Bumbershoot: A Love Story

Bumbershoot photo by Christopher Nelson.

Bumbershoot photo by Christopher Nelson.

Seattle’s festival of arts & music, Bumbershoot is one of my favorite annual events. Growing up in a small town about an hour away, I jumped at any chance to visit the “big city” for music and festivals. I attended my first Bumbershoot in the 1980s, and became a lifelong fan.

I didn’t know then how unique Bumbershoot was in the universe of arts festivals, and I probably wouldn’t have cared, anyway. I knew that it was a celebration of things I loved—music, theater, film, visual arts and community.  It was, and is, a festival that mingles old favorites and new discoveries, with a quirky spirit and a palpable sense of fun.

Bumbershoot 2014: August 30 – September 1

Bumbershoot has been held at Seattle Center every Labor Day weekend for 44 years, and I have eagerly attended the last 30 or so. It’s one of my not-to-be-messed-with happy traditions. My friends know: no matter how awesome their Labor Day weekend party/bbq/softball tournament/charity event/moon landing/GeorgeClooneyiscomingtodinner/whathaveyou will be, I won’t be available.

It’s Bumbershoot weekend.

Being older and (hopefully) wiser, I now recognize how rare Bumbershoot is. It’s North America’s largest urban arts festival, and its notably central location, smack dab in the city at the 74-acre Seattle Center campus (home of the 1962 World’s Fair and the famous Space Needle), sets it apart from many other national festivals. Seattle Center offers a great mix of venues: small and large, indoor and outdoor, and festival niceties like tasty restaurants and real restrooms.  The site is easily accessible by car, metro bus, shared ride service or a two minute monorail ride from the heart of the downtown Seattle retail core.  Nearby hotels are plentiful, you can stay in style and whisk over to the grounds without breaking a sweat. No camping in a muddy field necessary. And if your energy holds out, you’ve got the whole city of Seattle to explore.

The Head and The Heart, photo by Curtis Wayne Millard

The Head and The Heart, photo by Curtis Wayne Millard

What else sets Bumbershoot apart?  Eclectic and visionary programming. It’s not just music, although you can easily fill your three days seeing bands you love, bands you’ve never heard of  (and who are often just about to blow up big), legendary artists with decades of performing experience, or fresh voices right from the great Northwest. But there’s also the lure of comedy, short films, theater, “words and ideas” programming by writers for the likes of The Simpsons and The Onion, visual arts, spectacle, indie crafts, food, beer. Flatstock. Etc. Seriously. All that.

Family friendly?  A big YES. There’s a whole slate of activities for the younger set, appropriately named “Youngershoot.”  Kids 10 and under get in free to the festival, when accompanied by a ticketed adult.

Speaking of tickets, your choices include single day, three day, and gold and platinum passes.  Make it easy, book a hotel package and make a weekend of it!  A couple tips: prices go up at the gate, so buy in advance and save time and money. And enhance your festival experience with the free mobile app.

Bumbershoot: Art in the Great Northleft, August 30-September 1

Bumbershoot: Art in the Great Northleft, August 30-September 1

Get all the scoop here: bumbershoot.org.  And I’ll see you there!

About the Author

Tracey Wickersham

Tracey Wickersham is the Senior Director of Cultural Tourism at Visit Seattle. In her off hours she’s the dj & host of a weekly music program on KBCS 91.3 FM and a board member at 4Culture, supporting arts, heritage, public art and historic preservation in King County. You'll often find her at the Tractor Tavern enjoying great bands, walking along the water and watching for seals and eagles at Lincoln Park, or in one of Seattle's many live theater venues. She lives in West Seattle with her husband, decidedly un-Kondo-like amounts of books and music, and a stubbornly weedy garden.

More Posts By Tracey Wickersham
Tracey Wickersham


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