By Emilie Medland-Marchen, Jarrett Edmund and Keeghan Rouleau
GEORGE, WA — From May 25-27, BeatRoute writers Emilie, Jarrett and Keeghan were live on location at Sasquatch! 2018 music festival, taking place at the stunning Gorge amphitheatre in George, Washington.
Friday’s festivities kicked off at 12:30 p.m. sharp with experimental post-punk grunge collective CCFX who took to the Yeti stage for the first performance of the festival. Frontwoman Mary Jane Dunphe’s contrastingly groany vocals and emotive dancing drew the audience in, melting into the performance rather than the sun. Dunphe entranced the crowd as her movements became more and more energetic, progressing alongside infectious plucks of Chris McDonnell’s guitar and the steady grind of David Jaques’ bass. The set climaxed with crowd-riling poses struck throughout a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning”.
Later in the day, the crowd returned to Yeti stage to take in the sing-along vocals of Long Island native Jeff Rosenstock. Whether concertgoers were up front moshing alongside the masses, or lounging in the grassy hills in the distance, Rosenstock’s unique DGAF attitude riled the crowd. The set began with a comedic and laid-back soundcheck before the band bounced into their first song, a crowd-stomping banger that got everyone singing along to Rosenstock’s unique brand of honest passion. Grimy enthusiastic guitar boomed throughout the northern half of the festival grounds, while Rosenstock’s voice echoed beyond the cliff sides of The Gorge.
After the initial excitement from the first handful of bands and artists, the crowd was in need of a short break from the sun. Lucky for them, Julien Baker was ready to provide a relaxing set to attendees looking to longue in the shade. The view was a stunning backdrop to every show played on the Sasquatch stage, but something about Baker’s isolated soft voice and harmonic guitar blended perfectly with the natural environment.
Femme punk band Thunderpussy returned some much-needed energy to the crowd at El Chupacabra stage. Lead vocalist Molly Sides made love to her fans throughout the performance, sashaying across stage and owning her space while her backup guitarist head banged and dancers did high kicks. It was a true rock and roll show from a band that’s been endorsed by Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and Rolling Stone. The powerful set was a highlight of the day, with Sides’ pro-feminist energy invigorating the women in the audience.
David Byrne took to the main stage to the delight of young and new fans alike. His performance was reminiscent of Talking Heads’ days of yonder with plenty of theatrical stage direction and leftist-oriented lyricism. Byrne performed while holding an anatomically correct brain in his right hand, serenading the plastic organ with Hamlet-inspired bravado. Later, he belted out a rendition of Janelle Monae’s protest song, “Hell You Talmbout”, listing the names of African-Americans killed in encounters with law enforcement along rousing repetitions of “say his name”. While the socially progressive show invigorated many in the crowd, the stiff stage direction and military aesthetic of Byrne and his accompanying musicians didn’t mesh well with the forward thinking nature of his music.
R&B soloist NAO appeared at the El Chupacabra stage to the joy of a younger crowd who shimmied along to her dance-oriented setlist. But nothing could stop the majority of the crowd migrating at 10:30 to take in the headliner of the day, Bon Iver. The indie daddy performed an almost religious rendition of “Woods” as concert goers descended the snaking hills of The Gorge and settled in around the grassy moors of the main stage. His performance meandered from melancholic serenades to soul filled renditions of his most passionate songs, including “715 – CRΣΣKS” and “29 #Strafford APTS”. As the sun fell over the scenic views, Vernon thanked the crowd and left the stage. He was called back for an encore, but avoided crowd pleaser “Skinny Love” and instead opted for an older track “Creature Fear” that was somehow just as satisfying.
Some enthusiastic attendees migrated to Bigfoot stage for a raging performance from Tyler, the Creator, but others weary from travel and full from the evocative performance of Iver made the long trek back to the campsite. Frogs erupted from their hiding places in the surrounding wetlands and croaked as attendees crossed geographies. Day one of Sasquatch ended on a pleasant note, offering a little something for everyone. Those riled up from Tyler, the Creator howled in the night, while others lulled to sleep by ‘Father Bon’ slept with his lyrics fuelling sweet dreams.
Day two began with festival-goers forgoing the climbing heat and relentless sun to partake in the day’s festivities. After a late night at Tyler, the Creator, there was no one better to kickstart Saturday’s events than indie pop quintet Pickwick. The Seattle-born group revived the tired crowd at the main stage, bringing attendees back into the festival groove with a highly danceable and soul filled setlist. Although Pickwick’s crowd was relatively small, everyone got down to the band’s accessible indie pop sound. The most dedicated climbed on shoulders to catch a glimpse of frontman Galen Disston, who chirped along to funk-driven drums and guitars.
Up next on the main stage was rapper and pop queen Lizzo, whose self-loving performance was met with ample cheer and applause from the audience. Over at the more intimate Bigfoot stage, LA sadcore duo Girlpool performed to a small crowd who knew most of their lyrics by heart. Taking to the stage during the hottest hours of mid-afternoon, bassist Harmony Trividad’s smiling asides kept the crowd laughing and cheering throughout the set. The duet — now accompanied by drummer Miles Wintner — opened with a score of tracks from their latest album Powerplant. Though their performance was relatively short, the crowd didn’t seem to mind that Girlpool largely avoided staples from 2015’s Before the World Was Big, bopping along instead to “123” and an encore performance of “Chinatown”.
