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Sasquatch! Festival Review: Part II

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“Sasquatch is 17% female!” the Rain City Rock gals proudly proclaimed, noting that other prolific festivals had between 4-6% female musicians. It was certainly an impressive figure, but my facial expression was a vanilla swirl of elation and disappointment. Sasquatch was certainly a leap in the right direction of equality, but there are countless steps in the game of gender equality hopscotch. In a weekend that was dominated by Sylvan Esso’s sensual dance moves, St. Vincent’s cybernetic rock goddery, Kate Tempest’s whirlwind wordplay and storytelling, Courtney Barnett’s sheepish grin, Jenny Lewis’ undeniable cute-as-fuckness and the grande finale by Kendrick Lamar that featured a random girl pulled up on stage and absolutely slaying “mAAd City” in front of the entire Gorge, there was an undeniable feminine edge to the festival.

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With both feet planted, St. Vincent ascended to robogod status as the wind violently tore apart the stage. Perhaps it was the soft set-up by Jenny Lewis and her kawaii-themed country-pop, or perhaps it was just the sheer magnetic power of Annie Clarke’s human form. St. Vincent put on one of the most intimidating sets of the festival as the sun began to descend reluctantly behind the menacing clouds. Only a few hours earlier I managed to catch London rapper Kate Tempest as she completely demolished the Yeti Stage, a modest crowd swelling into an array of awestruck onlookers. The women were in full force on Sunday. Of course, all of this took place after a ‘flash-fest’ at the Shakey Graves show on the hill. But in all fairness it wasn’t just the ladies who wanted to expose themselves to Shakey, he was a Texas blue jean yellow-stained tank-T tour de force. Playing both a kick drum and a symbol with the heel’s of his feet, Shakey was backyard beerchuggery at it’s finest, and I smirked on the hilltop as I anticipated his show at the Calgary Folk Fest only a few months away.

The night would be capped off by the porcelain princess of sad-pop Lana Del Rey, but I was forced to skip her performance in order to prepare for James Blake. In the mean time, José González played an enchanting set while the sky was ablaze. I made note once again of the magnificent magical powers of the Gorge and shook my head as I reveled in the beauty of the moment.

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The rest of the night was a blur. After the sun retired, James Blake begun a black-out set back on the Bigfoot stage. My expectations were low; this was a mistake. The performance was an emotional roller-coaster, a tsunami of feels crashed upon the crowd as Blake effortlessly hummed along to down-tempo keys. I was born with a soft spot for lo-fi, it speaks to a part of my soul that sends me into deep inner convulsions of serotonin-fueled reflection. My eyes were closed, swaying with the crowd, but I could see everything. I hadn’t realized how much James Blake I was intimately familiar with, but as his set continued I found myself singing along to nearly every song. Have my speakers been shit this whole time? The low notes shook the earth, and the Gorge was forever tinged an iridescent blue

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Robert Plant played a show also. Which was pretty cool, I mean, not a day goes by I don’t see someone in the street with a ‘Led Zeppelin’ T-shirt, and not a day goes by I don’t think to myself “Wow, the 70’s must’ve been groovy or whatever.”

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Undoubtedly for many, Robert Plant’s performance was special. I bounded down the hill using my camera screen as a flashlight and watched from the edge of the mass. Christ. He sounds exactly the same. Somewhere inside this shriveled man, a cosmic wisdom and a voice still screeched and howled with the only fervor it had ever known.

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The night wrapped up with the usual EDM mischief. Pills and powders abound in the electronic tent for Madeon, a seemingly twelve year old boy who hit play on his laptop and danced. This is the state of music, I swallowed. It sounded great, lots of bleeps and bloops, and people jumped up and down. To witness this sort of human experience is to be in the presence of a tremendous amount of human energy, expulsion and absorption, and for that feeling alone I was thrilled. I ducked out to catch SBTRKT, the electro act with possibly the most hype of the festival.

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SBTRKT pushed a lot more buttons. A lot. He looked like an Egyptian spaceman frantically trying to reroute his ship on a crash course for the sun, turning knobs here, mashing buttons over there. I worried for him. But he kept pace, the music sounded clean and delicious, and the crowd was bobbing and swaying. There was a sour note, however. SBTRKT was known for having several prolific collaborations (Little Dragon, Raury etc.) but nobody made an appearance. Perhaps this was Sasquatch’s only weakness; the stories from Coachella almost always center around the random appearance of ridiculously famous artists during other shows. This was rare at the Gorge, in fact, to my knowledge only Ryan Adams hopped up on stage Monday afternoon, and only a few paid witness. It seemed strange that SBTRKT didn’t take advantage. The night ended as it always did, a mild headache, and a mass of human bodies squeezing through gates and pathways like toothpaste.

