It was nearing the middle of the afternoon on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend last year, and the thousands of T-shirt-clad or shirtless festival-goers at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Wash. had heard the occasional thunder for the past few hours.
A bigger and bigger footprint
It was nearing the middle of the afternoon on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend last year, and the thousands of T-shirt-clad or shirtless festival-goers at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Wash. had heard the occasional thunder for the past few hours. There had even been a light sprinkle or two. No one was overly concerned, however, and continued sipping their $8 beers and rocking out.
Neko Case had just begun her set on the main stage at the Sasquatch Music Festival when it began: a deluge of corn kernel-sized hail. Case and her band were forced to abort when the giant mass of people in front of the main stage, including me, ran for cover as we were pelted with the stinging pellets from above. There was no shelter anywhere. I ran for a lone tree in the reserved handicapped section to the left of the stage.
“You can’t come in here without a pass,” a festival employee yelled at me.
“Try and fucking stop me!” I yelled back, feebly clutching my soaked backpack over my head as I dashed past her to the meager shelter.
Outdoor festivals can be unpredictable, and when it turns out they suck, well, you’re in the middle of nowhere and it sucks, but that’s part of the fun. The mile-long mass exodus of soaked and shivering music fans back to the campground last year was miserable, yes, unbelievably miserable actually, but we all laughed about it and made some friends along the way. The festival organizers even did the right thing and turned a blind eye to the no re-entry policy so everyone could go change into dry clothes for the night.
Thankfully, this year the forecast for the weekend in George is 80s and sunny, and even better, the lineup of bands at this year’s Sasquatch Festival, which turns five this year, is even better than the last. Neko Case even signed up to make a second go of it this year.
The shitty part about outdoor festivals is that in order to see the bands you like, you have to sit through several sets of bands that you may hate. Take last year’s Sasquatch lineup as a case in point: one minute you’re listening to The Decemberists, and the next, Matisyahu? This odd balance of up-and-comer indie bands, followed by frat-rock standards like Ben Harper, has always attracted an oddly disjointed crowd. There are the indie kids too hip to wear anything other than their skinny jeans and Beatle boots despite the sweltering heat contingent, then there’s your standard shirtless frat boy in cowboy hat contingent, and then you have your unwashed hippie I’ll-go-to-any-festival-for-the-drugs types. In fact, there are apparently many people who come to the Gorge in George for the weekend without tickets to the festival, just to hop from tent party to tent party in the campground for three days, partaking of whatever substances may come their way.
This year, however, the festival organizers seem to have gotten the lineup right. There’s still the indie/frat balance, but this year they are pretty much separated out into their own days, avoiding the annoying mishmash of past years. Although not every band playing on either day falls exactly into either category, the headliners say it all. Saturday: Bjork and The Arcade Fire–indie day. Sunday: The Beastie Boys and Interpol–frat day.
As in past years, the festival deserves credit for coming through with some top-notch headlining acts, including ones that haven’t played many major shows for a long time. Bjork is on her first U.S. tour since 2003. The Beastie Boys last toured the country in 2004. The Arcade Fire is also not to be missed, if their amazing set at the festival two years ago is any indication.
Portland bands are also heavily represented at this year’s festival. Local electronic pop darlings The Blow play Saturday, as well as Viva Voce and Blitzen Trapper, and Stars of Track and Field, The Helio Sequence and the Dandy Warhols all play Sunday.
If you can get over the sticker shock from the ticket price–tickets for the full weekend, including camping, will run you $270 after May 21–Sasquatch should promise everything you’d expect from a multi-day music festival: overpriced beer, copious intoxicants, overflowing port-a-johns, and lots of bands you kind of like.
Bring a backpack, rain gear, and warm clothes! If the weather turns nasty or gets cold at night, you can’t leave the concert area to get your stuff from camp, and you will literally be left out in the cold.
Buy beer and snacks before leaving Portland. Especially the beer. There are very few stores near the amphitheater, and the day of the festival, everyone is hitting them up for a last-minute beer run. So unless you want to be playing tug of war with some Seattle hipster over a last case of Natty Ice, stock up before you go.
To see the full lineup or purchase tickets, visit www.sasquatchfestival.com.