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Sasquatch! Festival 2014: Day One

“What in the hell happened last night?”

My head was cleaved in two, and the fleeting memories of the night before were barely cohesive. A technicolor blur, short bursts of light and flashes of foreign faces; a musclebound roid-head with a genuine smile rolled about in a wheelchair, I remember lighting a small hot air balloon on fire, playing flippy-cup with Shannon and a batch of complete strangers, the epic RV cock-block on Bobcat… the bite-size tidbit memories were a-plenty, but it was nigh impossible to draw up a timeline of events. I must’ve met a couple hundred people. Such is the case on the first night of Sasquatch, the chaos takes over the moment the sun comes down, the walk of shame is multiplied by a few thousand, especially for those unfortunate enough to forget where they camped in the first place.


Fortunately the schedule granted us a lengthy recovery period, and the afternoon was spent piecing together the disjointed random events of the evening prior. Bobcat and I elected to work off some of the liquor with a multipurpose walk to the grounds; I’d snag my press pass and a coffee and we’d scope out the scenes of destruction across the campsite. Unfortunately our hike was for naught; the press passes weren’t available for another hour or so (the atypical oblivious volunteer sort of shrugged and tossed out a random guess), and the coffeeshop was out of sugar. After I plugged the old pun “I’m sweet enough as is”, we randomly bumped into David Greenwald of Rawkblog and The Oregonian. He was a welcome familiar face in a sea of lunacy, and the presence of an actual professional was quite reassuring in contrast to the drug-rattled mania. It was his first year at the Gorge, and he told us he was camping with the general admission, affectionately referred to as ‘District 9’. I felt a strong twinge of sympathy; David was a seasoned vet of music fests and journalism in general, but very little could prepare the even the saltiest of correspondents for the sheer weirdness of the Gorge. We shook hands and Bobcat and I made our way back to the campsite…

Rattlesnakes were common to the area; the Gorge itself was quite desert-like in vegetation and scenery, and although the initial shock of seeing a potentially deadly animal was quite a jolt to the small crowd, the actual threat was quite miniscule. Of course, considering the fact that over 70% of rattlesnake victims are drunken males, the danger seemed more palpable in the late hours when thousands of inebriated youth stumble to-and-fro up the very same path. We exchanged a few “Holy fucks” with the rest of the onlookers and made our way back to ground zero to refuel on food and booze.

Chance the Rapper was the first big name on the docket, and the absolutely massive sea of attendees left the MC in a state of awe-inspired appreciation. His stage presence was absolutely electric; spraying the crowd with a bottle of water (and subsequently apologizing to the security staff he drenched) while bashfully quipping how we were “the biggest crowd” he’s ever drawn. It wasn’t just a ploy to win us over, the crowd was monumental, stretching far beyond the physical limits of the Bigfoot stage and encroaching upon the surrounding neutral boundaries usually reserved for the burnt out and hopelessly drunk hot messes.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Chance-the-Rapper-Cocoa-Butter-Kisses-ft.-Vic-Mensa-Twista.mp3|titles=Chance the Rapper – Cocoa Butter Kisses (ft. Vic Mensa & Twista)]
Chance The Rapper – Cocoa Butter Kisses (ft. Vic Mensa & Twista)

The press pit was absolutely abuzz, khaki’d dorks jostled for position with flowery hipster-femme photogs, every last camera drinking in the pure plasmatic and palpable energy of Chance’s performance. He blasted through a handful of old favorites from his 2013 debut release ‘Acid Rap’, and gained mad cultural clout for his unexpected cover of the theme song from 90’s cartoon Arthur. For the thirty or forty people who actually recognized what he was singing, it was surely a very special moment, but even for those who either never saw the show or were simply too far rattled in the late afternoon to be effectively coherent, Chance had the crowd swaying on a string, and set the bar sky-high for the rest of the festival.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Chance-the-Rapper-Everybodys-Something-ft.-Saba-BJ-The-Chicago-Kid-1.mp3|titles=Chance the Rapper – Everybody’s Something (ft. Saba & BJ The Chicago Kid) 1]
Chance The Rapper – Everybody’s Something (ft. Saba & BJ The Chicago Kid)

