Sasquatch 2014 - By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret
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Sasquatch 2014

Adrian gushes over the festival with the postcard view. Author: on June 3, 2014
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The Gorge Amphitheatre is a truly magical place. The unbeatable scenery is so impressive, that I vow to return to Sasquatch Music Festival every year on my return home, no matter the quality of the line-up or the drunkenness of its attendees. Having missed the previous two years, 2014’s installment had me positively giddy with excitement. I decided to attend regardless of which acts were booked, so imagine my delight at the reveal of this year’s line-up, probably their strongest ever: a perfect trio of headliners (OutKast, The National, and Queens of the Stone Age), paired with a smorgasbord of lesser known musical offering across many genres, creating a bill set to please any music fan in the Pacific Northwest. With my wristband acquired and a group of solid friends with which to make the trip and camp with, this year’s Memorial Day weekend seemed poised to be nothing short of legendary.

Music festivals generally offer plenty of potential talking points. I could discuss the the quality of the food vendors, the efficiency of the camp-site, and even the behaviour of the tens of thousands of attendees; being a cynic, I expected these aspects to bring the experience down. But focusing on these things would be an injustice to what should rightly be at the centre of the discussion: the wonderful music and the breathtaking venue. Even with the ridiculous queues and over-priced shit, preceding the two hours it took us to exit the camp-site on Monday, and the after hours automobile break-ins, Sasquatch 2014 was a wonderful experience that I will remember for all the right reasons.

Rather than deliver my opinions on the shows I saw in chronological order, the majestic festival grounds leave me no other option but to organize my thoughts based on the places in which they were experienced. Before I get into the concerts held across the five stages, which were almost unanimously great, it is worth mentioning the other distractions in the area.

The Side Shows:

First, there was a geodesic dome next to the second stage, which hosted a full-on nightclub inside. Needless to say, it was a little disorienting to experience this in the middle of a hot afternoon, but it was a nice temporary reprieve from the sun at least. It’s the kind of place you might make a meeting spot with a friend at your average festival, but I would get too distracted on what was going on inside. Next to this was a stage which featured the same handful of musicians for the entire festival, known as the Super Geek League; at first it was vaguely entertaining, but their non-stop barrage of funk began to bleed over into the sitting area for two of the actual stages.

There was a record store near the main stage which had pretty much every record ever pressed from the acts at the festival in stock, and also held signings for certain artists; my empty wallet thankfully kept me far away from this particular distraction. Last, but certainly not least, there was a retro arcade located behind the comedy/dance hybrid tent, featuring legitimate throwback arcade games like Pac-Man, X-Men, and Golden Tee (good lord). It stole hours of my time and on one occasion, after one too many beers, I spent upwards of an hour trying to master Golden Tee, eventually leaving before finishing the eighteen-hole course. Frustrated at that stupid spinning white ball and upset that I missed most of Big Freedia’s set over at the dance tent, just so I could enter the initials A-S-S into the top of the leaderboard. A big shout-out to the hidden lawn behind the arcade, too, which provided a nice spot to lie down and gather my spinning head before heading out into the noisy crowds. You’re a lifesaver.

The Narwhal Stage:

With the sideshows behind us, it’s time to move on to the festival acts themselves. This year’s music was spread across five distinct stages of varying sizes. The smallest was the Narwhal stage, located on the other side of the hill from the Sasquatch stage. It was a welcome new addition since my last visit in 2011, featuring many lesser-known, mainly local bands. Though I was tempted to come in early on Saturday for the wonderfully named Hobosexual, I unfortunately did not witness much of the music on this stage, unless you count the brief nap I took on the lawn adjacent to it during Polyrhythmics. For what it’s worth, they sounded great – all eight of them. As I got some much needed rest, their groovy, hypnotic tunes filled their air and kept the summer festival vibes going strong.

