(in)Back(of the)stage at Bumbershoot

I'm a sucker, and exactly the kind of sucker the organizers of Bumbershoot were banking on. In a way wholly predictable to any Seattleite who knows the first thing about how the event works, the festival unfolded for me like a five-act tragedy. True to classic form, I didn't, in Acts I and II, understand what was coming - I knew I was getting screwed, sure, but I just didn't comprehend how much. In Act III it became plain to me that the fix was in, but by that time I was powerless to stop any of it, condemned to spend Acts IV and V wallowing in my just deserts.

Were we to stage this tragedy, Act I might feature me in a bar, some weeks before Bumbershoot, my friend yelling at me over a pitcher that I really should get tickets ahead of time. "Yeah, man," I would agree, and then recklessly refill my glass. Skip ahead to the festival, me in line, reaching the pay booth, a woman calmly telling me that it would cost me $25 to enter the festival for one day. And then, suddenly sweaty, dizzy, vaguely angry but predominantly submissive, I buy the ticket.

That, you see, was Big Mistake No. 1: I paid that outrageous fee, in cash. Cold, hard-earned cash.

I expected (naïvely, although we won't count this as a Big Mistake) to see something really great inside - something like a magical, happy Fairy Land. Instead I saw more lines - long lines. It occurred to me that if I waited for one thing, I might miss another. I wanted to see Toots and the Maytals, them if nothing else for all my big bucks. And so, prudently, I thought, even conservatively, I made Big Mistake No. 2: I went straight to the music I wanted to hear; I didn't immediately wait in a special line for a special wristband that would allow me to see the very show that, presumably, had raised the price of my ticket so high - the Pixies. One hour into Bumbershoot I was already out on the biggest band of the whole festival.

After Toots, and after realizing that the wristbands were all given away already, I wandered with some friends into the B-boys competition. It was cool, very cool. It was so cool that, against my best intentions, my spirits began to rise. "This is great," I thought to myself, "there must be lots of great shows all over the place." And so, noting that the wonderful Bebel Gilberto was playing, I made Big Mistake No. 3: I left a good seat at a good show for the uncertainties, the whims, of the festival lines.

Bebel Gilberto, 10 minutes into her show, was "full." A few hundred angry Bumbershooters sat outside moan-ing and groaning. Not me, though. Adrenaline pumping through me, I made a last stand: I raced back to the B-boys, the suddenly precious B-boys show, where I had had a seat. But the line was now a block long. I saw everything clearly then, how it all worked; this was Act III - I had been screwed, and screwed I would remain.

In the five-act schema, Act IV, the scholars tell us, consists of falling action. Dejected, chewed up and spit out by Bumbershoot, I wandered from line to line. I stood for a while with other sad, beaten festivalgoers like myself, before the single-man "acts," the peo-ple who were just playing to make a buck, the guys you could see on the street, any given night, for free. I observed the hippies beating on the sound-making metal-thing attraction; they pounded their best, but I could see their gazes drifting toward the lines; they would really, their gazes said, prefer to have people play music for them.

Sure, I visited the Blues Stage and heard some cool blues; yes, I enjoyed Kaki King; yeah, the place did, in the dark, resemble a Fairy Land, a little bit. But as the line (the wrist-banded line, that is) for the Pixies began pouring ecstatically in to the stadium, I had had enough and wandered outside, giving a resigned "No" when the guy at the gate asked if I was coming back in. No, I was done.

And then I saw them - hanging off the gate, crouched quietly in the shadows of the stadium - the people listening to the Pixies for free, outside, behind the stage.

The sound wasn't half-bad; "The acoustics are no worse than inside the stadium," one guy pointed out. He had a blanket, a girlfriend and a bottle of cheap champagne. He and his girl sat quietly singing along with the music, sipping every now and then their bubbly. Two women sat nearby, arms around each other, humming. Over by the fence, silhouetted in the floodlights, stood three boys, holding their three bicycles, listening silently, like something straight out of "Oliver Twist."

I went and got a cheapo beer, came back and stretched out on the grass. For the first time since Big Mistake No. 1, there was suddenly space, plenty of room for everybody. The show still had a good half-hour to go. I cracked the beer, and the Pixies played for me.

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