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Sasquatch! Fear and Loathing in Washington: Ep. 4

“I’m a little weird, but I try and be a good dude”

Kristian Matssen stood in front of a few thousand onlookers, and glared out into the sun soaked expanse. The Tallest Man on Earth had no band, no backing vocals, and nobody on the soundboard. Matssen, ironically a short man, was just a speck on the massive main stage. He was a true storyteller, weaving tales and metaphors effortlessly to the strum of his guitar. I was completely captivated, between the raw beauty of the Gorge drenched in sun and the poetic brilliance of Matssen’s song-writing. Sunday afternoon on the hill was one of the most serene and beautiful moments of the weekend.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/02-Revelation-Blues.mp3|titles=The Tallest Man on Earth – Revelation Blues]
The Tallest Man On Earth – Revelation Blues

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/The-Tallest-Man-on-Earth-Graceland.mp3|titles=The Tallest Man on Earth – Graceland]
The Tallest Man On Earth – Graceland (Paul Simon Cover)

Towards the end of his performance, a certain Celtic rowdiness began to brew on the Tarmac. Shirtless bald men and spiked leather jackets slowly dotted the peaceful audience, and a quick glance at the schedule solved the mystery. In stark contrast, The Dropkick Murphy’s were set to take the stage, and after a generous round of applause to the Tallest Man on Earth, it was our cue to head back and resupply.

“Can someone get me a bottle a water?” The girl stood half hunched over the grass. Her hair was tied back, and she was clearly in a very sudden state of panic. However, she already had a bottle of water in her hand..
“Please?! I just washed my face with vodka!”
I cringed and laughed as her friends rushed to help.

On our way back to the festival grounds after a speedy pit stop at the camp, I became acutely aware of the sheer amount of garbage that had accumulated throughout the grounds. A man with an expensive camera stopped to take photos of a garbage can which had fallen and flowed out over the pathway. It was a sadly beautiful shot, and unfortunately wasn’t a rare sight. There was a lot of talk about the beauty of the Gorge, the massive cliffs and dessert-like natural vegetation, the cows grazing in the distance and the creek frothing underneath a pedestrian bridge. I’d caught hundreds of people admiring the scenery on a near-daily basis, however this scenery was being destroyed. Wrappers, empty cans, drug paraphernalia and human waste of all varieties dotted the pathways like plastic grass. At the campsite, nature was trampled and abused. Dishwater, spilled beer, chunks of macaroni, as well as copious amounts of vomit were all fed to the flattened grassland. We were a destructive force with very little empathy, and the hypocrisy became very frustrating. Thousands upon thousands of girls dressed like flower-children, spouting their disingenuous rhetoric about “love” and “organic meat” while subsequently tossing beer cans and cigarettes into the grass. All weekend long I half-listened to kids gawking at the beauty of the Gorge, that same beauty they were jeopardizing with their lackadaisical attitudes.

“These are just kids playing dress-up.” Jasmine piped up. “They come here for the weekend and dress like hippies and play pretend, and then they head back home to their normal lives. The difference is.. I AM this every day.”

Jasmine, sometimes flighty and always a funny and easy-going girl dropped some serious wisdom. She was right. It was all just a fun game for most of the people in attendance. They came for the party, they came to take a vacation from their humdrum student lives and they came to pretend. It wasn’t about the music, the beauty of the Gorge and blending in with nature. It was about drunken misadventures, self-destruction and being ‘cool’. It was ritualistic inebriation. Which certainly isn’t out of character for youth, however it became very unsettling when it was dressed up as being about love and nature. Jasmine might have fit in with the crowd, but Jasmine was an ACTUAL hippie. It was no wonder the staff at Sasquatch treated us like a heard of cattle. We constantly consumed and trampled the land until it was unrecognizable.

Amidst our conversation, I looked up to see a security guard behind the tall chain-link fence. He had a disgusted grimace on his face; watching the droves of festival-goers mindlessly tramping their way to the grounds. I suddenly felt dirty, almost sub-human. The bag checks and the regulations, the traffic control and the high fences, the demeaning security and copious piles of waste.. We were voluntary prisoners of war. And by the time we got back to the main stage, a small war had broken out.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes was immediately after Dropkick Murphy’s, and we began to carve our way into the crowd to secure a decent spot. I was burdened with a heavy backpack in an attempt to extend our stay within the grounds. Extra sweaters, snacks, water bottles and various supplies were strapped to my back in the hot crowd, and the danger of the situation became apparent once we got close to the stage.

A flurry of shirtless men had formed a circle, and they began to run at each other full-tilt with their fists flailing. “Shipping off to Boston” became the perfect anthem for the violence and sweaty testosterone. I was shoved back and forth, endlessly trying to regain my balance while my heavy backpack was being used as an anchor with which to toss me around. I briefly caught the eye of a deranged man, built like a house, slack-jawed and hairy, his bald head gleaming in the sunlight and illuminating the crazed look on his face. We shared a moment of eye contact before he barreled his way into a small and wiry boy like a truck squashing a bug.

