The thought must have come to me dozens of time over my first weekend at the Sasquatch Festival in the remote George, Wash., but The Gorge Amphitheater’s name is no coincidence—the place is just gorgeous. As anyone else who has been to the festival will attest, the act on the main stage is almost secondary to what’s going on behind it: there’s those gaping, winding canyons making way for a placid Columbia river. The whole scene stretches on forever and looks like a damn painting, some smoke-and-mirrors trick or an impossibly tall green screen. A view this beautiful on top of a music festival—well, it makes for a venue with zero truly bad seats. Because even those in the way back of the place—like me, during M.I.A. or Cold War Kids this Memorial Day weekend—still have the best seat in the house. They’re taking this view in. And as someone who’s just recently relocated to Washington (Tacoma is where I live permanently), let’s get this out of the way—I love the Sasquatch! Festival, The Gorge and this beautiful state of Washington. And after trips around the U.S. covering various festivals—from Chicago to Tennessee to Alabama to all the way out West—Sasquatch’s latest offering has been one of the most enjoyable overall, and it wasn’t just the backing view.
The festival has seen its fair growth in the last 12 years. After a modest opening in 2002, a one-day affair that featured the String Cheese Incident as the headliner, the festival almost expanded to two-weekend territory this year. After lack of support in a second weekend, the festival scaled back to a one-weekend, three-day event—cutting a Fourth of July weekend fest that would have featured sets from Frank Ocean, Neutral Milk Hotel, Soundgarden, Kraftwerk and more. But from the output and support this weekend, I wouldn’t have guessed it. The sold-out crowd was a pleasure—and from what I saw for the most part, mostly there to enjoy the music in lieu of getting hammered (save my camping neighbors and a few exceptions).
Of course, the shows were great. You’ll see plenty of evidence of that in the photo gallery above. Below, though, we’ll take a look at the acts by timeslot tier: Lower (1 p.m.-3:30 p.m.) Middle (3:30 p.m.-8 p.m.) and The Headliners (8 p.m.-Midnight). If you attended the festival, feel free to chime in in the comments section below.
I felt sorry for those with hangovers this weekend; this was a good one to show up early for. Out of all the early starting acts, it was hard to beat Stockholm, Sweden’s First Aid Kit on Saturday. Prior to the festival, I’d watched their live videos online, but I couldn’t have expected the beauty that came out of this sisterly duo. The two didn’t play it safe with their set and pull from their debut, 2012’s The Lion’s Roar. Instead, the two broke out a heavy dosage of their upcoming LP, Stay Gold, and holy shit—these tunes are beautiful live. (Okay, their Bob Dylan and Paul Simon covers were pretty incredible too). Their harmonies lay somewhere between otherworldly and virtuosic; There’s really nothing else on record that I can compare to this sisterly duo, and their early set made it a little difficult to wait for the record. A similar impression was made by Paste favorites Lucius on Sunday, who wowed an early crowd in matching black outfits that let their soaring harmonies do the talking for them. As someone who’s seen the band on multiple dates this year, it’s almost as if they modify their set and dynamics on the spot depending on the venue. For this occasion, the black-donning outfit played to the heavy, loud and triumphant angle, making sure it wouldn’t have to compete with a stage anywhere near it.
The criminally under-tiered tUnE-yArDs played an early set on Sunday, which was greeted by a crowd that clearly made it out early to support the act. Although the songs from the band’s latest, Nikki Nack, might not have the danceable appeal of its past catalog (save set-closer “Water Fountain”), the crew brought a very satisfying, very danceable set to those who came out early. We also loved Seattle’s own La Luz, who played its surf-soaked set to an early Sunday crowd. The ladies get bonus points for assembling a line-dance straight down the middle of a fairly packed crowd.
Maybe we made a mistake by visiting Maya Rudolph’s Princess band (a Prince cover band with female vocalists), but I couldn’t see how I could go wrong with watching an SNL cast member covering His Purpleness. But the talk of the Sasquatch! campus on Friday was Chance the Rapper, whose album Acid Rap has been making huge waves since last year.
We regret this mistake, but again: Maya Rudolph. Prince covers. Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same thing.