I never wanted to become jaded. A lot of my fellow press members were hard to please; they’d seen it all before. After years of covering emerging superstars and buzz-bands alike, the prospect of being inches away from internet sensations was old hat. To me, the thrill never gets old, from my first press pass at the Calgary Folk Fest to the absolutely overwhelming intimacy of SXSW, the awestruck emotions always seem to strike me at the most poignant moments. Shooting pictures while literally standing at Chance’s shoes was one such moment, and in the midst of the all-enveloping sensory overload that is a festival press pit, I froze a singular moment in my memory. With raised eyebrows and my mouth agape, all I could think was, “This is the fucking coolest thing ever”…

One of the most glaring issues with the festival was the inability to stay within the grounds unless you had a hefty bankroll to quench your necessary bodily functions. Food options were plentiful, undoubtedly, but the price points were monumental and the cost of eating and getting sufficiently drunk enough to tolerate the festival ran over $70 dollars daily. It was a steep price to pay, and very few except the California trust-funders were willing to stay on the grounds and catch all the shows. Over the course of each day we would find ourselves refueling around 6:00 PM, unfortunately missing a few good shows in order to keep the juices flowing well into the evening. The major delay wasn’t from the twenty minute walk back to the campsites, but rather the senselessly monstrous line created by the rather pointless bagcheck before admission. Wait times were up to 30 minutes, all to satisfy whatever bureaucratic red-tape that kept attendees from bringing in their own beverages and liquor. The annual horror stories soon followed “They made me chuck my fucking unopened Red Bull!” “Dude said my umbrella was ‘too big'” etc., but for those fortunate enough to have a press pass, there was no line whatsoever and a very minimal bag check.

Smuggling methods were quite simple and the same as the previous year. Need your drugs and alcohol inside the grounds? Simple. Shove it in your crotch. Voila! Even the press had their own unique methods of smuggling; one beefy fellow from Seattle revealed all his stashed alcohol inside the battery storage areas of his many cameras. The bag check served no purpose other than ruining the days of those too stupid to hide their booze or those showing particularly bulbous crotches, and whatever show you may have been rushing to see would surely be over by the time you finally made it through the gates. Yet it was a necessary evil we all accepted as reality, for whatever reason, be it the insurance companies surely involved, the beer sponsors charging an outrageous $13 for a tall-boy, or whatever archaic and unrealistic Gorge bylaw, the admission line-up was a stain on the festival that nobody even suggested needing a wash.

We had a steady buzz by the time Phosphorescent started fiddling with his pedals, and unlike this time last year (a storm started rolling behind frigid winds during the Japandroids set) the sun was high and hot in sky. Fresh off the glowering success of his 2013 album ‘Muchacho’, Matthew Houck rolled through a series of sleepy afternoon blues-folk ballads, humming howling and hoo-ing with a whining twang like the country stars of old. It was a set perhaps better suited for the lazy drôle of the late afternoon mainstage, but mounting instrumental solos and crashing climaxes kept the crowd coherent. It was a bit overwhelming with the size of the standing audience and the general fervor of the crowd as the booze train began to roll, an obvious shame the organizers didn’t swap stages with The Naked and the Famous, as both bands would’ve been better suited to opposite stages.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Phosphorescent-The-Quotidian-Beasts.mp3|titles=Phosphorescent – The Quotidian Beasts]
Phosphorescent – The Quotidian Beasts

Such was the reaction you might expect from a man who has quietly released over a half-dozen albums in a decade, the majority of the crowd seemed sedated, but there were certainly a few people having some very profound musical epiphanies, as is the case when you pair introspective metaphor-satured folk-rock with copious amounts of drugs, alcohol and sunshine. To me, the set seemed best suited to a cigarette, a glass of whiskey and a few ounces of liquid loneliness, but it was a privilege to witness such a talented act regardless of the circumstance.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Phosphorescent-Ride-On-Right-On.mp3|titles=Phosphorescent – Ride On, Right On]
Phosphorescent – Ride On/Right On

I ducked out of the set with enough time to raid the complimentary cheese plate restricted for the press. Each day they provided us with a small array of delicious and nutritious snacks (as well as an unlimited supply of bottled water). Considering the proximity of the press building to several of the big stages, having access was undoubtedly the greatest benefit of scoring a pass. It was a small, air-conditioned oasis from the madness of the crowd, and although the press themselves plotted steep points on the anti-social spectrum, it was still a great space to catch one’s breath and psyche up for the next adventure. Phantogram was next, a band I had successfully managed to miss on six separate occasions, but this time I had a belly full of cheese and pretzels and a half-flask of Wild Turkey.

