Mark Teppo:  Confession time: I had never been to Bumbershoot before. Not a detail you admit to your editor beforehand, but afterward, when we're all gathered around, swapping stories, you can admit to these minute failings. So my Bumbershoot experience will be colored by the wild-eyed childlike, I'm kidding...I began the weekend a cynical bastard and ended the same way. And that is a facade I had to adapt as I left the grounds, because it wasn't a mindset I could maintain once within Bumbershoot's embrace. Not with the Cabaret Europa doing two shows daily.

Friday is like that first hour on Monday morning. The body responds, but the mind is resistant. It takes a little while for all the component parts to remember exactly how they function, and time seems to move at the same pace as traffic south along I-5 at the 45th Ave exit.

Yet in that space, in those first gradually accelerating hours, the perkiest, most charming show of the whole weekend happened. And it had everything to do with the coquettish pixie voice of Gina Salá. Those of us fortunate enough to be on the grounds early and hardy enough to make the distant trek to the obscurely located PCC stage were transported by Gina's voice to the distant mountains of the Urals, to the ocean bound beaches of Japan, to the hot sultry swagger of Greece and the trilling birdsong of East India. And pixie is the wrong word to describe her. Her long hair pulled back with a trailing yellow scarf, a waving blue ocean backdrop behind her, she seemed more aquatic, more like a Nereid--a child of the ocean come to tempt us with her voice. With her "lascivious tunes," she demonstrated the art of freeing the voice, of releasing small verbal birds which darted and swooped above the delighted audience. "Goodbye is Like a Little Dance" was her last song--built around the rhythmic pulse of the wheels of an ancient steam engine as it pushed its way across the snow-capped Urals--and we left the PCC stage touched and transformed from our brief encounter.

[ gina sala ]
photo by mark teppo

Part of the mystery of Bumbershoot is the sense of discovery afforded to you as you pass through the influence of the various stages. (And you certainly couldn't escape the pounding of those fuckin' drum circles!) I left the PCC stage intending to catch Rhythm Method on the Kendall Jackson Jazz Stage. Three drum kits, saxophone, and guitar seemed intriguing enough. I oriented myself on the map and trundled off, intent on my destination. But, as I made the corner just past the Center House, I passed into the zone of influence of the Northwest Airlines Blues Stage and I caught a whiff of the blues. It was a strong whiff--right up my nose and into the highly suggestible part of my brain--and it curdled me badly for "three drum kits and saxophone and guitar." The audience watching Rhythm Method was in the right place--complacent, attentive, and fixated (your perfect jazz crowd, I suppose). I couldn't stand still. I had the blues in my head--those Stevie Ray Vaughan kind of blues. I was watching Rhythm Method get all wrapped up in their paradiddles and knew that I was really missing something. I bailed. Call me shallow, but I did. I wanted to see Jude Bowerman. I wanted to see the spirits of Stevie Ray Vaughan and (call me a heretic) Jimi Hendrix channel their way through a young guy from Olympia, Washington. I wanted to watch him wrestle with his guitar and his heartache and make us agree wholeheartedly that love was the bane and the blessing of our lives.

Or maybe it was just the way he managed to sneak in a verse of "Billie Jean" into one song that caught my attention and then, like a mouse on the sticky paper, I was stuck with a loopy grin on my face until the music stopped and the blues drained from my hypnotized brain.

To the front lawn for Cabaret Europa! On loan from Teatro ZinZanni were Les Castors--vaudeville brothers who are single-handedly keeping the art of over-exaggerated physical comedy alive. And I say that like the compliment that it is. Mixing routines cut from the Marx Brothers' cloth of verbal and physical entertainment with exaggerated pantomime and extraordinary juggling ability with their feet, the Brothers Castor charmed and captivated the entire audience.

