Bumbershoot

The last time I went to Bumbershoot was back in the early 90’s with my musician friend Dave. I’ve always been a bit crowdophobic—even back then it was like wading through chunky peanut butter, and I hear it’s even worse now. But still, there were some memorable highlights.

It started out early at Memorial Stadium–so early, in fact, that the enormous 20-foot tall inflatable Miller Lite bottles flanking the stage were still only half-full, their tops flopped over. We were there for bluesman Buddy Guy, a must-see for me. I’d seen him and Junior Wells several years earlier, tearing the roof off a small club.

Okay, detour: that was in Santa Fe, I was standing in the front of the Club West crowd with my guitarist friend Tim Gagan, and at some point I couldn’t help but clap to the beat. Junior pointed at me and said, “I want y’all to do what he’s doing–soul clappin’.” I was so shocked, I stopped. He said, “No, keep it up.” So I did, and everyone else joined in. Junior listened for a minute, then said, “I don’t like the way you clap,” and launched into a kick-ass harmonica solo. Talk about not pandering to an audience (looking at you, Tony).

Anyway, when Buddy Guy took the stage, we weren’t disappointed. How good was he? Suffice it to say, by the time the set was over, the Miller Lite bottles were fully erect. (Ah, beer-filled penises: the perfect symbol of summer.) My one complaint was that even in this short 40-minute set, he still left the stage so we could kneel and plead for an encore, which, after our obligatory fellatio, he eventually deigned to provide. I guess if you get a musician up before noon, he’s going to make you pay.

One thing I like about festivals, though, is the nibbling. Nibbling at Vietnamese, Guatemalan, and Thai food; nibbling at the guitars and horns and drums, singers and dancers; salsa for the tongue, for the ears, for the feet. Even nibbling at a sour accordion (wash that one down with a beer).

Ali Farka Toure was great too, playing in the hot sun in his deep purple robe. I wondered how he could stand it, but he’s from Mali—the Seattle version of hot was probably like the dead of winter for him. (“Damn, wish I’d brought my warm robe.”) There was something regal about him, though, and he sort of presided over the show, if one can preside funkily. And the Malian percussion is wondrous—it has chops like Indian percussion, but it feels like it’s hotwired into the streetlamp of life, rather than being properly connected to an ornate temple.

The day turned into night, and we ended up at Aaron Neville’s show. Very danceable. At one point they played a medley, and I turned to Dave and said, “Isn’t this great?”

“Um, not really. I’m not into medleys—they take these tunes with their own unique identities, and compress them all into the same key and tempo.” I realized he was right, and immediately stopped enjoying myself. Don’t you love going to shows with musicians?

Near the end, I found myself dancing next to a tall woman with light brown hair. It felt timeless, as if we were big birds, maybe storks, doing a flappy ritual mating dance on some African plain. Being unattached at the time, I had hopes. But I guess I didn’t have the right moves, or pheromones, or whatever. Oh well, I thought, maybe next year.

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