“Hey I think you left your panties on the road there..” Bobcat said with a sly grin, pointing at the pair of abandoned undergarments trampled on the pathway. We pulled the joke on four separate groups of strangers as they passed, each one displaying low degrees of reception, unsure how to react to early morning shenanigans when they were zero beers deep. Premier camping turned out to be a pretty unelaborate lie, there were very little concrete benefits to shelling out an extra $200 bucks for a campsite; the free showers were laughable, out of order the first day and only half functional the second (most of the showers were cold water only), Cody described them best:
“If you were to hold the shower head directly in front of your face the water would fall before it hit you”
It seemed the only benefit was the shuttle service to and from the festival grounds, which became an extremely invaluable resource when faced with the exhausting walk to the gates. But there was still a major drawback, you had to ditch your liquor before you got on the bus, as opposed to enjoying a few beer on the walk. The modest line to pile on the shuttle often erupted into a chug-fest, the unlucky soul still sporting a full beer by the time the bus arrived would be sentenced to slam it as fifteen strangers exuberantly chanted “CHUG CHUG CHUG”. As a twisted metaphor for modern societal class differences, a tall fence with guarded entrances kept the premier campers from the general rif-raf, but our dear friend Emyn always snuck in regardless. It seemed like some sort Orwellian internment camp, and I started to wonder if we paid $200 bucks for the rather ‘lavish’ comforts of a fence. But we began to justify it in other ways: “I just like the atmosphere here it’s more.. mature” “Everyone in premier camping is just more, chill”, and whether or not these sentiments were valid didn’t seem to matter as long as we thought they were. Undoubtedly, we were the upper class.
Or rather, the middle class. Since terrace parking still existed for the upper middle classfolk (all 50 of them), and Gold parking for the hoightiest of toighties. The only real advantage being slightly closer proximity, and of course the all-American feeling of being “better” than others. I was reminded of our ‘Platinum Ticket’ purchase last year, where the four of us doled out double the cash for regular admission and received absolutely zero benefits whatsoever. Price gouging had become a common theme at Sasquatch, from the 13 dollar beers to the various tickets and campsites created to take complete advantage of those willing and foolish enough to pay, it’s no surprise they tried to stretch the festival to a second weekend… and quite relieving that they failed miserably.
It should be noted, however, that scalpers were extremely rare this year as opposed to last. Utilizing a four-ticket-per-purchase method as well as online registration, the staff were able to curb the problematic issue of ticket resales, and the system ran quite smoothly as a result. The festival itself should never be about the bottom line, shady camping deals or not, we were there for the elite musical talent. But with one less day of music, it was more important than ever to get to the grounds early and soak in the sounds. First on the docket were the critically acclaimed indie-folk Canadians, Half Moon Run.
It’d been a few years since the trio released their first album, ‘Dark Eyes’, but their sound was fresh and welcome in the beaming afternoon sun. The harmonious vocal melodies reminded me immediately of west-coasters and festival favorites the Local Natives, but there was a deeper more genuine element to their music that had me swaying. Perhaps it was the Canadian flavor, that unmistakable drip of maple-syrup saturated sweetness, Half Moon Run struck an impressive chord. I ducked out the press pit and drank in the end of the set from the back end of the crowd.
After raiding the press tent for snacks and garnering the usual forlorn looks of concern from the conservatively dressed dorks buried in camera equipment, I rushed off to the main stage to meet up with the group and snag some prime real estate on the hill. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and the beauty of the Gorge could only be rivaled by the breathtaking brilliance of Swedish songstresses, First Aid Kit.
Mirroring our afternoon on the hill with The Tallest Man on Earth last year, First Aid Kit played host to one of the more serene and beautiful sets of the festival. With homages to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and nods to country legends like Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash, the Swedish sisters left us in a state of awe. The scene couldn’t be sweeter; we were all reunited, sufficiently stoned and satiated from the festival eats, soaked in beautiful music and good vibrations.
