This year in Quincy, WA, The Gorge hosted what was rumoured to have been the largest Sasquatch Music Festival to date. Last year, it was easy to see the growth approaching. Strictly regulated parking and camping along with a detailed count of cars were telltale signs of the upcoming capacity increase. Since 2007, I have not missed a Sasquatch and can tell you that there just simply isn’t such a thing as “overflow” camping anymore. All land that could hold camping was accounted for. There was no extra room.
Sasquatch dealt with more people and vehicles than ever before. Funnelling through one entrance with staff checking each four-day pass became an obvious bottleneck and was abandoned. Thousands of people in hundreds of cars lined miles of roads. The need to get them in the campground became greater than the idea of checking for tickets. This was the first year I saw the line of cars grow so long that Washington police were forced to divert traffic, creating two lines, each holding festival goers in anticipation for hours.
Having eliminated the option to buy single day passes, many of the people I normally went with stayed home. It was Sasquatch’s most expensive bill, nearly doubling the $170 price tag of only two years ago. To be fair, the festival has added an extra day, but with no option to pick and choose, it’s no longer the poor-man vacation it was in the past. In my fifth year of making the pilgrimage over the Columbia River, we travelled with our smallest group yet, down to four from about 15.
So why is this happening? Why are the numbers climbing for music festivals? Maybe it isn’t the real answer, but I want to say it’s because the ‘70s are coming back. It’s the promise of the year’s first tan. The minimal issues with authorities and the resources to get over whatever anxieties you left at home. Long grass, dust-matted hair, group after group of smiling faces, freedom to dress and act like a complete idiot, and this year, a small tornado to toss plastic bags and tents alike.
The majority are still going for the bands. It’s the same reason I used to go. The music. There are those of us however, who are going to participate in one of our generation’s largest communal stages.
The days start early. The nights go late. Endless possibilities float through the air, you can smell it, wafting on the breeze and thrown about as the wind grows wild.
With a 60 of cheap bourbon in hand, small crews can cause quite a stir. Smaller packs migrate through the herd and are easy to spot. Quickly, they enter and exit new scenes with new casts at will.
Ask a stranger sincerely, “Are you mad at me?”
Nine out of ten times the answer is no. “Why would I be mad at you?” they ask with genuine concern and confusion. Of course, they don’t know what you mean. Or maybe they do. It’s nonsense for the sake of nonsense. Individuals can be sussed out almost immediately with vague interviews. New friends can be found almost as fast. Some people will detest this behaviour. The joke is lost on them and you can move on.
The psychedelic mating dance continues. The soundtrack played at a far off stage, washed out and wavy, floating in an atmosphere thick with romance. We find each other.
It’s the festival mentality; a feeling akin to invincibility. Everyone has what they need with extra to share. You could incinerate American currency and leave your guilt on the shelf. Like traveling, you can be yourself as much as you ever could, like you’ve never felt shame.
I could tell you how the shows were. I could and I couldn’t. The way I see outdoor shows has changed. Bands I would have given anything to see five years ago, I can now watch from the back. I can hear them across the field in a way I’ve never heard before, as a soundtrack to a larger event. The electric feeling, like summer, comes from all angles.
Jack White was remarkable. The man can play with Meg White, or he can play with 12 members, and still commands full attention. Explosions in the Sky again proved to be my favourite way to take in a sunset. If you can get past Zach Condon’s ego, Beirut puts on an amusing show.
If you ask me, the best music took place in the campground when Seattle duo The Grizzled Mighty set up an amp with a generator and full drum kit. Without the benefits of available electricity or a stage, the pair took us well into the night and set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Their raw guitar and wrecking-crew female drummer drew comparisons to the White Stripes and the Black Keys, and sure it’s not off base to say, but it’s a lazy dismissal. The same as I saw Whitney Petty of The Grizzled Mighty, I’d love to see Meg, sitting at her drums in a crowd, having bourbon poured into her mouth by a fan, but that just won’t happen anymore. The Grizzled Mighty are still approachable, still looking for that break. It’s a sincerity that fleshes out their sound. Book more bands like this in Vancouver. I promise I’ll go.
If you ask me, the best show was the four day set. It was the times I could hardly tell if I was eight or thirteen or twice that.