The month of May marks the first occasion of the Northwest’s festival calendar to the tune of 70+ artists at Sasquatch Music Festival. Around March it becomes hot topic in any circle. “Are you going to Sasquatch?” is common conversation starter and space filler amongst many and as the anxiety and hype slowly build, the event draws nearer.
This year the 11th annual iteration of the festival attracted much attention and sold out nearly a month prior. Sasquatch draws equal amounts of American and Canadian fans, due to close proximity to our shared boarder high concentration of badassness. People from the Pacific Northwest are wonderful, but Canadians have us beat any front and are easily the nicest festivalgoers I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a show with. Canadians help you set up your stuff without being asked, welcome you into their campsites, give you pancakes and weed and then thank you for stopping by. Shout out to Canadians.
Sasquatch is a marathon, not a sprint. A four-day festival can be a daunting task and over the course of the weekend, we saw it take its toll on many would-be legends of festival. Like most, we arrived late Friday without a moment to spare, after hours of being “almost there”. We threw up our tents with vengeance and left camp in shambles with the hope that it would figure itself out in the end. The sun was setting on day one and we needed to be inside immediately.
Explosions in the sky took the stage in the last moments of twilight. Bigfoot, the second largest stage to the main amphitheatre, is the place to be at sunset. The wind howls, kicking up dust which refracts light and combined with awe inspiring ambiance provided by our awesome planet, spectacle and intimacy combine to create the perfect place to be for a concert. “Mother nature sure is at her best tonight. We’ll do our best to keep up.” Said lead guitarist, Munyaf Rayani with great reverence. Keep up they did. Explosions in the Sky gave a grateful crowd a perfect opening night. With the wind blowing dust and smoke on stage I stood bewildered, watching one of my favorite bands absolutely kill it. The Texan quartet played with energy that was both soothing and uplifting, in a style entirely their own, weaving their songs through another with beautiful interludes and extended down tempo tones that slowly lead to the songs we know and love so dearly.
Day two was the day of soul. Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires took the main stage by storm at 1 pm and were met with a crowd that should have been ten times the size. Bradley released his debut album in 2011 at the age of 63, after a life fraught with trial and tribulation. Elated Bradley thanked the crowd numerous times and it was clear he was delighted to be on stage. His energy was magnetic and translated into one of the most beautiful performances of the weekend. Shout out to Charles Bradley, thank you for persevering and reminding us that soul will never die. Alabama Shakes followed Bradley in great style, riding the wave of their latest release, Boys & Girls, and enjoyed a raucous crowd singing along to their hits “Hold On” and “I Found You”.
Even after all the fantastic music Saturday showcased, nothing could prepare anyone the performance put on by Tune-Yards. The band enjoyed loads of buzz in the indie stratosphere after the release of Who Kill, and rightfully so. Who Kill is easily one of the most inventive and radically different albums to be accepted by true eccentrics and cookie cutter listeners alike. Bandleader Merril Garbus took the stage by herself, looped her vocals and two lone drums, creating a sound that would have stood up on its own, but the band soon joined in and the funkadelic bass riffs and beautifully jazzy brass section takes Garbus’ vision to the next level. Tune-Yards unleashed a set of unquantifiable, genre defying, hip-shake provoking energy. The band played Who Kill in its entirety and left a crow satisfied and begging for more. Shout out to Tune-Yards. My love for you is forever validated.
Sunday’s highlight was Bon Iver’s closing set at the main stage. A bewildered Justin Vernon remarked multiple times how “fucking cool” an experience it was to be playing the show. “Sometimes life gives you an extra push of fortune.” He said with gratitude. Sunday night marked the first time Bon Iver headlined a major festival and the band rose to the occasion. The high point of the show and likely the weekend was Wolves pt. 2, the first encore they played. Vernon had the entire amphitheatre singing the chorus, “What might have been lost” at full volume. It was impossible not to be moved by the sheer magnitude of the event. Easily half the people surrounding me were brought to tears by the emotion of the moment. Something about the legend of Bon Iver feels complete.
Vernon is no longer the heartbroken man behind For Emma, but one of the greatest rising musicians and perhaps the emerging front man of our time. It began with last release of Bon Iver, and now it feels that it has all come full circle. Congratulations, Mr. Vernon, for making it to the top on your own terms, staying true to your music, and having the courage to step outside the role you could have easily played for so long.
Come Monday, the tone changes in the crowd. It becomes more of a survivalist mentality and there is certainly a less inhibited and more feral feel about the festival. Extremes become apparent, everyone is either really up or really down. Fortunately we got some great comic relief in the Banana Shack. John Mulaney, a writer from Saturday Night Live, and Nick Kroll, star of the FX show, The League, provided a fantastic break from a weekend of nonstop rock and was the perfect rejuvenation to power through the last day of the festival. Truly, the final day is a bit of a blur due to pure exhaustion but between Feist, Tenacious D, and Beck, the festival was closed in style.
Beck’s performance was stellar; he was nice enough to give the perfect array of classics from Sea Change, and Guero, before returning to the stage for an encore of “Loser” and “E-Pro” featuring Tenacious D on backup vocals.
Sasquatch 2012 was a pocket of paradise, where music and friendship reigned supreme and anything was possible. So many festivals are about spectacle and pushing the limits of what has been seen before, but somehow Sasquatch remains committed to fantastic musical performances above all else. At no other festival do so many people from different walks of life gather to go beyond the hedonistic festival experience and truly cherish music as paramount. Sasquatch 2012 set the scene for rising bands and solidified acts alike to showcase their talent in Mother Nature’s most picturesque amphitheatre, giving every attendant a weekend they will never forget. I can’t wait until next year.
Words and photos by Gabriel Granach.