The Road to Sasquatch and Other Stories

Vortex Music Magazine

Your first time at Sasquatch might kill you, unless you’re tricky.

Driving to SasquatchFive hours on the road. The expansive Columbia River Gorge, towering wind turbines, a speeding ticket, an RV engulfed in flames on the highway—but nothing as interesting as a near death experience.

My festival partner Deena and I were about to take the turn onto the rough country road to the Gorge Amphitheatre but missed it. I was driving and wasn’t used to Deena’s car. I began to instigate an admittedly clumsy turn around on a narrow road with a blind corner. As I was about to successfully pull out of the oncoming traffic lane Deena yells.

“Back the car up!” she shouted. I looked only to see an 18-wheeler barreling at us at 60 miles per hour. I calmy reversed the car into the driveway I had used to turn around and our lives were saved by fractions of an inch. The truck had no intention of stopping.

I proceeded to drive onto the correct road and was tailed by a police cruiser that was almost surely thinking I was drunk—I wasn’t, yet. We navigated the complex web of talking with festival security who seemed to have trouble telling us exactly where the media was supposed to go. Finally, we arrived at our parking/camping spot and I set up my tent. We were ready to enter the festival.

The walk to the festival takes 15 minutes or so and is lined with shirtless men and under-clothed teenage girls. I was starting to wonder what kind of people I’d be encountering on this excursion, and I distinctly heard sentences like “Does my heart say boner?” as I passed festival goers. The heat only adds to your frustrations as the sun beats down on your unaccustomed winter skin.

The first show we witnessed was Cage The Elephant, and we watched from the upper grassy levels that overlook the Sasquatch stage—watching through chain link fence. I started drinking my whiskey and considered other ways of becoming intoxicated. Cage The Elephant is not a band I follow closely, but their show was surprisingly energetic and enjoyable. The music reminds you of every time you ever drunkenly reveled with your friends about how great it is to be young.

Next, on the same stage, was The Naked and Famous. At this point I was reaching different levels of intoxication. I had only heard The Naked and Famous’ radio hits that had struck me while I’ve been out in public and was also surprised by their performance. Alisa Xayalith, vocalist and keyboardist for the band, seemed ecstatic to be there and her high-pitched voice soared into the crowd with crisp definition. She smiled as if it was her first show ever and danced as she played.

Deena and I made our way to the media room and attempted and failed to meet up with Radiation City before Phantogram’s set on the Bigfoot stage. The media room was crowded with people who were surely forming ulcers as they tried to figure out why their cameras and computers weren’t doing what they were telling them to do. Statements like “Just because you’re on drugs doesn’t mean the world is still spinning!” were prevalent as the journalists grew weary of the fans they were encountering. The journalists knew what they were lined up for.

Phantogram was crowded with drugged-out kids and chic hipster-looking youth with framed glasses. I watched as a drone flew above my head and became overtaken by the paranoia one feels when they realize they’re being watched. Phantogram played their hits, like “Mouthful of Diamonds” (below), and some new music and the crowd responded well. “You’re getting high on your own supply,” sang lead vocalist and keyboardist Sarah Barthel with conviction. She seemed to have orchestrated the perfect haircut for her hair to swing and cascade as she swung her head to the music. A giant screen next to the band closed in on her as she told us all to look at the beautiful sunset behind us.

Finally, we met up with Radiation City and ended up seeing a performance by the Seattle hip-hop artist Raz Simone. His lyrics were deep in content, talking about rape and murder, and he spoke genuinely to the crowd. Simone would put his foot up on the speaker as if about to reach into the crowd and grab one of us. He was a conscious rapper that spoke of things that are hard to talk about, making us all stand back and ponder the more troubling aspects of our lives.

The spectacle of the night was obviously going to be Outkast. We made our way to the main viewing area, Radiation City in tow, and the show started with “B.O.B” (below). It was the perfect song to get the energy right for the show, with Andre 3000 wearing a black jumpsuit, a white wig and a price tag on his side that said “For Sale” on one side and “Sold Out” on the other. Three Stacks danced with his arms flailing like a pendulum and a maniacal smile on his face. I drank more whiskey and danced like a fool. Deena and I tried to take a quick bathroom break during a slow moment only to be met with “Ms. Jackson” while we were there. We rushed back and continued the insane dancing. We left a couple songs before the end of their show due to tiredness and discovered that my tent was missing from the campsite.

Make sure you really stake your tent down at Sasquatch: It. Gets. Windy. It flew away like a balloon, according to our neighbors. My tent was never located again, and Deena and I both slept in her car.

Day two of Sasquatch started well as we both felt well-rested, despite the fact that annoying kids had been partying around our car until early into the morning. They were like runners racing each other on treadmills, trying to see who would last the longest before one of them died and was shot from the treadmill like cardboard slips under a tire. One specific group never seemed to leave their campsite during the entire festival. Their campsite featured a chalkboard sign that first said “Herpes free zone” and eventually said “America: Ruling the world since 1776” (which is inaccurate). They wore America-based clothing, full American flag outfits, and drank Budweiser. They were terrible. “No means yes and yes means anal,” one of them said over the weekend.