El Chupacabra:

Across the way from the Narwhal stage was El Chupacabra, home to most of the weekend’s dance acts and all of its comedy. While virtually everything that I witnessed at this stage was a roaring success, it started out poorly; the first act I ventured over to see was Princess (a Prince cover band) which was listed as including popular comedian Maya Rudolph, of SNL fame. Two caveats about this show: 1) I’ve never really liked Prince very much, and 2) Maya Rudolph was a no-show. The disappointment seemed to be shared by everyone across the festival; maybe 6 p.m. was too early to get down to some Prince, or maybe only Prince can do Prince, but whatever the reason, it stood as one of the festival’s only disappointments.

El Chupacabra came into its own on Saturday, though, with an absolutely outrageous forty-five minutes of comedy from Eric Andre, creator and host of the hilarious satire-talk-show bearing his name. He brought his co-host on stage, rising star Hannibal Buress (scheduled to have his own set on Sunday), and together they brought the roof down. The highlight of their incredibly funny set must have been when they pulled a young woman from the audience with the sole purpose of ridiculing her. After all the regular jokes had been delivered, the two asked her what she did for work; she made the foolish decision of replying simply “comedy”. The stage was set for an embarrassing moment that poor festival goer will not soon forget, as Eric Andre handed her a mic, and she started talking about how great her tits were. The crowd was fairly patient, but when Eric Andre gives you a microphone in front of an audience of hundreds, you better deliver a punchline in the first few seconds. After about ten seconds of nonsensical ramblings that vaguely sounded like the start of a mediocre stand-up routine, the crowd tore into her with boos and jeers. It was hard to watch, but hilarious nonetheless. Hannibal Buress’ solo act the next day fed off of his colleague’s success.  Having previously thought of Buress as a niche act, irreverent and weird, I was surprised and impressed to see him deliver a pretty traditional act, by the standards of stand-up. The one gimmick he used was having his DJ play clip after clip from various popular rap songs in order to demonstrate how often rappers talk about having erections in the morning. From Lil Wayne to Waka Flocka to Kendrick Lamar, wouldn’t you know it, pretty much everyone has a line or two about waking up with my dick hard.

Eric Andre and Hannibal Buress were the only comedians I saw over the weekend, but they both left my cheeks in pain from excessive laughter. A few hours later saw the arrival of Big Freedia, the outlandish bounce rapper from New Orleans; she got the crowd’s asses shaking in unison to her array of larger-than-life beats (including the aptly titled “Azz Everywhere”). What I saw was captivating. Scheduling conflicts meant that I had to miss several of the more notable electronic acts playing on El Chupacabra, which unfortunately included TOKiMONSTA on Saturday and Tycho on Sunday, two of the weekend’s most exciting draws. Such is festival life overall, the stage brought the laughter and the booty-shaking in a big way.

The Yeti Stage:

The Yeti Stage played host to some of the festival’s smaller up-and-comers. The two sets I caught on this stage were two of the best I saw all weekend; everyone’s favourite “false” metal band Deafheaven took to the stage on Saturday to provide an escape from the non-stop barrage of indie rock and hip-hop. As the festival’s only heavy band, Deafheaven represented the style well with an absolutely mesmerizing show. A decent sized mosh-pit got going pretty quickly, but it remained one of those friendly, respectful crowds where everybody stopped to help each other out. Over the band’s ruthless blast beats and walls of shimmering guitar texture, a few hundred people had an absolute blast jumping around and getting the lead out. I had to leave for Neko Case on the main stage before the set was over, and it was painful to hear the beginning of “Dream House” as I reluctantly tore myself away.

