Then there are the pure logistics of camping with thousands of other weirdos: Human stink, bathroom stink, trash stink—all kinds of stink snowballed into one bigger stink. There are the loud-talkers and the car alarms and the public sexers and the vomit-prone. There are the port-o-potties run out of toilet paper and the hand-washing stations out of water. There are, perhaps most tiring of all, just a lot of unsupervised teenagers.
I was dreading all of this as I wound into camp, after a lengthy and accidental detour that cruised through Port of Morrow, among other Northeastern Oregon sights. My fears were legitimate. The first thoughts through my mind as I wandered between campsites were, in order: “Why do none of these parking attendants know what’s going on?”; “Aren’t there going to be signs telling me where to park!?”; “So, I guess it’s cool to just put a tent here?”; “Wow, it really is beautiful up here.”; “What is that smell?”; “Jesus Christ, does your mother know you dress like this?”; “Oh my god, this kid can’t even stand up straight”; “Where do all these teenagers come from?”; “Wow, this spot would be beautiful if it wasn’t covered in beer cans, fliers and empty beef jerky packets”; “So there’s a five dollar ATM fee and a 24 ounce can of Pabst costs $11? So I’m paying $16 for a PBR?”
Saturday started off with Starfucker playing their 2nd set of the festival. Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen unsuccessfully tried to do some stand-up, which was mostly awkward silence after the punch lines. Helio Sequence debuted some new songs from their upcoming record during their set. The final act of the night, The Roots, showed why they're one of the most entertaining bands out there. ?uestlove held down the groove like a rock while Black Thought cooly delivered verse after verse. The rest of the band had coordinated dances and were constantly running around the stage. They could've done anything and the crowd would have loved it. Hell, they even covered "Sweet Child O Mine." -Evan
I soon found that the secret to attending a festival like this is to try and ignore all the carnival-esque periphery and focus on the music. That proves impossible at an event run on every miniscule level by the nation’s largest concert promoter and fifty of its closest friends/sponsors, but you try. And then you see some great things. Things like Seattle MC Spaceman lost in a mob of fans at the tiny Maine stage (yes, the state of Maine sponsors a stage); or Howlin’ Rain making music that looks and sounds like something you’d have seen at a festival in the early ‘70s; or the Shins’ new lineup—which I have talked some shit about in the past—jamming out on an incredible version of “Sleeping Lessons” while thousands of bouncing fans sing along.
My visit to the Gorge was quick. I was there for about 29 hours in all. Despite being overwhelmed by randy teenagers, I found myself repeatedly drawn to the electronic tent—the Banana Shack, as organizers dubbed it—which had the best light shows, the most energy and the youngest crowds of all the stages. The music may have not always been as inspiring as the crowds, but then sometimes it was (Wolfgang Gartner being my favorite electronic act). I thought an awful lot about dubstep and how desperately this generation must crave for something to come along and define it. I decided that, to me, makes the music worth rooting for. I hoped these kids would hold on to it for dear life; I hoped they would refuse to let it go the way of disco and that they would demand better of their fledgling genre, instead. That they’d find their Dylan and that he wouldn’t have a goofy haircut. Then I thought of people I known who are entrenched in electronic music, in love with micro-classifications of that music that take an expert ear to discern. I imagined their disgust at hearing me suggest that I’d like to see dubstep—the obnoxious, explosive sort that has captured the party generation’s attention—become something that sticks around and evolves, if for no other reason than because teenagers need something to call their own.
Deer Tick played a loud and bluesy set while Seattle rapper Spac3man did some posing with the beautiful gorge as a backdrop. Little Dragon really got people moving, who then headed over to dance to James Murphy's DJ set. -Evan
Sometimes the blasts of warbly bass would wash over the other stages like waves. Here We Go Magic’s Luke Temple tried to start his band’s set with something calming and low-key, but was blown out by simultaneous hip-hop beats and synth squeals from stages across the way. That made it tough on all of the festival’s softer acts, and Live Nation should think long and hard about the timing of the particularly bass-heavy acts and which way their speakers are pointed before doing this thing next year. If they can’t work those relentless beats in without murdering the artist playing next door, maybe the dance music should get its own time slot or go from midnight to 4 am (I don’t think my fellow campers would like that last suggestion).
The audio bleed also felt kind of fitting. You don’t go to Sasquatch to get subtle, I have learned, you go there to party. And for sensitive people who think too much, that party can often feel nihilistic and depressing. To get fucked-up and blast dubstep at deafening volume while covering one of the most beautiful places in the world in trash, swag, billboards and squished curly fries makes a hell of a statement. To charge people exorbitant fees to stare at billboards and wait in lines and drink $11 PBRs and hear two bands playing at each other takes incredible balls. But this thing keeps going, and people love it. Except for journalist friends, I never heard anyone—not fans or bands or festival staff—complain. People are used to the corporate tie-ins (and lord knows WW’s own festival, MusicfestNW, has its share) and they knew about the prices before they got to there. Hell, I saw people smiling and laughing as security guards dumped out their elicit drinks. I saw one girl beaming as two security guards walked her, by the elbows, out of the festival altogether. When EMTs surrounded a woman who was passed out in the grass, most of her neighbors just kept bobbing their heads along to the music.
Ben Howard had a huge number of people turn out to watch him considering the time of day. It seemed like everyone in the first few rows knew the words to each song he played. Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside played some new songs and let the crowd know that she is going to have a new record out this fall. Awesome! Seattle's Don't Talk to the Cops went crazy on the Maine Stage, climbing on top of anything they could. Fun. played a really cheesy set that their fans went crazy to. Tenacious D played with a giant inflatable penis on stage with them. -Evan
And despite all my misgivings, I had a spiritual moment of my own at Sasquatch. The Walkmen—a band with a thick catalogue and the good sense to know what to play from it—took the stage at sunset by explaining that they “rarely get invited” to festivals and “barely get asked back.” They proceeded to play the best set I’d see all weekend, and one of the most powerful sets I’ve seen in a long time. Somewhere between “Angela Surf City” and “In the New Year,” it reached an emotional plateau so high that I couldn’t see the Honda logos or the smashed curly fries or the buzz-cut security guards. Against all odds, that band delivered something that cut through all the distractions and delivered a musical vision pure and powerful enough to shake me out of doldrums of overthinking. I got to be a fan. And when the Walkmen were done—they ended with “Heartbreaker,” a catchy single off the new album that seems to critique the band’s own music—I didn’t need to see any more bands. I packed up the tent, put Big Star on the car stereo and drove off in a really good mood.
Music doesn’t really need a majestic view to accompany it. I’ve had those transcendent moments in shitty clubs, basements, big stages and in the back of a van with the headphones on. But the view doesn’t hurt. And when there’s soul in it, the bullshit can’t hurt good music, either. That was a good thing for me to remember.
Nothing better to do at a hot music festival then get in a water gun fight. Within seconds of handing Deer Tick water guns they were shooting each other. Sallie Ford psyched out any potential opponents just from how fierce she looks holding the water guns. -Evan