Back into the festival grounds. Patience was growing thin for the screaming young girls and the guys who seemed to really enjoy high-fiving each other and any stranger they could convince. We did not obey their fatuous desires. “That’s rude!” they yelled when we ignored them. “Kill yourself!” we replied.

Randy of Rad City making a go of it a few nights before Sasquatch at the Doug Fir. Photo by Josh Philips.Randy of Rad City making a go of it a few nights before Sasquatch at the Doug Fir. Photo by Josh Philips.

I went to see Radiation City, our Portland lovers, at the Yeti stage around 2pm. I have seen the band many times and decided to sit on the grass and chain smoke as I watched, after spending the first couple songs in the crowd. Randy Bemrose, their drummer, had unfortunately hurt his wrist and was unable to play. I saw his silhouette seated idly on the band's side of the fence, surely disappointed to be missing the band’s first Sasquatch show. Riley Geare of Unknown Mortal Orchestra filled in for Randy, and Randy came on stage to play bass for one song in the middle of the set. The band rocked as usual and gathered a surprising amount of viewers for such an early show.

My childhood friend Luke Rathborne, who fronts a band that goes by the the same name, played the Yeti stage next. Much of the crowd that had come out for Radiation City dissipated. Rathborne played thick and twangy rock music that reverberated like a tuning fork. At one point, realizing the relatively small size of the crowd, Rathborne made fun of the group of shirtless men near the front of the stage. “It’s good to see some topless guys,” he jested. “That’s street legal!”

Back to the campsite we went after Rathborne for some rest and food. We’ve now met our camping neighbors from Seattle and they’re taking full advantage of the fact that Washington has recently legalized marijuana. I embraced the changing laws with them and Deena and I returned to the festival to see Nick Swardson do some stand up.

Nick Swardson was hilarious, and he brought out some material I had never heard, along with his classic jokes. It was during his set that the levels of intoxication rose the most and flowed right into the approaching M.I.A. set. I knew M.I.A. was going to be a spectacle and I had to be mentally prepared for the strangeness that would soon ensue.

I was right. M.I.A. came out wearing a gold jumpsuit, followed by professional dancers wearing skin-tight outfits. The layered valley behind her seemed to vibrate and shapeshift with the echoing of the bass and she controlled the crowd with the flick of her wrist. At points in her show she encouraged the crowd to get even more wild and seemed to have a mastery of their emotions like a respected military general. M.I.A. released drones above her that had neon peace signs illuminated under them as the psychedelic images cascaded across the screens behind her. The crowd was the most restless when “Paper Planes” (below) began, and you could almost imagine the pistol in her hand as the song played the gun shots that we recognize it by. At one point, she leaned her body into the crowd while she sang, as if beckoning them to physically support her performance.

After a brief but impressive viewing of Austra, with lead singer Katie Stelmanis wearing a cape that blew up behind her in the gusting wind, we went to catch The National. The National was expectedly depressing and slow and actually put us nearly to sleep. We had intended to see Cut Copy after them, but we had fallen into fatigue too quickly. We returned to the campsite in a slump.

On Sunday we missed much of the early acts in order to save our strength for the evening. We lounged at the campsite like our America-loving friends and consumed alcohol and food. The sun had been shielded by a thin layer of clouds for the first time that weekend and slowed the pain of my sizzling skin. I checked with security to see if my tent had been located and was treated like someone who goes to a police station to ask if an officer could get his cat out of a tree.

Demetri Martin was another hilarious comic that specifically enjoyed making fun of the festival scene and the people who had attended. After watching him, it was time for the notorious Rodriguez performance that I had been waiting for.

Sixto Rodriguez put on an amazing performance for a 71-year-old man, showing us how a musician can maintain his talent when his life hasn’t been riddled with drugs and alcohol. He sang his song “I Wonder,” which features lyrics like “I wonder how many times you’ve had sex,” and he followed the song by saying “I wonder, but I don’t really want to know.” The crowd was packed to see him and you could see the appreciation on his face.

Rodriguez flowed into quick visits with Portugal. The Man and Parquet Courts and fell into the final spectacle for us: Queens of the Stone Age.

I demanded to be right at the front of the crowd for the first time when we went to see Queens of the Stone Age. It was at this point that Deena and I realized we could have been in a sectioned off front area for the media at the Sasquatch stage any time we had wanted. We flashed our wristbands and got as close as we could, shoving and piledriving people the whole way. QOTSA played their classic songs and songs off the new album, ...Like Clockwork. Joshua Homme was surprisingly nice to the crowd, which only surprised me because I’ve seen videos of him heckling audience members. The show was loud and the bass shattered the eardrums of the people around me.

We went back to the campsite after QOTSA and went to sleep for an early rise. Sasquatch was a harrowing experience and a mix of fun shows and frustratingly stupid people. At one point, which is hard to pinpoint, a girl in a dress who was laying on the grass revealed to Deena and I that she was not wearing underwear. Perhaps that is the best image for you if you really want to understand the atmosphere that a party in a field in the middle of Washington state turns into. Party on young’uns.

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