The following day saw a show of complete opposite aesthetic, but no less engrossing. Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee made the Yeti stage her own on Sunday as she captivated a small group of onlookers. Having previously seen them play in what was essentially a basement, I didn’t know how well they would cope with the outdoor acoustics and festival setting; shame on me for my doubt, because this was a special performance. Though the crowd was as small as any of the entire weekend, the band played as if they had sold out the Tacoma Dome with high energy punk rock that was at once flooring and intimate. I was so invested in her words that I would, on occasion, close my eyes and sway back and forth while I belted every word. I must have been the only one doing this, because on the rare occasion that I would open my eyes to look back on stage, Crutchfield was staring straight at me. At one point, during the absolutely glorious “Swan Dive”, I opened my eyes and noticed several people staring at me, seemingly impressed at my knowledge of her lyrics (or else annoyed that I was butchering them). I sheepishly apologized with a “Sorry you guys… I just, really like Waxahatchee”  One woman responded with a grin: “Don’t be sorry! You having the best time is making me have the best time!” It was a stupendous forty-five communal minutes and one of the surprising stand-outs of the entire weekend. As Waxahatchee’s star continues to rise, festival sets like this one continue to justify to her stellar reputation.

The Bigfoot Stage:

It’s worth mentioning that, while the Bigfoot Stage was home to some of the biggest and best sets of the weekends, they struggled with sound for nearly the entire festival. Part of the blame for that goes to the proximity of the smaller Narwhal and Super Geek League stages —  I’m sorry, Sasquatch organizers, but Phantogram and Sam Lachow should not have to battle each other for attention. This problem could only be solved by pushing up into the crowd, so that I was in a sweet spot, otherwise it was a constant battle between stages, vying for attention.

The Bigfoot Stage started with a massive disappointment. Liars, one of the groups I was foaming at the mouth to get a chance to watch perform, didn’t play. It was revealed later on that their equipment had not arrived and they had to cancel, but this was only after hundreds of fans had sat and watched a thirty minute soundcheck, hoping that they were minutes from gracing the stage. It’s one thing to cancel a set, but it’s unfortunate they gave their fans unwarranted hope, denying them the option to check out the festival’s many other offerings in that time slot — which included De La Soul, of all things, over on the main stage. I still hope to see Liars perform one day, but they owe the fans of Sasquatch a heartfelt apology, even if it wasn’t exactly their fault. 

Bigfoot quickly rebounded, though, with a scorching set from Chance the Rapper, who I can confidently say is one of the best performers around. The energy on stage for his shows is absolutely indescribable, but what impresses me most about Chance is how he seems to be having the time of his life each and every time he performs. Whether shouting “JUICE” over and over while bouncing around on stage, or winding his way through the delicious verses and hook on “Cocoa Butter Kisses”, or bringing the nostalgia hard with a sing-along of the theme to Arthur (yes, the aardvark), he was at the top of his game and having an absolute blast. I happen to be a sucker for artists that are genuinely grateful for the opportunity to share themselves with thousands of strangers, and Chance certainly falls into that category. Phosphorescent was up next, and I have to wonder how they felt following him: while they seem like the perfect, pleasant act for an early evening slot at a summer festival, I had to skip it in favour of food and Foals.

I ventured back to Bigfoot for Phantogram. Those of you who’ve been to a festival probably have a story or two about an artist you liked a bit but didn’t love, and then became a devout and loyal fan following a wondrous performance. For me, this was that set. Bigfoot’s sound issues were mainly in the form of the bass being way louder than the vocals, but, I reassured myself, if you’re going to sacrifice one of the band’s best attributes for anything, it may as well be dat bass, no? Pair this revelation with my friend signing every one of Phantogram’s lyrics loudly, right next to me, and I feel like the full experience was achieved. It was a show that was both breathtaking at outrageous, bringing me from a fired-up monster dance to a teary-eyed moment of self-reflection. It was a humanizing set, especially the beautiful calm of “Celebrating Nothing”. This was definitely Sasquatch 2014’s best surprise, followed by another: I was able to stick around for a couple songs from Scottish post-rockers Mogwai, who kept the good vibes rolling with booming walls of percussion and guitar crunch.

