a lot of anticipation and a lot of enthusiasm surrounding this reformation, and that’s been wonderful.”
As far as dusting off the old Buffalo gear and getting back on stage with older music and even older friends? It is just like riding a bike.
“We did rehearse a lot a few months back… but we probably could have performed the moment we took our guitars out and plugged in. “It just kind of sprang into form,” Phillips said. “The music was pretty engrained in us having done it so many times. And having that natural chemistry that we had to begin with… there is this connection.”
Phillips suffered an ankle injury last fall that postponed the original reunion tour dates, (including a would-be Seattle performance at the Tractor Tavern last December) so Grant Lee Buffalo played their first reunion show at Largo in Los Angeles in May, and a handful of other shows across Europe since.
At Bumbershoot – the band’s first Seattle performance was at the Showbox in 1995 (to the best of Phillips’ recollection) – they will perform twice: once to a small audience at the KEXP’s Music Lounge at 5:30 p.m. and then close out the festival with the very last performance of the weekend at 9:30 p.m. Monday on the Starbucks Stage in the Mural Amphitheater.
“It is an interesting phenomenon…playing a bunch of songs I wrote in my mid 20s. These songs will wear you out… but it’s a whole lot of fun.”
For all the anxious Grant Lee Buffalo fans who never thought they would hear “Fuzzy” live in their lifetime – or for those who saw them way back when, but never dreamed they would again – Phillips said their Bumbershoot sets will be varied, and fans should expect to hear some more obscure tracks from deep in the GLB vault – and only songs from the first three albums that Phillips, Kimble and Peters created together (sorry “Jubilee” fans).
“One of the most exciting things for us was going back and rediscovering a lot of songs that were never contenders in terms of becoming singles.
“There are a lot of songs that are so slow they would never be considered poppy, or they are so insane they would send everyone running for the aisles. “Those are really fun to play.”
For the lucky fans who manage to get into the limited-access KEXP Music Lounge as well as GLB’s set in the open air, they can expect a lot of diversity, energy and Phillips’ strong, signature heartfelt bellow backed – as always – with the explosive sounds of electrified Americana.
“Really Grant Lee Buffalo is the product of a strange combustible chemical reaction when three somewhat insane gentlemen come together and make a noise,” Phillips said of the music that has the capacity to define a moment and a lifetime at once. “It’s an intense situation, it’s very heightened, and I think it’s like that for all of us. It’s quite a thrill for the time that we’re on stage.
“The connection is stronger than ever between us and so is the music, most importantly… and you’ll see it all come Sept. 5.”
Founded by then-longtime-Tacoma resident and local clothing guru Daniel Blue, Motopony had modest beginnings as being voted one of Tacoma’s “favorite indie bands” before Blue relocated to Seattle to be closer to his fellow band members and practice space.
Over the last two years, the band has signed to a record label, launched their first music video, and has been touring the West Coast, garnering national attention for their ambient, surrealistic, indie-rock sound.
As the band steadily climbs the ladder to mainstream success, hitting the spot on the Bumbershoot lineup is certainly a moment to write home about.
“(Motopony) has been like a steady, graceful incline. It hasn’t been too crazy, but there have been some big steps – getting signed was huge,” he said. “(At Bumbershoot) they’re letting us play on the Fountain Stage in the lawn – it’s a huge festival, a lot of fun exposure.”
Blue noted getting to play some sets on the summer festival scene definitely has its perks.
“It’s so different than a bar scene where people are coming out to drink and be cool. Festivals are way more relaxed. People are there to have a good time and are into the event of listening to the music.”
And after Bumbershoot, a 10-week East Coast tour will be bringing them to a festival main stage in Florida with the likes of the legendary Jane’s Addiction and the Shins.
But first, Motopony will do its trial run at the world renowned Bumbershoot in their hometown – right alongside a handful of their friends’ bands who are moving along in a similar musical journey. “Interestingly enough, a lot of our local favorites are playing – Kris Orlowski & The Passenger String Quartet, The Horde and the Harem … These are bands that we know, that have been coming up through the scene with us. It’s cool we all sort of got this unique opportunity to play Bumbershoot at the same time. That’s my favorite part. I’m going to be there with my peers and high-fiving each other on the way.”
Motopony will perform at noon on Sept. 5 on the Fountain Lawn Stage.
“Come and experience the live show, it’s really, really diff from our album, we approach it from another direction.”
Tickets for the weekend are $35 per day, or $90 for the weekend.
For a detailed events and music schedule and ticketing information visit www.bumbershoot.org