AT SASQUATCH! AND NEARING FORTY
“I’m too old for this shit,” said the photographer next to me. It was Sunday at SASQUATCH! Music Festival. I wrinkled my eyebrows at him. “Hey,” I said. “I’m older than YOU.” But you know, he was kind of right about both of us. SASQUATCH! is definitely tailor-made for the Energizer-Bunny twenty-something crowd, not for tired, fairly emotionally and financially stable people nearing or over forty. As a member of the media covering the festival, I repeatedly felt like a parent overseeing and documenting a high school prom after the apocalypse, one where there is a gigantic sweaty sleepover that stretches over a very long weekend and none of the parents are willing to control who puts what into the punch. But like a parent, I found myself grinning again and again. Because it was fun, and the experience of a lifetime, no matter your age. I’m just on the other side of the prom now. SASQUATCH! 2014 was still a blast.
The experience began for SMI photographer Arlene Brown and me on Thursday afternoon as we drove into the sea of chaos known as the camping area. I could feel my camping resolve sink like a pound of lead into my lower intestine as I took in the rows and rows of cars lining up
and plonking tents behind tailgates. So, so many people, all of them so much younger than us, and so very, very drunk or high already. Neither Arlene nor I are camping pros, so we doggedly set up our simple tent and goggled at the elaborate setups unfurling around us. Flags high on poles so that people could navigate back to their campsites every night, RVs with parties raging on roofs, and caution tape to keep the weaving, drunken masses out of claimed spaces. This went on as far as the eye could see. If you have never camped at a festival at The Gorge, I wouldn’t necessarily say that you’re missing out, but it’s an experience that is definitely unforgettable.
We set up camp right next to one of the main drags into and out of the camping area, so we saw (and heard) many interesting things. The guys camping across from us kept dropping a ball off of the roof of their camper, only to make cute girls bend over to pick it up and toss it back to them. Men with teddy bear backpacks staggered by in the dark. Music blared, ranging from bump, bump, bump to “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.” Car alarms would go off in a string across the whole campground in a show of solidarity, accompanied by the blowing of various whistles. These and various other shenanigans continued ALL NIGHT LONG. Thankfully I was in possession of a set of earplugs that I fondly refer to as “earf**kers” and boy, they worked great. Those and a sleeping pill and I was set (except for bullhorns and Outkast’s sound check that happened at 4 a.m. Friday; they didn’t keep that bass out).
Friday started off with a lovely performance by Mary Lambert at the main Sasquatch stage. Her voice is just so incredibly layered and beautiful, and the day was warming up and the sun was out. It was definitely a little windy, and Lambert joked about being squashed by the huge lights swaying above in the hefty breeze, but everything stayed attached, thankfully.
There were five stages constantly rotating acts, and if there was one that could be considered the naughty kid eating dirt and then wiping it on mom’s apron with glee, the award would go to the Narwhal stage. I found myself being drawn again and again to the lowly Narwhal to be blown away by gritty acts with high energy and decibel output. Kithkin was a great example of this on Friday, as the lead singer Ian McCutcheon screamed his head off and emoted wildly at all times. Meanwhile, back at the Sasquatch stage oldies but goodies De La Soul were pumping it up for the younger set and doing a great job. KONGOS lit up the Bigfoot stage with their drum-laden, accordion laced pop. The four brothers coalesced and rocked it out. Despite their differing ages and amounts of facial hair, the family resemblance is apparent (and sort of adorable).
Cage the Elephant was another high-energy act that drew a large crowd at the Sasquatch stage. And the fans knew what they were on about. Lead singer Matt Schultz evokes Mick Jagger in a way that is almost spooky, with his hands tucked behind his skinny ass and a swaggering duck walk. Shultz dove into the crowd and they reverently bore him on their arms. The band performed like the veterans they are, and for a middle of the day performance they held nothing back.
For those of us who enjoy all things throwback and fun, Maya Rudolph and her Prince cover band, Princess, took over the El Chupacabra stage with funky beats delivered with a naughty female edge. Rudolph doesn’t have the most amazing voice you ever heard, but the premise and execution of the set were spot on and very entertaining.
