Bumbershoot puts Vancouver to Shame / by Dean Belder

Some fans at Bumbershoot

Microsoft, Toyota, Annheiser Busch, McDonalds, Starbucks. 

What do all these corporations have in common, other than being capitalist behemoths?

They are among the largest sponsors to Seattle’s Bumbershoot arts and music festival.  Given this number and magnitude of sponsors one would think that this would turn a festival into little more than a shill, a forum for these sponsors. 

Yes Starbucks name is plastered all over the place.  McDonalds was there giving out samples of some sort of iced beverage.  There were references to Windows phone at most stages during band introduction.  Toyota had their booth setup with some cars on display, and what would a festival be without beer gardens?

None of it however detracted from the main events, the music and the arts, and that is an important thing to note.  Because truthfully this kind of festival wouldn’t be possible without this corporate sponsorship, and it all helps One Reel, a not for profit group, put on a world-class event as it has for more than forty years.  This level of support not only helps them showcase local talent on a world stage, but also to provide free tickets for Seattle’s poorest residents to attend the festival as well. 

It exposes Seattle to a breadth of musical talent, from icons of the last 50 years, like Eric Burdon, and The Zombies, to relative new comers St. Paul De Vence and Kithkin.  Global sounds like New York’s Red Baraat, or Aurelio, to Seattle’s Total Experience Gospel Choir. 

This is not a one off event.  This happens every year.  I’m sure even now as the grounds are cleaned, stages torn down, and equipment loaded back into trucks, One Reel is already hard at work planning for next year.


Katie Kate at Bumbershoot

Coming from Vancouver, one must question why this kind of festival doesn’t happen here

Sure there was Olio, its organizers now too tired, or too busy to continue its promotion.  Perhaps they didn’t want to bend to corporate will, or perhaps they became frustrated navigating the bureaucracy that has contributed to Vancouver as no fun city. 

With Whistler, Squamish, and Victoria all having considerable festivals, not to mention Sasquatch, one is left to wonder where Vancouver is on the summer music festival tour? Especially more than forty years after Seattle began theirs.

I highly doubt it’s proximity to these others.  Most after all have only come into existence in the last few years.  It’s not due to other festivals in the city, you’d be hard pressed to find a city without Jazz, and folk music festivals.  Calgary, and Seattle both do, yet both still manage to put on their own popular music festivals as well. 

Surely it isn’t space.  In fact we have our own space similar to Seattle Center.  Perhaps not as picturesque, the PNE grounds would be an ideal space with different areas to allow for a host of outdoor and indoor stages, art exhibitions and theatre, as well as a large arena to play host to larger acts. 

Let’s be honest though. While folk and jazz fests cater to a variety of tastes, their long time patrons are well established, middle and upper class, and middle aged.  Not to mention since the folk fest happens in Jericho Park it is well insulated from the noise that may carry, and limits neighborhood exposure. 

Noise.  Bylaws.  No Fun.

Beats Antique at Bumbershoot

While Vancouver is trying to change many things to counteract the reputation it’s developed, adding food carts, extending patio hours in “some” neighborhoods, it amounts to nothing more than window dressing. 

If Vancouver wants to actually call itself a world-class city it has to act like it, and stop kowtowing to a market more concerned about property values, than quality of life.  In the modern age, to be world class means to play host to events that appeal to people of all ages, and all walks of life.

It would be easy if Vancouver didn’t have an arts scene, but that’s not true.  Vancouver has a thriving arts and music scene.  We house an internationally recognized art school, and two university level arts programs, producing hundreds of artists over the years, with more than a handful becoming stars of their own rights in the visual arts world.  From Jack Shadbolt, to Douglas Copeland, the arts in Vancouver has been renowned for nearly a hundred years. 

Musically speaking Vancouver has been home to many artists who went on to be global superstars.  While not from here, both Jimmy Hendrix, and Heart called Vancouver home, and have acknowledged its significance in their development.  Mushroom studios was here for more than 50 years before shuttering its doors just a few years ago, and became a favorite not only among local acts, but global names as well.

Loverboy, Trooper, and Swollen Members all came out of Vancouver, and have gone on to their own global stardom, yet it seems these days all we’re known for is Nickleback, and they’re from Alberta.  Up and coming bands like the AK-747s, Jackie Treehorn, and The Brass Action are all facing up-hill battles that they might not face in cities like Seattle, or Portland, certainly not as steep.  Not just because of events like Bumbershoot, but because of a general lack of support for the arts.


A fan dances at Bumbershoot EDM@EMP

Vancouver, and Vancouverites need to lighten-up, we’ve shown great support for up and coming restaurateurs’, and chefs.  Perhaps this hasn’t extended to the other cultural forms because food is easy, it doesn’t pose the same kind of intellectual challenge presented by the visual arts, nor is it noisy, so it doesn’t affect the sleep cycle of the middle class home owner for a handful of nights out of 365, and it certainly doesn’t devalue the properties of investors looking to make a quick buck. 

There is no upside to the situation.  We’ve sacrificed our culture, and we’ve received a moniker no city should be proud of.  There’s a documentary film about it.  Do a search on google and you’ll find that the term no-fun-city is almost exclusively linked to Vancouver.  Sure there is a 24 article that tries to dispel this notion, and it fails miserably, pointing out the standard, mainstream, and mainly already established fare on Granville as a reason why there is fun, but gloss over the closing of the Waldorf and other smaller venues, which were home to Vancouver based arts and culture.

