Friday, to allow for travel to the Gorge, the festivities didn’t kick off until 4:00. On Saturday, with most already camped out, things began at noon. Were I home, that would be early for me, since normally I fall asleep between 4 and 7 in the morning, and then intermittently piece five or six ours of sleep together through the better part of the daytime hours. However, at Sasquatch, this was impossible. I may not have fallen asleep much earlier, but with the hot sun beating down on our tent by early morning, it was an oven by 9:00, making sleep a purely theoretical venture.
Up early in the day, we wasted most of our mornings laying lazily around the campsite or charging our phones near the kitchen. Then, we would drive into town and get some much desired AC and free McDonalds wifi. Even though we were awake, we never actually got our act together early enough to make it in by noon, but normally caught the second or third act of the day as our first show.
Saturday, we finally got organized and motivated to catch the shuttles over to the Gorge a bit after 12. This reminds me, I keep mentioning the shuttles, but haven’t mentioned that said shuttles were awesome decommissioned King County Metro buses. Complete with old ads and PSAs. There were two oldish buses, like this one:
And then two more really old buses, that had most certainly been active through our country’s shameful segregated bus history.
This added an additional bit of character to our daily bus trips.
Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires
We made it in on Saturday in time to catch the beginning of Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. For those who don’t know Charles Bradley, I didn’t either. Apparently, he is the 64 year old “Screaming Eagle of Soul.” A less spectacular cross between Otis Redding and James Brown. And don’t take my statement he is less spectacular than Otis Redding and James Brown to be an insult, we’re all less spectacular than Otis, that’s just a fact of life.
At 64, Bradley still brings it on stage. Whether crooning about the woman he loves, or taking us to church with a song about America and Jesus [complete with an interlude during which he carries his microphone stand on his shoulder like the cross], Bradley is still every bit the showman.
He even mentioned my hometown during a song. It got exciting when he rolled into the lyric /I went to upstate New York/ I thought, “Hey, upstate New York.” Then he finished the line with, /to a little town they call Poughkeepsie/ After which Emily and I cheered and then needed to explain to our neighbors in the grass why we did so.
Blitzen Trapper was just about exactly what I expected them to be. On stage, just as in their recordings, they’re a good, talented, classic rock throwback band that takes bits from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and throws it together to make really strong rock music.
I enjoyed their set, and I would write more, but it was already a week ago, and they were immediately overshadowed by what came next.
The Civil Wars
The Civil Wars. Dear Lord, The Civil Wars. Watching them perform, I didn’t sing along, I didn’t dance, I didn’t clap and yell. I was truly and entirely riveted, struck dumb by the remarkable talent I was witnessing.
The hardest thing about a small band [in size] playing the main stage is that the space is so much larger than most. Often, a band isn’t ready. It’s not just about filling the space with band members or noise, although that certainly helps. It’s about filling the space with presence, with energy, which is a lot easier for a band the louder they are. It should have been a remarkably tall order for The Civil Wars. It’s just him and her, and with the exception of one song, the only instrument used is John Paul’s acoustic guitar. At a festival, in the middle of the afternoon, it’s nearly impossible to draw people in and keep them excited without a big production of some sort.
The Civil Wars accomplished the nearly impossible. Just the two of them, with the power of their raw talent and charisma, blew the doors off the main stage armed with nothing but their bittersweet songs of love, life, hope, faith, pain, and disillusionment.
They were spell-binding. The way they play their characters is perfect. She is the innocent, sexy, seductive young woman. He is the rascal, with his tuxedo, his long hair, and the glass of whiskey he brings on stage with him. They are playful and winning, stealing each other’s microphones, joking back and forth. Watching the chemistry between them, it would be easy to assume that the two were together, that she was pregnant with his baby, and not that each is actually married to another.
Each song was stunning. When they performed their hymn “From this Valley,” a song I’d never heard before, I nearly broke down weeping. For me, it was the perfect song in the perfect moment.
We just missed the band the last two times they played Seattle (Ballard no less!), but now that we’ve finally seen them, it was remarkable, and I sure hope they are back in our neck of the woods soon!
This was easily the most uncomfortable concert I’ve ever witnessed. We were up front for Civil Wars, we wanted to stay up front to see Childish Gambino, and so we had no choice but to stick around for Jamey Johnson. As far as scheduling is concerned, this was the only truly massive failure we witnessed on the part of Sasquatch. I don’t know who is into Jamey Johnson, but it most certainly isn’t the people showing up for Civil Wars and Childish Gambino.
Everyone around us for the Jamey Johnson show was there for Childish Gambino, just biding their time. This means they were all in the mood for some energetic emcee action. What’s the furthest thing from energetic emcee action? How about pop-country music… yup, that’ll do it.
