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Sasquatch Festival – The Gorge, Washington – Memorial Day Weekend 2006

Sasquatch Banana

Fickle weather, a revolving and delightful schmorgisborg of bands, $7 hamburgers and $8 beers: that’s what audiences encountered at this year’s Sasquatch Festival. This annual celebration of northwest music is not for the faint of heart, but infinitely worth the cost and the effort.

Tickets for all three days went for a whopping $165. The concert was sold out. People carrying signs asking to buy spare tickets could be seen all along the road to the Gorge. Since there are few hotels within a reasonable distance, most people keep with Memorial Day weekend tradition and break out the tent poles and mess kits. Camping costs vary between $90- $180.

One thing I know after four consecutive years attending the Sasquatch Festival is that you have to be prepared for ANYTHING. We had sunshine, we had rain, we had pleasure and we had pain. Note to self: always wear sunscreen even when the forecast says cloudy. When will I learn that wearing pigtails to the Gorge equals visible burn lines on my head? Two years in a row!

The music performed was as varied as the weather.



Ahh, the scent of cloves on my left and marijuana on my right. Yep this is Sasquatch. The people watching was almost as fun as the watching the performers on stage. A parade of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings in Converse, flip-flops and Tivas, denim and camouflage and peasant skirts with pants underneath. I saw two men dressed like pirates carrying tennis rackets (I asked them “Why?” and they said it was just for fun), a man who looked just like Osama Bin Laden wearing sunglasses twice the width of his face (I didn’t ask him ANYTHING), two women wandering about in banana costumes and more pretty people then you can shake a giant can of Coors Light at.

The soundtrack interchanged hourly. Gomez was sexy and soulful. Next twinkly happy music, reminiscent of music recorded for young children, filled the air. The crowd’s mood shifted to happy-go-lucky. This was my first encounter with Sufjan Stevens. I didn’t understand why, but the band passed out little American flags, had giant Uncle Sams on either side of the stage and threw blow-up dolls of Superman out to the audience. It was a very happy moment, but I was clueless about what was going on. I enjoyed it, I just felt like I was laughing without actually getting the joke.

Iron and WineBearded singer, Sam Beam from Iron and Wine, breaks the image mold of what one usually expects from one of the top bands in America (unless you’re thinking Grateful Dead era) but this is something I think we all find refreshing in the light of the current cookie cutter climate of rock ‘n’ roll. He’s very mainstream for being so eclectic. Did you know that his cover of “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service was featured in an advertisement for M&M’s, in the film “Garden State” and in an advertisement? Did you also know that he played all the instruments on his album and then hired musicians to play on stage with him? Aside from the usual bass and guitar players, he had violins, a xylophone, a percussionist AND a drummer. The vocal harmonies were stunning. It was layer upon layer of precise sound. You know how some musicians just have a knack for casting a spell on the audience, lulling them into contemplation? It was like that. I’m laying on the grassy hill, the sun is shining, the clouds are rolling by harmlessly and I’m thinking how this music would be the perfect accompaniment for a long drive down a desert highway. It was magical. He sang, “God give us love in the time we have” and a heard myself say “Amen.”

Then came Neko Case. Though the Gorge Amphitheater has been touted as the most majestic and beautiful concert venue in the country, this year Mother Nature was so jealous of the exciting line-up that she through a tizzy fit and made sure everyone paid attention. One minute the sun was out, Neko Case was singing about being “the favorite” and people were wearing bathing suit tops and shorts, the next minute thunder, lightning and freezing dime sized balls of ice pelting from every angle! House of Blues employees said this has never happened before in the history of the Gorge Amphitheater. Was it because of the lightning bolt on Neko Case’s guitar strap? Perhaps we’ll never know. What I do know is everyone was soaked, frozen and shaken. I thought it was amusing when a stage hand came up to drape a coat over Neko’s shoulders and her backup singer Rachel Flotard of Visqueen fame could be heard saying, “Gee thanks!” I guess there weren’t two coats available…No matter, they would be exiting the stage within mere moments.

Sasquatch FestivalThe hail was hitting hard and the ground was covered in it. The grass was getting slushy. The paved pathways became gushing rivers. The concert was halted and The Gorge officials let everyone go to their cars to change clothes. This was a big deal because there is usually a strict no re-entry policy.

This dramatic moment was caught on tape by MSN and you can download it (and many more great moments of the festival) for free at

After about an hour the main stage concert resumed, the sun was shining and we were back on track – except no one could sit on the ground without looking like they peed their pants and our shoes and pant legs were covered in mud. The Wookie and Yeti stages were closed down the remainder of the day for safety.

After that I was too soggy to take notes. Sorry.


