All photos of Sasquatch! courtesy of Tanner Merrill.
Sasquatch! Music Festival 2016 Day 1
My happy place is not just a location, it is a specific time of year in a specific location. That would be Memorial Day weekend at The Gorge in Eastern Washington, an awe-inspiring place for an amphitheater. The hill on the main stage looks over the Columbia River and is the coolest place to take-in a sunset that I have ever seen. This is where the Sasquatch! Music Festival is held and I have always associated this event with the end to Washington’s most popular mental affliction, seasonal affective disorder.
Hell yes to the start of summer!
As with most festivals, the experience that you have can vary greatly from your buddy’s. With four stages (Sasquatch Stage, Bigfoot Stage, Yeti Stage, and The Chupacabra) there are always choices that each festival-goer has to make. Some are obvious and some are heart breaking conflicts. Sometimes the best experiences are because you just wander by a stage and a previously unknown artist blows you away and you find a new favorite. It is equal parts discovery and getting to witness your favorite bands perform in one of the most beautiful places in the world. This recap is based on the journey my photographer (Tanner Merrill) and I took in the 2016 edition of Sasquatch! Music Festival. I hope you enjoy our version of what felt a lot like Gonzo media coverage of the event.
The doors opened on Friday at 4PM and we didn’t have any must-see bands until 6:45 so we were open to anything good. We wandered by the Bigfoot Stage (second largest stage) and checked out Seattle indie rockers Telekinesis. “Coast Of Carolina” brought me back to 2009. The crowd was a motivated bunch (as exhaustion of the weekend hadn’t set in yet). Michael Benjamin Lerner has been making music for a while now but those songs from the self-titled debut are what stuck out to me in their set. The crowd was all over the rendition of “Tokyo” with their hands up clapping along the entire song.
We felt it was time to move on after a delightful start to the weekend so we wandered over to the Yeti Stage (smallest stage). We stumbled on a one man band that goes by the name of Bayonne. I was not familiar with Bayonne but walked away a new fan. He played a set involving all sorts of loops. Synths, drums, and vocals arranged by this mad man had me picking up vibes reminiscent of Animal Collective mixed with Yeasayer and a dash of Dan Deacon. Already thoroughly enjoying his set, my excitement elevated when fellow Redbull Sound Select artist Manatee Commune hopped on stage with his viola. The two make for quite the duo. Maybe we will get some collaboration albums in the future.
We had to leave Bayonne a bit early because Unknown Mortal Orchestra was getting ready to shred on the Bigfoot Stage. Opening the set up with “From The Sun” from II was fantastic. Ruban’s strut down the runway with his mad funky dance moves and incredible guitar work instantly had me hooked. Next came “How Can U Love Me” from their s/t debut. This one had the audience imitating Ruban’s dance moves. The set list covered a lot of ground in terms of old and new. From chilled out “The World Is Crowded” off of Multi-Love to the first track from their debut album “Ffunny Ffriends” there was something for fans of all kinds. This set had tons of crowd energy and I can’t recommend seeing them enough.
Instructions from Vince Staples following UMO on the Bigfoot Stage, “You know the songs, sing along. You don’t know the songs, try and learn as we go. If you can’t, just have a good time.
That’s what Vince Staples shows are all about, a good time.” He was having a blast up there. I’m pretty sure he spent half of the set airborne. He had the crowd bouncing and I was completely bummed to leave early for the Sasquatch Stage (main stage) but I wanted to catch A$AP Rocky. Biggest mistake of the weekend. A$AP was set to go on at 9PM. There was nothing until 9:25PM when his buddies were up there doing their thing. “Y’all wanna see A&AAAP?!” was chanted about a million times and I am pretty sure the crowd didn’t even believe he would ever come out. I left at 9:45 still with no A$AP sighting because I wasn’t about to miss any of Yeasayer on the Bigfoot Stage.
Yeasayer put on one of the best shows of the weekend (that I attended).
Their stage set up was reminiscent of the album work for their outstanding new album Amen & Goodbye. Alternating lights on multiple cutouts of all kinds. A feast for the eyes. One sequence of songs went “Dead Sea Scrolls” à “Sunrise” à “I Am Chemistry” à “Silly Me” and it lead me to tweet something along the lines of feeling like I was turning into a gummy bear. That is how happy I was. They rearranged “Henrietta” into a more acoustic rock track. A lot of gems for fans that have been following them through their career but I think hearing “2080” took the cake for me. Outstanding musicians, beautiful voices and entertaining performers. This is the third time they have been to Sasquatch! Music Festival and they stated if Sasquatch comes calling, they say fuck yeah. We cruised by Disclosure’s headlining set and it seemed like a good time but my mind was done after Yeasayer. Time to go back to camp and rest for day 2.
