~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (May 31, 2013)
The annual Sasquatch! Music Festival held each Memorial Day weekend at The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington shares more than just a silly moniker with its fabled namesake from the Pacific Northwest. The festival is sprawling, more than a little hairy, and in its finest moments – when music and topography meet in perfect synchronicity – it’s the stuff of legend. A four day music bonanza topped with camping out in the middle of nowhere is not for the faint of heart, owing primarily to the hedonistic tendencies loosed at any outdoor music festival. But the amphitheater’s location, perched atop majestic basalt cliffs overlooking the Columbia River, is undeniably one of the best concert settings in the nation. Founded in 2002 by promoter Adam Zacks, the festival is a nine time winner of Pollstar’s award for “Best Outdoor Music Venue”. Sasquatch, much like annual festivals Coachella and Bonnaroo , successfully appeals to a wide audience through a cultivated mix of genres (an indie rock act might be followed by hip hop, electronica, or folk). Sasquatch! 2013 has reportedly been the most successful weekend in the festival’s history: the 25,000 capacity event completely sold out in November, well before the lineup was announced.
This year’s festival boasted five stages and a heavy duty cast of performers including Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Vampire Weekend, The xx, Sigur Rós, Mumford & Sons, Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers, Elvis Costello & The Imposters, and The Postal Service. When gates opened on the sunny afternoon of opening day, a steady stream of young people spilled over the bright green lawns and into the festival grounds to the strains of Sea Wolf on the Bigfoot stage and local hero/veteran producer Erik Blood on the Yeti stage just over the hill. “Do you like to watch Gay porn?” Erik teased the gathering crowd. “I know I do,” he said, prefacing “Phenomenal Pornography”, a brilliant ode to porn’s golden age of directors.
As the sun broke through a few late afternoon clouds, Built to Spill kicked off a satisfying mainstage set laced with classics “Goin’ Against Your Mind”, “You Were Right” and a few tracks from 1994’s breakthrough album There’s Nothing Wrong With Love. Arctic Monkeys performed as darkness fell, the Sheffield quartet bringing swagger to the nighttime performances. Vocalist Alex Turner’s pompadour, slight sneer, and crisp suit felt a little buttoned-up for an outdoor festival crowd, but then Arctic Monkeys always seem to put style a few notches ahead of substance.
Luckily, a quick set change washed away all traces of alt-rock disdain with mysteriously whimsical props and Vegas-style lighting. As a huge full moon loomed over the Gorge like a giant spotlight, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis triumphantly took the stage. Macklemore’s set was the defining moment of this year’s Sasquatch festival. It was also a sweet homecoming for an independent artist whose runaway hit “Thrift Shop” recently catapulted the 29 year old Ben Haggerty and partner-in-crime Ryan Lewis into an overnight success story and headlong into a whirlwind global tour for The Heist. Throughout the day as conversations across the grounds inevitably turned to “so who are you excited to see?” the #1 answer was Macklemore.
So was he worth it? The answer would be a resounding “hell yes.” It’s no exaggeration to say that nearly all 25,000 people in attendance, regardless of musical proclivities, were rapt with attention when Macklemore and his entourage took the stage amidst a set strewn with faux evergreens and cacti. Positivity, fun, and an infectious bounce were the name of the game. Kicking off with The Heist opener “Ten Thousand Hours”, the mood was instantly elevated to wall to wall dance party status. The public outpouring of civic pride for the Seattle artist turned international star was palpable. “You have no idea how amazing it feels to be back home in the Pacific Northwest,” Macklemore confessed. “I’ve been working my entire life to step up here onstage at the Gorge.”
Galloping through a high-energy set including all his best, Macklemore proved that home is indeed where the heart is. Vocalists from The Heist such as Wanz on “Thrift Shop” and the gorgeous, leggy Hollis on “White Walls” appeared overjoyed to be performing for the 25,000 in attendance. As slick visuals laced with snippets of inspirational lyrics flashed across the backdrop, the rapper showed his playful side, showing off some fancy footwork down the catwalk, sporting multiple fake fur coats, and tossing a blow-up boat into the audience carrying his emcee. One of Macklemore’s charms is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, yet there are several weighty issues he publicly champions. Mary Lambert and Macklemore’s “Same Love” was prefaced by a heartfelt reminder that our country is currently embroiled in “the biggest civil rights movement of our lifetime” and that he’s “proud to say that Washington state is leading that fight”. He also addressed addiction with humility and a touch of humor. Closing out the night with confetti canons and an encore of “And We Danced” and “Irish Celebration”, Macklemore set the high bar for Sasquatch performances for years to come.
After the incredible peak of Friday night, the sunny Saturday afternoon shows felt like a pleasant way to re-energize and regroup for the rest of the weekend. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club debuted brand new material from Specter At the Feast along with crowd pleasers “Ain’t No Easy Way” and “Red Eyes and Tears”. Chicago’s Andrew Bird and later, Bloc Party followed on the mainstage. Comedian Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation) offered up hilarious tips for successful living on the El Chupacabra stage. The buzzworthy Divine Fits (Dan Boeckner of the excellent but sadly defunct Handsome Furs, Spoon’s Britt Daniel, New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown) played an impressive set a few hours after delivering a brief acoustic teaser on the “secret” End stage. The xx delivered a soothing balm of hushed, sexy tracks like “Crystalized” on the mainstage as the sun went down, followed by Icelandic atmospheric geniuses Sigur Rós. Led by Jonsi on vocals and guitar, layers and layers of instrumentation built to a crescendo perfectly suited to the breathtaking location. During “Svefn-g-englar,” glowing light bulbs and dreamy visuals created another haunting moment under the full moon. And this was just the finale of day two’s mainstage events. If complete immersion in four days of music and camping in the Columbia River Gorge sounds like your idea of a hedonistic springtime dream, watch for next year’s on sale announcement. It’s guaranteed that Sasquatch will once again sell out.