By Gemma Alexander
Bumbershoot is North America’s largest urban arts festival, with performances in music, dance, theater, comedy, and more starting every 15 minutes throughout the weekend. No other festival offers such variety. With free admission for kids ages 10 and under and expanded family programming, Bumbershoot has become an excellent destination for families, a risk-free way for you to explore the arts with your kids. Here are five tips for making a Bumbershoot family outing an ovation-worthy success.
1. Start with Youngershoot
Since 2009, Youngershoot, the festival’s program for kids ages 10 and under, has made it easier for parents to share their favorite festival with the whole family. Last year, Bumbershoot introduced the Children’s Museum Kids’ Zone, open only to children and their guardians.
Running from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, the Kids’ Zone is bigger this year, with special exhibits and hands-on activities. Young children and school-age kids can create clay sculptures, make a musical instrument, join a scavenger hunt, play with the Radio Disney Road Crew, or do fun science experiments every day of the festival. ParentMap will be there too, helping kids design magazine covers featuring their own families.
Some particular highlights: On Saturday, youth groups will perform tap, Vietnamese, Indian, and Latino dances. On Sunday, kids join the show with Brian Vogan and His Good Buddies, and Ocheami’s Africa Comes to You — Ghana Style. The Pacific Science Center will present science shows on Sunday and Monday. Also on Monday, there will be a puppet show, a family yoga class, and Radio Disney’s Rockin’ Roadshow.
Youngershoot programming is expanding beyond the Kids’ Zone with events to appeal to older kids, including the inventive acrobatics of Galumpha, Films for Families, and ACT’s Ramayana Youth Theater. A full Youngershoot schedule is posted on the Bumbershoot website.
The general Bumbershoot lineup can also be filtered for family-friendly events. The list is rich in local favorites like Noah Gunderson, Damien Jurado, and Sera Cahoone, while Symphony Untuxed or Tuareg guitarist Bombino will broaden musical horizons.
The Elvis Parade and interactive art installation “Record Store” are fun ways for kids to learn music history.
The family-friendly filter is stringent, so don’t be afraid to try something off-list, such as Best Coast’s early afternoon set on Monday (1:45 p.m.) or feminist rappers THEESatisfaction (Saturday, 5:10 p.m.). If you find yourself at a show that is louder or ruder than expected, it’s easy to move on to something else.
Although Youngershoot could keep a family busy all weekend, it can easily be mixed with other family-friendly events or serve as a backup when one parent wants to visit the comedy stage.
Bumbershoot involves over 150 events and exhibits in 19 Seattle Center venues, not to mention hosts dozens of vendors. It helps to have a plan.
Before you go, talk to your children about what to expect and basic safety rules. When you arrive, show your children the information booths and staff so they know how to find help if they get lost. If your little one tends to bolt, Bumbershoot’s KidSafe program offers free wristbands to help reunite lost children with their grownups. You can register your child for a wristband at any information booth, and pick up a venue map while you’re there. (See Bumbershoot’s tips for families.)
This is Seattle, so bring sweaters and sunscreen, as well as swimsuits and spare clothes for the kids. Even in marginal weather the International Fountain is irresistible to children. Strollers can be great for carrying gear and helping toddlers nap, but the tradeoff is trying to stash a stroller during performances in crowded venues. Backpacks and baby carriers might be more manageable.
4. Fuel up
Indulging in festival food is a time-honored tradition, but $5 lemonades quickly break the bank. It’s better to bring water bottles and snacks, and get cash the day before. Tickets purchased in advance online are cheaper. Less time standing in line during the festival leaves more time for having fun.
If you would rather buy than bring, it's worth noting that the Center House food court has been revamped and upgraded as the Armory, and includes some truly promising new residents, including Eltana Bagels, Skillet, Pie and Bean Sprouts Café.
5. Go with the flow
Planning is important, but be willing to abandon the plan. Your kids might wander into a different show, become intrigued by a busker on the way to an event, or miss a performance to play outside. When everyone has had enough, go home. With a little planning and a lot of flexibility, Bumbershoot will become a cherished family tradition.
If you go . . .
When: September 1–3: Saturday–Monday. Gates open at 11 a.m. daily
Where: Seattle Center
Parking: Parking lots at or near Seattle Center cost $10–$20 and can fill up. For public transportation, use Metro’s online Trip Planner. It’s a cheaper, greener, sometimes easier alternative that’s also an urban adventure to kids.
Tickets: Buy online. Adults’ advance single-day tickets start at $40, 3-day passes at $135. Senior/ADA passes are $25. Free admission for children 10 and under.
Writer Gemma Alexander reluctantly acknowledges that one family can never see all of Seattle’s kid-friendly concerts.