Day two started with four bands in a row from Seattle.
We then stumbled on a cool new vendor. One aspect of Sasquatch that I always thought was lacking was their options for food, drink, and art installations. This year they brought in a vendor called Kola House. It was a pop-up structure overlooking the Bigfoot Stage and it’s purpose was to showcase some cocktails that will be featured at their soon-to-be restaurant in the meat packing district of NYC. The drinks were created by a flavor chemist from NASA named Alex Ott. He was hired to work with the kola nut and these drinks were damn tasty. My favorite was: an experimental elixir made with kola infused tequila, fresh pineapple, sweet tamarind, anis and shizandra infused honey and fresh lime. It was named The Gorge.
We took in an incredible set by Noah Gunderson on the Bigfoot Stage while testing out some super swanky cocktails. Noah Gunderson had his brother on drums, sister on violin and other buddies filling out the rest of the band. This was the first time at Sasquatch! Music Festival for the local band. The songs were full of depressing lyrics yet sounded sweet in the sunshine with incredible views all around us. Noah actually thanked the crowd after his set by saying “Thanks for being bummed out with us, have a good weekend and be safe.” Despite the sad songs, it really didn’t feel like a sad set. It was delightful actually.
Following the trend of local Seattle bands, La Luz brought their show to the Bigfoot Stage next. Somehow I have never seen this band before. Their version of indie surf punk rock is a blast live. They had the crowd going pretty crazy and then upped the ante by passing a disposable camera to the crowd and had crowd surfers take selfies and pass them on to other crowd surfers. You would think Seattle is always sunny with these summery vibes coming out of the Emerald City.
We wandered down to the Yeti Stage after their set to check out Tamaryn. They pumped out some dark dance jams. Their lead singer was a spectacle to watch as her guitarists brought some killer tones to make for a surprising afternoon demented dance party.
Perfect appetizer for what was about to happen to my brain at Ty Segall & The Muggers.
Ty Segall doesn’t even play an instrument in this super group. He is on front man duties while he sings the songs and fucks with the crowd. He came out in a jacket with his hood up and a creepy baby mask on his face for the first track. The crowd was drawn to his strange banter. He was really playing to the people out there that were stoned out of their mind. About half way into his set he put the baby mask back on and pretended to be a lost little kid in a high pitched voice. “Mommy, I thought we were going to the festival together. I see that you’re with your new boyfriend…” That lasted a few minutes and a lot of people stood with awkward smiles and hands on their heads. That is similar to how I was standing but it was more in response to his killer band including Mikal Cronin, King Tuff, and two fellas from WAND. Ty Segall is a legend in my book and the Muggers are an incredible band. One of the best of the weekend. “We are a band that loves to eat breakfast. My doctor said I had to stop eating eggs and I said FUCK YOU MAN. I’M GOING TO EAT ALL THE EGGS!”. Love you Ty.
After this we didn’t have much in terms of plans until M83. We stumbled on Hop Along and I am glad I did. My ears were loving life. The vocals caught my attention as we were walking to the bathroom and I held it in until their set was done they were that good. Next we checked out some Digable Planets and I was floored. Full live band (including percussionist Tendai Maraire,from Shabazz Palaces). Super engaging with the crowd. I wish I would have checked out the full set but they are touring this summer so I may get another chance.
M83 was every bit as good as I was expecting and then some.
I had heard people talking about potentially canned performances leading up to this so I was worried. No way it was canned. M83 owned the night. Perfect sunset show. I was planning on leaving to check out Preoccupations (formerly known as Viet Cong) half way through but I couldn’t get myself to move. I left an apology tweet for the Gorge employees for having to scoop my jaw off of the floor after their show.
Our camp neighbors found us after the show and dragged us to Vic Mensa. I had never heard of him but this was my second favorite rap show of the weekend. His powerful “16 Shots” performance left me with chills. The funniest part of the weekend may have been when Vic had his DJ blast “In Bloom” by Nirvana. He just rocked out on stage and let the full track play. Before heading back to camp I saw the beginning of Major Lazer. I was disappointed they were a headliner but they had the largest crowd of the weekend by far. My highlight of that show was Dr. Brule introducing the band. I could have left after that though.
Day three was the day! I finally got to witness Autolux.
That was the feeling all morning leading up to their incredible set. Pussy’s Dead has been on heavy rotation for me and I couldn’t wait to see those songs come to life. Carla was just as mesmerizing as I was expecting. I walked away from their set feeling like I had been on a boat for weeks. A little disoriented and full of happiness. There was a fire about three miles south of the venue that was a result of a campfire on the beach. I think it may have been from that Autolux set to be honest.
