The main stage of the Sasquatch Music Festival teeters on the edge of the gaping Columbia River Gorge in Washington State. Below, water winds through a red rock canyon, and up above, ten years of the best bands in the business have graced the Gorge, cheered on by fans dressed in vintage sundresses, animal hats, mascot costumes, or practically nothing. The little Washington festival that could has become one of the most-loved weekends on the summer music circuit. Despite corporate sponsorship, it manages to maintain a low-key vibe and positive crowd rarely found at the money-maker festivals. Even when the apocalypse threatens and ticketing issues incite near gate-riots, people tend to keep a smile on their face (seriously though, no typing in ticket numbers next year, okay?) Sasquatch celebrated its tenth birthday weekend with Charm City cakes, furry suits, nostalgic sets, booty shaking at 30 feet in the air, and more. Below, our ten favourite moments from Sasquatch 2011, featuring Robyn, Major Lazer, Sleigh Bells, The Flaming Lips, Wilco, Best Coast, Death Cab for Cutie, The Decemberists, DJ Anjali, Sharon Van Etten, Wye Oak Jenny & Johnny, and Matt & Kim.
X: The Decemberists Play In The Apocalypse
On the last night of the festival, fans looked across the river and saw pitch black clouds marching across the Gorge to the relentless guitars and accordions of ‘Mariner’s Revenge Song.’ As The Decemberists closed their set, instructing the crowd to “scream like you’re being swallowed by a whale,” vicious fork lightning struck the rocks across the river. But for all of Colin Meloy’s talk about the rapture, the set’s crashing conclusion stayed as warm and dry as guitarist Chris Funk’s fuzzy Sasquatch suit.
IX: DJ Anjali, Songstress Sharon Van Etten, and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner give us a lady-crush three way
Often, the best bands at a festival are the ones you’ve never seen before, heard before, or even heard of. This was true for three of my favourite acts at Sasquatch 2011. First up? Portland’s DJ Anjali (her real name, Gitanjali, means song offering) weaves her love of Indian beats and European dance-rock into an international melange that brings Bhangra to the basements and dancefloors of the City of Roses. She played four sets at Sasquatch, and when she wasn’t behind the decks, her partner, The Incredible Kid, took over, and she busted out some classical Indian dance moves, whirling with hurricane force from one end of the stage to the other so fast a camera could barely capture her.
Tennessee-bred, Brooklyn-based, Bon Iver-endorsed Sharon Van Etten has a style of folk-influenced lyrical storytelling that reduces a festival crowd to a state of intimacy: just you, Van Etten and an earnest and unflinching love story.
Three words: Blonde, bangs, Baltimore. Wye Oak‘s Jenn Wasner has a wrenching voice that seems almost incongruous under her halo of blonde hair, but her gravelly onstage presence reveals a weight echoed in the band’s rambling folk music.
VIII: Attractive indie duos with big grins: Jenny & Johnny and Matt & Kim
Jenny Lewis, Jonathan Rice, Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino are like those cool kids who smoke by the dumpsters behind your high school, coasts apart. They’re hotter than everybody, kick the shit out of jocks for stepping on ninth graders’ sandwiches (the girls) and say genuinely nice things about everyone’s random insecurities (the boys). Don’t you love descriptions of bands that have nothing the do with music? Suffice to say that both bands make infectious songs (with Jenny & Johnny leaning towards a pop-inspired West Coast sound and Matt & Kim finding roots in their Brooklyn base with infusions of hip hop and influences from punk) and perform with lamplighter grins and addictive chemistry. Both bands are a lot like your favourite beer-it’s always good, no matter how much of it there is.
VII: Cool kid wardrobe malfunctions: Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino
At first blush, Bethany Cosentino’s sarcastic onstage drawl can seem disinterested and somewhat belittling. Quickly, though, it becomes endearing. Between sets of Best Coast’s lo-fi rock, Cosentino won the crowd over, sneering complaints about how her black knit knee socks kept falling down. Preach, sister.
