Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes sings at Sundays main stage.
Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes sings at Sunday's main stage. Travis Trautt

My Sunday at Bumbershoot started, surprisingly, with Nikkita Oliver.

Oliver hosted a panel of artists of color that presented their work and talked about how art can be an outlet for community organizing. Each artist talked about how their own experience with art is part of a bigger picture of bettering the world.

Hollis Wong-Wear, who sings the hook on Macklemore’s hit song “White Walls,” said she has always seen her art as part of a political movement.

“My art is integrally and intrinsically linked with community organizing and the power of art to move us,” Wong-Wear said.

Jerrell Davis, the South Seattle MC that raps under the name Rell Be Free, said rap itself is a form of activism by allowing himself to fully express himself.

“You have to tap into the fullness of who you are. Music allows me to tap into that full expression and be my full self. Music forces me to be myself when I'm in front of a crowd,” Davis said.

Oliver, who won over 30,000 votes and placed third in last year’s mayoral election, said Bumbershoot’s far-right owner, AEG, made her question if she should even host a panel at the festival in the first place.

“I started to have my own crisis as to whether or not I should even be here facilitating this conversation,” Oliver said. “Sometimes it feels like the only place you can go is Paul Allen or Vulcan or the city of Seattle. How do we as artists access these things without compromising our ideals?" Oliver asked.

Wong-Wear told Oliver that if she turned down the panel some other less qualified person would have taken the space.

"Some other conversation is going to be here and it’s probably going to be more white, less queer, less revolutionary," Wong-Wear said. "I think a lot of conversations are binary, but our lives are far more fluid. I think a lot of it is navigating how we can be transformative in places that are fraught but recognize that our soul is elsewhere."

Desure and Some Free Sparkling Water

So Seattle does know how to dance?
So Seattle does know how to dance? Lester Black

After leaving Oliver's panel I headed towards KEXP, which is some sort of anti-festival zone during Bumbershoot. Instead of being crowded and expensive, KEXP has free sparkling water, clean bathrooms, and ample seating.

Desure, a country rock outfit from Los Angeles, was on KEXP's stage and laid down some electric Americana. Josh Desure, the band's songwriter and lead singer, could sing pretty when his band was quiet and he could holler when his band got loud. His lead guitarist knew how to lay down some good whammy pedal laden solos and the rhythm section kept it tight. At one point the band put down their instruments and sang Jackson Browne's "Rosie," accompanied only by their keyboardist. This kind of musicianship is the foundation of country music, more than most popular genres. And now that Nashville has largely abandoned country in favor of solo-cup-big-truck pop, places like Los Angeles are just as good for finding Americana acts.

Also, Desure told the crowd that he got engaged on Sunday. Congrats, man! Bumbershoot will live in your heart forever now.

Candy and Cardi B

I had my fill of free sparkling water and left KEXP to go see the Laser Dome's Cardi B show, one of the things I was most excited for at Bumbershoot. How would the Pacific Science Center use neon lights to bring alive the sounds of “Bodak Yellow"? Unfortunately, I'll never know because the show was at capacity. "We have no more room for Cardi B," a Science Center staffer yelled as I was waiting in line. "NONE OF YOU WILL BE ABLE TO SEE THE CARDI B SHOW."

Major bummer.

At this point, I was starving but had a problem. I lost my wallet on the bus, so I had no money. Luckily, Bumbershoot has become a kind of processed foods convention, where companies bring boxes of free food. My first freebie was a POWER CRUNCH Protein Energy Bar. It was peanut butter and fudge-flavored and tasted like a dry, flavorless wafer chocolate bar.

Free refreshment (if you spend $130 to get in).
Free refreshment (if you spend $130 to get in). Lester Black

I then snagged an entire bottle of kombucha. It wasn’t too tart and had a nice apple and pear flavor.

Rock on Black Pistol Fire
Rock on Black Pistol Fire Travis Trautt

As I enjoyed my foraged meal, I watched Black Pistol Fire, a blues-rock duo that sounded like The White Stripes if The White Stripes had a drummer. While I was sitting down some guy threw a box of Red Vines at me.

Incoming delivery of processed sugar.
Incoming delivery of processed sugar. Lester Black

Fleet Foxes Is Not Dance Music

I have been to about a half dozen Bumbershoots, most of those before 2009, and I have never seen Memorial Stadium as empty during a headlining set as it was during Fleet Foxes. I had no trouble getting within a few rows of the stage when I walked in about ten minutes before the band started.

That made their dramatic opening video, which culminated with the text “HELLO SEATTLE WE MISSED YOU,” a bit awkward. Maybe Seattle didn’t miss them as much? Or maybe it’s just AEG’s price gouging.

Regardless, Robin Pecknold’s music is some of the most evocative Western Washington art ever made. It competes with Twin Peaks for making you feel like you are in a misty evergreen forest. But even when Pecknold sang "White Winter Hymnal” and the big screen showed clips of craggy Cascade peaks, I couldn’t feel that cold yet cozy Fleet Foxes feeling.

Maybe it was AEG’s decision to splice those visuals with crowd cams of teenage girls screaming (for what?) and guys eating burritos. Or the group of people next to me trying to find a way to grind to Pecknold singing “I was following the pack, all swallowed in their coats/With scarves of red tied 'round their throats.”

That same segment of the crowd seemed intent on turning the slow build of “Fool’s Errand” into an EDM banger. While Pecknold sang about the existential dread of realizing life is pointless, these kids were searching for the bass drop, just waiting and wishing Pecknold’s strumming would turn into an EDM womp womp. But that doesn’t happen in this song, it just slowly builds and builds and then ends.

Most of the kids started to filter out of the crowd at this point, convinced that there would be no womp womp, which made the experience significantly better. I lit up a blunt and tried to share it with the people around me (all of whom declined, which is when I really knew this was not the Bumbershoot of my past).

Pecknold may write nearly all of the music for Fleet Foxes but the band is still very much an ensemble. The harmonizing backup vocals, which are shared widely in the band, sounded perfect during songs like “He Doesn’t Know Why,” one of the best tracks from their 2008 self-titled album. While Pecknold sings about the loneliness of a prodigal son discovering that returning home doesn’t solve his problems, the rest of the band backs him up with harmonies that would make the Allman Brothers proud. Fleet Foxes sounds like the Beach Boys, if Brian Wilson grew up in Kirkland listening to a lot of Neil Young.

Pecknold dropped plenty of hometown references during his banter between songs, remarking that they "debuted a lot of these songs at a Bumbershoot a long time ago.” The Westerlies, a brass quartet from Seattle, accompanied the band and Pecknold said that “80 percent of the stage is born and raised here.”

Fleet Foxes worked through most of their hits during their hour-long set, playing an impeccable and loud version of “Mykonos,” a triumphant rendition of “Third of May,” and closing on a thundering performance of “Helplessness Blues” that both left my eardrums ringing and wanting more.

As I left the Fleet Foxes, I walked by Phoenix starting their pop-rock set but felt no pull toward an hour of danceable guitar riffs and sing-along choruses. Maybe it was because I had made it through an entire Sunday at Bumbershoot with no beer. Or maybe it was because Fleet Foxes had tucked me into the approaching fall. Instead of wanting a nightclub rock set, I really just wanted to watch the leaves turn while damp clouds push up against the North Cascades. Summer is over and Fleet Foxes had me thinking about what comes next.