Bumbershoot – Day 2 – Arsenal, The Head and the Heart, Tom Robbins

I’d wanted to see Hobosexual at 12:30 and We are Scientists at 1:15, but I was late. There’d been an Arsenal game on that morning, and well, I’d stayed home to watch it. It might have been a bad idea though. Arsenal were lackluster and uninspired against a team they should have beaten. The result was a draw, 1 – 1. At least, I hadn’t gone to the pub for that and spent money drinking. That would have made for a long Bumbershoot day. Still, I support Arsenal (and Swansea, but that’s a post for another time), so I’ll watch every week. My apologies to Hobosexual and We are Scientists. I’ll make a better effort to catch your next Seattle shows that don’t happen on a Saturday or Sunday mornings.

Bumbershoot 2014 Day 2

So anyway, by the time I got to the Bumbershoot press room it was just after 1:00, and I still had to write about the previous day’s events. I figured that left me plenty of time to get something posted and head to the KEXP Music Lounge at 3:45 for The Head and the Heart. It had been almost three years since I’d seen them at the Moore Theater. I’d been struck then, so much so that the band is in my next book because that show at the Moore was something special, and here at Bumbershoot three years later I wanted to see if they were still as good as they were then. I wasn’t sure. I’ve listened to some of the tracks online from their most recent album but just haven’t been able to get into them. Hard to say why. It’s the same kind of stuff as their first album, and I quite enjoyed that. It could have been context. I knew a bartender back then at The Porterhouse in West Seattle and she’d recommended the band to me, said I should write about them. So I went to the Moore and was blown away. I’d been hoping for that from their second album, but it didn’t happen. I wondered if I needed to seen them live, because as I so often say, live is the thing.

Bumbershoot was the perfect opportunity. I like the KEXP room. It’s my favorite Bumbershoot venue and seemed like it would be well suited to their sound. It took me too long to write something about Day 1 though, so by the time I got to the performance it was 3:40, and the line was long, even the press line. I waited for about fifteen minutes. Some people were let in, others waited. The press line didn’t move. After another five minutes of standing still, I gave up. I knew they were playing later on the main stage and made note to catch them then.

At 4:45, I made sure to be at the Fisher Green Stage for Luscious Jackson. I’ve never been a fan, but I thought to give them a chance while taking some photos. When LJ, took the stage, they jumped right into it. I took a few pictures and then stood in the photo pit for a couple minutes listening, but the sounds flew over my head. I wasn’t getting it. I’d been hoping that I’d missed something the first time around with LJ back in the 90’s, but that wasn’t true. They weren’t awful. It would have been fine from the beer garden to sit and have a few drinks while half-listening and trying to carry a conversation. It reminded me of the Arsenal game. The performance was lacking something, I wanted more. I was ready for it, open for the possibility, but the players on the pitch and on the stage were not inspired.

Luscious Jackson at Bumbershoot

I was open to the fact that it could have been something lacking in me, that maybe I was approaching the whole thing in the wrong way. I mean, in the morning, I hadn’t even worn my Arsenal shirt or newly inherited scarf. Such rituals are important. And maybe I should have gone to the pub. Maybe it’s my fault. Apologies to you Gunners out there. I’ll be at the George and Dragon for the next game and dressed accordingly. As for LJ, maybe I should have skipped the photo thing and just sat in the beer garden, maybe closing my eyes to the music would have opened my ears. It was too late, though, standing there in the photo pit there wasn’t time. Tom Robbins was reading on the Words and Ideas Stage at 5:15. I didn’t want to miss that so I walked over and saw a line, heard a few people say that it was full, that there was little hope they’d get in. I walked to the front of the line and told the woman working the door that I needed to get in. I pointed to my photo pass, “I want to get some pictures and write about it.” She smiled, stepped back, opened the door, “Sure thing, sir.”


As I walked in, I heard a woman at the front of the line say, “What the hell? Why does he…” Then the door shut.

I walked into the auditorium and spotted a group of photographers near the bottom on the left side of the stage. I joined them, and when the lights went down a woman came out on stage to announce Tom, but she first warned the audience that no pictures were allowed, that people seen with devices out would be asked to leave. I’m not really a photographer so I had only a point and click camera and my cell phone. It made me wonder if they’d question my credentials and ask me to leave. It wouldn’t be the first time for me.

Before going further, I should say, that prior to the reading, I’d only ever tried to read one Tom Robbins’ book, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, and that was four years ago. My experience with that was not good. I got about fifty pages in, maybe less, and gave up. Either it wasn’t speaking to me or I wasn’t getting it, but over the past six months, I’ve had a number of folks in Seattle highly recommend his books and suggest I give him another shot. And then lo, there he was on the Bumbershoot schedule. The timing was perfect. I told myself to forget about my first attempt at his stuff, to just sit in the audience and listen, and take photos and pictures too.

Bumbershoot - Tom Robbins

The point of the event was that Tom wanted to read the opening bits of his eleven books and see what would come of it. He joked to the audience that it might come to nothing. “I haven’t even practiced this so it might be a disaster.” This brought some laughter from the crowd, many of whom had books in their hands to read along and probably for Tom to sign later. As he progressed though the books, there was more laughter. His timing and pace were perfect. The audience hung on every word and more so on every pause. The eighty-two year old man just sitting there on stage had more intensity than a lot of the bands I’ve seen. Every movement, every turn of the page, every stutter in the reading–and there were only a few–guided the audience. It was almost like a poetry reading for the brevity of each bit, but all the better for it. It left the audience wanting more, especially those like me who had read so little of his stuff.

I made my notes. Was truck by some bits, but by this bit most of all.

There is only one serious question. And that is:
Who knows how to make love stay?
Answer me that and I will tell you wether or not to kill yourself.
Answer me that and i will ease your mind about the beginning and end of time.
Answer me that and I will reveal to you the purpose of the moon.

Maybe I’d been wrong about Tom Robbins and the Frog Pajamas. It wouldn’t have been a first. That excerpt was from Still Life with Woodpecker, which was first published in 1980, and which it still in print. That’s admirable, says he must have done something right. I decided to buy the book, to give Tom another try. And I wondered of course, if I’d ever be able to have a reading at Bumbershoot. Chances are slim of course, but if write eleven books, then maybe when I’m in my eighties, I might just be able to sit on that stage in my Arsenal shirt and with a Blue Moon in hand while reading words I’d written three or four decades prior. Hell, maybe people will still be listening to the Head and the Heart then. I hope so. Maybe they’ll reunite on the Bumbershoot 2051 Senior Stage to play their songs from all those years before. And the young kids and the folks in their wheelchairs will rock and groove as they’re able, for music, just like writing, is meant to last.


Dave O’Leary is a writer and musician living in Seattle. The Music Book, his second novel, was published by Booktrope in September 2014. In addition to writing for Northwest Music Scene, he has also had work published in The Monarch Review and on Slate.com. Visit his website at http://www.daveoleary.net. Photo by Stacy Albright, stacyalbrightimages.com.

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