VI: Death Cab for Cutie closes Saturday night with Transatlanticism and one thousand nostalgic sighs
It’s easy to pretend you’ve grown up and moved on from Death Cab in the same way it’s easy to pretend you don’t still have the first mixed CD a boy made you. (You know, the one that was 90% Death Cab for Cutie songs.) What’s the point? Whether you’re old enough to know Ben Gibbard as Death Cab’s lead singer or young enough to think of him as that dude who married Zooey Deschanel, the band’s live show is still seeped in the most delicious kind of body-warming nostalgia. Imagine a honey glow melting over a freezing cold Pacific Northwest canyon, an amphitheatre full of collective dreamy eyes and lip-biting grins, fans recalling a time when the coolest thing ever was not being too cool to have feelings. Death Cab played a crowd-pleasing set, sending everyone home under the stars to the strains of ‘Transatlanticism.’
V: Major Lazer chase away the clouds with pelvic thrusts
Remember that apocalyptic storm that threatened to wash away the entire Sasquatch Music Festival on Monday night? It never came, but if it had, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, so busy was I busting out my white girl dance moves (apologies to those present) to Major Lazer, whose set had the Banana Shack shaking and sweating in their anoraks. For those lucky enough to see over the massive crowds losing their shit to mixes of ‘Pon de Floor,’ ‘Keep it Going Louder,’ and other favourites, girls in their underwear danced onstage under a giant ladder which served as a platform for filthy grinding and dancers launching themselves into the crowd.
IV: The Flaming Lips play Soft Bulletin, dedicate “Suddenly Everything Has Changed” to Elliott Smith
The Flaming Lips Sunday night set wasn’t for everybody. Playing their way through The Soft Bulletin, Wayne Coyne paused not only to light an Ace of Cakes-created birthday cake to Sasquatch, but also to tell several rambling anecdotes, often in the middle of songs. This would have sunk the ship with self-indulgence, except that his performances in between were passionate and electrifying, and none so much as when he dedicated a song to friend of the band Elliott Smith, speaking of Smith’s early death and the power of working through grief by giving it words.
III: Robyn’s Dance Moves
Would we say it takes swagger to dance, eat a banana, and rock a West Point jersey at the same time? Yeah, I think we would. Robyn came on stage late, ate a banana half way through a song, and killed it. (Not the banana. Well, yes, but…never mind.) Shaking her way out of three different layers of clothing, the Dance Hall Queen was a mesmerizing blur of energy. Her set flew by, fans forgetting the false start as they fell in love with Robyn’s quirky, high-intensity performance style. MORE ROBYN FOREVER PLEASE THANKS SWEDEN.
II: Sleigh Bells: Swaggin’ out like Alexis Krauss
Saturday night featured another bad-ass signer in a jersey, Sleigh Bells frontwoman Alexis Krauss, who should probably dine out for the rest of her life on terrible puns written by sleep deprived journalists about “slaying” the crowd. The crushing sound of Tell ‘Em, Rill Rill, and Crown on the Ground have rendered them anthemic just a year after their release, and Sleigh Bells short and sweet set hit hard and didn’t stop from start to finish. In the words of Samir, the friendly Austin native we rideshared up from Seattle with, it’s just a guy, a gal, and a whole lot of speakers. Perfect.
I. Jeff Tweedy closes the festival with Guthrie and a grin
On the last night of the festival, Wilco took the stage, Jeff Tweedy grinning ear to ear under a grey toque, which he pulled down over his glasses during ‘I’m The Man Who Loves You.’ When an encouraged round of clapping fell flat (hands were too occupied being stuffed into sweatshirts, blankets, anywhere they would be warm), he admonished the crowd, “The people clapping are the people we like, and the people not clapping are the people like me. I would think I was too cool to clap,” he said with a smile. “But I would be wrong.” Favourite moments of the set included spirited renditions of Misunderstood and Via Chicago. The crowd belted out the lyrics to Heavy Metal Drummer. But the encore, including a rollicking run through Late Greats, ended the festival on a high note, with a friendly wave from Papa Tweedy, a thank you, and instructions to drive safe.
~ Haley Cullingham