Photos Left & Above by Matthew Lamb
As I sat down to type this story, fully recovered one week after Memorial Day weekend at the Gorge, it became clear that Sasquatch! Music Festival provided more than just a string of stellar concerts. The 13-years-young Memorial Weekend fest was a submersive escape into a world where few people walk around without beers in their hands, incredible music could be heard at all times (whether it’s from the artists themselves, car stereos, or fans singing), and the people are ridiculously friendly.
While other music festival giants such as South by Southwest, Outside Lands, Lollapalooza, and Coachella can offer similar alternate music-festival-realities, none can boast Sasquatch’s gorgeous backdrop of the Columbia River Gorge. And for students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Coachella is certainly a more practical distance away. But with Sasquatch’s four-day tickets priced at $350 a pop—including camping, parking, and taxes—it’s also a better deal than everyone’s favorite festival in the desert.
To anyone considering making the 18-hour trek up north: it was worth the drive, and then some. Getting out of California was a breath of fresh air, and since half of the people I met were Canadian, I felt that I had even crossed the national border.
Sasquatch taught me a few things about music festivals. First, do not expect that just because you dig the majority of a lineup, you will get to see every artist that you set out to. Chances are, the bigger artists’ set times will conflict with your less-famous favorites. This means you’ll have to choose between artists or miss part of an artist’s set, which also results in not having the best view of the stage. Second, some of the greatest discoveries can come from wandering around and breaching from your original plan.
So paying for gas up the coast was definitely not cheap, and neither was Sasquatch’s beer, but I embarked on the long journey back to Isla Vista with no regrets.
DAY 1: The Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
The first notable performance that I caught during the festival, The Arctic Monkeys‘ set on the main stage was sharp and danceable. Lead vocalist Alex Turner looked and spoke just like the audio version of his singing voice that I have come to love: bold, beautiful, and swoon-worthy. The charm continued as he introduced the anthem I was waiting for by yelling out to the crowd, “Ladies!” before beginning “I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” The Arctic Monkeys were so fun that we completely skipped out on Youth Lagoon‘s Yeti stage performance, one of the top artists I had been anticipating.
As the sun went down, we made our way to the second-largest stage, Honda Bigfoot, for a bit of Vampire Weekend, before headliners Macklemore & Ryan Lewis started up. Vampire Weekend sounded fantastic, but actually seeing the band was an absolute bust. Despite our hearty attempt to push to the front, there were simply more people in the crowd than the area could accommodate—Vampire Weekend was booked on the wrong stage. We joined the crowd in singing a few gratifying verses of “Horchata” before navigating back to the rainy main stage for Macklemore.
Macklemore was happy to be at Sasquatch—so happy that watching his infectious joy was almost as fun as listening to his upbeat tunes. A Seattle native, Macklemore shouted to his audience after his first song, “I have been working my entire life to get here and play The Gorge!” Macklemore proceeded to open up to the crowd about his past of alcoholism and his epiphany that success had to mean sobriety. He did not make us wait long for his hit song “Thrift Shop,” a song that continues to dominate radios everywhere and got the whole amphitheater on its feet. “When this summer is over and I’m sitting down with my parents and they ask me which festival was my favorite, I want to be able to say Sasquatch!” Macklemore said to his fans, amping them up even more.
At one point, Macklemore told the audience that after the show there would be an after-party consisting of two Cadillac stretch limousines waiting outside the amphitheater, with Lunchables inside for any interested fans. I didn’t believe him, but later saw a white limo during my walk back to the campsite. I was either imagining this vehicle from exhaustion, or Macklemore was true to his word. I’d like to believe it was the latter.
DAY 2: Andrew Bird, Atlas Genius, The xx, Sigur Rós
A slow morning of re-assembling the tent after wind and rain collapsed it the night before (prompting me and my friends to sleep in the car) led to a late start. This late start was still a great one, since it was composed of Andrew Bird and a view that, one week later, I’m still not over.
The Chicago native and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird commanded the amphitheater to vibrate with his indefinable yet highly-acclaimed sound. Our next intention was to catch Bloc Party down on the main stage floor, but we took the break in between shows to scope out the grounds instead.
We ended up meandering into an unpublicized 150-guest show featuring the lead singer and guitarist of Atlas Genius, Keith Jeffery. I was unfamiliar with most of Atlas Genius‘ tunes, but was able to sing along to his song “Trojans,” which showcased Jeffery’s smooth voice that layered the strums of his acoustic guitar. We were elated to learn that Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Alt-J (the two artists that had me set my heart on Sasquatch), would also have their own intimate, acoustic shows within the next two afternoons.
