Every year, as Labor Day approaches, you hear it from longtime locals: variants of “I remember when Bumbershoot cost $5.”
Bumbershoot started out as a municipal affair to keep the city’s morale up in the wake of the Boeing bust, the brainchild of then-mayor Wes Uhlman. Originally called Festival ’71 (and, the next year, Festival ’72), it got the Bumbershoot name in 1973. It was always popular, too—its first year, it drew 125,000 people over three days. By that third year, 200,000 attendees gathered over five days.
As the festival has grown, so has its visual identity. During the 1970s, it settled into variations on a rainbow umbrella. In the 1980s, annual themes emerged. Then in the 2000s, it started to take on a look similar to other major events throughout the country as it solidified its place in the big-name festival circuit.
Here’s a look at the festival’s design over nearly half a century.
1970s: Festival beginnings
After Bumbershoot got its name, it got its umbrella, although slightly different every year. At this point, Bumbershoot was pushing less the individual acts themselves as much as a community celebration—see musical acts, theater, and visual arts in one place, bring the kids.
Also: It was free, save for the occasional ticketed event within the festival.
1980s and 1990s: A growing event
In 1980, One Reel took over the festival’s operations—and still runs the festival today. It was also the first year Bumbershoot cost money, at $2.50 a head for adults (still free for youths and seniors) with a free Friday. In 1985, One Reel’s role was briefly called into question when Seattle Center tried to take over, but ultimately the city retained the group’s services.
One Reel’s first festival riffed on the visuals of the 1970s festivals, but each year eventually took on its own theme and branding. During this time, Bumbershoot grew from being a general local arts event to a bigger destination with big-name draws, although it maintained its local touch with features like a literary magazine.
By 1999, admission was still just $10 per day in advance ($14 at the gate, $32 for a four-day pass), with acts like Cake, Black Eyed Peas, the Violent Femmes, and Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.
The 2000s and 2010s: A major music festival
While each year had its own distinct, visual theme, posters emphasized musical acts more and more in a poster format that’s now extremely familiar for not just Bumbershoot, but other festivals throughout the country like Coachella: a straightforward list of acts ordered by draw. Headers still emphasize the multidisciplinary nature of the festival, though—leading with music with sections for comedy, literary, and other acts. Increasingly, the art framing the list of acts became both whimsical and scalable, from the little monster mascots of 2005 to this year’s undersea look.
This time period saw the most rapid escalation of event costs, growing from $12 to $16 a day in 2001 and $22 to $40 a day in 2010 to $109 for daily general admission in 2019.