Open Letter to Bumbershoot: You are Too Expensive! And I Won’t Go Anymore.

Has Bumbershoot Become Seattle's Burning Man? Photo: Trey Ratcliff / Flickr

Has Bumbershoot Become Seattle’s Burning Man? Photo: Trey Ratcliff / Flickr

EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s a great piece in The Seattle Times by Danny Westneat that sheds light on the upsurge in Bumbershoot ticket prices. I wasn’t aware of this development but Bumbershoot, according to Westneat, is now run by Anschutz Entertainment Group. That doesn’t change what I have to say below. But it adds more information to work with. Read it here.

For those of you in Seattle, Bumbershoot is this Labor Day weekend, September 5, 6, and 7, 2015. I suggest that you NOT go. That is, unless you really want to burn through what have recently shot up to $100/day tickets. I was reading an insightful look at how Burning Man went from a groovy and authentic happening to a corporate playland just the other day. And it got me to thinking about Bumbershoot. If nothing else, maybe this could open up some discussion.

“Today is the last day to buy the $29 any day tickets, with which you can buy now and choose later.” — The Bumbershoot website, May 31, 2011

For those in Seattle, this letter to Bumbershoot may seem harsh or even unpatriotic somehow. But hear me out. For those outside of Seattle, here’s a taste of what happens when something good turns sour. Just how do you go from a $5/day, to a $30/day, to a staggering $100/day event–and pretend nothing’s wrong? And now you’ve got additional VIP-enhanced ticket prices too for an event that originally was simply a place to hear a lot of great music. At some point, Bumbershoot had no business expanding in size. It’s still held within the 74-acre Seattle Center. Total attendance last year was estimated to be 125,000 visitors. The venue has NOT gotten any bigger. Bumbershoot is a study in an overwhelmingly clogged gridlock of humanity. At some point, bigger is by no means better. That should be a lesson to the City of Seattle in general. And it should be something that compels Bumbershoot to stop and rethink.

What is, or was, Bumbershoot? This article from The Seattle Times from Sunday, August 27, 2000, proves useful. Read it here.

Dear Bumbershoot,

I wish we could somehow turn back the clock and return to a more carefree time. I’m wondering if that’s possible. I believe that it is. How do other similar events manage to entertain the city for a weekend and even do it for free? Now, I fully understand that there is only one Bumbershoot but I think you could learn a lot from the free and fun Northwest Folklife Festival. Sure, they incur plenty of expenses themselves and they make an organized effort to collect donations. Couldn’t Bumberhoot make a serious effort to drop ticket prices and seek out donations?

You don’t have to be an old fogie to recall when it was relatively cheap to buy tickets to go to Bumbershoot, Seattle’s landmark music and arts festival. Just observe the notice above. $30/day tickets were still a reality only four short years ago! Maybe you have to be a bit older to recall when it was totally affordable to the point that you bought a pass for the whole shebang without blinking an eye. And for you new locals, check this out, the event used to be free!

The Wikipedia post on Bumbershoot is rather thin. But it begins with one intriguing fact: the event was first run by the City of Seattle. It began in 1971 as a way to lift everyone’s spirits amid a major economic slump. Talk about doing the right thing! Bumbershoot ultimately fell under the control of the nonprofit, One Reel, which is known for a very expensive cabaret show, Teatro Zinzanni. I’m sorry but I’ve tried it, byway of a gift, and found their glitzy dinner theater extravaganza to be an overpriced spectacle. And I see that is what has become of Bumbershoot. As a nonprofit, you would think that One Reel would have it worked out where its ongoing Teatro Zinzanni, geared to upscale customers, would help finance the so-called people’s festival, Bumbershoot.

Anyway, all I wish to do here is say that I’ve got some good memories from Bumbershoot. However, I’ve also seen Bumbershoot become less accessible and more limited in its overall offerings. Keep in mind, I do appreciate that these packaged experiences don’t come cheap. I used to go to Lollapalooza when it was affordable too. Well, no one is going to boycott one of these events if they’ve convinced themselves it’s the most amazing thing ever. Bumbershoot used to be pretty amazing but I’ve seen the life sucked out of it. And part of the problem, the ongoing problem that will only get worse, is too many people! So, to some extent, if I were to persuade anyone to stay home, I’m doing Bumbershoot a huge favor.