Pleased at ourselves for stumbling upon the tent, we floated on back to the main stage to snag a good spot on the floor for The xx, who delivered a slowed-down, sultry rendition of “Crystalised” along with tracks from their two albums “XX” and “Coexist.” Sigur Rós also stunned—with incredible sound and light—to end the night.
DAY 3: Radical Face, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Mumford & Sons
For me, Day 3 was all about Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. My friends and I caught their acoustic performance in the same tent where we found Atlas Genius. Edward Sharpe’s joy while performing radiated uncontrollably throughout the room—every pair of feet in the tent were dancing and every mouth was grinning. The 10-member band barely squeezed onto the small stage, but they proved the phrase “the more the merrier” to be truer than ever with every note they played. I wanted to escape into the raw power of their music forever. Lead singer Alex Ebert stepped down from the stage during “Man on Fire” to dance with the audience.
A bit of The Tallest Man on Earth followed by Radical Face came up next on our agenda. Ben Cooper of Radical Face addressed the crowd in a refreshingly unconventional manner. “My music is kinda depressing,” said Cooper, explaining that the dark nature of his music doesn’t really mesh with the joyous, carefree reputation of music festivals. The audience responded to Cooper’s cynicism with laughs and overall positive reception of his tunes. He asked the audience to compete with the noise coming down at the main stage during his best-known track “Welcome Home,” to which they happily complied, assisting Cooper in belting out the chorus.
As I ventured off to see Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros perform at the main stage, I wondered whether the magic of Edward Sharpe’s acoustic show lay in the intimacy of a small acoustic show. Was this a band that truly shines in smaller venues? Their main stage show, however, dissolved my fears; their sound was amplified and so was the energy. This stage was more suitable for such a large band, but their spirit succeeded in occupying the entire amphitheater. The jumbo-tron screens even showed Ebert accepting multiple sips of a stagefront audience member’s Bud Light. Marcus Mumford—who had evidently been hanging out in the wing—came onstage to double-team Edward Sharpe’s “Child.” “Hey Marcus Mumford!” said Ebert, exciting the guests of Sasquatch. “Wanna come sing with us?” Although Mumford’s singing was difficult to hear, his mere presence on stage drove the crowd wild.
A fantastic show by headliner Mumford & Sons was expected, and it was realized, but I could not help but feel discontent at such a polished sound in comparison with Edward Sharpe’s organic, soulful take on folk-pop. They showed humility similar to that of the Magnetic Zeros, but felt just as Top 40 as their chart-topping singles suggest. “Your country has been very good to us,” Marcus Mumford addressed the crowds. “You make it feel like home, so thank you Sasquatch.” Another personal highlight was during Mumford & Sons’ encore when they, in turn, brought out the Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros to cover Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” This fusion of three of my favorite artists painted me indescribably pleased.
DAY 4: Imagine Dragons, Alt-J, Cake, The Lumineers, The Postal Service
Day 4 marked the heaviest instance of rain crashing down on the Sasquatch parade—but instead of taking cover, guests took advantage of the wet, grassy hills of the amphitheater. During Imagine Dragon’s set at the main stage, revelers slid down the hills headfirst and danced in their ponchos, and it was by witnessing this celebration that I came to fully appreciate Sasquatch and its attendees.
Prior to Imagine Dragons, we caught Alt-J‘s acoustic performance. The public Alt-J and Lumineers shows were scheduled during the exact same times—the conflict everyone was talking about. But seeing the acoustic show meant we could enjoy The Lumineers’ full performance while still leaving The Gorge knowing we watched Alt-J. Much of what’s great in Alt-J’s innovative music are the sounds that cannot be produced with physical instruments. Still, their wonderful craft was visible (and hearable) on the small acoustic stage, and the intimacy of the 150-person show was definitely a bonus.
Cake followed Imagine Dragons on the main stage with just as much sass as Radical Face, replacing Radical Face’s musical subtleties with their signature punch. Sasquatch soon wound down (though the crowds sure didn’t) with final main stage players The Lumineers and The Postal Service. Fresh off many months of whirlwind popularity—largely on account of the sweet and catchy “Ho Hey”—The Lumineers got Sasquatch swooning and singing.
The Postal Service ended the festival by playing the entirety of “Give Up,” their much-loved platinum 2003 disc, as well as two new tracks. Benjamin Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) and Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) acted as the faces of the group, often singing to one another. The fact that The Postal Service were able to fill up The Gorge as the closing act of a major four-day festival, 10 years after the release of their one and only album, is a testament to how remarkable their work is, as well as how special this project of Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello is.
And that’s a wrap. There was no scorching heat, ferris wheel, or palm trees, but there was rain, the Columbia River, great vibes and musical pairings found nowhere else. If you want to hang out with a bunch of really cool Canadians—and don’t mind a little rain—Sasquatch just might be the festival for you.