The 2010 Sasquatch Music Festival is now in the bag, and now that the last notes of Ween’s epic closing set have floated back into the ether, I am here to fill you in. The weekend, which took place at The Gorge Ampitheatre in George, Washington, in was chock full of good, bad, and some truly ugly moments.
First off, some initial impressions — the weather was fantastic for the most part, with the exception of a little rain on Monday. A sunny 75 degrees the first day contributed to the fab bronzing my skin took on, which upon my return garnered many compliments and comparisons to Mr. George Hamilton. (Always a good thing.) A nice weekend was had in the desert, with no snakes and no real drama.
The whole thing kicked off on Saturday, May 29 with Shabazz Palaces on the Xbox main stage — great, bassy, and full-sounding music despite the lack of crowd turnout. People trickled in slowly, which I later discovered may have had little to do with desire to get the weekend going and more to do with camping shenanigans on the part of the Gorge. They have been running this show for a decade at this point, and they have figured out how to make money off campers ($40 per vehicle, plus $10 per person in said vehicle) but haven’t evidently figured out just how to guide them to their spots. I was informed that they were still whittling down the line at the entrance to the grounds at 5 AM. Not exactly a good start.
Even if the facilities failed to get folks into their sleeping bags at a reasonable hour, the music on this first day was on target. The Posies performed a great set comprised of mostly new songs on the Honda Bigfoot stage late that afternoon. At one poignant moment, Ken Stringfellow made a crack from the stage about how they “used to be a rock and roll band.” I had to laugh as I stood in the crowd of white sunglasses-wearing hipsters who seemed much more interested in looking cool and chatting on their ever-present cell phones than enjoying music.
OK Go were a lot of fun on the main stage, and performed a solid set, working the crowd over with their particular blend of feel good and catchy pop — intelligent, happy music that went well with the sun. Broken Social Scene also played well, which speaks not only to their skills as musicians but to their organizational skills as well. At one point I counted about 10 people on stage: horns, guitars, keys, etc. I have to say my personal favorite on Saturday was The Hold Steady. Only having recently been turned on to them, their blend of intelligently crafted rock with even more well-crafted and literate lyrics got me (and the crowd) going. Later on, My Morning Jacket played a thoroughly enjoyable set, and I drove my way to a late night sandwich and a beer.
Day two, Saturday, May 30th, I became distinctly aware of the fact that there was litter everywhere. Which was amazing to me, simply because there were also recycling and trash bins everywhere. By mid-afternoon, small piles of trash could be found every two feet, especially in the vicinity of the festival grounds and the side stages. For a festival that was actually very green — 100 percent wind powered, green house gases offset through carbon credits — I was absolutely blown away by the disgusting disregard for the environment held, evidently, by much of the crowd.
The music on day two was great, however. On the main stage, Caribou opened the day with some very solid tunes. Midlake performed an entertaining set; They Might Be Giants had everyone laughing and dancing within five minutes of taking the stage. Cymbals Eat Guitars were passionate and loud — always a great thing for me, made all the better by the fact that I hadn’t even heard of them prior to this weekend. Tegan and Sara played enjoyably as well, and LCD Soundsystem kept everybody moving throughout the duration of their set.
The show I was anticipating the most on Sunday was Public Enemy on the Bigfoot stage. It was easily the largest crowd I saw gathered around this stage all weekend; however, the troubles began with a late start — when PE finally took the stage there was a crescendo in the expectant excitement, which unfortunately was dampened by ongoing sound issues. Whole chunks of sound simply disappeared, as the PA system kept dropping out. In a word: lame. Really lame, because it occurred repeatedly at random intervals throughout the duration of their set, and for 10 to 30 seconds at a time.
The disappointment of this set had little to do with Public Enemy or the energy with which they took to the stage. Yet the technical failures had an effect on the crowd, dampening spirits, and people who only a few moments earlier were shouting out for Chuck and Flav started to trickle away. I headed back to the mainstage for Massive Attack. Wow. The heavy and beautifully crafted sound and lights I was exposed to won me over as I became an instant fan; should the opportunity to see them again arises, I won’t miss them.
Day three began rather mellow, and I wandered the festival site taking in the general atmosphere. At the risk of sounding like a crusty old show-goer — there were so many ironic hipster mustaches paired with sunglasses that I felt as though I were at a convention of police officers. It seemed many in attendance were more interested in getting fucked up and expressing their excitement at being at Sasquatch (via cell phone, of course) than actually getting a groove on and enjoying it. Which is a drag, because there were some great moments on day three.
Highlights of the closing day included John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats exclaiming how much he loved playing music mid-set before busting into yet another brilliant tune, and Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes of Quasi bringing some beautiful moments (and an old school DIY vibe) to the Bigfoot stage. Why Quasi isn’t one of the biggest bands in the world escapes me. Effortless harmonies, catchy melodies and noise — glorious noise that sounds alternately like the apocalypse, a tender moment with a lover, and a comfortable sweater.
Later, The New Pornographers brought some tasty verse curse fodder to the party, and Camera Obscura played a solid set of songs that I think will enter my personal canon of favorites.
The day, and the weekend, was closed out with the previously mentioned Ween. Favorites were played, the crowd sang along, a tear was shed, and somewhere behind the media tent in a dark corner a whiff of Scotch Guard was smelled…
Over the course of the three days, I had some great experiences, enjoyed some fantastic performances by bands I hadn’t ever paid much attention to, and got sunburned. My biggest complaint, however — bigger than the self-important hipsters, greater than the ever-shrinking and jaded attention span of attendees, larger than the ubiquitous litter, even — was the concessions provided by the Aramark corporation. $11 for a keg cup of crap beer I can get over — I can always choose not to drink — and the outrageous food prices I can ignore because I brought some PB&J — but $4 for a 12-ounce plastic bottle of water at a show in the desert while keeping the cap so it couldn’t be refilled at one of the facilities’ water stations is irresponsible and shitty.
But overall, the weekend was a great success — fantastic music complemented by sun and beautiful scenery; unfortunately accompanied by corporate greed and lazy people. All that being said, I would gladly go again.