[ jude bowerman cuts loose on the blues stage ]
photo by mark teppo

They were joined by Sergey Krutikov, juggler extraordinaire from the Ukraine. The contagion of his cheering face and chortling laugh as he caught that hat/rubber ball/umbrella/smoking cigar correctly was an immense part of his appeal. And yet, there were slight missteps in his routine, accidental drops which caused him to "do over" certain feats. He always completed his release and catch on the second try, often enough that I had to wonder if missing wasn't part of the act. You would think: "Well, it is impossible to throw up a hat, an umbrella, and a lit cigar from the edge of your foot and catch them on your head, hand, and mouth. But he gets points for trying." Sergey would give you enough time to have that thought, maybe even shrug to yourself, and then he would repeat the trick and get it smack-damn right.

And for the extreme cynics who weren't warmed by the tom-foolery of Les Castors or stunned by the dexterity of Sergey Krutikov, Cabaret Europa had a final surprise with the mind-boggling contortions of Les Mandragores. Contortionists and Equalibrists. Yeah, you'll never think that touching your toes constitutes flexibility again. Turning yourself into a box that will fit in the overhead bin of a 737 is flexibility. Doing it in slow motion is simply impossible. Yet Les Mandragores did it twice a day all weekend long. I bend over and tie my shoes once a day and that's too much. This duo stretched and elongated themselves about one another with a complete disregard for the rigidity of human anatomy. It wasn't that they were boneless--I've seen the Larson carton about the boneless chicken ranch and they weren't this floppy--their bones were simply pliable. Like clay left too long in the sunlight, they bent...oh, shit...I still can't believe it.

The beauty of Cabaret Europa--other than the pure dollop of entertainment candy that it was--was that it grew as the weekend progressed. Les Castors--Toly, Charly, and Eddy--have been working together so long that they no longer recite lines, they inhabit situations. And you would only notice if you saw the show multiple times. (Which, I admit, I did.) What a strict script reader would qualify as a mistake was an embellishment, caught and returned by the others before returning to the forward progress of the act. The under-the-breath flippancy was built out of the presence of the audience.

[ cabaret europa ]
photo by mark teppo

I make it sound like I've never seen good interactive theater before. Most theater isn't interactive and it shouldn't be. But when it is, and when it does, the audience becomes such an integral part of the production. And it wasn't just Cabaret Europa that crossed the fourth wall and plunked themselves down in the middle of the audience. The spirit of Bumbershoot was this joining of artist and audience. The Afro-Brazilian percussion ensemble Olodum--which played as many shows as Cabaret Europa--had half the audience on stage with them by the end of their shows. They did parades through the grounds that became this rippling, trailing snake of drums.

The day waned with Hank Dogs, as a Northwest evening at the end of summer should. A laconic South London trio with songs of sad dysfunctionalism and hopeful longing, they brought a dark poignancy to the setting of the sun. Lily, Piano, and Andy sang such songs of despair and vision that no one escaped without an aching heart. "She reckons if she had one ounce of my spark/She'd take this world apart." You forget in all the bouncing and laughing and grooving that music can also touch all too quickly the tender spots that you don't allow others to touch.

I couldn't go home with such an ache, so I wound my way through the drifting confluence back to the shadow of the Space Needle and the Rhythm Stage. Tom Tom Club--the dance-oriented group formed from the ashes of the Talking Heads by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz--was closing out the night. We wrangled three world premieres out of them: "Happiness Can't Buy You Money," "Who Feels It?" and "Holy Water." All three--and the rest--putting enough wiggle in our pants that the walks and drives home were but fleeting.

[ hank dogs ]
photo by mark teppo

Craig Young:  Friday really should be considered Bumbershoot's secret day. With most people working on the first day of the festival, it's really the one day where one can wander the crowds unencumbered, arms spread wide; the only day where you don't have to worry about being knee capped by someone pushing a stroller (more on that later). Enjoying this fact I spent a good deal of the first morning of Bumbershoot wandering leisurely through the Seattle Center grounds, taking in the people and the sights, soaking up a wonderfully warm late summer day. While Rep. Jim McDermott tried on hats at one of the many vending booths, outside the Blues Stage a young man was juggling a trio of fiery torches, pausing momentarily to allow me the opportunity to snap a shot before extinguishing them in his mouth. Over near the Bumbrella Stage another young lad had painted himself completely in silver paint. Along with a silver backpack, a silver boom box playing tunes and a silver chair he sat perfectly still, elbow on knee, chin resting on hand in contemplation, his silver cap pulled backwards and his silver sunglasses reflecting the smiles of the crowd that had gathered to gawk. Occasionally someone would step forward and drop money into the silver cup that was placed at his feet. Perhaps he was the Son of Silver Surfer come to bask in the wonder of Bumbershoot...who knows.

