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Has Seattle lost Bumbershoot to the corporate concert monster?

As Bumbershoot evolves, has it moved too far from its roots, neglecting the spirit and purpose it was created for? (KIRO Radio/Jason Rantz)

Love it or hate it, we can all agree Bumbershoot has changed over the years.

One such critique comes from Seattle Times Columnist Danny Westneat who lambasted what the city’s annual festival has become; from a local arts celebration to an expensive music festival. Or as Westneat put it, the festival has “morphed a community treasure into another corporate predator out to make a buck.”

Westneat can recall paying $4 for a Bumbershoot ticket in the ’80s; $9 in today’s market adjusted for inflation. He was dismayed to be asked to pay $109, plus service fees for one day. But the story compounds as the company managing the festival halted selling one-day tickets in favor of more expensive options, despite having plenty of the one-day entries available.

“It isn’t ours anymore,” Westneat wrote.

Bumbershoot was once run by the City of Seattle, but was passed on to organizations like One Reel. Bigger names in art and music were added to the lineup. In 2008, sporting and music event company AEG Live signed on to bring the festival into a new era. This year, the festival attracted nearly 80,000 attendees.

Now, both organizations are determined to keep it going, despite ticket price complaints.

“I think both organizations are committed to preserving and protecting Bumbershoot for the long haul,” said Heather Smith, executive director of the festival. “I think what’s exciting about the future is that we have more time to plan and prepare for a better festival next year.”

Smith noted that the festival’s higher prices are merely on the rise along with everything else on the market.

“I think if you look at how much it costs to fill up your tank with gas, or how much it cost for a gallon of milk, you can tell there’s a lot of increase in prices for everything we do in our daily lives,” she said. “Ticket prices and the cost of entertainment have definitely increased in the last 30 years and I think Bumbershoot is still an incredible value. You can come in for about $50 if you bought the tickets in advance.”

KIRO Radio’s Josh Kerns said that after attending the festival for decades himself, Bumbershoot is merely progressing beyond its founding. Its current popularity can no longer accommodate the nostalgic Bumbershoots of the past.

“If you want to see the likes of Ellie Goulding or Brandon Flowers from The Killers, these guys take a ton of money to bring in. It’s just the economics of the concert business,” Kerns said. “And if you view Bumbershoot as a music festival, which is what it has become, the arts essentially continually get squeezed out to the side.”

Kerns notes that the music has dominated the festival in recent years. The other arts have become less popular.

“With AEG coming in and putting up big fences and using wrist bands, it really is a music festival. The arts, while there was a lot of comedy, was much less attended than in past years,” he said, noting that comedy shows at Bumbershoot once had long lines to enter.

“It was half empty. I watched more comics this year than I have in past years,” Kerns said.

If it’s free admission, arts, and patchouli you’re looking for, it’s worth checking out Northwest Folklife, held at Seattle Center every Memorial Day weekend.

KIRO Radio reporter Josh Kerns contributed to this article.

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