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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sasquatch: After the Fog

Posted on Thu, May 28, 2009 at 12:21 PM

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I was not prepared for Sasquatch. Mentally I was ready, but I mean literally I was not equipped at all. I had fifteen minutes to pack so I threw the following items in a bag: a T-shirt, two skirts, two hats, two Frisbees, a sleeping bag, and a toothbrush. I never got around to reading the massive email chain among my friends “RE: sasquatch planning.” I was traveling in a band of a dozen people, all of whom seem to have purchased at least one item exclusively for Sasquatch (Blublockers, a tent, a large bag of peanuts, etc.). I was just lucky enough to remember sunglasses, and I wouldn’t have traded them for all my other random crap.

Now, you may have noticed that “concert ticket” was nowhere listed in that pile. Unfortunately, I did not have one. Well, not until Troutdale. Sasquatch accident number one.

Leaving the house a second time (after a brief conversation with a shockingly helpful Ticketmaster representative) I foresaw a weekend of fun times, poor nutrition, rough terrain, and freezing nights. I assumed my band of merry campers would run out of sunscreen halfway through the weekend and be burned to a crisp. I imagined a land of distant porta-potties and no toilet paper. I predicted that in a moment of desperation or simply poor planning, someone I know would pee in their pants.

If only I’d been paying attention to what my friends had been doing I would have had no worries from the get go. I ate better, more balanced meals at Sasquatch than I usually do at home. My co-campers packed enough food, booze, and blankets for a week of concert-going. They made sure to get a station wagon there early enough to stake out a large campsite (in what eventually turned into a giant parking lot). Thanks to them we didn’t end up like the Canadians next door who were so cramped between two cars it seemed like they were loitering all weekend, not camping out. To my surprise, only one of these unfortunate events I predicted actually occurred. (I won't say which one, but I will say it was Sasquatch accident number two).

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I had no interest in seeing as much music as possible at Sasquatch. Taking it slow was fine by me. Missing a couple bands to go swimming in the river was a good decision. Sasquatch wasn’t just a music festival. It was also the first full weekend off that I’ve had in months and I wanted to relax.

One of the wonders of a three-day music festival is that even at a leisurely pace you can see enough famous bands to make a suburban teenager totally jealous. Only of the couple of the acts I saw were disappointing, but at the same time there weren’t many that blew me away either. In the end my highlights were TV on the Radio, Fleet Foxes, and Monday’s one-two combination of Santigold and Gogol Bordello. (Admittedly two separate sets, but they melted together in the heat.)

Outside of Sasquatch these aren’t my favorite bands. I like them, but not all the time. The common thread to their performances, what made them memorable, was that they truly were performances. These were three of the only shows where I felt any connection to the band, or felt that the setting contributed something to the music. Most bands just came out, did their thing, and then said something to the effect of “Thank you very much for coming, even though it’s hot.”

I’m not sure why the most of the performers were so terse. Maybe they had some stage jitters. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe they were brusque because they felt disconnected from the crowd of sunglassed youths. (Mos Def basically came right out and said this when, between songs, he took a poll of the audience’s birth years. 1988 got the loudest cheer. Mos Def was born in 1973.) Whatever the reason, the bands’ minimal engagement with fans amidst sets in rapid succession created a pre-packaged feeling. Call me a pessimist, but it cast a little cloud over the festivities.

On the other hand, Santigold and Gogol Bordello were visibly enthused to be there, or at least faked it well. Santigold brought to the stage robotic, gold-jacketed dancers/backup singers, funny chatter (don’t eat Burger King before a show), and even some excited audience members to dance on the platform. Gogol Bordello had a contagious energy. It felt like 100 degrees under the sun when they played, but everyone around me was dancing.

Fleet Foxes was another band without much to say. Their minimal performance style seemed out of proportion to the giant main stage. However, they were one of the only bands that managed a meld between their music and the giant open canyon that echoed their already echoey sound. Because of this I couldn’t get their songs out of my head. Still can’t, in fact.

Of all the shows of the weekend though, TV on the Radio was the one that really knocked me out. They closed with "Staring at the Sun" while the sun was so low on the horizon that it was staring back at me. The dramatic effect was practically built-in. Yet, there was more to it than that. Lead singer Tunde Adembimpe shook his ass and got into the act, and the whole set crescendoed beautifully to that finale.

Overall, Sasquatch was the sum of this parts. If that sounds like a criticism, it’s not. Just consider what those parts are (amazing bands, beautiful scenery, free love, etc.). Still, I couldn’t help fantasizing about removing 90 percent of the audience and scaling down the stage to the point where it didn’t compete with the gorge. Then I wouldn’t have to jostle for blanket space or standing room. There would be no need for the expansive labyrinths of Honey Buckets (AKA porta-potties), making me feel like a farm animal. The organizers could do away with the vendor pens and the hopeless Verizon promotional tent. The barriers between the musicians and the crowd would come down. There would be nothing distracting me from enjoying the music and nature at once. It will never happen, but just knowing that it could means something.

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