One Reel has been racing against the calendar since December, when the nonprofit announced a partnership with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and the City of Seattle to keep Bumbershoot alive—but the festival's near-death experience put it months behind schedule. At the time of the announcement, One Reel director Heather Smith said that AEG would pay off the festival's debt and financially back its future, while the nonprofit would keep some autonomy and "maintain the essential character of the festival." But the question was—and remains—how will that collaboration play out? How much latitude will the world's second-largest music promoter, and owner of many profitable sports and entertainment venues, give an old and weakened Seattle nonprofit?
Yesterday, Bumbershoot announced its music lineup (featuring Peaches, Cake, Bread & Butter, and other important food groups), indicating that this year's festival will not be a dramatic departure from other years—except for the pressure-cooker timeline.
"We're going as fast as we can to make sure we have a 2015 festival," Smith said in an interview after yesterday's announcement. AEG, she explained, was "primarily focused on the music side of things," while One Reel was still working on the festival's non-music elements—film, comedy, etc.—which will be announced in late June or early July.
"Our goal was to make sure there was something for everybody," said AEG vice president Rob Thomas. Is that goal different from any of the other festivals they put together? "Some of the other festivals that we have are a little more focused on a certain demographic," he said. "This is Seattle’s festival and for Seattle."
There are definitely some local names in the mix: Chimurenga Renaissance, Constant Lovers, Nacho Picasso, Dead Moon. There are some prestige names for both casual and wonky listeners: Neko Case, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Flying Lotus. And there are some musicians that summon memories of my May-morn youth, when I was ripe for exploits and mighty enterprises: Babes in Toyland, Ben Harper, Social Distortion. (And I overheard a DJ for Warm 106.9 express some excitement about Ellie Goulding and Hozier, whoever they might be.)
Seattle has always had a love/hate relationship with Bumbershoot as the festival has veered from one direction (local focus) to another (big-name focus) and back again. The variation in focus is partially due to the festival's 45-year history—back when it began, there was no Sasquatch! festival or Coachella, and for a long time it was a premier vehicle for seeing major national and international acts. As then-One Reel executive director Jon Stone explained back in August of 2014 (just three months before it became apparent that Bumbershoot was in deep, deep shit):
"What's been happening with the music industry in general—and festivals in particular—is a path towards unsustainability. They're not local, curated celebrations anymore. Global corporations run them." And when global corporations take over music festivals, he says, "innovation stops and the soulless and relentless milking of the consumer dollar starts."
By trying to "follow the leaders" and act like a for-profit festival instead of a 501(c)(3) cultural institution—which it is—One Reel was authoring its own blandness and its own destruction.
The 2014 festival, he said, was an attempted return to its roots. But it was also a financial catastrophe, necessitating the partnership with AEG.
Smith and Thomas said Bumbershoot's debts were mostly paid off—in the high 90th percentile—and that all the workers at last year's festival have finally been paid.
Thomas added that there would be a few changes attendees might look forward to: the use of KeyArena as well as the stadium for the bigger shows, and more participation from Seattle Center's resident organizations, such as Pacific Science Center. "We've got a couple of programming elements we're still working through," he said, "but the goal is to get some of the acts performing in KeyArena to come over and perform for a laser light show for a smaller audience." Ticket prices have also increased a little, to $79 for a day pass and $163.50 for a three-day pass (including fees). That's up from $40/$125 in 2012, and $70 for walk-up day passes/$110 for advance three-day passes in 2014. (Full disclosure: Stranger Tickets has been handling Bumbershoot's ticket sales since 2011.)
Smith and Thomas also said the city had been "amazing" in helping "move the festival forward" and emphasized the "positivity" of yesterday morning's lineup announcement.
"Any given year is one person's best-ever year and another person's worst-ever year," Stone said back in August. "Every year we are beat up and held up as champions at the same time, which is part of the fun."
Let's see what kind of fun this summer will hold.