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Wednesday, May 31, 2006
The Sasquatch Music Festival: three days of peace, love and $8 cans of Coors
I'd never been to an outdoor rock festival prior to Memorial Day Weekend '06. I've always been too young, too broke, too not born yet or too far away from festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, Woodstock and the like. Although I do know many people who have made long treks to fests, only to return with epic tales of sunburns, all-out live music binges and people watching a- plenty. A friend of mine attended Ozzfest a few years ago and survived to tell tales of rampaging Black Sabbath fans and steel cage wrestling that mixed one part bikini babes with three parts raw meat.
So I finally decide to pop my rock-a-thon cherry by buying tickets to the Sasquatch Music Fest '06 at the Gorge Amphitheater. While I'd like to think I have a good impression of what the average rock fest is like, the line-up consisted of, for the most part, indie bands. This meant the crowd would be chock full of hipsters, hispters and more hipsters instead of meth'd out metalheads and Girls Gone Heat Stroke. I looked into my crystal ball and the only thing that turned up was a throng of hoodies, sarcastic t-shirts and Converse tennis shoes from the back row to the stage.
Before heading north with a colleague, I found myself asking questions like "will there be any morbidly obese guys in bandanas double-fisting beer and screaming 'woooo' the whole time"? Would we be subjected to overflowing Honey Buckets? And, most importantly, just how much public nudity were we talking about here? Given the mopey and intellectual crowd sure to turn out in full force, would we be treated to all the cliches associated with an outdoor rock fest?
Answer to the first question: no. Answer to the second: yes. Answer to the third: jack squat. Answer to the forth: nope.
After making it through a five hour quest including stops in the Dalles and the pre-apocalyptic wasteland that is Yakima, AKA "the Palm Springs of Washington," we set up camp in a field full of cow pies. Surrounding us were 7,000+ hipsters all proudly flying their colors (in this case, Arches of Loaf, Built to Spill and various "ironic" t-shirts tweaking the state slogan of Wyoming). There was a 30% chance of rain and, of course, it kicked in at the worst possible moment as we trekked from the campground to the amphitheater. We reached the halfway point when God decided to matriculate on Neko Case's set and the 20,000 concert goers watching it. I guess He isn't a big fan of alt-country.
Before we could make it shelter, a furious hail downpour kicked in that felt like our heads were being attacked by rabid starlings. Clad in soaking clothing beneath rain gear, we tromped up to the main entrance where a few thousand spectators were staring at the storm. I spoke with a security guard, all of 19, who looked terrified. He seemed convinced that the rest of the show would be cancelled and a riot worthy of Woodstock '99 was about to begin. I asked him if he was planning to ditch his jacket emblazoned with the word "security" if the thousands of lingering hipster suddenly turned feral. Committed to defending the amphitheater, he shook his head. The guard later told us he was from a rural community just over the horizon. This could have been the moment he had been waiting for all his life- finally an opportunity to put his small town foot in some scrawny, tofu-chomping, big city ass.
You would have heard about a riot if one had broken out. Instead of all that, the clouds parted and the show went on. I've long wondered why the owners decided to build a venue out in the middle of the Washington outback. The Gorge Amphitheater is surrounded by bleak, rolling hills filled with farms and vineyards. As we headed inside and over a hill, it suddenly all made sense. The amphitheater sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking a huge vista worthy of the Grand Canyon or at least the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Here's a rundown of the rest of Saturday's acts:
BEN HARPER AND THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS: Due to "inclement weather," Ben Harper switched places on the lineup with the Flaming Lips. Since I'm not a fan of Harper's "Carlos Santana meets Phish"-style jams, I subjected all those within earshot to a five-minutes of sighing and muttered obscenities. Harper's set dragged on for nearly two hours. Endless, guitar solos and songs about peace, love and more love until my eyes glazed over. By this time, the sun had set and the temperature in my still wet soaks had dropped into the high 40s. Despite my chattering teeth, I stayed put while my colleague jumped ship in search of dry clothing. I can only assume the thousands of people in general admissions were flicking their lighters in a vain effort to make a sprinkler system kick in, thus forcing Harper to flee the stage for good. But the fan next to me, who spent Harper's entire set running around in circles while spitting all over the place gave it a one word review, which he repeated endlessly. "Wooo! Wooo! Wooo! Wooo! Woo...."
THE FLAMING LIPS: It's passe to praise Wayne Coyne's passion for theatrics but, good God, does his band know how to put on a friggin' show. A long day of hale, "woo"s, soggy conditions and the freezing cold were all worth it to hear an announcer say "Mr. Coyne, your fantastic ball is ready and waiting" at 12:10 AM. The lead singer strutted out, jumped in his human hamster ball and rolled around atop the crowd as a dozen fans in Santa Claus costumes took to the stage. They were joined shortly later by a dozen others dressed up as space aliens. Lasers! "Bohemian Rhapsody" sing-alongs! Nun puppets! Footage of game shows involving beef glued to people's head and kimono dragons! Flashlight battles between the Santas and the aliens! A encore cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs"! A ridiculous, self-indulgent, prog-rock spectacle worthy of Pink Floyd's 1979 tour for The Wall or at least their mid-70s tour for Animals! An hour and ten minutes of pure, untapped joy launched from the stage to the skulls of everybody that endured Ben Harper's set. Maybe it was the fatigue or hypothermia setting in, but watching the Flaming Lips perform "Do You Realize?" was a quasi-religious experience. By the end of it all I was the one running around in circles shouting "wooo!"
Coyne promised the band would keep playing until local curfew laws made them stop. The show ground to a halt at 1:20 AM. We slogged back to camp where the hipsters next to us were in the middle of an argument over which Weezer album is the best. This went on for something lik, two hours as everyone else in the camp either beat on drums, argued about music or shot off fireworks. Then, as the clock struck 4, birds began chirping and the first rays of dawn began creeping over the farmland adjacent to the grounds. In a vampiric panic, most of the crowd fled to their sleeping bags. The group next to us though? They were too busy bitching about Make Believe to contend with fatigue.
Until then, please enjoy this blurry video of the Flaming Lips' performing "Bohemian Rhapsody." Please ignore the terrible audio quality and that jackass singing along in the background.