It was at this very point as I hopelessly adjusted my camera’s menu options that something went terrible awry. Although I wouldn’t discover the malfunction until 600 miles and five days later, something went haywire with my memory stick, and every photo I took between the start of Phantogram and first set of the last day mysteriously evaporated. 12 out of 24 bands witnessed were completely gone, aside from any photos I had taken with my iPhone, and the loss still resonates harshly in my coverage as well as my experience of the festival

Perhaps the busiest band in alt-electro, Phantogram had been touring solidly for as long as I could remember, hitting every festival and every venue humanly possible. Despite their saturated schedule, Sarah and Josh looked fresh as daisies, and proceeded to absolutely slay the Bigfoot stage and bring the crowd to a raucous frenzy. They had a number of festival-ready smashers off their latest release ‘Voices’, and it was an absolute treat to witness a band I had been religiously listening to for over five years. It’s difficult to narrow down their sound, somewhere between the oft-seen male/female electro coupling and hard-hitting guitar driven neo-psychedelia, Phantogram carved out a very specific sound that was completely in-tune with their set time. It was the start of the party, and the rowdiness had just begun.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Phantogram-Black-Out-Days.mp3|titles=Phantogram – Black Out Days]
Phantogram – Black Out Days

With Foster the People blaring away from the mainstage, I crept over to the Damien Jurado set to catch a few songs from his brilliant album “Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun”. Once again, it was relatively inappropriately placed on the Yeti stage, and after two decades of fantastic indie releases it seemed quite unfair to put Damien anywhere but the mainstage in the afternoon. One of the common themes of the festival was that the headliners were rather underwhelming compared with previous years (Macklemore and Mumford and Sons last year were gigantic heavyweights at the time), but with a mid-card bursting with incredibly talented musicians on the cusp of fame and notoriety, there were bound to be a few misplacements. Jurado seemingly picked up on this vibe, and rather grumpily performed a few acoustic jams before losing the interest of the crowd. Between Foster the People and Mogwai on the larger stages, as well as remix legend Classixx ripping hits for the drug-rattled molly-poppers like a giant bug zapper, there wasn’t much room for Jurado to draw an audience, and after a few sleepy jams I ran off to find the rest of the group jostling for early position to see Outkast in an hour and a half.

There were only a handful of ‘Photo’ passes handed out at this year’s Sasquatch, and I wasn’t one of the lucky ones employed by a national mag or newspaper, which meant I had zero access to the mainstage photo pit throughout the entire festival. Not one to follow the rules, I snuck in regardless, and after being spotted by a pit watchdog and booted out stage left, I slithered through the crowd and hopped back into the pit stage right. In all the confusion, darkness and noise it was exceedingly difficult for the staff to keep sneaky bastards like myself out, and although my pictures were all dark and shitty (and subsequently deleted forever) it was worth the effort just to see a world class act from only a foot away. The performance was polished, professional, and down-right entertaining, and although they had a lot of help thanks to pre-recorded vocals, Andre 3000 and Big Boi ran rampant on stage with no signs of rust. There were weird set pieces, some sort of strange holographic cube, and several strong doses of eclectic bravado from Andre in his bizarre white wig and black jumpsuit. But for those who had seen their fair share of live acts, the performance fell short on genuine emotion. Undoubtedly it was a blast to see 30,000 people ‘shaking it like a Polaroid picture’, yet when the majority of the audience were 8-year-olds when Outkast was relevant, it was hard to justify their clout as a mainstage headliner.

[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/OutKast-So-Fresh-and-So-Clean.mp3|titles=OutKast – So Fresh and So Clean]
OutKast – So Fresh and So Clean

We danced our asses off nonetheless, and after a full day of drinking under the sun it seemed there were very few people with the energy to catch the end of Rudimental or experience the inevitable weird of Die Antwoord, I myself being one of them. Desperate to catch up with several lost members of our party, I clamored back to the campsite and shot a few forlorn looks at the Bigfoot stage where things were getting absolutely ‘feeky’.