Inside the Bumberclub, Criminal Nation from Tacoma warmed up the audience with their 206 area hip-hop. The bump bump bump of easy grooves helped wash their hard-edged street lyrics down a little easier. M.C.'s Clee-Bone and Spade gave it their all, but at times their "urban poetry" came across a little lackluster. Such was not the case with Botch, who played next. The intensity of this band came across like a hook punch to the midsection. These boys play hardcore the way it was intended: heavy, loud and fast. Pummeling into you like a prize fighter, stopping each song wordlessly on a dime, waiting only a few seconds between numbers while you catch your breath before dropping their one-two combination. Very satisfying.

[ criminal nation ]
photo by craig young

Wandering back out into the bright sunlight I catch sight of an eP shirt glowing like a beacon from the back of the Blues Stage. Walking over I find the intrepid Marky Mark Teppo basking in the glow of The Jude Bowerman Band. And when I say "basking in the glow," what I mean that Mark is really digging what this blues guitarist and his band are kickin' out. What did you say? Mark gettin' funky on the blues? Damn, this must be good then! Stepping past his Colgate bright smile I head up to the front rows to take The Jude Bowerman Band in for myself. Mark's right: this man is good, real good. And like the great bluesmen he saluted--Buddy Guy, Otis Redding, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan--Bowerman half-caresses his guitar like it was his lover and half-fights it like he's wrestling an alligator. He plays his guitar like he's carrying on a conversation with an angry lover after coming home a few drinks under. And you know what? You can hear what she's saying in his guitar playing. Don't believe me? Then explain the guy next to me who, drunk on the blues, kept shaking his head emphatically and yelling out to Bowerman, "Oh, man! I can't believe she just said that to you! Lordy have mercy!" While his playing style immediately calls forth the specter of Stevie Ray Vaughan, his skill, presence and sincerity are genuine. A nice discovery on the first day.

Wandering past the Bumbrella Stage towards the fountain lawns I stop for a moment to catch Calliope, an all female ensemble billed as "a celebration in art, dance, music, sculpture, painting and poetry." While a woman painted half-naked images of Hindu goddesses another spun poetry to the beats of several conga players. Children ran around onstage and the whole thing came across as very "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar/Lilith Fair." A bit pretentious, especially with "no shit" statements like: "We all come from the woman." Calliope were well meaning, but their impression on me was that they wanted their art respected because they were female, where my argument would be that art should be respected on its own merits and not because of gender, race or class. With that in mind, Calliope's art came across as secondary and unfortunately suffered as a result.

[ callipe paint their vision ]
photo by craig young

Over across the fountain lawn I catch up with friends at the Teatro Circo stage and pull up a piece of grass front and center for Cabaret Europa, which would end up being the highlight surprise of my Bumbershoot weekend. This was vaudeville at it's finest! The French brothers Troly, Charly and Eddy (known as Les Castors) opened up the show and interspersed the other performers pieces with several slapstick skits, including one that had them pretending to be showgirls, covering their "exposed" bodies with newspapers, and a hilarious piece about a "famous director" trying to film a fight between two mafioso. Next up was Sergey Krutikov, who displayed his renown juggling skills by twirling, tossing and balancing hats, umbrellas and bottles with more than just his hands. After another skit courtesy Les Castors the female contortionist duo, Les Mandragores, wowed the audience with a breathtaking performance of strength and agility. Using their bodies as stepladders for each other, one would twist and turn her body inside out, wrapping herself up like a pretzel, while the second performer would ascend atop her counterpart, stretching her body out in delicate balance to complete the piece in a frozen moment of human beauty. As important as their display of physical agility and prowess was the final image their bodies painted for each piece. Amazing! And when I thought it couldn't get any better, Les Castors returned for the finale. Laying down on their backs they proceeded to show off their remarkable agility at juggling with their feet. Starting off with basketballs, the brothers three juggled and passed them amongst each other. They then moved onto kegs, then up to rolls of carpet--spinning and twirling, hoisting them vertically before effortlessly tossing the roll onto the next brother just in time to catch one on their feet that was flying at them from the opposite direction. They ended this remarkable display by juggling a bed; spinning it 'round and 'round with their feet, tossing it up and perfectly catching the bed on its end, the covers falling away to reveal a woman's head. Flipping the bed on its other end, the covers again slide down to reveal the woman's legs along with those of a male counterpart. Hrmm...

