Sasquatch! 2015 roundup — the good, the bad, and the surprising

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This past Memorial Day Weekend, I flew from Los Angeles to Seattle for my first ever Sasquatch! Music Festival at The Gorge. I found a ride and camp mates via a ride-sharing site and arrived Thursday mid-afternoon, with the music kicking off Friday and extending all the way through the Monday holiday. It was my first four-day festival experience.

What made Sasquatch stand out from the rest of the festivals I’ve been to? It’s pretty much ONLY camping. It’s loads different from my previous music festival camping experiences at Coachella the past two years.

Instead of recapping the day-by-day experience here, I’m going to outline some of the bests and worsts of Sasquatch as I experienced them.

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Kendrick Lamar

The Good:

Kendrick Lamar shows what a real hip-hop headliner should be: True, I was disappointed that Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q didn’t appear during his set given that they performed that same day at Sasquatch. It was also slightly disappointing he only did one song from his new album To Pimp a Butterfly. He didn’t do “King Kunta,” but instead “Always.” But still — his performance shat all over what Drake delivered at Coachella in two weekends this year.

I saw Kendrick at Air + Style in Burbank this year and was disappointed when the sound was so bad that he walked off early. At Sasquatch, he proved why many have hailed him as one of the great live performers in rap today. Not to talk about Drake again, but when Kendrick brought up two fans — a Latino dude and a white chick — to sing “m.A.A.d. city,” and they were better special guests than Madonna was during Drake’s set. Both fans were on stage with about 90% of Sasquatch’s attendees at the main stage, a ton of pressure as Kendrick noted. They both CRUSHED their verses and walked away with memories that will last a lifetime. Maybe Kendrick is saving some of the newer material for the much-more universally known festival Bonnaroo in a few weeks?

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The Gorge: More than anyone on the lineup, the draw to me covering Sasquatch was The Gorge. I’d heard about its beauty for a long time and walking up that hill for the first time and looking down at it was easily one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Three of the four days I took in sets on the main stage during sunset, and I can recall few things as beautiful as those moments.

Best cover song: Robert Plant & the Sensational Shape Shifters doing B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” was a nice tribute to the legendary blues musician who passed away the previous weekend. It was quite a touching performance.

A perfect rainy set: On the festival’s last day, a light rain developed just in time for the brooding Sharon Van Etten to take the Bigfoot Stage. Her 2014 album Are We There was a massive success, and heart-wrenching songs like “Your Love is Killing Me” and “Break Me” went well with the weather. Perhaps the rain even helped a few people disguise their tears. Van Etten was quick to lighten the mood between songs, at one point mentioning how she had seen a lot of nice asses at Sasquatch — a truthful observation.

Not all Lana del Rey fans are alike: At Coachella last year, I was severely disappointed by the attitudes and actions of her fans at the front of the crowd. After taking in sets from Jenny Lewis and St. Vincent on the main stage, I found myself stuck two rows back from the front at her set and felt PTSD coming my way. Thankfully, the fans at the front of this crowd were much more respectful. Though there was little room to move, there wasn’t shoving and elbowing and flower crowns galore like there was at Coachella. Though I found Lana’s performance to be as average as at Coachella, at least it wasn’t accompanied by shitty people like the last time.

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The Bad: 

The cost: I was shocked to find out all the things Sasquatch charged for that other festivals did not. For one, unless you were in the higher-tiered camping (which itself is pretty bullshit), you had to pay three dollars just to take a shower. In addition, the inside of the festival had very few places to charge your devices, and if you wanted a locker with a charger inside, it was going to cost you $20 per day or $50 for the weekend. That’s highway robbery. In previous years, Sasquatch never even charged for camping, but this year it was quite expensive. I kept thinking to myself that perhaps they were looking to recoup money the lost on a failed try at expanding to a second weekend on Fourth of July last year, which they cancelled when the demand wasn’t high enough.

The kids and their drugs: The Gorge is as beautiful a place as I’ve ever seen live music, and understandably there were a lot of people who thought it would be a beautiful place to trip balls. Unfortunately, a large portion of Sasquatch attendees is comprised of college kids (mostly from University of Oregon), and too many of them were more about the drugs than about seeing music. Everywhere I went I kept having to hear about how they were “rolling super hard” and how long ago they had taking their pills and blah, blah, blah. I understand that drugs will always be a big part of music festivals for some, but when it overtakes the actual thing you’re there for, it becomes problematic. Compound that with the fact that most of these kids have no clue how to handle their drinking and you had some really messed up kids all over the place that were a huge pain in the ass. On one of the days, a 19-year-old kid hit four people with his car in the camping area, badly injuring one of them in the process. He was allegedly under the influence.