I saw some impressive growth in this time slot as well, with some bands I might just remember from their older, younger days. Foals packed out the crowd on Friday, making me recall 2007’s Lollapalooza when they played to a half-empty parking lot sidestage. A lot has changed for the band—who released its latest, Holy Fire, last year—and audiences from the farthest reaches of the main stage were bobbing their heads to the band’s angular, math-leaning tunes. Dallas Green’s City and Colour had the same effect on Saturday, bringing a passionate mass to sing along to his emotive tunes.
But it was Sunday’s Haim set that would take the cake for the biggest, rowdiest crowd. I had the pleasure of seeing this trio of sisters perform at Bonnaroo last year, a few months before they’d release their LP debut, Days are Gone. The Haim sisters are a force live, sitting somewhere between immediate, hummable ‘80s pop and the rumbling, jammy fury of the ‘70s. And it looks like they’ve wisely chosen to lean toward the latter live. Their set remains largely the same from what I saw last year. Este still invites the crowd into her own backyard barbecue for a bluesy jam session. We’re still treated to rumbling versions of singles like “The Wire” and “Falling.” But more than ever, this band is hitting harder and harder—and the crowds are eating it up. After a mostly sold-out U.S. tour, I’d expect to see these sisters in headlining fest spots if they play their sophomore album right.
Surprisingly enough, I realized this weekend that I’d never caught M.I.A. live before. I’m a big fan—hell, I even gave MAYA a several-spin chance—and her live show gave me about what I expected: a high-energy dance party that was powerful from the pit, but it never reached beyond the recording’s quality.
It doesn’t get much more diverse than Sasquatch’s headlining acts. A reunited Outkast kicked off night one, with The National sandwiched between Queens of the Stone Age. The obviously most hyped (and speculated act) came on night one, when the ATL-based duo were set to take the stage. I have to admit, I was nervous for Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Sure, they’ve had several very good appearances since a shaky start at Coachella—but what if mine wasn’t one of them?
Thankfully, it looks like the duo has ironed out any shortcomings in their set. They’ve trimmed the set time down to a lean hour and 30 minutes—no encore—and one that makes limited room for solo material and focuses on what the bulk of the fans came for. Let’s face it, that’s hits like “Ms. Jackson,” “Hey Ya” and “Bombs Over Bagdad.” The two took the stage in the middle of a see-through cube that projected images of Atlanta’s past, including some visuals that drummed up memories of OutKast’s beginning. I loved the visuals, Dre’s expectedly loud outfit (a black jumpsuit that read “Everything is Temporary” with a “sold out” tag attached. Apparently that also applies to Eastern philosophies).
While it looks like the two haven’t totally become comfortable with this performance thing, they’re getting close. And a pretty good OutKast show is a lot better than a lot of others’ amazing shows. If you’re on the edge about catching them in the future, I wouldn’t hesitate; their 20-year-plus stroll down Atlanta’s memory lane is well worth the price of admission, and they’d be the talk of the festival for the most part for attendees. I only encountered a few non-believers by the end.
The National’s Saturday set, although I’ve seen them many times this last album cycle, was good as usual. They’re as close as you can get to a consistently delightful live band of this size, and Trouble Will Find Me’s songs are surprisingly rocking in a festival setting. Queens of the Stone Age, though, were a late-festival force to be reckoned with. The band opened with the first two tracks from the essential 2002 album Songs for the Deaf and catapulted into a deafening take on its nearly two-decade catalog. I migrated toward the seated area of the amphitheater for this set, and my ears are still ringing as I type this—a glorious, good kind of ringing. The Queens were unashamed to do what they do—roll out some hard-hitting rock and roll to rejuvenate a festival-weary crowd of Sunday onlookers. I’ve yet to catch them on their ...Like Clockwork dates, but drummer Jon Theodore (formerly of The Mars Volta) made an amazing addition to the already tight five-piece. Josh Homme was at his best: part songwriter, part fierce frontman and one heaping dose of comedic relief. “You all are horrible people,” he laughed before introducing drugged-out singalong “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” a song that more or less listed the various items that would show up on many audience members’ toxicology reports later this month. Those who questioned their headlining spot were silenced (and then deafened). The Queens slay live, and there was no better way to close out a festival—those bass-rolled guitar licks swirled in my head for the three-hour drive home, as well as a vision of that beautiful Gorge.