I took a break from processing photos to catch local favorite Damien Jurado on the Yeti stage. His haunting voice marries perfectly with his haunting songs, and his dry humor is something I always appreciate. But it was soon time for Outkast, who didn’t disappoint in the least. Andre 3000 and Big Boi worked their set around a screened in box on which different images were projected that related to various songs. Sometimes in the box and sometimes out, the duo were like two sides of a coin (as usual). Andre sported a shaggy white wig and a black jumpsuit with a “SOLD OUT” tag and emblazoned with the words “everything is ‘emporary,” while Big Boi went with the more traditional rapper garb. When “Ms. Jackson” started up, the crowd went wild, but honestly everyone was just crazy about being there, SEEING OUTKAST. Yeah, it was incredible.
Post Outkast, many people decided to start heading back to their beds, on-site or off. But there was this crazy diversion on the way out, and that was Die Antwoord. The utter shock of seeing/hearing this band drew people to the Bigfoot stage like flies. Indeed, like flies to a carcass, because Die Antwoord was vulgar and full of hate. I lost count as to how many F-bombs were dropped, probably because a staggering amount of them were delivered in the voice of a squeaky six-year-old. That voice was co-vocalist Yo-Landi Vi$$er, the counterpart to lead singer Ninja, who looked like Vanilla Ice on a mix of copious steroids and crack cocaine. Vi$$er herself is tiny, and has a bleach-blonde haircut that Ninja probably executed while on a mix of copious steroids and crack cocaine. The performance itself was assaulting and arresting at the same time, with jarring, visceral visuals on the background screen and profane songs sung in both English and Afrikaans daggering out in all directions. Nobody seemed to like Die Antwoord, yet throughout the rest of the weekend I heard their lyrics repeated again and again between various friends in the crowd to punctuate various jokes.
After tearing ourselves away from the horrifying Die Antwoord, we had to walk the mile or more back to the raging party at the campground. Arlene’s white socks had turned nasty brown. I couldn’t tell whether my feet were tanned or just filthy. Turns out, it was a little (a lot) of both.
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After a night on the ground, Arlene and I slogged our way back to the venue with all of our gear and a tub of Red Vines. I imagined that people were staring at me, at the Red Vines, or maybe at my hair, which felt as though I had combed it out with bacon grease. The night had been cold and shivery, but I woke up in a pool of sweat from a temperature that had skyrocketed with the rising sun.
The first band that got my tired eyes to open was Hobosexual, again at the Narwhal stage. Their sound was as gritty as I felt, and I could see why I had only heard positive things about them. Guitarist/vocalist Ben Harwood and drummer Jeff Silva play a dirty sort of rock with a bluesy touch and a smidge of Beastie Boys at times, with songs like “Phoenix Jones” kicking you in the gut. Time being of the essence, after a bit I headed back over to the Sasquatch stage to take in Augustines (by the way, the walk from the Narwhal to the Sasquatch was my favorite jaunt of the festival. Amazing, amazing view.). Augustines were playing their impassioned Springsteen-U2 mashup music to a small knot of people in front of the stage (it was about 2:30 p.m.), but they didn’t back down in intensity, not one iota.
I had been working in the media lounge for a while when the photos that I was tagging started to make me bark laughter. Bridget Everett may not be a musician (although she does perform songs after a fashion), but her comedy show was one of the definite highlights of SASQUATCH!. I wish I could have been there as she buried a security guard’s head in her crotch, picked a girl up, flipped her over, and spanked her, and flashed the crowd over and over again with varying parts of her ample body.
I couldn’t laugh for long, because it was time to swoon over the Violent Femmes, who performed their entire first album Violent Femmes in its entirety. I had heard about varying experiences seeing the Femmes; thankfully their set at SASQUATCH! was fully in “on” mode. New-ish drummer Brian Viglione (formerly of Dresden Dolls) sparked some commentary from the crowd with his sparkly gold pants and spunky ways. Bassist Brian Ritchie took a bad-ass break to play xylophone on “Gone Daddy Gone,” and Gordon Gano’s singular voice filled the ampitheatre as the crowd sang along to every word of “Add It Up” and “Blister in the Sun.” I had my own personal moment as the Femmes played “American Music,” one of my favorites.
