Every Memorial Day Weekend, scruffy hipsters and hippies alike who lack the cash to drop on a desert jaunt — complete with $5 bottles of water and scorching heat — descend upon the Gorge Amphitheater in George, WA (yes, that’s really the name) for the 3-day Sasquatch! Music Festival. There are considerably less stages and less big names, but the views are gorge-ous (har har), and you can easily find all of the previous year’s blogworthy acts and at least a couple legendary ones before the weekend is through. And since this is Washington, the festival organizers provide a free water bottle refill station to save plastic. And did I mention it’s beautiful out there?
This year my Concert Companion (hereafter known as the CC) and I packed the car full of hoagies, Coronas, yogurt, fiber bars and a nice sturdy tent, and set out Friday night on the 2 1/2-hour trip from Seattle to George. In the morning we woke up to sunny skies and a slew of young, unwashed, bleary-eyed yet still really attractive festivalgoers. Everyone was friendly and out to have a good time. Some entrepreunerial folks set up a grill with hot dogs, tacos and breakfast burritos in preparation for the drunk munchies. Once you’ve all shared the same lineup of Portapotties, had a few beers, and brushed your teeth together in a makeshift sink, the camaraderie pretty much starts a-flowin’.
And now, here’s a breakdown of noteworthy events, day-by-day…
SATURDAY, May 29
Laura Marling – I was really curious about the woman who had served as Charlie Fink’s breakup muse on the latest Noah And The Whale album. She turned out to be a charming 20-year-old (contrary to the brochure which listed her as 17, for some reason) UK singer/songwriter who played mostly acoustic folk tunes, and the audience seemed to enjoy it from their various positions lying on the grass basking in the sun, or clumped up by the stage.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Living in LA I’ve probably overlooked a handful of chances to see these guys, with no good reason. We stood on the guard rails in front of the soundbooth and watched Alex Ebert (former member of Ima Robot, though you wouldn’t know just by listening to Ed Sharpe) dressed in white and lookin’ as Jesus as ever, traipse around the stage with fellow singer Jade Castrino and 8 other musicians. First festival high point: the entire crowd bursting out into “Home is wherever I’m with you!”
Mumford & Sons — Lots of people recommended we check out this band, including some of our neighbors with the U-Haul rig next door. The CC liked the set a lot more than I did, but if you like your folk music with a healthy dose of banjo, here’s a good place to look. Some of the bluegrass-tinged songs were dancier than others, and lots of people got down with their flip-flopped feet.
The National – Say what you will about Matt Berninger’s lack of vocal range, but “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is one of the best songs of the year so far. These New Yorkers’ performance on the main stage was awesome, even though Berninger looked troubled and pained, closing his eyes and gripping the mic stand through every song. Halfway through the set we realized that the guitarist and bassist were twins! (“Hey, how’d he change his clothes so fast?”) This was our introduction to the second tier of the pit area, and we were glad to be so close during the terrific performance of “Bloodbuzz” — though it would’ve been cool to have been in the real pit when Berninger walked through the crowd.
Vampire Weekend – No alarms and no surprises here, people! Not like anyone expected anything different, but the Columbia prepsters delivered a mega-energetic set of new and old material to a pit full of folks frantically dancing and fist pumping. Unfortunately Ezra Koenig busted out the autotune on “California English,” but the band all but made up for that with singalongs “A-Punk,” “Cousins” and “Walcott.” I’m not a big fan of their records but this was the most downright balls-to-the-wall fun set (of the ones we made it to) of all 3 days.
SUNDAY, May 30
Local Natives — After waiting in the entry line for half an hour, we sprinted to the Honda Bigfoot Solar Stage to see one of my favorite LA acts. I’ve been following them since spring 2009 and watching them grow has been amazing. Apparently everyone else outside of LA has caught on as well, because the huge crowd seemed to know all the words to songs like “Sun Hands,” “Camera Talk,” and “Wide Eyes.” The 3 and 4-part harmonies were spot-on as always, and I may’ve teared up during “World News” and “Who Knows Who Cares” (dedicated to guitarist Taylor Rice’s girlfriend on her birthday). 3-way tie with The National and Vampire Weekend as my favorite set.
Avi Buffalo — Recent SubPop signees and another LA act — the city really represented this year! They played on the smaller Yetti Stage and the crowd wasn’t as big as it could’ve been, but they just seemed really happy to be there — ever since breaking out of the Long Beach/LA scene, Avi, Rebecca, Sheridan and Arin have gone around with this endearing bewilderment at their rising success, and totally enjoyed the hell out of the ride. The girl standing next to me had never been to an Avi show and belted out the words to every song, to her friend’s either dismay or enjoyment, I couldn’t really tell. There were some awkward tuning pauses in between, but nothing that couldn’t be saved. The outro to “Remember Last Time” killed, and I’m continually impressed by Avi’s mad guitar skillz.
The Tallest Man On Earth — Another point of discrepancy for me and the CC. I’m usually all for the one-guy-with-a-guitar thing if he can command a stage (see: Bon Iver, AA Bondy, Jose Gonzalez, Conor Oberst, and the list goes on), but everything started to sound the same after awhile — that is, up until closer “King Of Spain.” Kristian Matsson does have one of the most unique voices in folk these days, though.