The Dropkick Murphy’s finished their set with a rousing rendition of ACDC’s “TNT”, and after five more minutes of panic and sheer terror the performance had ended and the shirtless lunatics all clapped one another on the shoulder with a grin and left the tarmac. We squished our way to the second row, and the heat within the crowd was overwhelming. Security guards leaned over the gates and misted the crowd with half-open water bottles. We groaned and lurched towards the cool mist like a horde of starved zombies, and I was reminded once again of how we were treated like cattle. Finally, Ed Sharpe took to the stage.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Edward-Sharpe-The-Magnetic-Zeros-02-Janglin.mp3|titles=Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – 02 Janglin]
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Janglin

Just under a year ago I had seen Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes live in Calgary, but this experience was wholly different. The dozen or so members took to the stage with huge grins and a look of bewilderment. Surely it was one of the largest crowds they had ever played for, and the energy was infectious. Individually, they were all incredibly talented and ridiculously good-looking. Collectively, they were like a happy conclave of traveling musicians, almost cult-like. Lead singer Alexander Ebert (or rather, Ed Sharpe) was the eclectic standout of the bunch. His hair spanned out in all directions, and his beard was full yet wiry. He had the crowd on a string, and all 30 thousand sang along.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/1-03-I-Dont-Wanna-Pray.mp3|titles=Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – I don’t wanna pray]
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – I Don’t Wanna Pray

“I love my God and God made love”. They were edgy lyrics to sing in front of the largest generation yet of atheists and non-believers, but Edward explained his interpretation of the creator in words that were much more accessible. I’d read stories about him creating the band after he’d left Ima Robot and gotten sober, but I wasn’t too convinced of his sobriety. His eyes rolled freely as he ad-libbed lyrics and had broken conversations with band members. There were genuine looks of concern amongst his band mates for extended periods of the performance, and it almost seemed as if they were watching a full-grown child teetering dangerously on a cliffside. At one point, the band began to play a tune and waited for his queue, however he became confused and turned around;

“I don’t know what this is”

So they changed the tempo and began playing something he would recognize.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Edward-Sharpe-The-Magnetic-Zeros-01-40-Day-Dream.mp3|titles=Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – 40 Day Dream]
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – 40 Day Dream

One of the most beautiful moments of the concert came when guitarist Christian Letts took over to sing. He lulled the crowd into a trance, and we swayed with every word. Child remains one of my favorite songs.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/1-06-Child.mp3|titles=Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – Child]
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Child

It was hard to tell if it was part of Edward’s stage persona or whether he was on some serious tranquilizers. In comparison to his shining and beautiful band mates, Sharpe looked ragged and disheveled. I thought he might collapse on stage, but just as my concern began to mount, I suddenly became aware of how sick I was feeling. That’s when I felt a touch on my face.

A young girl, face painted and fully intoxicated was staring deeply into my eyes. I took a step backwards after she brushed my cheek gently with her hand.
“Hi” she staggered. Something was amiss behind her eyes, and through the glaze I could see the effects of euphoric narcotics. She had a half crooked smile, and her pupils were planets. She stroked my backpack with her arm. “You’re such a cute backpack boy”
“Uhm.. thanks.” What in the name of fuck, I thought. Her intentions soon became clear as she tried to squeeze past me to the very front. Flattery was her weapon, however her emphatic performance was heavily impaired by her own intoxication. I could feel her intense glare as her cogs began to turn. Certainly, this backpacked boy was not going to let me pass, she thought. I heaved a sigh of relief as she jostled her way parallel into the crowd. I looked over at Jackie on my other side and saw fear in her eyes. She was ghost white and half-conscious, and my own anemia began to wash over me. We had to leave.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/1-08-Fiya-Wata.mp3|titles=Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – Fiya Wata]
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Fiya Wata

I shouted for the security guards in front of us, wildly flailing my arms and snapping my fingers.
“SHE NEEDS UP!”
Often throughout the festival, people would collapse in the crowd, and the creative solution for evacuation was to lift them forward towards the stage so that security could escort them safely out of the concert. Finally, i’d caught the attention of the guards and they stooped over the front row to hoist Jackie out of the crowd. My knees were about to buckle from pure exhaustion and the weight of the backpack, and soon I found myself surfing atop a sea of hands and being scooped into the massive arms of security. For a frozen moment I was weightless, and only a meter away someone from the press zoomed in and snapped a photo of my lifeless body as I was being carried away. On some corner of the internet in a weeks time, I thought, a picture of my gaunt and sickly figure was a centerpiece for an over-privileged member of the press desperately trying to capture “the dark side” of the festival. I had become the accidental poster child for overdose, I thought. Edward Sharpe played their iconic final song as I rushed through the gates to find Jackie.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Edward-Sharpe-The-Magnetic-Zeros-06-Home.mp3|titles=Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home]
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home

———————-

We were exhausted. I cursed and tore the pack off my back and tossed it on the grass at our campsite. There was one massive show remaining in the night and we could barely stand. The thirty-minute walk to and from the concert grounds only compounded our weariness, and upon returning to the grounds we elected to sit at the top of the hill and enjoy Mumford and Sons from a comfortable distance.

The performance was enchanting. The lights of thousands of cell phone cameras dotted the hillside, reminiscent of a large scale candle-lit vigil. The music was fast, and the talent on display was evident. Marcus Mumford traded places with his drummer on multiple occasions, and rattled off drum solos while somehow managing to sing in perfect tune. The crowd knew very little of their music, eagerly waiting for the pop-smashes “Little Lion Man” and “I Will Wait”. Admittedly, I was only a fringe-fan at best, however the metaphorical brilliance of Mumford’s lyrics as well as the sheer scope of the performance had me in awe.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/02-Whispers-in-the-Dark.mp3|titles=Mumford and Sons – Whispers in the Dark]
Mumford & Sons – Whispers in the Dark

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/09-Hopeless-Wanderer.mp3|titles=Mumford and Sons – Hopeless Wanderer]
Mumford & Sons – Hopeless Wanderer