Music » Music Reviews

The Sasquatch Diaries

Navigating the Northwest’s biggest indie fest

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The Camping Caravan

In a car nicknamed the hot potato, with snacks, booze and camping gear sprinkled like toppings into every available crevice, we set out on a journey from Portland, Ore. to the Sasquatch music festival. Crossing the majestic Columbia River up Highway 82, the futuristic glint of spinning wind turbines beckoning from atop Washington’s creviced rocky canyons, I couldn’t help but feel that same twinge of awe that inspired Woody Guthrie. “In the misty crystal glitter / of that wild and windward spray / Men have fought the pounding waters / and they met a watery grave.”

Though we had no plans to fight any pounding waters, we did have some serious plans to rock. As a couple of Sasquatch newbies, my longtime pal (who lives in Portland) and I had done our best to anticipate any hardships we might encounter camping for three days and two nights in the wild, wild grasslands of the Gorge Amphitheatre parking lot. Raincoats? Check. Layers? Check. Cooler packed with Tofurkey and rice cheese? Um, check.

As we lurched down the winding dusty road, passing miserable-looking orange vested parking attendants directing an endless string of music-thumping cars, we carefully tucked any visible glass bottles under our car seats. Not that it would matter. We had no contact with any sort of car-inspecting authority figure and quickly rolled the HP into a tuft of browning grass sandwiched between two other vehicles.

Though we’d been informed that some concert-goers opt to set up their tents before they turn in for the night and take them down during the day to avoid theft or strong wind gusts, that certainly wasn’t the case in our camping hood. Our neighbors unpacked their gear immediately and left most large things out for the entire weekend. After rigging our freshly broken tent with some packing tape, we whipped up some whiskey and Coke’s and slathered on a healthy squirt of sunscreen.

Saturday Night Lights

A five-minute jaunt later and we were standing before the festival’s heavenly gates. Saint Peter (a fanny-packed, uniformed ticket-taker) soon informed us that there would be no re-entry to the concert grounds if we left. Not anticipating this glitch, and without an adequate reserve pile of snacks or smuggled booze, we were later forced (yes, forced) to throw down nine hard-earned bucks for a domestic beer and eight dollars for a mini bottle of wine. As we walked down a paved pathway littered with neon-clad nu ravers, college bros with sunburned backs and tripped out body-painted kids in Dr. Seuss hats (yes, they still exist), we heard the sweet bellow of Shearwater emanating from the medium-sized Wookie Stage. The Austin, Texas-based band put on a killer show, with a sound that blended the welling orchestration of Arcade Fire with the chillingly moody vocals of Antony and the Johnsons. Before their set had ended, we heard the beginning notes from Animal Collective’s new tune “My Girls” and booked it to the Main Stage.

As the Columbia River made its second appearance—winding serenely through the canyons that jutted up behind the massive Main Stage—we let the sweet psych-folk sounds of Animal Collective give us a big sweaty, head-banded hug. We finished out the rest of the evening at the much smaller Yeti Stage where Ra Ra Riot brought on a serious dance party then headed over to sway to the sweet folksy strum of Bon Iver at the Wookie Stage. Unlike his first album For Emma, Forever Ago recorded alone at a cabin in the woods, Bon Iver’s messy-haired live show featured a full jamming band. Unfortunately, a good part of their set was spent ameliorating various technical difficulties.

Sunday, Sweaty Sunday

Peeling ourselves out of the tent on Sunday morning, we started a pot of boiling water on the camp stove for the oh-so-wonderful French press. With a steaming mug of coffee in hand, we stumbled to the on-site General Store to procure ice. Though the sign on the cooler advertised a moderate price of $3, we were told at the register after winding through a long line that the large bags of ice (the only ones they had) were in fact $18. Yup, $18. And we still bought one. As many people quipped over the weekend, the place aught to be re-named The Gouge.

Though Sunday had the line-up I was least looking forward to, there ended up being some stand-out, stand-up, get-down sets. One was Annie Clark, the ex-Polyphonic Spree member who plays under the moniker St. Vincent. Wearing giant cream-colored glasses and vixen-red lipstick, she charmed the crowd with favorites like “Marry Me,” singing: “Oh, John / C’mon / we'll do what Mary and Joseph did / … without the kid.” Another standout from Sunday was the always zany Of Montreal. With spandex-clad acrobats and an assortment of screen projections that became more visible as the sun dipped down, the band had the entire crowd shaking their asses well into the darkness.

Mad, Melty Monday

By far the most sweltering of the generally pleasant long weekend, Monday came on in full force. By 10 a.m. the line for the make-shift shower (a row of water faucets) was beginning to grow. Some already drunk chicks behind us in bathing suits pleaded with a man hosing down the Honey Bucket emptying truck (Honey Bucket is, grossly, the name for Port-O-Potties at Sasquatch) asking to be sprayed down. As he did, an audible “ewww” echoed through the barely-awake crowd.

Once inside the festival’s gates, our purses slung low with sandwiches, we opted to pass up the lovely sounding Grizzly Bear for Horse Feathers, a band originally formed in Moscow, Idaho. Though Justin Ringle’s high-pitched, delicate warble is startlingly beautiful recorded, his soft voice had a hard time commanding attention at a live, raucous festival. Ratcheting up the dance-o-meter, we skipped over to catch Santigold on the Main Stage. With a duo of gold-jacket clad dancers and gold hat-topped musicians, Santigold had the sweaty masses panting to gems like the anthemic “L.E.S Artistes.”

After an energetic, hairy-lipped set by gypsy punkers Gogol Bordello, we wrestled our way up to the crowded pit to catch Seattle’s Fleet Foxes. After sadly missing most of their set last year at Woodriver Cellars, I was determined to make things right at Sasquatch. The band gave a charming—if not slightly underwhelming—performance treating the crowd to a couple of new songs and favorites like “White Winter Hymnal” and “Blue Ridge Mountains.”

We bolted after the Fleet Foxes, exhausted and dreading the five hour drive back to Portland. Crossing back over the Columbia River, I lifted my weary head in time to glance out the passenger window and catch the steely glisten of the river by moonlight. Though the sun had long set on our Sasquatch adventure—and I could barely move a single muscle in my body—I knew it would be an adventure we’d speak of grinningly for years to come.