You have to go to Bumbershoot with the right attitude. You can't visit this four-day art extravaganza in a hurry. It's too crowded. There's too much to see. And it all happens at the same time. The 16-year-old Labor Day weekend festival presents over 400 music, theater, dance, and comedy performances, films, art exhibits, poetry readings, and more, offered from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. For the $5 admission that includes even the top act, it's a crowd pleaser that draws a quarter of a million people. (Bumbershoot, in case you don't know your British slang, means ``umbrella,'' which in overcast Seattle is an in joke.)
Flexibility is the key to enjoying the festival. I wanted to see the African Obo Addy and Kukrudu, the Sandy Bradley String Band, and a Japanese-American pianist. Impossible. They were at opposite ends of the grounds. I caught snatches of the first two. But by the time I got to the piano concert, it was jammed.
Actually, though, quick samplings may not be such a bad way to see Bumbershoot. Don't try to have a plan cast in stone. Wander. Sample. You might stumble across such delightful oddities as Misty and the Pinboys -- a Mae West-ish robot that has long eyelashes and clanking steel lips and ``sings'' a recorded song.
But one does need to plan ahead for the highlights, and that can mean getting in line hours ahead of time. This year the highlights included singer Randy Newman; Lobos, the Latin rock group from Los Angeles: Japan's Grand Kubuki Theatre; Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis; Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band; and Motown favorite Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
Joined by 10 strings from the Northwest Chamber Orchestra as well as his own 10-piece band, Smokey Robinson did a well-rounded set of old Motown favorites, ``Ooh, Baby, Baby'' as well as some new hits, like ``Being With You.'' One new song, ``Be Kind to the Growing Mind,'' which he called his ``protest song,'' encouraged songwriters and moviemakers to exercise more discipline in dealing with young people.
One of the reasons Bumbershoot has been so successful is the nature of the site. The festival is held at the Seattle Center, a 74-acre urban park that was built for the 1962 World's Fair. Two major theaters, Bagley Wright (which normally holds Seattle's repertory theater) and the Edgewater, as well as an opera house, are right on the site. There's also room for eight outdoor stages that present the folk, jazz, blues, and gospel groups. Comedy was offered in a small caf'e.
Seattle is a child-oriented city, and Bumbershoot did not forget the youngsters. With 30 activities to choose from, they could pick up Baby Duck at the Puyallup Fair Petting Zoo, learn how to make paper and books, watch the Capitol Schwinn three-style team do what amounts to breakdancing on bikes, or make ``wearable art'' out of pasta.
The indoor art exhibit presented a cool retreat for visitors who had been caught in molasses-slow crowds and bombarded with several kinds of music at once. The rooms where the art is shown were almost as calm as the San Juan islands off the coast. The Fidalgo Room contained a peace quilt (headed for the Soviet Union) on which passers-by could do some stitching. In the Rainier Room was a splendid collection of watercolors, oils, and mixed media on the theme ``House.''