Category: Travel

Sasquatch Festival: Day 1

Saturday, May 24th, 2008 | All Things, Events, Music, Travel

After parking the Cruiser in an open grassy field with a view of the crowded campgrounds in the distance, I strolled up to the entry gate with my new Escalada backpack in tow, stuffed with an ice-filled water bottle, Luna bars, sunglasses, sunscreen, umbrella, sweatshirt, towel, binoculars… all of which I would need over the course of our near-10 hour marathon of music. (Thanks to B who wisely advised that a Kate Spade tote would not do in this situation.)

Filing in among the 22,000 sell-out crowd. A somewhat diverse group, agewise — festival headliners were R.E.M., The Cure, and The Flaming Lips, after all — but ethnically… well, not so very. College students, neo-hippies (the ones who weren’t at the Northwest Folklife Festival taking place the same weekend at Seattle Center), hipsters and yuppies seemed to comprise the major cliques, with a few music industry people thrown into the mix.

The weather reports predicted rain on and off this weekend, but by 2PM, the sun was shining brightly, baking the Gorge in a summer-like heat.

Josh Bis (science vs. romance) offers a terrific write-up of the festival’s first day on the KEXP blog along with plenty of photos taken from a much better vantage point than mine. As it turned out, he and I had almost identical concert schedules — impressive considering the 50+ acts on three stages over the two (of three) days I attended. In roughly decreasing order of profile, performers played back-to-back on the Sasquatch! Main Stage, set directly in front of a stunning canyon/river backdrop, the Wookie! [sic] Stage in the meadow and the Yeti! Stage in the plaza, adjacent to the picnic tables.

This would be our primary view for the next two days:

We arrived at the main stage just in time for one of CF’s festival highlights: Beirut (Zach Condon) playing an Eastern European inflected set of “spooky gypsy music.”

Up-and-coming Athens, Georgia trio The Whigs, who rocked it out at SXSW in March, were on tour promoting their second album “Mission Control (released on Dave Matthews’ label.) CF and I caught the last couple of songs of their energetic set as we made our rounds through the Gorge grounds, stopping for a pair of frozen lemonade slushies, which were absolute perfection on this bright, warm afternoon.

As we spread out on the grassy knoll during Ozomatli — one of the jammier bands in the lineup — we heard what we thought were speakers blaring Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” from the third Yeti! stage. NO excitedly informed us that the rich baritone actually… improbably… belonged to Vince Mira — a scrawny Latino teenager from Seattle, who drew an awestruck crowd and became the talk of the festival that day. (Seriously: check out Mira’s appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show; this kid will blow your mind.)

We headed over to check it out and caught Canadian songstress Kathleen Edwards — hailed as “one of the most distinctive singer-songwriters to emerge in years” — playing a prettily earnest alt-country set, accompanying herself on violin.

Rainn Wilson (The Office‘s Dwight Kurt Schrute), who was at the Festival promoting his upcoming film, The Rocker, had the unenviable task of announcing that The National would not be appearing due to a broken-down tour bus. Disappointed murmurs all around. In their stead we had the capable Fleet Foxes, making their second appearance of the day after opening the main stage at noon.

Then more Canadian action: The New Pornographers, who played a set culled heavily from “Challengers” and “Twin Cinema.” To our delight, Neko Case was up on stage; likewise Dan Bejar, whose other band Destroyer had just finished playing a Wookie! Stage set. The Pornos’ cover of ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” was one of the best set-closers of the day.

By the time M.I.A. came onto Sasquatch! stage, anticipation was high; Maya had to drop out of last year’s line-up due to visa issues, but overall, I was somewhat disappointed by this (very loud) set. All of which made the decision to skip out for a fried dough break all the easier.

Mmm… elephant ears — so devoid of nutritional value, yet so utterly delicious. The flaky pancakes of fried dough, dusted with cinnamon or powdered sugar fresh from the deep fryer, were the culinary hit of the festival, judging by the near-constant line at the concession stands. Though had it not been for that line, we may not have gotten wind of the unannounced appearance by The National, who finally made it on site, and were given over the Yeti! stage to perform. Word of their impromptu concert spread wildly as fan Rainn Wilson good-naturedly roasted the boys from Brooklyn in his introduction, citing diva pique as their reason for failing to perform earlier.

At one point Zach Condon (Beirut) wandered over, and I went into paparazzi mode.

So much music, so little time. Riveted by lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep velvet voice, we ended up abandoning our plans to check out Austin’s Okkervil River — listen to the NPR piece about them here — before finally making our way to the Wookie! Stage to stake out spaces for The Breeders close-out set. Yes, The Breeders! That set created probably our biggest dilemma of the evening: Modest Mouse was playing simultaneously, and though I had looked forward to catching former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, I could not pass up the rare opportunity to see Pixies bassist Kim Deal. (And in fact, Modest Mouse will be opening for R.E.M with The National at Jones Beach in mid-June — tickets still available, $39.00-$1,098.00.) Truly an unexpected treat to see the Deal twins, whom we know have had their issues in the past, even as the cloud cover (which had been building since late afternoon) finally gave way to intermittent drizzling rain.

Cannonball” still rocks — 15(!) years later.

We had to tear ourselves away from The Breeders show (where I’d wended my way through a gaggle of under-aged drinkers to within five feet of the stage) to catch the beginning of R.E.M.’s set. By then, the sopping chill had settled in — probably 30 degrees off the peak afternoon temps — and the hardy fans who remained huddled for warmth on the hill as Michael Stipe and Co. took to the rain-slicked stage. Calling out support to Barack Obama, and doffing his socks and shoes, a pinstripe-suited Stipe, backed ably by Peter Buck, proved the case for the band’s longevity, playing a tight, hard-driving set that successfully integrated new material with their early and late-era classics. “Drive,” “Losing My Religion,” and “The One I Love” invited audience sing-alongs as “Orange Crush” and “Man on the Moon” closed out the nearly two-hour set.

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Sasquatch!

Saturday, May 24th, 2008 | All Things, Music, Travel

At the Sasquatch Music Festival. More to come…

Taking in this view, it’s easy to see why Pollstar magazine readers voted The Gorge the best major outdoor concert venue in North America for the third year in a row.

All festival photos up on flickr. Day 2: Rogue Wave, The Blakes, Mates of State, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Death Cab For Cutie, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, and The Cure.

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The road to The Gorge

Saturday, May 24th, 2008 | All Things, Travel

Picked up the PT Cruiser at SeaTac, “The Hospitality City” — so-called for the intense concentration of hotel chains clustered around the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. I was able to walk with my luggage from the Radisson lobby up to the rental car counters across from baggage claim in less than ten minutes, a journey which would be unthinkable at any of the NYC area airports.

The most arduous part of this leg of our travels was finding the exit out of the multi-tiered parking garage. (Most confusing signage ever!) But once we hit the I-90, it was a straightforward and breathtaking two hour drive to The Gorge Amphtitheater.

I heard on the local news this morning that area ski lodges would remain open for Memorial Day weekend. I was incredulous until we passed through these snow-capped mountains, a mere hour out of the city.

Once through the mountain pass, the climate warmed considerably, and the landscape gave way to an almost Southwestern vista: flat lands of sagebrush that seemed to stretch for miles. Just the place for a wind farm:

At the turnoff to The Gorge, preparing for an amazing lineup of music.

Sasquatch Musical Festival photos up on flickr! Beirut, Ozomatli, The Whigs, Fleet Foxes, Kathleen Edwards, The New Pornographers, M.I.A., Grand Archives, The National, The Breeders (Kim Deal!), and headliner R.E.M.

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