Maybe Jamey Johnson has tons of fans all over the country, but they weren’t at Sasquatch, and they certainly aren’t the kids waiting for Childish Gambino. We were surrounded by people having loud conversations that Johnson could most definitely hear from the stage. It was depressing, awkward, and remarkably uncomfortable. I spent the entire time just wanting the whole thing to be over.
Then, in came Mr. Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, to save the day. It was our second time seeing him, and once again he delivered exactly what we’d expect: fun, cocky, underrated emcee work to the delight of a good sized group of passionate fans who, in turn, rapped along to all his words while also shouting out Community references about Troy Barnes, Abed, and Annnie’s Boobs.
The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Alison Brie had actually made an appearance.
After that, we spent the afternoon at the Honda Bigfoot Stage, relaxing in the sunshine, while eating our Beecher’s Mac’n’Cheese on our M’s blanket to the musical stylings of The Helio-Sequence, and then tUne-yArDs. We needed a rest, and fortunately at Sasquatch rests include listening to wonderful bands playing great music, soaking up sunshine (while properly sun-screened of course).
By the end of the tUne-yArDs show, there was a glorious desert sunset to accompany our wait for St. Vincent.
The first casualties
This evening also marked our first two major casualties. I would have loved to see The Shins and Jack White, but it wasn’t meant to be. I could have made it if I was willing to sit at the back and watch a bit of The Shins before hopping over to see St. Vincent, then walked back over and stood at the back for Jack White before rushing back to see The Roots. That’s how most people at Sasquatch seemed to do things. However, that’s just not how I watch a concert, or do anything for that matter. When I do something, I do it deeply and entirely. I immerse myself in it. The whole reason I have wanted for so long to spend all this money and travel out to central Washington for Sasquatch was because I love concerts so much. I love the experience of them, the energy and passion. I have trouble getting into concerts from the back row, as a passive observer. I just don’t think that is how a contemporary rock show is designed to be experienced.
Thus, I made the sacrifice of seeing parts of a bunch of shows in order to be up front for the performances by my very favorite bands. I skipped The Shins so I could be upfront for St. Vincent. I skipped Jack White so I could be three people from the stage for The Roots. Worth it.
I love St. Vincent. Apparently, so do The Civil Wars. Joy Williams has tweeted several times about that fact, and we watched St. Vincent’s show just a few feet away from John Paul White.
Her concert was in no way what I expected. She trades off many of the layers of her music in favor of a high energy show that gets more punk as it goes. By the end she is performing old 80’s punk covers and spastically crowd surfing, gyrating to the point that I was certain she was going to be dropped and get hurt.
I’m not going to lie, I missed much of what I love about her studio recordings, but it was still a really entertaining live set.
After St. Vincent, I spent an hour and half waiting for The Roots. Jack White was the headliner that night, and The Legendary Roots Crew was actually playing one of the weekend’s two late night sets, from 11:30-1:00. This is the reason why the waiting was so long. And wait I did. I’ve wanted to see them live for such a long time, they were the band I was most excited about, and nothing was going to get between me and a great position to stand. There was a little bonus during the waiting, when Captain Kirk came out to check the levels on his own guitar. Oddly, none of the other people waiting for The Roots seemed to have any idea who he was, so I just got to watch him do his thing on my own. Eventually, everyone figured out who he was, which ended sitting time and started the 30 minutes where we all stood waiting for the band.
It was totally, completely, 100% worth it. The Roots aren’t just showmen, they’re concert gods. The Roots are a throwback band live. ?uestlove’s father is Lee Andrews, the bandleader for a doo-wop group called Lee Andrews & the Hearts, and ?uest was in music clubs all his life. He ended up playing drums in his dad’s band as early as seven, and was the permanent drummer by the time he was a teenager. (Watch his episode of Hulu’s A Day in the Life).
Anyway, ?uestlove’s upbringing, combined with his remarkable talent and the fact that he has been performing with at least some form of The Roots for 20 years, makes for as much fun as a concert can be. It was just 90 minutes of unadulterated joy.
How many hip hop groups do you know who feature a 6 minute sousaphone solo in the middle? Oh, that’s right, your hip hop group doesn’t have a tuba player.
The band just has so much fun on stage that it is contagious. Dancing, chasing each other around the drums, improvised conversation between the keyboards and the tuba where each performer keeps trying to throw the other off, and a remarkably fun replacement to the traditional encore that had me laughing, dancing, and screaming. Oh, and Captain Kirk is the most underrated guitar player I’ve ever seen. He’s amazing.
Nothing I can write will articulate how fun this concert was. Also, all the videos I can find just don’t do it justice. All I can say is that from the first full song, “Paul Revere” to honor the late MCA, to the final note of the night, I was exhausted from sheer delight by the time it was over. It was a bucket list entry to see The Roots in concert for the first time, and now it is a major life goal to see them in concert again.
Below is video I shot from the show. Sadly, it’s missing so many of the delights the band had to offer that night, but it was the only time I could keep from celebrating long enough to record an entire song.