So you’ve got your Bumbershoot tickets and you’re poring over the packed schedule in eager anticipation. If you’ve been to Seattle’s premiere urban festival before, you know the lines and crowds can get pretty ridiculous. Your fear of missing out, aka FOMO, will kick into high gear if you’re stuck in an endless line of jabbering teens waiting to get into KeyArena while a half-dozen other great bands are playing. And if you burn out early and join the zonked-out zombies aimlessly hanging out at the fountain, you will regret it. So here are a few tips from a seasoned festival veteran to help you maximize your Bumbershoot experience and minimize your desire to fight with strangers.
Tip 1: Skip the headliners. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but it will make your Bumbershoot better, trust me. Lines for KeyArena have stretched for up to two hours, time that could have been spent catching some three to five other acts. Think of KeyArena as a sort of holding pen for the festival’s less-informed attendees. Other indoor venues, especially those for comedy acts, will also require a long line wait, so you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of spending your time queued up. But Bumbershoot is all about variety. Consider bopping among outdoor stages only, where you won’t have to wait and can catch as many bands as you can. My personal one-day record is 21 (partial) acts, which almost matched the number of blisters I acquired running between stages.
Tip 2: Don’t skip anything else. Bumbershoot is one of the more varied festivals around, with a great mix of big and small acts, local and international, new and old. There really is something here for everyone. So consider letting set time and distance between venues determine what act to see next, instead of picking only the few bands you already know and love. Bumbershoot is a great place to discover new favorites. If you are digging an act, great, stay there. But if you leave before the set is over, you can avoid the mass exodus and catch a few songs from the band on your next stage before they finish. Set times are rigidly predictable, so get your hopes up for encores only from the last act of the night on any given stage.
Tip 3: Do your research. You will be inundated with music, art, and spectacle galore at Bumbershoot, and after a full day, it can start to get a little fuzzy. So do your YouTube homework beforehand and read the artist bios provided by the festival. It will help you to contextualize what you see, which will lead to greater enjoyment.
Tip 4: Time your attack. If you absolutely, positively need to see a particular hit by a particular band, you may well have to hang out through an entire set. But more often than not I’ve found that bands open with their latest single and close with their biggest breakthrough hit. This is of course not always the case.
Tip 5: Take a break. I know this one sounds obvious, but I find it is important to pick a time to sit down, eat something real, rehydrate, and just chill for a bit. You can run yourself ragged jogging all over Seattle Center; your body and mind will need a little down time. Pace yourself. If you are overwhelmed by the crowds, find a quiet(er) corner. Or even consider stepping out of the festival grounds and grabbing a meal in Lower Queen Anne, then re-entering refreshed and ready to rage once more.
Tip 6: Don’t drink too much booze. At the risk of sounding like a teetotaling finger-wagger, I would caution against partying too hard. Of course at any given festival there will be scores of wasteoids, some of whom may appear to be having a great time. But you came to actually experience the fest and see the acts, right? Drinks are pricey, and frequent bathroom stops will cut into your front-and-center show time. Lines for beer gardens can also eat up a lot of your precious time.
Tip 7: Sell your soul to corporate coffee. I am no great booster of corporate coffee, but the Starbucks Lounge offers a few very nice perks: free caffeinated beverages, comfy seats near a stage, and bathrooms with reasonable lines. You have to become a My Starbucks Rewards member at starbucks.com before the fest to gain access to the Lounge.
Tip 8: Redeem your soul with community radio. The KEXP Music Lounge is one of the great, if not well-kept, secrets of Bumbershoot. Held in a small black-box theater, these stripped-down five-song sets are the only shows at the whole festival where everyone in the audience is listening attentively. Every seat in the house is a great one, but there aren’t many to be had. You have to RSVP at kexp.org ahead of time to get in, so you might be out of luck at this point. But make a note for next year. These sets are also broadcast live on-air during the festival.
Tip 9: Wear earplugs. Yes, another curmudgeonly old-person tip, but one that will up your enjoyment and longevity immensely. Live music is loud—too loud, in many cases—because it needs to reach the back of a big crowd. You want to be about one-third of the way back from the stage, between the speakers where the sound is optimal. If you stand there for every show, you will tire out your ears and leave with ringing in your head and possible hearing damage. Invest in some decent musician earplugs, which take out just the right amount of excess noise, and save your ears for many years of shows to come.
Tip 10: Don’t talk during a concert. OK, this tip is more for my enjoyment and the enjoyment of everyone else around you. But it is amazing how many people will push up front at a show and then spend the whole time jabbering to their friends. If you must communicate in the midst of the music, get right next to your friend’s ear—like lobe-nuzzlingly close—and use a hushed tone. You will be better heard than if you try to shout over the music, and you won’t ruin that tasty jam for those around you who actually came to listen to the band playing.
Oh yes, and one more thing: HAVE FUN! Dance, let your hair down, and allow that Seattle freeze to thaw for the last few summery days before the inevitable return to soul-crushing darkness.