Bumbershoot Reboots After 4 Year Hiatus

Pussy Riot, Photo by Smouse

Last updated on September 13th, 2023 at 07:14 am

After a 4-year hiatus, the “re-imagined” Bumbershoot returned as Seattle’s premiere and arguably most heavily scrutinized event of the summer. Aimed to be more fan-friendly with tickets as low as $75 per day that included a packed schedule of 5 stages, art, and educational opportunities, this year marked the 50th anniversary of the legendary event.

Matt and Kim, Photo by Smouse

Having attended multiple Bumbershoots in the past, there is nothing like the condensed playground of the Seattle Center. With the ever-looming Space Needle above, local radio station KEXP on the fringe, and all the glory of the 274 water jets of the International Fountain, the festival centers on the culture and art of Seattle.

Photo by Michael Jacobson

With a lineup including original Olympia riot grrls Sleater-Kinney, 90s punks Jawbreaker, goth punks AFI, DJ pioneer Fatboy Slim, Alabama Shakes frontwomen Brittany Howard, emo indie rockers Sunny Day Real Estate, and electro-leaning rockers Phantogram, you needed to accept not being able to see everything.

The immediate changes that were felt in this year’s reboot were fewer stages and only one point of entry. Memorial Stadium was turned into a spiderweb of dangling cowbells that felt like a missed opportunity for larger shows, especially when the Mural Stage was often overfilled, and people just had to keep moving due to lack of space.

Photo by Michael Jacobson

Bumbershoot reasserted itself as a community-based festival once again, with almost all local food vendors, artists, fashion shows, and all-ages activities. That was evident throughout the grounds and constantly commented on by attendees. Getting around and snagging food was much faster, and the drinking areas were much larger than in prior years, which also were welcome changes.


Easing into the sunny first day, Nigerian-born singer and songwriter Jacob Banks provided some sweaty soul and R&B songs. The vast center of the festival made for quick and easy access to get close to the stages. With sets overlapping by just a few minutes, it was a perfect setup for a back-and-forth situation.

Jacob Banks, Photo by Smouse

Local darlings Thunderpussy then went on stage at 4:20, evident by their entrance with blunts. Part gymnastics, full rock and roll, Thunderpussy filled the area with an instant spark. Blazing through their set with favorites like “Velvet Noose” and “Put Your Hands On Me,” vocalist Molly Sides has a limitless well of vocal power that can go from sultry soft to siren screams.

Thunderpussy, Photo by Smouse

Durand Jones added more soul to the day with “That Feeling,” dedicated to the LGBTQ community as he recently came out as queer. His cover of Danny Hawthaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” was a delight as well, bringing smiles to everyone around me.

Durand Jones, Photo by Smouse

The diversity of music was showcased when walking over to Matt and Kim, who put on an adult talent show that included balloons, giant dildo drumsticks, confetti, and inflatable sex dolls crowd surfing. Favorites like “Daylight” and “Get It” charged up the party crowd, and their cover of Harry Style’s “It’s Just Us” was fun. The duo puts on a clinic with crowd engagement, especially with Kim flashing a drone and the audience multiple times.

Matt and Kim, Photo by Smouse

Brittany Howard burst onto the stage as the sun was setting. Another powerful vocalist, Howard carries a grit and drive that soars. Her transition from “Stay High” into her cover of “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” was effortless. The set built up into a passionate “13th Century Metal,” whipping the crowd into a frenzy with a united message:

I hear the voices of the unheard
Speak for those who cannot speak
And shelter the minds that carry a message
Of peace, love, and prosperity

Brittany Howard, Photo by Smouse

Pacific Northwest favorites Sleater-Kinney closed out the evening and paused to honor Minnesota band LOW, mentioning how Mimi Parker made them hear love in a different way. They dedicated “Dance Song ’97” to LOW in a heartfelt moment. “Heart Factory” was their heaviest grunge surge, and “Hurry On Home” drew out the dancing.

