The future of Seattle’s Bumbershoot music festival was looking bleak last fall. The festival’s attendance was in a freefall and the event’s producer, AEG, declined to renew their contract with the city. It looked uncertain whether Bumbershoot would make it to its 50th anniversary.
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But the show will go on. The city and One Reel, the nonprofit with the exclusive contract to present Bumbershoot, said this week that the festival will return to Seattle Center—although expect to see a smaller event this year.
“We will produce the festival in 2020,” said Marty Griswold, the executive director of One Reel, “but I think it’s safe to say that we will have to downsize to some degree, to be able to deliver that. Our goal is to provide a sustainable future long-term for the festival and be financially responsible in those actions.”
Debora Daoust, a spokesperson for Seattle Center, confirmed that the city is confident the publicly-owned festival will be produced this year.
“One Reel and Seattle Center continue negotiations on an agreement for this year’s festival, so yes,” Daoust said.
Griswold and Daoust declined to provide any other information about the festival or what it might look like in its downsized version, but they said there would be more information released sometime in March.
The financial burden of putting on Bumbershoot will certainly be a heavy lift for One Reel’s finances. The non-profit, which currently has seven full time employees according to Griswold, had held an exclusive permit to produce the festival since 1980, but AEG had to bail One Reel out of nearly a million dollars in debt in 2017 after that debt threatened the festival’s future. AEG has functioned as a sub-licensee for the festival for the last five years, providing the financial backing needed in order to book international musical acts, provide security, and run the logistics.
Ticket prices rose precipitously under AEG’s control, going from $120 for a three-day pass in 2014 to $130 for a single-day ticket in 2018. Attendance also dropped during the time period, with more than 100,000 people buying tickets in 2013 to only about 48,000 people buying tickets in 2018. AEG declined to provide attendance figures for last year’s festival.
Griswold declined to say whether ticket prices would be lowered for this year’s festival, but he emphasized that returning to the “ideals of Bumbershoot” is a priority for One Reel. Bumbershoot started as a free festival, and cost only about $20 a day in the mid-2000s.
“One Reel’s goals are shared by the community at large—we want to present an event that is inclusive and is as dynamic as the city that hosts it,” Griswold said. “And I’m really excited about how things are shaping up and where we are going with it, so stay tuned.”
Daoust said the city is exploring bringing other vendors in to help run future Bumbershoots.
“Seattle Center continues to work with One Reel on the 2020 festival, while we explore a new sustainable model moving forward in 2021 and beyond,” Daoust said.