After I came down from my happy cloud, it was time to rawk: back to the Narwhal stage and The Grizzled Mighty. Immediate associations with the White Stripes come to mind, but The Grizzled Mighty come off sounding a lot more ’70s and a bit less punk than that, in a good way. Whereas Hobosexual (another guitar/drum duo) has a certain element of goofiness involved in their music, The Grizzled Mighty has a prehistoric, sexy energy that comes out in sound waves that are almost visible. The physicality of both guitarist Ryan Granger and drummer Whitney Petty only add to this feeling as they thrash about in the throes of their orgasmic rock (campers on Saturday night were also treated to a pop-up concert by The Grizzled Mighty in the campground area. Sa-weet!).
M.I.A. put on a gold-infested show complete with drones sporting peace signs flitting about the stage. The crowd-think was in full force, and it was fascinating to watch the pit in front of the Sasquatch stage bump up and down like waves in the middle of an ocean. The juxtaposition between M.I.A.’s music, which is political yet dance/rave-like, and the crowd going nuts was very interesting.
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SUPER GEEK LEAGUE
I know I said that there were five stages, but in actuality there was one more. The self-described “soul-metal” band/circus act Super Geek League performed nearly continuously, day and night, throughout the festival. Face paint and crazy costumes abounded, along with incredible amounts of confetti and fire shows at night. The troupe even roamed the SAQUATCH! grounds, messing with concert-goers and creating ample photo opportunities. Check out these photos to see what I’m talking about; if you get a chance to see them sometime do it, because they are pretty incredible.
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Note to self: washing your hair with cold water is only a little bit helpful in getting it clean after so many days of not showering.
Sunday was a kinder, gentler day in some ways, as some of the masses had eased off to other places overnight, never to return. Which was a bit of a shame, because there was still a lot of awesome music to ingest, like Tacocat. Their feminine feminist candy punk was adorable, as bubbles continuously floated across the Yeti stage. Never has a song about a urinary tract infection sounded so cute and pogo-inducing. Lead singer Emily Nokes wore a shirt with a gumball print on it and had a head of blue hair. That’s me in my imagination, so of course I loved their set and bought NVM, their latest album.
One of the best sets of the weekend came from Black Joe Lewis, who comes off as a grungier version of James Brown sans cape and Godfather of Soul attitude. Where two nights before, Die Antwoord drew a huge crowd due to the shock value of their profanity-laden rap and flashy visuals, Black Joe Lewis collected a throng of people at the Bigfoot stage due to music that sucks you in and gets you to dance. People pogoed at most any show during SASQUATCH! weekend, but it was only during Black Joe Lewis that I saw any authentic ass-shaking going on. Rolls of toilet paper were also flying through the air, and toilet paper streamers decorated the stage scaffolding, ruffling in the breeze.
Elbow made a pit stop at SASQUATCH! on their tour through the PNW (see Alicia Kamenick‘s full review), and Guy Garvey’s amazing voice was the perfect complement to the scenery of the Gorge in the late afternoon sunshine.
I definitely had to check out Bob Mould in all of these multitudes of bands; his long career with and without Sugar made him a must-see for this ’90s indie girl. I can’t say that I have ever really loved his worn, ragged voice, but he DID duet with Kristin Hersh once on Throwing Muses’ Red Heaven, so it was nice to be able to check him off of my list.
Kid Cudi had the most elaborate stage setup that I saw during the festival. He emerged from a sort of cave/mountain that was emblazoned with his personal logo, and stalagmites were placed all along the boundary of the stage. Cudi himself was decked out like a dorky version of the Fresh Prince, sort of opposite cool (a look that seemed popular among the male concert-goers this year). I dug his friendly demeanor as he made sure to work the entire stage and greet everyone in the crowd, and his fans simply ate him up.
After getting an eyeball on Kid Cudi I needed to head back to the media lounge for more photo work; hence I can tell you one thing about Queens of the Stone Age: they were green. It also looked like they were pretty freakin’ loud.
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We woke early on Monday morning as we were itching to get the heck out of there and back home. I pulled my awesome earplugs out at 6:44AM and the first thing I heard was techno music. We were scruffy and disgusting, but made the best of our greasy trek home, taking the newly re-opened Chinook Pass and hoping to see Mt. Rainier up close (alas, it was fogged out). I entered my home jonesing for a shower, but was informed that the dishwasher was running and I almost cried. But soon I was standing under hot water and then lying on a bed. Sweet, sweet bed. But truthfully, I will look back on that long weekend as one of the best experiences of my life. Plus, five days of marinating my hair had made it soft and fluffy. Call it a win-win.