Bumbershoot 1997

Labor Day Weekend, 1997: I didn't get to go to WorldCon in San Antonio and hear Algis Budrys sing Lithuanian folk songs in the late night hallways, but I did get to go to Bumbershoot, our big yearly Arts Festival.

The public story is that Bumbershoot is the British word for umbrella, and calling the festival Bumbershoot is a joke about Seattle weather. But the inside scoop is, the Bumber is the larval form of the Street Musician, of which we have a great plenty and we love them all; but in order not to be completely overrun, every year we have a Shoot.

WHEEL is one of the groups I work with, that puts on a yearly Homeless Women's Forum and, in conjunction with it, publishes a 52-page chapbook of poetry and other writing from the homeless women's community. We had a table in the BookFair portion of the festival; I started the day staffing the table. We were placed right next to Ken Waldman, an Alaskan poet and fiddler that I met a few months ago when he was one of the performers at Poetry Circus, a spoken-word festival that our homeless-writers group helped organize, in conjunction with most of the established poetry venues of Seattle. It was fun to talk with Ken again, and listen to him fiddle at random moments during the afternoon.

Directly across from us, at the far end of the room, was a display of writings from homeless youth, published by YouthCare -- the folks who are partners with LIHI (Low Income Housing Institute) in a transitional housing program for homeless youth. I had a talk with the man who manages their writing program about extending the options for the kids, with StreetLife Gallery and StreetWrites and Real Change.

I had to take a break in the middle of the afternoon for some business downtown, but then I got to *play*. Bumbershoot has an increasing number of participatory exhibits. Wes and I deposited wishes in the bellies of the big papier-mache Dancing Demons. At the end of the festival, the Demons will be burnt in the midst of drumming and dancing. We then each painted an approximation of one square inch of Botticelli's Venus, blown up to one square foot. I'm looking forward to seeing the assembled result.

A couple from Barcelona were performing what I can only call circus spoof on one of the outdoor stages. Reggie Garrett and the Snake Oil Peddlers were playing at the Flag Pavilion as we ran by to go hear Dick Dale -- he who taught electric guitars to bellydance. Father of Surf Guitar.

Right in front of me a man approximately thirty years old, hair still dark, lifted his three-year-old daughter to his shoulders where she bounced and waved her arms in perfect rhythm. I looked at them and thought, "This music will never die."

Los Lobos were playing as we ran back again, to go hear Guillermo Gomez-Pena read. One of the other editors at Real Change has been raving about this guy, and now that Wes and I have heard him we're raving too -- this is an activist with wit. I'm going to locate some of his writing now -- I just hope it's as funny on the page as it is in his performance.

I did find some web sites on & by Guillermo Gomez-Pena:

On the second day, I made it to Bumbershoot halfway through the Writer's Forum with writers from several cultures (inc. Meng Lang from China) discussing Crossing Borders as a writer. A lot of thought-provoking stuff; and as usual when my thoughts are stirred up, I itch, wanting a chance to talk back more. :) (I wrote out some of my thoughts in an essay posted among my "Homeless Columns") Many many people wanted a chance to talk, also, and there was too much of a crowd to talk to Gomez-Pena afterward. Hence my search for him on the net; he has an email address in there, and I'll talk to him in Virtual.

Got to drum circle! Remo Drums gave Bumbershoot 300 frame drums of varying sizes, and twenty times over the four day event members of the public were invited in to the drum circle, pick up any drum you choose, and jam with master drummers facilitating. I got lively on the big frame drum, felt great.

Got to hear Riz Rollins, a fiction writer often published in the local alternative-weekly, The Stranger.

My friend Wes came in halfway through that, after pulling Saturday duty at Real Change. We went to hear El Vez, a Mexican Elvis impersonator who parodies gospel, rock-n-roll, Elvis and celebrity cults in general, the Roman Catholic church and the Christian right and the New Age and organized religion in general, Chicano stereotypes and U.S. politics -- and interlaces it with messages of Mexican pride, true faith, tolerance and world peace. Parody and honesty in one entertaining package. He referred to a Spanish woman poet de la Cruz and piqued my interest. Does anyone know any more about this woman?

I also found some web sites on El Vez:

Sunday I did another shift at the WHEEL table, then I caught part of the Bumberslam, a poetry slam contest with some of my favorite local poets and several folks from out-of-town. I got to see more of Marceline i Sylvestre, the clowns from Barcelona. I revisited the BookFair as a consumer, with a poet-friend Peter Ludwin. He introduced me to several people with small presses, one of whom gifted me with his pamphlets on desktop publishing and being published when I told him about our low-income writers workshop. I also finally got my copy of the latest Raven Chronicles, a local literary journal, in which Peter has *four* poems, and got him to autograph it. I tried to make him autograph all four poems, but he just signed the one on the back page. :) I was going to try to catch a Comedy Showcase, but there was a long slow line and I pooped out.

The first event I targeted on Monday was a presentation by Layne Redmond on "When the Drummers Were Women". She has a book out with that title, and I intend to go get a copy with my next check. She showed a long series of high-quality slides of artifacts and images down through history to accompany her presentation of the history of the frame drum and women drummers in human culture and mythology. Fascinating stuff. I met up with Wes and Peter at the tail end of Layne Redmond; Peter joined Wes and I in going to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, then Wes and I went on alone to see a highly irreverent comedy a capella song duo called The Sympathy Cards. We then went to see part of the Poetry Circus show -- an audience-picked line-up of the favorite performers from a poetry festival Wes and I helped work on, earlier this year. This was the first time we'd seen most of the acts. (Remember this if you're thinking of helping out at a festival -- it is *not* a way to get to see the acts. :-)

We checked out the completed Botticelli. It was an odd assortment of color-sense and skill, but I liked it. I told Wes I think I've figured out how Picasso worked: you take a picture of a horse, and cut it in one-inch squares...

The Grand Finale of the festival is Bumberdrums -- a variety of drummers from all over the world, this time including Africa, America and Japan, perform singly, then in combination, then in one blow-out jam session. The show this year included THE Bumberdrum, a gift by Remo drums of a giant combination drum, six great barrels of graduated sizes hung around a platform where the drummer stands.

A parade of fanciful giant puppets and costumed figures winds through the grounds in the final hours. At the climax of the Bumberdrum jam, the parade approaches the stage, and the drummers flow off stage and through the crowd, many still playing hand-held instruments. The drummers follow the costumed figures; the crowd follows or runs alongside. The parade winds past the great fountain in the middle of the grounds and over to a stage where giant papier-mache figures have been on display all weekend. The figures are set on fire; as they blaze, firecrackers inside them go off; the drummers play; the costumed figures leap and dance; the crowd dances and shouts. I think all my pagan friends would have felt right at home. :)

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