Day two on Bigfoot began much better than day one: The Dodos did one better than Liars, and actually played their set. More than that, though, they belted out their jangly tunes in assertive fashion, stirring the early afternoon crowd into waking up. When they played “Confidence”, fans and casual onlookers alike started shaking off the cobwebs with some awkward indie-rock dance moves. That song alone was one of the best sing-alongs of the weekend. After missing both Band of Skulls and Washed Out in favour of other offerings, I returned to the stage for Panda Bear. I don’t remember a lot from this set besides the fact that the visuals were trippy to the point of frightening, and that the sound was immense; my friends tell me it was great, and based on the intermittent memories I can access, I am inclined to agree. That feels like the Animal Collective way of experiencing things: hazily, with friends. I’ve always preferred the band’s work over their respective solo outings, but this was a solid performance to be sure.

Next up was Tyler, The Creator, who I honestly did not expect to be good, let alone phenomenal. The crowd got rowdy for this one, and rightly so: between playfully insulting stage banter and booming renditions of his many hits, Tyler proved that he is an artist with passion, talent, and drive to succeed in any medium he attempts. Waiting until close to the end of the set before playing “Domo 23″ and “Yonkers” back to back was a stroke of genius. I’m convinced they heard us hours away in Seattle.

The final day of Bigfoot had only one act that I planned to see, but it was one my friends and I were all, perhaps surprisingly, massively excited for: Portugal. The Man. They brought the good times in a big way and presented one of the most colourful shows of the weekend. The crowd for this show was beautiful, friendly and respectful, and sang along at all the right times. Cliché though this may be, “Modern Jesus” was an absolute highlight, beach balls and inflatable crocodiles flying through the air, the band on stage jamming harder than any other act, taking their songs on long journeys through psychedelic territory. Portugal. The Man’s set was nearly flawless.

The Main Stage:

And now for the really good stuff.

Before I go into detail about the concerts held on the Main Stage, it’s worth mentioning once more the breathtaking setting. Massive views of the Columbia River stretch for miles in the distance, dotted with windmills and parallel layers of Earth. It’s one of the premier music venues in the world, and the six hour drive each way is worth it for Mother Nature’s spectacle alone. When the sun goes down, one lucky band gets to play in front of a postcard view. It’s impossible to not be enthralled by them, whoever they are.

The first act I had the pleasure of witnessing in The Best Venue In The World was the legendary De La Soul. Though I was constantly hopping back to Bigfoot to see if Liars had decided to show up, what I was able to witness of their set was great. It felt imaginary seeing one of the most influential hip-hop groups of all time perform a set in 2014, let alone against that magical backdrop. Later in the day, Sasquatch favourites Foals proved once again why they warrant a late afternoon slot on the main stage, as they pummeled through feel good summer jams from their new record, while selecting choice cuts from their breakout album Total Life Forever. Their show was so engrossing that two friends of mine ditched our group and our lovely spot on the hill to rush the stage and jump around. I could hardly blame them, but I was saving my energy for the day’s headliner: yes, that’s right, the year is 2014 and OutKast is back together. I hardly even believe these words as I type them,

Having seen Big Boi claim my accolades for best show of 2013 last summer, I had high hopes for this show, and it delivered in a big way. Before even talking about the choice selection of songs, the outfits and stage set-up almost deserve a paragraph of their own. The two MCs looked fly as fuck, no other way to put it: they performed, at times, in the middle of a hollow, multi-coloured cube, providing a spectacle for those two far back to pick up all the intricacies of their movements. Andre 3000 and Big Boi performed as if they hadn’t spent a moment apart, and it was an absolute barn-burner of a set. Hit after hit after hit boomed from the massive speakers as my entire childhood flashed before my eyes. Opening with “Bombs Over Baghdad” and then jumping across their many albums (all of which were paid proper respect) had the tens of thousands in attendance bouncing off the non-existent walls. Crowd favourite “Hey Ya!” had us all signing so loud that we were losing our voices; “Aquemini” had us all floating on some distant planet, and “Gasoline Dreams” had us all “ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT”. Near the end of their time slot, I began to go through their material in my head to determine what was left to play. There was one notable omission: “So Fresh, So Clean”. Almost as soon as that glorious revelation had entered my head, that unmistakably groovy kick/snare beat filled the air and the place went bananas. At this point, words do little justice to what I felt, so let it just be imagined: OutKast are back, baby.