Monday would be death by chocolate. The line-up was packed; I would be forced to yo-yo between stages with little to no breaks, and four nights of hardened Gorge camping had strengthened my constitution to a level of ultimate festival fitness. Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, Courtney Barnett, PHOX, BRONCHO, Future Islands, The Districts, Sharon Van Etten, Schoolboy Q, Tame Impala, MØ, Slow Magic, Ryan Adams, ALVVAYS, Run the Jewels, SOHN, Kendrick Lamar, Hot Chip and The Glitch Mob all played back-to-back-to-back, overlapping and often overpowering my ability to make snap decisions. I was forced to skip a few; at every festival there are tragedies, but it’s difficult to feel like you missed out when you’re still treated to a veritable buffet of musical delicacies.

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Fortunately I got to have my cake and eat it too. Tiramisu. “You know who my favorite person all festival has been?” I smirked at the catering lady, “… you”. With a wry grin I pried four slices of tiramisu from the table and booked it cross-country to Future Islands. “Balance” was the song playing in the background, and it couldn’t be more appropriate. The dexterous difficultly of descending the daunting hillside while simultaneously balancing a plate-full of wobbly dessert could not be understated: I leaped over the lay-downers, danced past the path-dancers and careened through the crowd. Unfortunately, the cake was for my friends who never showed, and after failing to convince a security officer to share in the delectable dessert, I tossed it.

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The performance was, as always, legendary. Sam Herring was a stage-play, a Greek tragedy, a slapstick comedy, a virulent maniac, and ceaselessly entertaining. In between songs he panted and swore like a sailor, admiring the scenery with witty fuck-laden candor. Their sound was polished, proficient, and probably perfect. I pushed my way to the front of the crowd and lost myself in the music.

Regaining consciousness, I headed back to the front gates to meet up with my group. It was a shame they never had any cake, I thought. The real tragedy was that they hadn’t made it to the grounds yet and the day was half over. The dynamics of group organization were always a burden to one’s festival attendance; too many on-route visits to Honey Buckets, too many morning hangovers, too many conflicting schedules, drunken confessions, crying sessions, and everything that makes a group of humans sluggish and inefficient. I had been waiting for 30 minutes just inside the gates when a roar erupted from the crowd still waiting in line.

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A young man flung himself over the fence and booked it downhill towards the masses. Greeted by cheers and undulation, he escaped the grasp of a pursuing security officer who was met by jeers and laughter. “YOU DONE FUCKED UP” they howled. “UHHH OHHH” a girl cackled. They were ruthless, and undeniably against the idea of a man in uniform and the oppressive rules he stood for. He hung his head in shame, out of breathe and completely humiliated. I hope the kid ditched his shirt and hat somewhere fast, I thought.

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The Districts were great. A youthful rock-band full of guitar dips, hair flips, and even a sit-down-and-strum-out. I was already a pretty avid fan of their first album, specifically the song “4th and Roebling” which had become a summertime anthem in the year previous. They certainly didn’t disappoint, and I fed off their raw musical energy.

The "sit-down-and-strum-out"
The “sit-down-and-strum-out”

But the main event, for myself and for all of Sasquatch, was about to take place following Schoolboy Q. Tame Impala was set to play a handful of their new material, and after paying nearly $100 for a limited edition record before it even came out, it would be an understatement to assume they were my favorite band. I edged my way through the crowd as Q racked off his greatest hits, topping off his brilliant set with an elated rendition of “Man of the Year” while the whole Gorge bounced on tippy-toes.

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I hit a roadblock, a bunch of children slash drug-fiend hippies with soft skin and elastic faces were parked on the ground sitting in a circle, two-men back from the front of the crowd. I made snarky comments and saw the wrath of a beautiful girl who could’ve have been older than 19. “Relax” I cooed, “I’m just fucking with you”. She scoffed and turned forward, as men in lab coats began setting up for Tame Impala.

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Tame Impala could not be properly captured by film or photo: it was at it’s most potent climaxes, a feeling; outside the sense of sight and sound: it was at it’s most personal; every bit enfused and pulsing through my being, phenomenological and embodied throughout my entire consciousness. The weight of my existence was measured, collectively we witnessed a moment of seamless synchronicity, sun and sound, man and nature, Gorge and music. It was beyond any poetry of word or slick description. Any frame of film or high-def close-up. It was, in all it’s incomprehensible gravity, perfect.

The sun leaked through the back of the stage and drenched the Aussie psyche rockers in liquid gold. After each song when the crowd would catch it’s breath, every individual would turn to the strangers around them and proclaim some variation of “THIS IS THE GREATEST FUCKING THING I HAVE EVER SEEN”. I felt like I had witnessed The Beatles, or some other monumental music legend. This feeling was mutual all around me. We were truly in awe.

With a few moments to spare I hobbled back to the press tent. I was inspired, invigorated, infused with music. Poetry and sentiment began to pour out of my pen onto my pad. What more could be said? The feelings I had felt in the crowd were life changing, and the most beautiful thing about it was that at Sasquatch, these feelings were happening all around. Drug induced or not, there is something to be said for a collective bliss on this scale, and little in our lives will ever draw comparison. Sasquatch is many things for many people, a finger-dipping taste test for young experimenters, a frantic press assignment and human mine field, a life-affirming measure of group solidarity, and above all a prodigious musical palate pleaser. Sasquatch knows no rival, year in, year out. Sasquatch remains.