Pavement — It was his birthday and all, but I’m not sure if Stephen Malkmus was really drunk, or if this was just Pavement being Pavement. We camped out on the lawn high above the mainstage and kept exchanging “what the hell’s going on??” glances as the band started and stopped, ostensibly out of tune and just not really keeping the set in line. Massive Attack was up next so we moved down to the pit, and towards the final 3 or 4 songs they seemed to hit their stride, but it didn’t really salvage the performance.
Massive Attack — A few months ago one of my co-workers mentioned Massive Attack, totally taken aback that I wasn’t familiar. And now I can see why. They played an hour and a half of trance-inducing music with the best light show of the weekend, and if you were sitting anywhere too far away you wouldn’t be able to see the LED messages scrolling across the board behind the band — everything from celebrity newsbits to political commentary and words of wisdom. Everyone we talked to that night agreed it was mindblowing.
Booka Shade (DJ set) — The first 2 nights closed out with “late-night” DJ sets on the Honda Bigfoot Stage following the headlin
ing act; after Massive Attack we joined the huge dance party on the grass for more light show, pumping synths, beach balls like your college graduation and a mass of happy youth getting it all out. It was like being at a warehouse party, but out in the open air…after having your mind blown by Massive Attack. Awesome end to the day.
As the weekend progressed the energy grew and the cleanliness quotient dwindled just as quickly — notably, the line for beer at the general store was consistently longer every morning than the line for showers. The food was pretty much what you’d expect for a weekend festival, except one of the happiest small moments for the CC and I was stumbling upon a pizza stand Monday morning and walking to the grounds with a slice and a coffee. Perfecto.
MONDAY, June 1
We stayed pretty close to the main stage on Monday, mostly because we were tired and always agreed that if in doubt, just sprawl out on the lawn and take a nap. This was also the day of the long-awaited 1-2-3-4 punch of Passion Pit, She & Him, Band of Horses and MGMT slated for the 4-8 pm slots.
Mayer Hawthorne and The County — I told the CC he might like this Michigan-bred white dude playing soul music. The band looked sharp in their white suits, and it kind of reminded me of Marvin Berry & The Starlighters (even though they wore blue). They played a few bars of Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” before seguing into single “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” (both songs use the same beat). Overall it sounded as good as the record – no more, no less.
The Temper Trap — You might know them as that band with that song on the 500 Days Of Summer soundtrack — the part where Tom and Summer meet on the Amtrak to San Diego, wedding montage, and so on. We came into this set only knowing “Sweet Disposition,” but came out of it with a newfound interest in these Aussies.
Passion Pit — When we finally moseyed into the pit, the party vibe was in full force — Michael Angelakos sang the synthpop dance hits that made these guys a buzz band, while the audience turned into a dancing mob of neon shorts, face paint, beer bottles and fratty Abercrombie-looking dudes pumping their fists and singing along to “The Reeling,” “Make Light” and “Little Secrets.” Someone brought a huge blow-up whale. It looked like MTV Spring Break. Apparently bros love Passion Pit!
She & Him — No one expected this to be epic, but it was upbeat and entertaining and the backing guitarist/bassist/drummer were all solid musicians. The Chapin Sisters came out on the 2nd or 3rd song and stood awkwardly at stage right, singing backup and hitting a triangle that no one could really hear. All the predicted comments apply here — Zooey Deschanel was beautiful, though not with the most engaging voice in indie music, and M. Ward is still the effin’ man. He rocks those shades like no one’s business, too. Every time he played a solo, or the few times he contributed vocals, the crowd went nuts. Apparently bros love She & Him!
Band Of Horses — Everyone expected this to be epic. “Factory” (from the new album) and “No One’s Gonna Love You” were definite set highlights, and then we were all anxiously awaiting “The Funeral.” Lead singer Ben Bridwell had to pause to grab his pick between verses and choruses, putting a bit of a splinter in the song, but still a strong set.
Stomachs full of hot dogs and fries, we hightailed it out of the festival grounds 2 songs into MGMT’s set — the CC was bent on avoiding the crush of cars we’d encountered Friday night, and we both agreed that we weren’t going to be missing much after 2 songs. When we got back to the site it was eerily still and quiet like a zombie flick — except instead of the undead there were huge piles of trash bags, a lonely line of Portapotties under the fading sunset, deserted tents in the foreground, the opening line of “Kids” somewhere among the mountains in the distance.
While there were definitely some artists we didn’t catch due to time constraints — Phantogram, Camera Obscura, New Pornographers, Miike Snow and The Middle East among them — we drove back to Seattle listening to a mix of the best Sasquatch artists, and reveled in another Memorial Day Weekend made good!
Laura Marling (Courtesy: Adam Forslund)
Pavement (Courtesy: Victoria Vanbruinisse for City Arts Magazine)
Tallest Man on Earth (Courtesy: Adam Forslund)
New Pornographers (Courtesy: Adam Forslund)
The Middle East (Courtesy: Victoria Vanbruinisse for City Arts Magazine)
Miike Snow (Courtesy: Adam Forslund)
Fruit Bats (Courtesy: Adam Forslund)
(Courtesy: Victoria Vanbruinisse for City Arts Magazine)
(Courtesy: Victoria Vanbruinisse for City Arts Magazine)