Macklemore filled Key Arena during Bumbershoot.

Change is constant at Bumbershoot. But revelers who walked through the gates at Seattle Center and into the 40-year-old festival over Labor Day weekend would be excused for thinking the festival was not just changing, but dying. The Fun Forest amusement park was no more, the Broad Street Stage had gone missing and the festival’s longtime centerpiece, Memorial Stadium, was silent.

The truth is that the festival was adapting. With Seattle Center transforming to accommodate a new Chihuly glass art museum, it lost the largely-underutilized-anyway amusement park and was forced to drop the popular Broad Street Stage. And the changing contours of the festival circuit—now with dozens of weekend-long gatherings across the nation with deeper pockets competing for talent—meant that the non-profit-run Bumbershoot had to make some concessions.

After a dismal outing last year, overabundant with rain and lacking in bodies, the fest finally gave in and scaled down its budget and expectations. Instead of big-name headliners anchoring each of its three days with spectacular shows in Memorial Stadium, Bumbershoot moved its main stage indoors, to the smaller Key Arena, and brought in more affordable talent.

“Even for me, I wasn’t sure,” says programming director Chris Porter. “This was my 15th Bumbershoot and for the first 14 we’ve had the stadium as part of the plan.”

Instead of chart-topping talent like Katy Perry and the Black Eyed Peas or an icon like Bob Dylan in the 2,000-capacity Memorial Stadium, Key Arena welcomed second-tier artists Ray Lamontagne, Wiz Khalifa and Hall & Oates.

Initial numbers indicate that, despite the shift in headliners, attendance held steady from last year at 30- to 35,000 each day. Last year those numbers meant an abject failure, but this year they were right on target.

“I really think we should have done this before,” Porter says. “Overall, we came away feeling that we went in the right direction, much to the chagrin of some people who wanted the big headliners.”

Some of those people began circulating news that Bumbershoot’s future was on the line. If the new plan did not go well, the rumor went, the festival would not return.

“That was a rumor started by people who like to talk, complain and be dramatic,” Porter says. “There’s a lot of that and that’s okay. I appreciate their passion, but, no, there was never any talk of ending it. We were planning to be back next year, as we do every year.” 

Photography by Greg Nissen