With the ominous smoke cloud looming Savages took to the stage and ripped the Gorge a new one. The wind was at dangerous levels and the main stage was closed so the crowd was pretty large for this one. People that I talked to didn’t like Savages and were hoping to catch Frightened Rabbit at this time.
By default they wandered to Bigfoot Stage and were transformed from Savages haters to WHOA, SAVAGES RULE.
I continued to camp at this stage to get sanctuary from the wind for the majority of the afternoon. Yo La Tengo decided to make sanctuary a loud vortex of fuzz and distortion. My favorite kind of sanctuary. A ripper of a set with them treating our minds like play dough. I wasn’t expecting that wild of a time from them. The last Yo La Tengo show I caught was a pretty straight forward and to the point show. This one had no boundaries and I am pretty sure it scared away some.
The main stage opened up just in time for Alabama Shakes’ sub-headlining spot. It was still windy and it was pretty cold once the sun went down. They sounded great but I wandered up to catch Speedy Ortiz. WOW! This band is my surprise of the weekend. Straight shredding. Got some Malkmus mixed with Tacocat feelings. Their crowd was small but enthusiastic. The wind would prove to change the volume of people the remainder of the festival.
The Cure had a tiny crowd for their closing set and Purity Ring was a nice way to finish the day. This was a rough day thanks to Mother Nature. That is part of the deal when you go to The Gorge at this time of year though. You could have blazing sun, hail storms, rain or wind storms. You never know so prepare for anything if you attend this event.
Last Day Fuck It. This has been my camping group’s motto at Sasquatch over the years and there was no reason to stop that due to a media pass.
Kicking it off was Seattle’s Thunderpussy. These ladies absolutely ripped my brain out. A “Helter Skelter” cover. Synchronized dancers. I understand the love they have been getting in the local publications now. They are such gracious people, I love that my daughter lives in a world where Thunderpussy exists. Up and coming rapper Casey Veggies followed Thunderpussy. The opposite end of the spectrum in terms of music but no less rockin’. He had an excellent stage presence and I look forward to what the future holds for him.
Three sisters from Portland formed a band called Joseph. This was my favorite surprise of the day. One guitar is all they had other than their incredible voices. The harmonies would be up on Fleet Foxes level. They were endearing people and played a song about the ever growing list of things that are scary in the world called “White Flag” that got me all emotional. Very impressive set ladies.
From Washington D.C. to Washington State, Oddisee got me back into party mode. He is one hell of a M.C. and his full band kept me groovin’ all the way till Grimes mainstage set. I only had half of her set until I had to walk up to Bigfoot Stage for Baroness.
This is where the crowds started to get very intimate. A lot of attendees have leave early on Monday to get home for work Tuesday. This in addition to the severe weather the day before resulted in a small amount of people in the venue for the last day. When Baroness started I would guess there were a few hundred people there. They didn’t care though. They gave it their all and the next time I turned around the crowd had tripled in size. It kept growing thanks to the killer set these dudes were laying upon us. I think they converted a lot of people that night.
The biggest conflict of the weekend was next. It was between Sufjan Stevens, Chelsea Wolfe and Four Tet. Sufjan was on for 15 minutes prior to the others so we started there. He was in an adorable costume and sounded incredible. We decided to walk over to Chelsea Wolfe to see the start of her set and then most likely would bounce back to Sufjan.
Umm…Chelsea Wolfe sank her talons so deep into us there was no chance we were leaving.
She was hands down the best show of the weekend. Heavy and crunchy yet beautiful and spiritual all at once. I’m sure she isn’t used to that small of a crowd considering her shows are selling out all across the world. It was a special show to end an incredible weekend with. I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfect that her most recent album (and most of the material she played) iss called Abyss and that the Gorge was looming behind us…dare I say…like an Abyss? Chelsea Wolfe you are a treasure.
I did catch Caribou later on but I was too tired and exhausted to do much more than sit on the outskirts. They didn’t disappoint though. It sounded spectacular and people were having a very good time.
Sasquatch 2016 was a blast and I look forward to 2017. A couple of things that I noticed this year were the lack of Canadians in attendance and the strong presence in female musicians in the lineup. I loved the female dominance. Usually it seems to go the other way so it was refreshing and they kick more ass than the men anyways. I hope the Canadian dollar does better next year so more of our neighbors can make the journey Sasquatch! 2017.
There are a lot of issues with the business side of this festival (increasing prices, decreasing amount of bands, lack of extra stuff to do other than music, taking camping out of cost, and so much more) but there is no questioning how special the event is when you are there.
You need to experience Sasquatch! Music Festival at least once in your life. Trust me.
My 10 favorite sets of the weekend:
1. Chelsea Wolfe
5. Ty Segall & The Muggers
6. Unknown Mortal Orchestra
9. Vince Staples
10. Vic Mensa