Day two on the main stage had a lot to live up to, but the bill was up to the task. The early afternoon set of First Aid Kit was wonderful, in its way: their folksy indie-rock seemed designed to be played at this time and place, and they made the most of the opportunity with their charismatic set. Though I had to split this set with The Dodos on another stage, the timing worked out perfectly and I was able to hear “The Lion’s Roar”.  Later in the day saw the arrival of the immensely talented Neko Case. The sound for this show was suspiciously low, meaning that, from my comfy spot up on the hill, conversations with friends occasionally held most of my attention.  When she began to play “Ragtime”, though, I cut my friend off in mid-sentence to run up to the stage a little bit and have a dance party of one.

After a passable set from M.I.A., the day’s headliner The National took the stage. While this was my third time seeing them, I was no less excited to be witnessing one of my favourite groups perform. The sun had set and the wind had picked up, so I cuddled with three of my best friends and sang every damn word. Highlights? Oh dear. “Apartment Story”, for sure, but “Pink Rabbits” was spiritually fulfilling, and “Fake Empire” into “Mr. November” was flooring, and closer “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” was tear-inducing. I could go on with these hyperbolic statements about a band who no longer needs them, but let it just be said that all twenty-one songs were magnificently performed. Oh and for those wondering, yes, Matt Berninger threw the microphone into the crowd on several occasions. He’s been known to do that on occasion.

The final day on the main stage was loaded. Starting off with tUnE-yArDs, each set I witnessed on Sunday was beautiful. Not that I doubted Merrill Garbus’ chops for a moment, but I was blown away at her performance: the vocal harmonies were jaw-dropping, and the visual spectacle was one that can’t be described. The set was so captivating that the next act I saw on the main stage, Elbow, could not stop going on about how wonderful it was. Oh yeah, Elbow; Remember the golden festival rule about learning to love a band you merely like?  Elbow was one of those. The sky was looking like a painting as their enchanting sounds filled the amphitheatre. Opening with my favourite from the new album “Charge” was a smart play, as it instantly hooked me. By the time they played “On A Day Like This” I was ready to call myself a lifelong fan and sing along to the life-affirming chorus.

I took the long way to the Yeti stage so that I could stay within earshot of Haim — who played a winning combo of “Don’t Save Me” followed by “Days are Gone” — for as long as possible. Finally, though, the Main Stage delivered me my last experience of the festival: Queens of the Stone Age, featuring Jon Theodore on drums, was everything I thought it could be and more. Josh Homme owned that stage with his flamboyance and witty stage repartee. Highlights included “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”, the lyrics of which hit a little too close to home at that point, “My God is the Sun”, and the closing duo of “No One Knows” into “A Song For The Dead”, which included an absolutely beastly drum solo by the best himself, Jon Theodore. A note about his performance: trying to imitate Dave Grohl’s drumming (as he did on every song from Songs For The Deaf) must be insanely difficult, but it went off nearly without a hitch. The one time he messed up slightly, he merely laughed and then proceeded to do a way better fill. What a legend; it was a roaring end to an unbelievably successful weekend. While leaving the festival grounds after that incredible set was a little bit sad, but with QoTSA’s enthusiasm fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but feel wonderfully alive and grin like a child.

The countdown to Sasquatch 2015 has begun: this festival has become my annual pilgrimage. I can’t begin to describe the elation and cathartic release I experienced this Memorial Day Weekend. Feeling bland and unfulfilled in your day to day life? Grab some amazing friends and make the trip to this stacked music festival. It’ll cure what ails you. Thank you, Sasquatch: I never could have imagined this weekend. Elbow summed it up perfectly with their closing track: “one day like this a year will set me right.” More like three.

 

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