I’m sorry, Bumbershoot. I’m just not feeling the love, despite your branding yourself as a people’s festival. But I still hold out some hope. Maybe you’ve just let yourself fly too close to the sun. It’s time to come down back to your roots. What do you say, Bumbershoot? Do you really want to be seen as Seattle’s Burning Man, a rich person’s version of cutting loose and having fun? I hope this may strike a chord with some old Bumbershoot fans from over the years. Again, I’m sorry but I had to say something. Did you think that no one would notice the skyrocketing prices? Or, if they did take note, did you think people would simply shrug it off? Well, maybe you did. But I speak for those who can’t just shrug it off. If you are truly a people’s festival, you will find a way to scale back and bring this event back to the people. Bumbershoot, you are no longer being true to yourself.

Think about it. Help me understand. But, at the end of the day, there’s got to be a way to lower those ticket prices. Don’t worry, we won’t miss any of the razzle dazzle that you may feel you need to cut from the schedule. One Reel, you can save that for Teatro Zinzanni. Hey, the show wasn’t all that bad. Just consider this: You won’t lose your core audience if you scale back and scaling back can be a good thing. Also look at it this way, it is a very practical idea. I miss you guys already.

Sincerely, your friend,


Filed under Bumbershoot, Entertainment, Music, One Reel, pop culture, Seattle

16 responses to “Open Letter to Bumbershoot: You are Too Expensive! And I Won’t Go Anymore.

  1. I think lower ticket prices will save Bumbershoot’s soul. How about a special discount for a Youth Pass, everyone 21 and younger gets in for half the price. One of the great things about Bumbershoot was that you got to go in and experience a lot of cool bands at one low price. But the coolest thing of all was that much younger listeners got to enjoy a whole lot of bands outside of a club.

  2. Jennifer Daydreamer

    The bottom line is that you do not receive $100.00 in entertainment in a day, even if you are there for twelve hours. Can they rebate me for the time spent waiting in line for any one given event? If they set up a rebate system (as 50% of your time is spent waiting in line to see something) it could work. Throw in the food as free (all you can eat) plus a rebate system for time spent doing nothing while waiting for events, then I would pay for a day ticket. I’m a former Bumbershoot contributor, so it’s not personal. I miss the old days when it was fun going and it was fun to contribute to it.

    • I like your out-of-the-box reasoning, Jennifer! I just don’t want to see us lose those good times at a fair price. Well, time will tell as to what happens next. It’s just not the Bumbershoot I know–and this wasn’t very long ago either.

  3. Thanks for the like of my post 3 month trip to America. I enjoy the cultural history presented here about Seattle which is our go to city when traveling to America.

  4. Hi! Actually, the razzle-dazzle is what I DO miss! The circus element — the people on stilts. The brass band which suddenly shows up and does a circuit of the grounds, with many celebrators in tow. The eye candy — colorful decor. All the rap stars they can fill the Key with will not take the place of the razzle-dazzle.

    I just blogged about my Monday, September 8, 2015 day at Bumbershoot on my WordPress blog. I gotta tell you, this was the UGLIEST Bumbershoot I’ve ever seen. Black fences everywhere. Beer gardens which intruded into our sitting/listening/dancing space. Corporate booths which replaced many, many food vendors and art stalls. Do you realize that the entire indie art mart which had become a part of the festival in the last few years was gone, with no explanation? And, the Visual Arts pavilion contained only two exhibits.

    I’m saying keep the “extras”. Get rid of the ugly. Have cheaper, more regional bands if you need to lower the cost.

    Thanks for writing your piece. It’s kind of hard to find critical writing about the festival. It took me a lot of searching to find your piece; but I’m glad I did.

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Randy! Well, I fully support your idea of razzle-dazzle. I was thinking of the big ticket acts that One Reel felt so compelled to court. Hey, it worked for me back in the day. I figured that such superstars as David Bowie and Beck were performing at scale. I mean, how else could it work? It’s sort of nuts for One Reel to have tried to keep up with other music festivals and let itself nosedive. So, now we’re told to trust AEG Live. Well, maybe they should treat me to a couple of Emerald VIP passes. That would definitely help but not really. Seriously, scale back on the super-high-end entertainment (although I would miss the likes of Ellie Goulding) and focus on local talent. Or surprise me in some terrific way–just lower the ticket prices too! And, whatever you do, don’t neglect the authentic razzle-dazzle!

