The Sasquatch music festival, set by the cliffs of the stunningly scenic Columbia River in central Washington, was a great way to spend last weekend, for both myself and the thousands of other Canadians who annually make the trek south. This year the weather was cooperative, the lineup of artists was expansive, and the music was loud. The campsite (read: sheared hay field) was a tent city, pockets of tinny car sound systems blaring techno at every hour, barbecues that never turned off, a Frisbee everywhere you looked. A steady stream of flower tiaras and funny Hawaiian shirts, high-fastening jean cut-offs and fanny packs poured in and out of the festival grounds, from which you could hear the music before you could see it: in short, everything was perfect.
“I love doing festivals,” said ZZ Ward, the Oregon-born bluesy hip-hop songstress who opened the main stage for the weekend. “It is such a different experience for me to play here. I don’t need a blues bar to be comfortable. If I have a crowd, however many people I have, I’m happy.”
If you had been on the hunt for that rare Sasquatch sighting, that elusive moment that you know you’d only get to experience once, there were plenty of opportunities. On Friday, fans excited about seeing “Thift Shop” rapper Macklemore headline the evening, spent the whole day donned in their best housecoats and faux-fur bargain bin finds. Concertgoers, waiting in line to use the omnipresent “Honey Buckets” (a peculiar, but strangely soothing euphemism for portable outhouses) forgot about their bladders and danced full-out when indie favourites Vampire Weekend began playing on the stage nearest them. Macklemore brought the amphitheatre to a rousing cheer with a pro-marriage equality speech and song “Same Love.” Later that night, I actually got to be on hand to hear Baauer drop an authentic, confetti-drenched, shamelessly fun Harlem Shake, lion growls and all.
Vancouver electro pop band Bear Mountain got the day started on Saturday, playing to an enthusiastic, predominantly Canadian audience. “This is our first summer festival that we’ve played at,” said bandmates Ian Bevin and Kyle Statham. “People were getting into it and we just feed off of that. It’s such an interaction with the crowd.” Rockers Divine Fits busted out a totally justified cover of Frank Ocean’s R&B song “Lost,” with guitarist/vocalist (and BC grown) Dan Boeckner — formerly of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs — proving that he’s one of today’s best and most dedicated old school rock stars. In the comedy tent, Nick Offerman of NBC’s Parks and Recreation praised the benefits of red meat to a crowd of thousands. New York indie-pop group Caveman brought the cinematic gorge view to life with their wide, dense music. “We’d be playing a song and then I’d get really distracted because I’d be looking out over there and it was incredible. There’s nothing like it, really,” frontman Matt Iwanusa said about the view from the stage.
That night, The xx lit up the amphitheatre with a smoke-and-light show that cast purple beams of mist out across the audience. Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros brought the gorge to a stunned standstill amidst their otherworldly tenderness and fury. Frontman Jonsi even did a minor stage-destruct on his way out, tossing a wooden piano bench out into the darkness.
Sunday offered many more chances for those memorable Sasquatch moments. A crowd gathered together for a bombastic singing of “O Canada” following Vancouver hip-hop artist Shad’s impressive set. Lone folkie, The Tallest Man on Earth, took to the main stage, only to fill the entire amphitheatre with a dynamic and charismatic solo stage show of acoustic guitar and vocals that had one (particularly manly) man next to me breaking out into emotive cries every time his favourite songs were played. Another man declared he was determined to remain at the front of the crowd until Mumford & Sons played… eight hours later. We didn’t stick around to find out if he survived Dropkick Murphys’ rabble-rousing Celtic punk madness.
That night, Canadian electronic prodigy Grimes emerged from a wall of smoke, wind whipping her hair and dress, flanked by two liquid-bodied backup dancers, and put on one of the most powerful, weird and wonderful shows of the weekend. She paused in between songs to mutter her gratitude, acknowledge a Canadian flag being touted by an audience member, and giggle nervously, before breaking into yelps, screams, and a sea of percussive noise once again.
But life calls eventually. Without the benefit of a long weekend to keep me partying through Monday, I drove back to Nelson to continue that thing called normal life. Monday’s killer lineup, including the Lumineers, Elliott Brood, and Postal Service, would have been great to see, but three days of music fed me plenty, unlike the sub-par festival food (bring your own lunch, seriously). And hey, even if the legendary beast Sasquatch isn’t actually real, at least there were plenty of moments to make up for that.
I caught up with a few of the artists to see if they believed in the Bigfoot myth. The answers were varied, funny, serious, and memorable, much like the Sasquatch festival itself. “Yeah, he’s out there. He’s chillin’. Bigfoot is kind of like The Dude,” said Ian Bevis of Bear Mountain.
“I think there might be multiple Bigfoots,” said Matt Iwanusa of the band Caveman. “Just a little layman’s quick analysis of it, I would say there’s probably about 2,000 Bigfoots,” added his bandmate Sam Hopkins.
ZZ Ward, however, expressed some doubts. “I think that at some point there was probably a Bigfoot walking around for sure, but right now, there’s just so little space left.”
After spending a weekend shoulder to shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people, enjoying some of the best music on the planet, backdropped by gorgeous canyonland scenery, I might have to agree with this one. But the music is real, and there’s no doubting that.