Sleater-Kinney, Photo by Smouse


Russian feminist protest and performance art group Pussy Riot kicked off my day two. With towering high pink boots and bondage blended with lace, Pussy Riot attracted a large interested crowd. “Police State” and “Dance With The Devil” brought the political charge to the forefront, while images of pigs and leashes strobed behind them.

Pussy Riot, Photo by Smouse

Pussy Riot was joined by two backup dancers wearing ski masks and netting. The trio occasionally grabbed whips to parade around and lash the speakers and front of the stage. In what felt like a highly poignant performance piece, Pussy Riot mixed in underlying tones of oppression and the empowerment to stand up for what you believe in.

Pussy Riot, Photo by Smouse

Heading inside to the only indoor stage, Seattle singer/songwriter Daniel Lyon, aka Spirit Award, drew a curious crowd. Described as a motorik, psychedelic, fuzzy, and ethereal sound, Spirit Award leans into grunge elements that feel like old-school heritage to this area. Definitely dense, the performance was a discovery that left me wanting to hear more from the up-and-coming bands.

Spirit Award, Photo by Smouse

Valerie June graced the stage after the annual Bumbershoot rain shower. Valerie exudes positivity and an aura of hope. “Astral Plane” drove that energy home by having the crowd AMEN to the hope that better days are ahead. Her cover of “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake was beautifully done, while “Wanna Be On Your Mind” was a fully charged buildup that still is buzzing inside me today.

Valerie June, Photo by Smouse

Waving a Seattle Supersonic flag, Band of Horses kicked off their set with “Is There A Ghost” and plenty of praise to the festival, acknowledging that they cut their teeth in former bands that had ‘no business’ playing a festival. Written in Belltown, “The Great Salt Lake” paid tribute to Seattle. Scurrying to the next stage, “No One’s Gonna Love You” carried across the field in nostalgic fashion for a band that’s been around for almost 20 years.

Band of Horses, Photo by Smouse

Crunched into the Mural stage, Phantogram flirted with shards of light for most of their set, keeping the focus on the music. The duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter took a moment to praise Seattle and Barsuk Records before delighting in their accomplished catalog of songs. “Black Out Days” and “When I’m Small” certainly received the most cheers, but their newest song, “I’m Still Yours,” was a fresh step forward in what should be another stellar album in the making.

Phantogram, Photo by Smouse

Closing out the festival was Fatboy Slim, a major face for DJs that helped popularize the big beat genre in the 1990s. His shuffle of sound clips and tracks pulsated the stage in a never-ending celebration. His Hawaiian print shirt and bare feet gave a bit of a glance into the personality of the artist. The charisma exuding from Fatboy Slim is unparalleled, especially at the age of 60.

Fatboy Slim, Photo by Smouse


Bumbershoot has instantly corrected many of the mistakes the prior ownership group fed into. Ticket prices are once again back to being affordable thanks to a partnership with Amazon. The identity of the festival feels more in place with the proudly offbeat Pacific Northwest. The renewed affirmation of a Seattle identity sits among a new period of constant influx and, at times, uncomfortable change. But the spirit of Seattle turned out at an estimated 20,000 people a day, an increase from recent years.

Thunderpussy, Photo by Smouse

With the new ownership group having a 10-year contract with the city, the future is bright for Bumbershoot to shine strong once again. It’s a festival that is literally embedded into the middle of the arts community, showcasing all the quirks and attitude of the Pacific Northwest. Eyes are already dreaming about Labor Day weekend 2024 with another step towards keeping Seattle’s art scene strong.

See all the photos from our exploration of Bumbershoot 2023.

Written by Smouse

Having spent 13 years recording and producing Minnesota artists, along with running a small record label, Smouse is a passionate advocate of musicians and artists in Minnesota.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





how did steve harwell die image of stever harwell singing on stage

How Did Steve Harwell Die? Smash Mouth Singer Dead at 56

ynw melly's net worth image of ynw melly's mugshot

YNW Melly’s Net Worth & Biography: His Cars, House, Career, and More