As the date of my departure to the 2006 Sasquatch Music Festival at the Gorge approached, I began to get a little anxious. I'm a homebody and don't like to stray too far for too long. Due for a vacation though, I decided that four days wasn't really that long to be away from home. My traveling companion, "Tiger," and I would be staying in a hotel, so roughing it wasn't really an issue. Besides, it was an opportunity to see a lot of great musical acts all in one place. So I turned my anxiety into anticipation and hit the road.
At around 3 p.m. on Friday, May 26, we checked into our hotel and then jumped back in the car and drove the 35 miles to the Gorge. After a perfunctory once-over by security, we made our way through the gates with a few hundred other folks. We hooked around to the left past the Yeti stage, a small stage a few hundred yards inside the main gates which would feature 14 acts over the course of the weekend including Brett Dennen, Headphones, Laura Veirs, Big City Rock, Tim Seely and Big Japan among others. Tiger and I decided some barley refreshment was in order and headed to the beverage tent. Still reeling from the $8.25 cost of a can of beer, we passed the plaza--a grassy area of picnic tables, an Xbox tent, a myspace tent and food booths featuring overpriced food-- and the Wookie stage where both the Trucks and deadboy & the Elephantmen were scheduled to play. However, Wolfmother was perfoming on the Sasquatch main stage and we'd heard too many good things about them to miss it, so we plopped down on the grassy knoll high above the crowds to watch. Never having been to the Gorge before, I was awed by the majesty of the area. The giant stage backs up against the Columbia River Gorge, and rolling hills rising above the water make the view almost ethereal.
Wolfmother was one of the weekend's highlights and the perfect opener to a weekend of amazing music. Following them in equally grand style was And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, TV on the Radio and the Finnish band HIM, whose acolytes were in attendances as evidenced by the large number of dark-haired teens wearing apparel adorned with the cool HIM insignia. After HIM, we moved down to the "floor" (and found the spot we would return to for the next two days) and after a brief altercation with a couple of very pushy, inebriated young 'uns screaming, "Let's go, Oilers," Bauhaus took the stage in all their Goth glory. Peter Murphy strutted around the stage like a pissed-off Mick Jagger moving to David J.'s bass lines, which were some of the coolest I've ever heard. Bauhaus premiered two new songs: "Adrenaline" and "Endless Summer Of The Damned," proving that even after 30 years, they've still got it. After a seemingly endless time, Nine Inch Nails roared onto the stage fronted by a buff, bald Trent Reznor. The giant steel cage they stood behind for their first song seemed odd, until it became clear that the NIN logo was supposed to be displayed in lights across it. It didn't detract in the least from NIN's performance, which was a truly powerful stage show. When first few notes of "Closer" started, the audience nearly exploded. Exhausted, we headed out to the car (which we were unable to find for a brief but terrifying few moments) and back to the hotel.
On Saturday, the crowds became actual throngs (both Saturday's and Sunday's shows were sold out). We got to our spot on the "floor" in time to catch the last couple of songs by Gomez, a great indie-rock six-piece making the most of four guitars. Sufjan Stevens and his band came on stage, patriotically dressed and tossed blow-up Santas and Supermen into the crowd. Iron and Wine played a lovely set as the sky darkened, and then Neko Case came on stage. She got through just a couple of beautiful songs before the mother of all hailstorms started and Case was forced to cut her set short. For 40 minutes, the sky fell in giant, hard icy drops and thousands of people scrambled for cover, of which there was none. And, in typical Northwestern fashion, the weather changed abruptly once again. As a crew swept piles of slush off the stage, the sun came out and though we were cold and wet, we persevered and for our trouble, received terrific performances from Tragically Hip and the Shins. The Flaming Lips and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals traded time slots, so Harper was up next. I had never seen him or his band live and didn't really understand what all the fuss was about. Now I get it. I am a total convert. Harper's almost two-hour set was uplifting and joyous, and he has got to be one of the finest guitar players around. After a loooooong break, the Flaming Lips came out in Flaming Lips style, which means lead singer Wayne Coyne inserted himself into a giant blow up ball, and much like a hamster in a wheel, rolled himself around in the crowd. The show featured dancing and singing Santas, giant green beach balls, smoke, giant streamers and a cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" that was utterly dreamy.
Tired, sober, and pretty damn hungry (the cheapest food items were nasty little $6 hot dogs) we made a beeline for the car and back to the hotel.
On Sunday, loaded with plenty of rain gear just in case, we caught the tail end of Pretty Girls Make Graves' rocking set and settled in just as Nada Surf opened with "Popular" and went on to give a great show. The Arctic Monkeys (whom I love) were next, and I would have paid the full ticket price and driven all the way to the Gorge just to see them (OK, and Beck). Lead singer Alex Turner told the crowd that it was their first outdoor performance and I'm honored to have been there. For me, their performance was the apex of the festival.
The Decemberists, who hail from Montana but have a great Irish folk sound, followed the Arctic Monkeys. Even though I hated to, I missed the last part of their show to catch We Are Scientists on the Wookie stage (my one and only non-necessary trek up the almost-90-degree angle hill). I have been listening to WAS for the last couple of months and couldn't have enjoyed their live performance more. Then it was back down the slope to catch the last couple of songs from Matisyahu who is a great showman. Queens of the Stone Age came on next and rocked the whole damn mountain and were another big highlight for me. Death Cab for Cutie came on after Queens, just as the sun started to set, and again I discovered what all the hype is about. Those guys are damn good musicians. At around 10:30 p.m., Beck and his band of merry-makers came on stage. As they performed, a group of puppet masters controlled marionettes who represented--and looked just like--each member of the band complete with their own little stage. When one member of the band moved somewhere on stage, the marionettes moved to the corresponding spot on their own little stage and all of their moves were shown on a giant screen right behind them. After the first half of the set, we were treated to a small video vignette of the marionettes making their way around the Gorge earlier that day and then more great music. Along with the Arctic Monkeys (did I mention I love them?), seeing Beck helped make the whole exhausting trip totally worthwhile.
While a three-day festival is about one day longer than optimum for me, it would be impossible to choose which day to give up if I had to pick one. If next year's Sasquatch Festival promises to be anything like this one, I won't be able to do it then, either.