  5. Bumbershoot 2015 was not a great experience for most vendors.
    The weather didn’t help, but the new layout was not kind.
    From my observations: Put bathrooms near beer gardens, on both sides of the fence. Put signage up in areas that are well lit after dark, it makes people less confused if they can see the signs. Between shows or stages, people tend to want to eat or look at things, and since you need a bit of sonic distance between stages anyway, put the food and stuff along the way. A few areas of fenced, but poorly lit space appeared abandoned. Many of the underage attendees could not cut through the beer gardens, but luckily they were young enough to cover the distances. Some vendors did not have power until late the second day. Luckily the business next to me was Om Zappy, and they have the type of positive attitude that uplifts the people around them. We have a small family business and my kids were going to help in shifts, but since there was really no business they drifted over to the music instead. During the biggest part of the thunder shower people spotted our tent from afar and ducked under to stay dry. One can not survive on guilt sales alone tho 🙂 We could have bought 10 tickets for the booth fee, without any set up or boxes to carry:) Like others have said, it was an adjustment year. And isn’t every year of our lives an adjustment year? The young folks running things were very personable, the event just felt less diverse, colorful, and community based. Maybe in 2017 Seattle can find a way to embrace dissociative corporatization, how does Trump Fest sound?

    • Quite right, just call it Trumpland or some such name. Since being taken over by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), Bumbershoot is no longer Bumbershoot. But AEG paid good money for the brand so it stays. Seattle corporate interests and the like would like to pretend nothing is wrong and that adds to the dysfunction! What should have happened was a common sense scaling back to bring everything to human scale.

  6. Rick Goettling

    I have attended Bumpershoot for 30 years. It was a regular thing to look forward too for me and my family. I will no longer attend because the ticket prices have made the festival no longer worth it to me. Other Cities have found a way to have sophisticated music festivals and keep the cost down. Portland Waterfront Blues festival costs only $10.00 to get in for the best blues acts in the country. They also embrace the local talent and haven’t made it into a Hollywood glitter fest. The money raised went to Oregon food banks. I remember when Bumper was still a soulful local Festival. But from now on I will no longer attend. I will be looking for alternative things to do during that weekend.

    • Rick,
      I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. Well, it’s the truth. But no one need feel regretful if they miss Bumbershoot because the real Bumbershoot no longer exists!! A corporation took over the brand. I feel bad for anyone who is stuck in a place not knowing what to do. I believe there is a lot of confusion. Some people shrug and join the bandwagon. Some just think they need to be loyal. And some can afford to not care and just go. But this is an incredibly crowded mess with, no disrespect to any of the performers, a relatively meager list of talent. People can fight back the corporations and just not go. You’re doing yourself a favor.

  7. Pingback: Comix Scene: Bumbershoot No More | Comics Grinder

  8. Tammy

    Today my husband had thought it would be fun to take our 2 kids to Bumbershoot. Only remembering what it was like when we were kids and thinking our teenagers would enjoy the festival. We stepped up to the ticket counter and after my husband said 4 day pass tickets we heard the man say ” That will be $600 please” , “What?”, “4 passes at $150 a piece, $600”
    We turned around and walked away. We had no idea. We remember going as children for free!. So instead took the monorail into town, went to Pike Place, listened to street musicians, ate food from around the world, and came home having put out barely $100. No thank you Bumbershoot! Seattle has better things to offer!

    • You are absolutely correct, Tammy! Thank you for sharing your experience. I also love Seattle and, just like you and your family, I have found good value for my money at various locales. Indeed, Pike Place Market is one of your best options during a visit.

  9. emily

    I LIVED at Bumbershoot as a highschooler in the ’90s. For a few bucks a day we packed lunches and moshed our grungy hearts out, discovering new bands while we waited for the ones we really wanted to see.

    When I look at the ticket prices now, I know that Bumbershoot has lost its soul, and it really saddens me. Even if I (as an adult with a decent job!) felt I could afford to go to this, I wouldn’t want to. Events that only the well-to-do can afford are rarely very vibrant, in my experience.

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