The smile Cabaret Europa left me with kept me glowing all weekend. In the midst of 2,000 performers, it was nice to stumble across one that was so genuine and uplifting.

Sharing the Teatro Stage all weekend with Cabaret Europa was Olodum, an internationally-acclaimed percussion group whose samba-reggae rhythms have come to epitomize the Brazilian superparty that is Carnival. This 12 piece Afro-Brazilian group danced and played to the delight of the audience, who couldn't resist the music's call to shake their booty. Stepping over to a nearby beer garden, I take a momentary break from the festivities and find myself in conversation with Adrianna, whose Daryl Hannah ŕ la Blade Runner appearance, along with her companion Lolly, a plastic rooster, caught the attention of many a person inside the garden besides just me.

[ don't try this at home kids ]
photo by craig young

A much better happenstance than what I would have found inside the Bumberclub. What is it with Seattle's ongoing shameless praise for local pop punksters The Fastbacks? I've become convinced that there is some city law that declares only good and glowing reviews of the Fastbacks can ever be written. Have you ever read a bad one? I haven't. Maybe it has to do with them being the longest standing local band around. Early on they had some punch, but for a long while now they've wallowed in the punk pop vein, every song sounding alike. Not that the songs are bad, but there's no dynamic to separate them. And watching the aging Kim Warnick sing bubblegum lyrics is just a wee bit disconcerting. Dunno. The two UK Subs songs they cover, however, are done quite well, almost worthy of letting the rest of their songs pass by relatively unscathed. But not worthy enough to give them the key to the damn city.

7pm. What a day already! Hiking back across to the Bumbrella Stage I catch up with more friends and crowd to the front for the funkified jazz of the Living Daylights Trio. This local drums, bass, sax trio have been laying down their dense, hard driving grooves for the past four years, have several albums to their credit and have toured both the U.S. and Europe. Bassist Arnie Livingston and drummer Dale Fanning have years of playing together previous to the Living Daylights, and the way their instruments lock and communicate reflects that. Arnie starts off by creating a bass line and running it through an infinite loop. This allows him play over top the loop, creating a melody to complement the low end rhythm. Fanning's drumming locks in as Jessica Lurie effortlessly slides and glides sax lines over the top to complete the song. A nice wind down from a day not quite yet done.

[ adrianna and lolly ]
photo by craig young

One last fling. Son Volt at the Blues Stage. I've always had a soft spot for Jay Farrar's previous musical home, Uncle Tupelo, but Son Volt has never hit me the same way. Still, for some reason, I decided to check the band out...for awhile at least, my obvious ambivalence showing right from the start. The songs lacked dynamics, never rising or falling, just holding the middle line musically. Verse, chorus, verse, solo, bridge, end. Everyone cheers. I kept trying to find some redemption in the music, but even the worn gritty voice of Farrar fell short in providing me enough relief to help me persevere. And when someone turned to a friend to describe Son Volt as an "Alternative Contemporary" band, I knew it was time to go. I was stuck in a crowd who liked their music prepackaged like a Swanson TV Dinner. Turkey and stuffing on the left, potatoes on the right, little pie dessert up top and in the middle. Don't forget the solo after the second chorus and everyone cheer when it's over. Yup, bedtime. There's so much more to take in over the next three days and I need all the rest I can get. Pausing briefly at the Cartoons From Hell to round up the rest of the Earpollution troops, we head home.

Click on a day below to read more about Bumbershoot '99

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[ click here for the bumbershoot start page ]

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