Pretty Girls Make Graves gave a grittier girl punk performance than I expected. The Arctic Monkeys music started a mosh pit that I was glad to be looking down upon instead of squished inside of. When it sprinkled during Mercir’s epic soundscape no one moved a muscle. It was brilliant from start to finish. Nada Surf was sunny and California pretty.

Death CabThe Decemberists were a bit of a surprise. They seem to have matured since they performed at Sasquatch two years ago. Instead of the folky Americana sound I remembered, this time they came across much more streamlined and poppy. They still retained that intellectual 19th century sensibility while transforming into a more accessible sound. Lead singer Colin Meloy performed like a seasoned pro. At one point, with amazing crowd control, he shushed the audience while the band played softer and softer until they pretended to fall sleep, then he brought the band back with a whoosh and rocked it up for a big finale. At a festival show like this with band after band and constant noise from all angles, using a cute trick of dynamics like that can leave a lasting impression. Bravo!

Matisyahu, the Jewish rapper, sailed on a sea of jovial reggae vibes while speaking words of spirituality and inspiration like, “If you’re trying to stay high then you’re bound to stay low,” and, “You want God but you can’t deflate your ego.” I had to wonder if those people nodding their heads to the beat really got the message…

During Queens of the Stoneage I actually saw crowd surfing. I bet if I’d been sitting closer I would have heard the crowd chanting “More COWBELL!!!” If you were wondering if they sound as good live as they do on SNL, have no fear – they rocked!

For Death Cab for Cutie, we left our cozy blanket on the hill and crushed into the cordoned off pit directly in front of the stage. This is the sound of settling for no personal space and shoulder to shoulder bumping with strangers…but who cares! It’s Death Cab! Every moment enjoyable, every insightful word understood. I laughed out loud when Ben Gibbard said, “Nothing makes you feel more like a sissy than following Queens of the Stoneage!” We don’t think you’re a sissy Ben, we think you’re a lyrical genius. Can I please be your new girlfriend? Ben said Beck was “a heck of a nice guy” and dedicated a full-on jam session to him. He effortlessly tossed his guitar to a stage hand and jumped over to second drum set which was set up during the song for him. He and drummer Jason McGerr traded drum solos and it was a phenomenal moment which proved that Death Cab can rock out as well as please with melodic pop songs.

MatisyahuAfter Death Cab, getting ourselves out of the pit was a nightmare. The tiny exit space was very unrealistic, and in my opinion, unsafe. There was pushing, shoving, shouting and frustration during which we missed a laser show and an appearance by big foot himself. A staff member who wished to remain anonymous told me that they were extremely short staffed and that many of their employees simply did not show up for work on Sunday. Because of this, people were allowed to stand and sit in places that normally would have been forbidden. This was very annoying to those seated behind them trying to see the stage.

The real magic of the Gorge Amphitheater comes to life when the sun goes down and the lights come up, but the climax of this year’s festival was a perplexing one. The Beck performance was an amazing mix of audiovisual stimuli including three large screens featuring a cast of look-alike marionettes that mimicked live what the band was doing on stage. At one point the band exited the stage and a pre-recorded movie of the puppets was played on the screens. In the film the puppets roamed free through the Sasquatch backstage area and even did a short interview with Ben Gibbard.

Then the puppets performed the song “Loser” on stage entirely by themselves! After that the band returned to the stage and pumped out a few more high octane numbers that’s when it happened. Just when it felt like they were building up to a big finale, the band ran off the stage leaving the audience bewildered. Slowly after a long uncertain pause the crowd of thousands shuffled out like a sea of stunned ants. As the lights came up and we turned to leave we couldn’t help but notice how the scattered litter had corrupted this once pristine and park-like setting. No wonder the employees didn’t show up. Who’d want to clean up this colossal mess?

Later, at our campsite I overheard someone saying they thought they saw members of the Beck band arguing toward the end of the final song. Will we ever know if this sudden departure was planned or spontaneous? With an unpredictable artist like Beck, you never really know.

AngieGreatest moments:

• A homesick love song by European piano playing singer David Ford
• The entire Mercir set
• The band t-shirts I bought BEFORE they sold out! And the free T-shirt from the wandering rep from my favorite local music radio station KEXP
• Singing along with a chorus of thousands articulating every word of songs by Death Cab for Cutie like “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You into the Dark”
• Getting my second wind after a long day and finding myself dancing in the isles to Beck’s greatest hits
• Rehashing the concert with a group of neighboring campers while huddling around a campfire

The horrors that were almost too much to bear:

• The time-sucking lines for everything
• The stench of portapotties
• The excruciating cost of food and drinks
• The dampness and unpredictable weather
• Horrid crowd control and ridiculous exit strategies
• Hearing about great performances by bands I missed like Architecture in Helsinki, We are Scientists, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah and Big Japan (who’s drummer is Adam Brody from the TV show “O.C.” – why wasn’t this on the press release!)


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