There were a few pleasant surprises during the set, amidst favorites “Wolf” and “Emmylou”, First Aid Kit played an emotional rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘America’, much to the delight of our friend Jasmine, who teared up as she told us it was her ‘favorite song of all time’ being played by her favorite band. There were smiles all around, certainly aided by the treasure chest of drugs one of our compatriots randomly found on the ground, and we all left in the highest of spirits as we dipped back to camp to get our drink on.
Shotgunning on the RV rooftop was on the regular; it seemed the most appropriate place to binge, but without a ladder we were forced to climb up rather awkwardly through the back bedroom window. It was a slightly arduous process but worth the result, the view on top was magnificent, and garnered the envy of every ground-bound tent dweller within eyeshot. We had a full schedule for the evening. Washed Out, Hemsworth, Chet Faker, Tyler and finally The National. The excitement was palpable, tonight was going to get wild.
There exists no recent album more festival appropriate than Washed Out’s ‘Paracosm’, and the atmosphere was dreamlike as Ernest Greene and company began their sunset set. Only two months prior I managed to catch Washed Out close out SXSW in a sweaty cramped concrete shoebox at the stroke of midnight. But with the beautiful open air and the sun beginning to crest behind the Gorge, the scene couldn’t be anymore opposite.
It was a bit of a mystery to me how Washed Out would manage a live show prior to SXSW. For the most part, Ernest Greene’s music seemed reserved for the bedroom loner, or perhaps the faint noise you hear from the headphones of a late night transit ride. Washed Out live was the exact opposite. Bursting with energy, exuberant and emphatic, Greene ran rampant over his acoustic guitar before turning to the tables and hitting the keys. It was a stellar performance once again. Reworking old gems from his early releases and weaving in hits from “Within and Without”, Greene showcased a rather impressive resume of tunes. It was sheer bliss. A floral thrill ride. And a highlight in an already incredible weekend.
I ran over to the electronic tent to catch the back half of Ryan Hemsworth. The set was in full swing and so was the crowd, droves of wide-eyed fans were just beginning to hit their peak as Ryan rather calmly pumped out remixes behind a Tetris-like wall of colorful lights. It wasn’t my scene, and with the liquor starting to fade I elected to dip out of the crowd and run to catch Cloud Control at the Yeti stage. I felt like a yo-yo, bouncing between acts, desperately snagging my shots and getting a feel for the scene.
A few hours earlier I eavesdropped on a rather awkward interview with an unknown artist. The interviewer asked terrible questions, seemingly uninterested, and as a result the artist began to ramble on about old Sega video games. “Did you ever play Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine?” I perked up. I played the game for years, and began to chuckle audibly as he described the ins and outs of Mean Bean stratagem. He was met with a yawn and a disengaged glance. It was the worst interview I’d ever witnessed, and at the time I hadn’t realized the unfortunate artist was in fact lead singer Alister Wright. His dorky charm had won me over, and their set did not disappoint.
I wasn’t familiar with the music, knowing only their sonic smash ‘Dojo Rising’, but the Aussies had been ruthlessly hyped by festival promoters, and for good reason. They were this year’s answer to Tame Impala. Sexy psychedelia, drenched in reverb and fuzz, Cloud Control drew obvious comparisons to the music of the 60′s and 70′s. They were undoubtedly one of the coolest most polished bands of the entire festival, and I made note to immerse myself in their music once I got back to my homeland. After three quick songs I had to duck out early to catch fellow Aussie Chet Faker.
Chet was on his game. For an artist who had been toying with the idea of early retirement before his career really kicked off, Chet Faker looked completely in control. At first I was skeptical of his booking in the electronic tent, but after the first beat dropped it became quite obvious that this would be the performance of his life. The crowd was in synch. For those paying particularly close attention, Chet had very few sounds that were ‘automated’, or rather, he controlled each instrument manually. It was a flurry of knobs and dials, and music aside it was a thrill to watch him multitask so fluently. He was truly a master of his own sound. At one point he blended two of his hits with incredible precision, and the whole tent lost it.
