Bumbershoot started easy as a Sunday morning yesterday, with plenty of street parking, few lines and uncrowded walkways. But by midafternoon, festival-goers crowded Seattle Center and lines formed at the most popular food booths and for many of the performances.
The big turnout was no surprise as Sunday boasted the biggest name of the four-day fest: British rock icon Elvis Costello. He closed out the day on the Mainstage in one of those special concerts that only happen at Bumbershoot. Playing solo at the stadium, Elvis Costello crooned in that hoarse, yearning snarl of his, accompanied only by the furious strumming of his own acoustic guitar. The air was wet and still and thick from the twilight rain, carrying his voice over the hushed standing crowd and up to the stands.
"Good to be here," he said, relaxed and friendly. "Feels just like a local gig."
Wearing a little red fedora and black leather jacket, Costello ran through his tunes with stripped-down zeal, the audience singing along on the payoff lines: "Red Shoes," "Rocking Horse Road" (with a snippet of "Wild Thing" tossed in the middle), "Pads, Paws and Claws," "Every Day I Write the Book," "Brilliant Mistake," invoking his ambivalent world of loves won, lost and only contemplated. Nice night.
Earlier in the day, the sun peeked through gray and white clouds and temperatures were mild until about 4 p.m., when the air chilled and the rain began. The downpours were sporadic, and for most of the night, regular Bumbershoot activity resumed amid light sprinkles.
Hip, hop and jump
The biggest daytime draw was the Hip Hop 101 program at the Mainstage, featuring longtime, positive rappers The Pharcyde, Talib Kweli and Common. Judging by the fact that the crowd stayed about the same size for the entire 4 ½ hours, it seemed as if many were living the classic hip-hop cry, "Hip hop ya don't stop." A sea of arms waved in the air in time with the beats, and when a rapper said "Jump!" thousands hopped in unison.
All three acts asked fans to be generous at the Bumbershoot Cares donation stations, which were set up throughout the grounds. By night's end, Bumbershoot patrons had donated about $30,000 to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Common, who has one of the hottest hip-hop albums at the moment with "Be," turned a song from it, "It's Your World," into a celebration of life and a prayer for "the people down South." It was a highlight of his set, along with his uplifting signature tune, "The Light," from 2000's "Like Water for Chocolate."
The reggae-influenced Kweli, backed by DJ Chaps and two female backup singers, kept the crowd moving with a lively set, highlighted by "Get By," his hit collaboration with Kanye West.
"God is so good, he stopped the rain," said Morris LeGrande, guitarist and lead singer of the exquisitely blended Gospel Hummingbirds, who performed at Mural Amphitheatre as a bedraggled but undaunted crowd drifted back to the wet grass. Dressed in powder-purple sport coats over black shirts, lightly stepping to the music, the elegant Bay Area crooners crossed secular stylin' and Christian conviction for a sweet and soulful message. Praise the Lord and pass the umbrellas.
She knows Diddley now
"I've never heard of him," the young volunteer working the door at the Bo Diddley show at McCaw Hall confessed. Informed that Diddley was one of the founders of rock 'n' roll, along with Chuck Berry and Little Richard, she said that explained why so many young people were there.
And where are all the people in their 50s and 60s?
"Don't you know old rock is back? It is at my school, anyway."
Inside the hall, Diddley, in his signature shades and fedora, sat and played guitar, sang and told stories, backed by a four-piece band. "Follow me back to 1968," Diddley told the capacity audience, as he took them back to the days of rockabilly, to a Bo Diddley beat.
and from Saturday night
Laughter filled McCaw Hall Saturday evening as artists blended words with music. Dressed in a black tux, Daniel Handler told dry jokes and occasionally played his accordion as he served as the master of ceremonies for "Smart," a benefit for a new youth-writing center called 826 Seattle. Handler typically stands in for his "client," author Lemony Snicket of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" fame; Snicket tends not to show up for scheduled appearances.
Along with Handler/Snicket, there were crowd-pleasing performances by author Dave Eggers, singer Mike Doughty, author Sarah Vowell and the Transatlantic Orchestra, featuring members of Death Cab for Cutie (DCFC).
The riveted audience — 2,900 packed the house — chuckled often as Eggers read a letter to Seattleites that he wrote in the guise of an Irish setter named Steve, with Ben Gibbard of DCFC accompanying the reading on guitar. Steve the dog recommended that members of the audience tutor someone like, say, an 11-year-old girl in a class of 37 who was two years behind. "Making a girl smile is as easy as knocking over a vase, as easy as remembering JFK's middle initial," Eggers said.
For one song, Doughty brought his guitar and belted out "Move On" with lyrics like "I believe the war is wrong," while Handler played his accordion. And the Transatlantic Orchestra crooned variations of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as Vowell unfurled the song's history.
In the end the audience clapped and rose to its feet as Handler, Doughty and the band covered Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" in celebration of the estimated $11,000 raised.
Bests of fest ...
Best flaunting of a Bumbershoot rule: A 6 p.m. downpour was accompanied by a groundswell of multicolored mushrooms sprouting — yellow ones, striped ones, black ones, purple ones. Bumbershoots are indeed banned at their signature and namesake festival.
Best old-school DJ: Robert Nesbit, a top soul DJ back in the day, brought Oldtime SeaTown funk music alive again on the Blues Stage at Mural Amphitheatre as Wheedle's Groove.
Best hairdo: Green dreadlocks.
Seattle Times reporter Judy Chia Hui Hsu contributed to this report.