Suspended indeterminately between 1962 and the heat death of the universe, the Seattle Center is our city’s screwball time capsule. Things on the campus are trapped more or less the same place, occupying the same basic functions, but the aesthetics shift enough to confound even semi-regular visitors such as myself.
The Needle still looms overhead, and other antiquities remain: the burgundy brick bathroom halls in back of the Armory, the Children’s Museum forest, the moldering Science Center pond. But surficial upgrades abound, and Climate Pledge ($16 Beer) Arena seems to have tipped the scales to the contemporary.
The Seattle Center finally feels more new than old, and Day In Day Out, the incipient musical festival now in its third year of operation, feels newer than most anything this side of the EMP, or whatever they’re calling Paul Allen’s dusty guitar collection these days. Operated by business/event conglomerate Daydream State, DIDO hit the scene as a “post-COVID” experiment in 2021. Did the city need a new music festival? In our fragile state, no one could say. Two years later DIDO seems a worthwhile gambit, one that drew a reported 8,000 fans to the formerly underutilized Fisher Lawn and Pavilion last weekend.
Gen Z-ers and millennials (these comprised most of the crowd) arrived piecemeal on Saturday afternoon, dressed in summer outfits more ergonomic than bold. Face sparkles are in. Midriffs, in. Bucket hats? Very in. One element that separates DIDO from its peers – THING, Bumbershoot, Daydream State’s Capitol Hill Block Party – is that DIDO uses a single stage, an efficient hulk of speakers and lighting rigs.
This serves as a trade-off. There’s less outright choice, which depending on your scheduling neuroses could actually be good. The stage focuses technicians and sound operators around a lone performance – also good. A theoretical downside is that weak acts could usher disaster, dragging down the entire festival.
From Saturday opener Enumclaw to Sunday night closer Bon Iver, nothing of the sort occurred.
Fresh off their stellar 2022 debut Save the Baby, Tacoma-based Enumclaw came in the venue swinging, greeting an audience of disparate shade-seekers. “Who out here has any idea who the fuck we are?” asked bassist Eli Edwards after a few tunes. A predominance of fans shouted back, to which he muttered, “Hell yeah,” only to have singer Aramis Johnson one-up him soon after by throwing his shoes into the audience (the Reverse George W).
Saturday’s finest set – and there were many, including Yaeji’s bass-driven dance numbers – came around dinnertime when Philly-based indie rocker Alex G. took the stage. With his jangly six-string tones and uncanny melodic sense, the songwriter invoked some sort of grunge-oriented Seattle mystique. He improvised frequently with his band (Thomas Kelly, John Heywood, Samuel Acchione), waltzed around with a plastic cup of brown liquid during “Blessing,” and generally seemed as if he were performing for no one but himself. Bravo.
A dozen yards behind the 21+ section of the audience, vendors hawked samples of THC-infused seltzer. “It’s a bit marked up at concessions,” they warned. Organizers planned for abundant alcohol sales, with large bars on the lawn and larger yet in the remodeled pavilion. Food trucks on the all-ages side seemed to avoid Bite of Seattle’s app-based disaster.
Overall this was a remarkably coherent festival experience, a credit to Daydream State and the Seattle Center both.
Post Alex G., millennials shouldered out of the pit and Gen Z pushed forward to hear an inspired set by Dominic Fike, after which Leon Bridges rounded out night one with sonically unimpeachable yet strangely lukewarm renditions of his many (so many) hits. Bridge’s voice sounded just like the record, and he makes a dang good album, but his performance lacked the spontaneous flair of the openers. Bridges’s touring band has so much in the tank, maybe they just don’t need to strain. Chops were abundant, but a long, hot day had drained the audience’s reserves.
It grew hotter still on day two, frazzling the crowd. “I know it’s Sunday,” said BADBADNOTGOOD drummer Alex Sowinski, “but we came here to party.” (Adding, “Whoaaa, check out the Needle!”)
Canadian jazz heads BBNG and Austin post-rockers Explosions in the Sky constituted a two-hour instrumental afternoon, irking karaoke mavens everywhere. Willow Smith (daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett) restored balance by singing very loud indeed, blowing the hinges off Sunday’s best and highest energy set. The 22-year-old has been dipping into punk and metal – “heavy stuff” – as of late, and anyone who saw her recent performance on SNL knew to get a good spot. She didn’t disappoint.
By the time indie demigods Bon Iver took over at half past nine, it’d been another eight hours of scalding acts, with even sunnier set breaks. For whatever reason the group’s music didn’t feel as seminal as it used to – a new album might do wonders. In any case, singer Justin Vernon provided everyone with a much-needed reality check when he stopped his performance to call on festival medics, asking them to help a fan in distress. Good for him! Was I the only one reminded of Danny Westneat’s recent column? (Do Gen Z-ers read The Seattle Times?) Regardless, it’s a hard, hot world out there. Don’t wait to call for help it someone looks like they need it.