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Imagine this experience, these emotions, all of my combined poetic inspiration being followed by my other favorite band. In the dead of winter at a time when I couldn’t have been more broken, a band from Nova Scotia entered my life and put a soundtrack to my experience. ALVVAYS was the band above all others to which I was emotionally connected with, and much to my delight the security was lax about my stay even after their first three songs had ended. I ceased reporting. It was difficult to separate journalism from emotion. I backed out into the crowd to sway with the other glassy-eyed onlookers. Just like The National the year prior, I found myself overcome by emotion. I cried in that crowd. I feel no shame. It was a good cry, a cry that I understood, and in the darkness and the fog it was a cry I felt I had in private.

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I sang every word. I stood in solidarity with my sorrow. ALVVAYS were hopeless romantics playing to the tune of my heart. For nearly the entire set, the crowd disappeared. It was me and the band. Me and the raw unfiltered emotion of a hectic year. Heartbreak and screaming success. A potent cocktail of sound, sight, and serene sadness. Even the memory of the experience, faded and distant, brings my eyes to a swell. I couldn’t be happier in tears.

EL-P got time to kill
EL-P got time to kill

At Sasquatch it’s impossible to reflect on the beauty of the moment, especially with a closing line-up so diverse and prolific. I washed a muddy mix of tears and dirt from my cheeks, least I get caught crying at a Run the Jewels concert. EL-P and Killer Mike were fresh off the biggest drop of 2014, and Killer Mike himself looked fresh off a big drop of another sort. His arm was busted and in a sling, but unphased the 40 year old Atlanta rapper (reportedly born on 4/20) spit hot fury. What was shocking was the larger audience’s ignorance of their material, perhaps they were a critics favorite that hadn’t quite broken the mainstream rap scene. Regardless, their performance was stellar, with EL-P procuring some extra energy to offset his injured partner. This was a warm-up, many felt, for Kendrick. And by the last few songs, the masses had already began the trek to the hill.

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The whole festival was in attendance. Kendrick was, by all accounts, the true headliner. “To Pimp a Butterfly” was already being hailed as a classic after it’s first spin, and the anticipation was palpable. Unfortunately the set itself was… unorthodox. Kendrick egged on the crowd with cheesy lines “YA’LL ARE THE SECOND LOUDEST AUDIENCE I’VE EVER HAD”… “THE RIGHT SIDE! NOW THE LEFT SIDE! NOW-“… “IF I PLAY THAT SONG AGAIN WILL YA’LL PROMISE TO BLOW THE LID OFF THIS MOTHER FUCKER?!”. Kendrick was a general, and not a very convincing one. Perhaps I was drained of emotion, but even the audience seemed a little put off by his constant directions. A good show usually doesn’t require this much crowd maintenance, but Kendrick was quick to point out that it wasn’t a concert, “THIS IS A PARTY!”

In a terrifying and unpredictable moment, Kendrick brought up a random guy from the crowd to help him sing “mAAd city” for the third time in a row. Standing in front of thirty-thousand or so turnt as fuck festival goers was certainly intimidating, but he handled it well. We cheered. We laughed. But Kendrick wasn’t finished. “Every time I do this, I like to bring a lady on the stage next, and I love my homeys… but the ladies always kill it”… the girls went nuts. “WHICH ONE OF YOU KNOWS THE WORDS TO MAAD CITY?!” Two girls dueled on the big screens to the frantic cheers of the crowd. Undoubtedly, they both knew the song, but Paige won out on swagger. Unfortunately the security got confused, lifted up the wrong girl only to have Kendrick step in and subsequently completely ruin her life. “No no, not her”. The sound of her heart breaking echoed through the Gorge. But it was all for a good cause, wee little Paige, tiny little white girl with her shirt flapping in the wind and face sheepishly covered by her hands, destroyed it. She ran amok on the stage alongside Kendrick, grabbing her crotch and booming over the audience. Kendrick was right.

The entertainment stopped there. Kendrick played one song four times in a row. Skipped out on current smash hits “King Kunta” and “I”, and even bailed on the encore. For the closing headliner, this was unheard of, and the murmurs amongst the crowd as they ascended the hill one final time were all laced with disappointment.

I brushed off any bad vibes almost immediately as I made my way to Hot Chip. The group was all together, but I edged away from my ex-girlfriend and her pals towards new friends. A charismatic photojournalist from Seattle I had met the year previous and her enchanting partner in crime. AJ, Victoria and I danced like it was our last time.

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The Gorge.

What more can be said? Reflecting upon the chaos of drugs and debauchery, booze and bad pizza, cold press releases and blurry photos, my scuffed boots and the visible layer of dust coating my entire being, the overwhelming mountain of human refuse and the endless array of beautiful, young, and sunlit smiles, what is left? The experience.

What could be better?

Next year, of course.