The choice, says Brian Robinson of the Seattle Center Advisory Commission, was staggeringly complex, logistically speaking, but ultimately simple: go big or go home (literally).
The future of Bumbershoot, that fabled three-day testament to Seattle’s thriving live music and visual arts landscape, was in doubt last September, when Seattle Center issued a request for proposals in search of a new producing partner. It was akin to an SOS.
New Rising Sun, a coalition of some of the city’s most significant figures in live entertainment and the arts—Steven Severin of Neumos; Greg Lundgren, founder of the Museum of Museums and Vital 5 Productions; and Joe Paganelli, general manager of McCaw Hall—rose to the call.
The festival has been the purview of Seattle Center since its inception in 1971 as a motley conglomerate of music, film, literature, and pretty much anything else that could conceivably be called “art.” Nonprofit event producer One Reel was the production partner for 39 years, starting in 1980, and stepped down following the 2019 festival, when financial rumblings and actual rumblings (a barricade collapsed, injuring 25 people) proved too much to weather.
Even before the calamitous cluster that was 2020, Bumbershoot was in uncomfortably warm water; The Stranger remarked, in 2019, on the festival’s lowest attendance to date, and there was widespread disgruntlement over rising ticket prices and a general sense that the fest had betrayed its humble hippie origins.
New Rising Sun distinguished itself in the pool of six applicants, says Robinson, with the sheer scope and audacity of its vision. Its reimagining of Bumbershoot as a year-round brand positions it as “bigger than just a weekend…bigger than just a music festival,” and seeks to recapture some of the offbeat eclecticism (and accessibility) that defined the original fest.
The proposal from New Rising Sun touches on youth programming, a focus on local and regional artists, and the importance of highlighting historically underrepresented voices, all of which made it particularly appealing to the selection committee. Another point in the coalition’s favor was the impressive vitaes of its membership: Severin, Lundgren, and Paganelli are all deeply entrenched in the community, with proven records of spectacular arts programming, says Robinson. If anyone is up to the task of executing this ambitious transformation, it’s these three.
A new production agreement between Seattle Center and New Rising Sun is currently underway, with a date for the next festival to be determined as part of the negotiations. Although the “when” may still be in question, an “if” no longer casts a shadow over the festival’s future.