The common misconception with regards to the Northwest is that the rain never ceases. And it’s not just any old rain—we’re talking wondrous deluges of biblical proportions.
Still, every year, on what is considered to be the last legitimate weekend of the summer the sun decides to irradiate one last time. It’s as though a prime-mover wiped the bleariness straight from your eyes. People of all colors, shapes and sizes surface from the sinkholes with high hopes of seizing the moment. Everyone drops whatever it is they are doing to soak up that singular concession of sunshine.
Yet whether it be the benign climate or the bustling synergy amidst the multifarious masses, the music is the one magical thread that truly ties the whole experience together.
Performers like Bay Area funk and soul singer Darondo—the man, the myth, the legend—artfully thread the needle. His remarkable journey, albeit tumultuous and murky, is conveyed succinctly in a sermonic slew. And his commanding performance of such relatively neglected hits, particularly the Isley-esque “Didn’t I,” evinces an overwhelming sense of triumph.
The mere mental picture is a delight in many respects, for it has been over thirty years since the release of three stand-out 45s. But perhaps even more satisfying to uninformed onlookers is Darondo’s sexually-driven tone, which tends to be tackled with an innate physical fervor. An excess of groping amidst songs like “Legs” really left nothing to the imagination. Possessing an insatiable sense of prurient curiosity—cherries, whipped cream and all—he is, arguably, as ribald now as he was then.
Between doing the splits and crooning the intense, archetypally woeful tune “How I Got Over,” his salacious grin never faltered. But when all was said and done, it was the voluminous trousers, which billow out around his meager body like a well-worn umbrella, that seemed to encompass a lifetime of staggering disappointments—his seemingly unrequited musical career. Sadly but surely, everything was as it would have appeared in decades past apart from one staggering element: the resounding affirmation of his brilliance. Even so, because the true mark of success does not require recognition from others, Darondo will be regarded as a victor forevermore.
More contemporary acts, like Tel Aviv’s shock-rock troupe Monotonix and Baltimore’s experimental electronic whiz Dan Deacon, clearly flourish on Bumbershoot’s bleeding edge. They do cater to the youthful and rather brazen demographic. But the irrepressible synergy between fringe artist and audience truly befit the moment—as if they had somehow hand-sewn the festival’s very seams.
The scantily clad Israeli rockers of Monotonix, who performed off the stage for less than a quarter of an hour, could only be deterred by forcible appeals. That is to say, their set was cut short by security for safety reasons. A literal pancake of people folding like pleats is, by definition, a rock concert. But the notion of playing an entire set virtually mid-air, atop a sea of open palms, certainly drives the point home. The rollicking foundation of rock and roll is very much alive and kicking—just on the opposite side of the world.
And for however short their set may have been, it seemed like an eternity. Every second stretches out and slows down in a euphoric free-for-all. In the maelstrom of activity, a leg, a guitar, or even a human being in a trash can whip past you. The whole experience—a relatively woozy entanglement—is comparable to a swift yet perpetual rush of blood to the head.
Like most performers that weekend, Dan Deacon fed off of the crowd’s energy; unlike the almost riotous ones though, as he demonstrated in Seattle, he cannot fully supply that energy himself. The Baltimore-bred behemoth of a man relies heavily upon the responsiveness of a crowd. And, much like Monotonix, Deacon shuns the stage, performing literally within the audience. He pounces around like a predator, pummeling toy-like gadgets and singing with one claw-shaped fist in the air.
But no less than measured conduct and orderliness are physical necessities; to perform amidst a brimming crowd, face-to-face and arm-in-arm with fresh-faced fans, utterly drives him. Deacon successfully employs wild games en masse during his zany dance-infused songs. His playful disposition nudges, almost galvanizes, the crowd into action.
And thus it is this sort of unedited, unbearably close interaction that distinguishes the Bumbershoot Festival from the rest. Surely, it is an annual congregation of the arts that draws summer to an idyllic and salubrious close. But it expresses movingly the profound nature of music. No other festival properly conveys the interconnective concepts on which the edifice of music was built.
Like figurative loose stitching, music not only bands people together, but also provides a structural sense of closure. It is an exoskeleton of humanity, so to speak.