Set times not falling in line with what the schedule showed: It’s one thing when a set starts 25 minutes late, as Of Monsters and Men did on Friday night. It is a whole thing altogether when they end 20 or 30 minutes early the way that they did with PHOX and Alvvays on Monday night. If you can’t trust the schedule for anything, it becomes impossible to try and split sets. I wanted to see some of both Courtney Barnett and PHOX, but when I left the Aussie rocker’s set early to try and catch the end of PHOX, I was pretty pissed off to find that it was already over. Had I known this was going to happen I would have stayed for Barnett’s set in full. Festivals should work harder to deliver on the promises of a schedule, otherwise, what is the point?

Difficulty getting in and out of the festival: When it came time for Friday’s music, everyone was ready. The bad side of this was it meant there was a lengthy wait to get through the gates that day. Due to that, our group missed the opening act Ayron Jones and The Way, whom I got excited to see after doing my research. By the time we got in, the pit section for Jungle on the main stage was already filled, much to my dismay. I went in early the next three days but heard from people that there were long wait times in the mid-afternoon when more prominent acts took the stage. When it came time to leave the fest each day, things got extremely backed up and took twice as long to head back. Perhaps they should look into opening more gates?

Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest

The Surprising:

Sasquatch doesn’t seem to really care what you bring in. As those who’ve attended the festival in the Indio desert know, they rip your car apart looking for contraband, glass bottles, or more than one case of beer. At Sasquatch, they didn’t look through anything. They also weren’t vigilant about how much space you got to setup your camp, meaning you were able to stretch things out a bit more. This was good for us as we had three tents setup on our site plus a canopy. The lax restrictions on alcohol in addition to music not beginning until 4 PM on Friday meant you had a ton of time to get to know those around you — and also drink excessively.

I knew next to nothing about Black Pistol Fire and Kate Tempest, but each act delivered memorable performances that’ll have me looking forward to when they travel to a town near me. Guitarist/vocalist Kevin McKeown and drummer Eric Owen have more heat than most four-piece bands. Apparently, the band that was to follow them on the Yeti stage didn’t show and they even delivered a pretty sweet encore.

Kate Tempest taught me never to judge a book by its cover. White, British, and wearing a polo shirt, you would have never expected her to spit the amazing rhymes that she did during her set at the Yeti stage. Between songs, she delivered spoken word poetry that touched the souls of the young crowd in attendance and gave me goosebumps. Her rhymes had real meaning, particularly the one where she told the crowd to stand their ground no matter what comes at them in life.

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Five favorite sets of the weekend:

Kendrick Lamar — As mentioned above, Kendrick showed what a true hip-hop headliner should be.

— Being on the rail for this set was as fun as any experience as I’ve had. This Danish export had a sizable crowd and made the most of it and at one point was basically right on top of me during “Walk This Way.” Despite only having one album under her belt, she’s got quite a number of songs that had people dancing like they were mainstream hits. Her dancing is as enjoyable as it is unorthodox and it was a joy to see her up close.

Robert Plant & the Sensational Shape Shifters — Getting to see a rock ‘n’ roll icon like Plant is something that wasn’t lost on me. Hearing him play Led Zeppelin hits like “Black Dog” and “Going to California” was mesmerizing, as was his tribute to B.B. King with “The Thrill is Gone.”

Sylvan Esso — I’ve now seen these guys at three festivals this year and they just keep getting better and better. For the second weekend in a row, they were the talk of the festival in terms of who people saw that they didn’t previously know of. Singer Amelia Meath was shoeless for the first time in her memory, but still delivered a crazy energy and dance moves that had the crowd wildin’ out.

Gogol Bordello — I had never seen these guys live and now I really regret it. Seeing their set, I felt like I was in a Harry Potter movie and my school had just won the Quidditch Cup. This eight-piece group that combines punk, folk and reggae stole the show on the festival’s opening night. Eugene Hutz and Elizabeth Sun were especially fun to watch.

Kate Tempest — I know I said top five, but I had to note just how impressive the British rapper’s performance was. It was completely unexpected and she was the talk of the press room all day on Sunday. A star may have been born that day.

Sasquatch was my first four-day festival (five if you include getting there early the day before the action really started). From all the people I met, most of them hailed from nearby places like Seattle, Portland, Idaho, the University of Oregon, and Canada. I was surprised how few Californians I met — most of those I did were ones that went to college in a closer location.

The crowd felt much younger than many of the other festivals I’ve been to and it felt more expensive than other festivals. At the end of it all, I’d definitely consider going again — but only if the lineup warrants it. If it weren’t for The Gorge itself, it wouldn’t seem that special from other camping festivals. Still, I had a great time and met some pretty awesome people and I’m definitely happy I got to experience it all.

Words: Mark E. Ortega

Photos: Courtesy of Sasquatch! Flickr page

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