Most of the bands playing in these smaller venues rely on them to have some recognition, but still only end up “preaching to the choir”, the same people every show.  Rarely do you see someone from outside of the “hipster”, “art”, or “alternative” class set foot in these venues, and the opportunities for these artists to gain recognition with a mainstream audience are few and far between. 

One Reel states that a minimum of one third of Bumbershoots line up is reserved for local acts, even though by my estimates local acts made up more than 50% of the performers this year.  Its given exposure to hundreds of local bands over the years, and having a similar festival in Vancouver could do the same.  Playing small venues to the same crowd all the time, and DIY only gets you so far, bands need to diversify their audience in order to find success, at some point support from the community is needed.  Bumbershoot is a stellar event, and compliments Seattle’s history of musical talent, and gives a world stage for not only the established acts, but also many up and coming acts within the local scene.


 !!! at Bumbershoot

The argument might be different if the city wouldn’t benefit from an event of the magnitude of Bumbershoot and the others, but the fact is they would, these festivals have proven to be immensely bankable.  Coachella brought in more than $250 million to the local economies, $90 million to Indio itself in 2011, and that’s before it expanded to two weekends in 2012.  Outside Lands generated $67 million for San Francisco that same year, along with 683 full time temporary jobs.  More than $160 million went to Austin following SXSW, and $207 million to Las Vegas following the EDM dance party that is Electric Daisy Carnival.

Then again Vancouver city council isn’t in the pocket of artists, and small business, but the developers who don’t need culture to sell a city more known for its laid back attitudes, and pristine beauty.  Why mess that up with a bunch of smelly hippies, punks, and loud music. 

As a city Vancouver needs to lighten up.  It needs to relax, and realize that a few days of noise out of the years isn’t going to kill anyone, but could have an enormous benefit to the local arts and music scene, as well as supporting businesses in the community. If the Bob Rennies want to claim they support the arts in Vancouver, why don’t they pony up some sponsorship for a major initiative like a popular music and arts festival, especially one that puts local talent first, and sees a long term goal of development rather than investment?  They could certainly use some good PR these days.

I might be idealistic but I’m also realistic.  I know something like this could happen in Vancouver, and I know sponsorship is essential, we have more than a few local “Starbucks” style coffee chains, and it’s participation in Bumbershoot hasn’t hurt them in the subsequent 43 years, and it hasn’t hurt the festival either.  In fact it’s helped keep it local and helped keep a focus on the arts, something we can and should be striving for. 

Why just settle for just being an awesome looking place when we could be an awesome place all around.  Then maybe we’ll be mentioned in the same breath as other world class cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Calgary.


A Bumbershoot fan

World Class Cities and their music Festivals

Where: Calgary

What: Sled Island

When: Every summer since 2007 (Cancelled in 2013 due to flooding)

Sled Island is a multi-venue festival taking place over four days.  The purpose of the festival is to showcase emerging and local talents alongside established national and international talents.  Including: Buzzcocks, Of Montreal, Wire, Anvil, Girl Talk, Mother Mother, and Holy Fuck.

Where: Toronto

What: North by North East

When: Annually in June since 1995

NXNE is another Multi-venue festival, patterned after Austin’s South by Southwest.  The festival plays out over the course of a week playing host to hundreds of bands and is an important stop for many emerging bands, and also giving attendees the opportunity to see much larger bands in small and intimate venues.  Past performers include: Hidden Towers, Flaming Lips, K-OS, Nu Sensae, Roomrunner and Big Black Delta.

Where: Seattle

What: Bumbershoot

When: Labor Day weekend since 1971

Bumbershoot originally began as the Mayor’s arts festival, and provided a showcase of local artists and musicians. In 2013 the Festival welcomed its 7 millionth guest.  Over the years the festival has provided a venue for hundreds of artists including Japandroids, James Brown, Bob Dylan, The Eurythmics, Soundgarden, Shabazz Palaces, and Mad Rad.

Where: Portland

What: MusicFestNW

When: Annually since 1995

Originally called North by Northwest the festival changed its name in 2001.  Based on SXSW it is a multi-venue festival spread out over five days.  The festival attracts nearly 40000 visitors, and more than 150 bands, many of whom are local.  Past performers include Dinosaur Jr., the Hives, Decemberists, Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis, and Beirut.

Where: San Francisco

What: Outside Lands arts and music Festival

When: Annually since 2008

Golden Gate Park plays host to this relative new comer on the festival circuit, but youth hasn’t deterred the festival from attracting more than 50 thousand visitors on each of the 3 days.  More than 60 acts from all over the world play on a number of stages.  Past attendees include: Paul McCartney, Bon Iver, Pearl Jam, Santigold, Yacht, and Matt and Kim.

Where: Vancouver

What:  It’s a good question

When: Um?

With the closing of olio fest, the closest thing Vancouver proper has had to any of the other festivals, the city seems to be in dire straights. One should note the attendance numbers of these other festivals, bringing in tens of thousands of visitors, many from out of town.  Contributing greatly to the local economy, these festivals can be a boon to local businesses, entrepreneurs, and of course artists.  Somewhere, it’s a source overlooked by the City of Vancouver.