Sunset on the second day was accompanied by a barrage of ballads from a male-fronted indie rock trifecta of Grizzly Bear, Spoon and the day’s headliners Modest Mouse. Making their return to the festival after a nine-year hiatus, Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear offered up a little something for everyone. After playing popular hits “Two Weeks” and “Sun In Your Eyes”, the band moved into some of their more recent and fast-paced work. Even on the big stage Grizzly Bear succeeded in commanding their space and generating an intimate performance for fans in the front row. The intricacies of Grizzly Bear’s post-folk melodies were on display as the band effortlessly swapped altered guitars and choreographed synths on a dime.
Fellow Brooklyn-based experimental group TV On the Radio performed to a packed crowd at Bigfoot. It was a busy stage with the group bustling between instruments and crafting a distinct post-punk atmosphere. Following their set, Modest Mouse descended upon The Gorge to throngs of dancers, hula hoopers and shufflers. Lead singer and guitarist Isaac Brock was calm and collected as he worked his way through the band’s immense discography, amassing over a decades worth of indie rock staples. It was a surreal moment as Brock transitioned into the introductory guitar riff of “Float On”, one of the crowning jewels of late 2000’s indie. The crowd surged forward as the band headed into the song’s recognizable chorus, belting out each line with an enthusiasm that rejuvenated late-night concertgoers.
Day two closed out with performances from Jai Wolf on El Chupacabra stage and Explosions in the Sky at Bigfoot. Although press access was restricted after Tyler, the Creator’s Friday show got out of hand, festival goers partied into the night accompanied by the experimental instrumentation of Explosions in the Sky and the soft light of a full moon.
Weary festival goers trudged their way up the hills of The Gorge to take in day three of Sasquatch. But although many arrived yawning after hitting Saturday’s mid-festival peak, a dynamic performance from Philadelphia lo-fi band Japanese Breakfast proved to be a highlight of the weekend. Lead vocalist Michelle Zauner’s smiling and energetic performance drew a large crowd to the Yeti stage as attendees were attracted to her bandmates’ polished sound. As Zauner expertly navigated the stage and interacted with her audience, she displayed a musical expertise beyond her years. A festival-goer in the front row clung to a pineapple throughout the set, and towards the end placed it on stage. Zauner’s eyes shone as she smiled and picked it up. “You remembered!” she exclaimed, her humble attitude emphasizing the band’s likability and unique intimacy with fans.
The good vibes continued throughout the day as concert-goers found friendly faces to sit next to and take in the festival’s many laid back performances. (Sandy) Alex G’s act at Sunday’s Bigfoot stage was no exception. The Pennsylvania singer-songwriter’s aloof presence instantly shedded any hint of stress or exhaustion after a long three days of music. Giannascoli took to the stage in a baggy beige button down and unbrushed hair, emitting an instantly likable indie-rock relatability. The performance was a comfortable pause in the otherwise hectic festival weekend.
A surprising and ingenious performance from Perfume Genius was a high point of the weekend. Singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas floated towards the crowd on Bigfoot stage, donning a flowing white outfit that nodded to David Bowie’s thin white duke years. The inspiration from Bowie continued into the set as Hadreas danced to the janky goth-pop instrumentals of his newest album, No Shape. Brief flashbacks to 2012’s celebrated Put Your Back N 2 It demonstrated Hadreas’ evolution as an artist, moving away from impassioned piano-back ballads to a more recent glam pop sound.
Hadreas’ stage presence was incredible as he danced and stretched his arms to the sky, letting the heavier moments of the music vibrare throughout his entire body. It was a mesmerizing approach by Hadreas to project his authentic self in a performance that was both radical and deeply moving. As the crowd watched the show, eyes wide with admiration, Hadreas took time between sets to thank his fans in a gentle voice that contrasted his larger-than-life stage persona.
Following the release of their most complex and cerebral album, The National returned to Sasquatch!’s main stage after a four year absence from The Gorge. Not many bands can maintain momentum into a seventh full-length release, but the Cincinnati based quintet seemed to have become even more concise. The band functioned as a well-oiled machine, with frontman Matt Berninger entertaining the crowd with eccentric quips and political asides. Although the show was tailored, it was also quintessentially dad-rock, with Berninger sipping drinks between songs and descending into a state of chaos on stage. After hovering on older staples “I Need My Girl” and “Fake Empire” — which Berninger dedicated to his mom and former American president George W. Bush respectively — the band worked their way through 2017’s Sleep Well Beast and shiny unreleased tracks. Berninger began pacing back and forth and rolling about on stage, eventually leaping into the crowd and weaving his way through the back end. As he walked away from the stage, the crowd followed him around the pit cheering and laughing. He eventually crawled his way back to his bandmates and was offered a blow-up doll by a fan. “Thank you very much,” Beninger called out as he clutched the doll. “This is exactly how I looked at your age.” The eccentricities of the performance were well-accompanied by the band’s nostalgic sound as nighttime descended over The Gorge.
An R&B jam from Anderson.Paak & The Free Nationals rounded out the night at Bigfoot stage. It seemed as though the entire festival were crowded in to watch Paak take to the drum kits while rapping hits from 2016’s Yes Lawd! Exhausted concert-goers slept in the grass while others boogied to Paak’s performance.
As night faded into day, festival-goers made the long, dusty trek back to their campsites for the last time. After three days of frenzy the grounds had been by the serene calm of Washington’s Cascade Range and the distant Columbia river. Festival-goers piled into vans and waved goodbye to friends new and old.
For next year, The Gorge awaits.
emilie medland-marchen, festival, jarrett edmund, keeghan rouleau, Music Festival, Sasquatch, sasquatch 2018, washington