Rarely would one witness a security guard doing anything other than looking miserable. But by measure of a good show, when Chet played his debut rendition of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’, every single guard was bobbing their heads and mouthing the lyrics. We were all children of the 90′s, it seemed, and for a few beautiful moments I felt the true soul of Sasquatch. The comradery, mutual respect and love that binds us, and our devoted appreciation for excellent music. It was all there. Someone nearby suddenly gasped and pointed backwards, and in the twilight the sky had turned the most beautiful shade of green. There was an energy within that tent, the unwavering feeling that we were all supposed to be there, and we were all connected.
It was difficult to step into the ‘real world’ after his performance, and we had little time to adjust as we ran to catch the start of Tyler The Creator. The press pit was a jungle. Everyone was patiently waiting for that first glimpse, and Tyler made us wait. His DJ played some crowd favorites to pump everyone up, DMX’s ‘Up in Here’ being the highlight, and after fifteen minutes of crouching and exchanging awkward but knowing glances, the photographers shot up out of the grass and Tyler was met with a roar from the crowd.
The next few songs were a violent blur, I couldn’t quite make out who his stage partners were, but the three of them were bouncing all over the stage. The crowd had grown raucous, shifting fifteen feet in one direction only to be shoved back the other way. It was completely out of control. The ever-resourceful Mark would later tell me that after his glasses got knocked off his face for the second time, he knew he’d have to get the fuck out of there. What were the chances that he’d catch them mid-air three times in a row? But it wasn’t as simple as backing out. There’s only one way out of a crowd of that ferocious magnitude, and that was up. Mark crowd surfed out, and we met shortly after the three-song press limit and Tyler saying “Goodbye photo people” to the vacating photographers. It was hard to be a journalist in something so dangerous, and I had very little knowledge of the music that was actually played. The crowd was in a violent frenzy. We elected to dip out and head to a much more relaxed venue, the main stage for The National.
The National had recently garnered mainstream attention after a critically acclaimed album release and a series of television appearances. I remembered seeing Lena Dunham and her awkward talk-heavy skits on SNL being appropriately interrupted by raw, emotional songs from The National a few months prior. At age 43, Matt Berninger looked positively grandfatherly, which was appropriate considering his band had been long heralded as bearers of the ‘Dad Rock’ banner. Any alcohol I may have ingested had completely faded from the pure adrenaline of the Tyler concert, and I caught the first few songs from albums ‘High Violet’ and ‘Boxer’ stone-cold sober. That was until the most serene hippie slash babe lit up a baseball bat sized joint behind me, with every intent on sharing. After only a few minutes I was wide eyed and thirsty to the point of emergency. I couldn’t keep my eyes off The National.
It was, undoubtedly, the most emotional performance I had ever seen. Berninger paraded around the stage, slowly mounting his anger and antagonizing his bandmates. At one point he stood infront of his drummer screaming and waving his arms, desperately trying to throw off the focus and make him skip a beat to no avail. ‘Squalor Victoria’ reached boiling point, and soon after Berninger walked to the very edge of the stage a good thirty feet from the rest of his band to sing a song and wallow in self pity in a corner. While he threw a temper tantrum in the background, the Dessner brothers would walk to the front of the stage and deliver heavy, well-crafted guitar solos. Berninger was an emotional rollercoaster of angst and sadness. Their most recent album ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ was full of relationship-heavy misery ballads, and I found myself becoming completely overwhelmed by emotion. I stood there in deep reflection of my own life while songs like ‘I Should Live in Salt’ and ‘Hard to Find’ tore me to pieces. It was too much to handle, and I had to leave the crowd on the verge of tears.
Jackie and I watched the rest of the show from the distance. Huddled for warmth and emotional support, the scene was magnificent to witness. The massive crowd, the Gorge playing host, and the brilliant lights and sounds. Undeniably a human experience that bore no comparison. The desire to reunite with our compatriots had grown quite strong. We hadn’t seen Bobby, Joelle, Jasmine or Macklemost himself (Cody) in hours, so we elected to trudge back to camp and see if they’d made it home. I stopped by Cut Copy briefly to snag some rather disinterested photos, but my emotions were still elsewhere. The National had put me in a hypnotic self-reflective trance, and I was already dreaming before I went to sleep.