I love the way that music brings people together, sometimes as a direct reason for getting together and other times as a shared soundtrack to good memories. At the Sasquatch! Festival in Washington State, people come together in both of those ways and although the lineup of bands is always amazing, the annual event ends up being more about time spent with friends in a beautiful place, with music as the gathering point.
For me, I spent the first day alone and although I caught great sets by Animal Collective, Devotchka, and Mos Def, I was feeling isolated and anxious in the hot, crowded amphitheater and even left a couple of good shows out of disinterest. But on the second day, I was joined by two friends and had a completely different experience. We made fun of awkward sunburns, we shared snacks and made up card games, we got yelled at while we ran through a vineyard laughing, and we wound up at a random 100-person midnight dance party in the campground. There's plenty of music in Southern California, but memories like these are what keep me and thousands of others making the trek up north.
Story and Photos by Joel P West
The Gorge gets really hot and people get really excited for the weekend, resulting in shirtless men, bikini'd women, and a fair amount of people just going for it in underwear. Since Sasquatch has predominantly white attendance, and since these white people are predominantly from the Northwest, it was the most predominantly sunburnt 50,000 people I've ever seen. Just a lot of skin, constantly becoming more red and descriptive of whatever clothes had been worn the day before.
The "campground" is a large grass area with a handful of porta-potties and minimal regulation on garbage management, noise, or alcohol consumption. Camping is generally synonymous with partying and this was a haggard spread of people drinking, etc. from morning til night for three days in a row without access to anything resembling plumbing. I swear some people never even made it into the festival at all. If I would have photographed this same piece of land on the third day, there would probably be about 14 more bottles in the frame.
Since everyone walking in from the campground has been boozing, a Beverage Enforcer is designated for every few thousand people to prevent underage drinking and over-celebrating. Not super-effective among the seas of sweaty, sunburned bodies, but this guy was super-effective at holding down a 1992 Baywatch haircut and power stance.
Security was pretty confused, so we started exploring. I found a nice bathroom to use instead of the hot and disgusting porta-potties, met some nice people from bands, ate some snacks, and watched some of the shows from backstage. Nobody ever questioned me, although pulling out the disposable camera certainly wasn't helping me look legit. The one thing I couldn't locate was a free alternative to the nine-dollar festival beer, which Parc and Tara did ended up finding after I left. Drats.
In addition to the decked-out, themed campsites, lots of people came in group costumes like the Kings of Neon, a pack of ninjas, and whatever these guys are supposed to be. Most people that expressed ultra-enthusiasm in the form of costumes also expressed it in the form of dancing, yelling "wooooo!" a lot, and avoiding soberness at all costs.
One of the most uncomfortable situations, in my eyes, is standing in a hot crowd waiting for a lousy opening band to finish so you can see the band you came for. You instantly become aware of how tired your legs are, how bad the person next to you smells, and how you'll probably go deaf in a matter of months. The lineup at Sasquatch is so stacked with knock-out bands from a wide spread of genres that you can somehow stand up all day in front of loud speakers and never get tired. On the second day, every band we wanted to see overlapped with another band so we had no breaks, but from start to finish I never considered how uncomfortable or exhausted I should have been.
All partyness aside, The Gorge is a stunning place and when the sun sets, whatever music is coming from the main stage gets ten times more beautiful. There's really nowhere else in the world like it, and the fact that it's at least three hours from any big city makes it even more spiritual.
After watching great bands for eight hours straight, you need an epic closing band, and Of Montreal rose to the occassion on all levels. We've all seen costumes, props, etc., but this band is on a whole different level with well-rehearsed theatrics, bizarre costumes, artful and interesting projections, and stage presence that leaves you with no idea what these guys might actually be like when they are just hanging out. And, most importantly, the visuals only add to a powerfully tight set of songs that make you philosophize and shake your ass at the same time. Bravo.
I love catching bizarre candid moments like this. These guys were mauled by a tiger during the last song in Of Montreal's set, and then laid dead on stage for a bit while Kevin Barnes slopped around and smashed his guitar. I couldn't help but snap a quick shot when I found them having a casual cigarette right after the show.
To see the rest of the disposable photos, click on the blue button below.