Over twenty bands gathered at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington for a full day of music from hip-hop and electronica to indie rock, punk, and singer/songwriters. Some of the highlights were The Postal Service, The Shins, The Long Winters, Built to Spill, Sleater-Kinney, Gary Jules, Cat Power, The New Pornographers, The Roots and Thievery Corporation. This is the festivals third year and probably the most successful in providing this music community with what they need and crave the most. In the past, the festival has relied on such radio-friendly pop bands like Coldplay to draw in the big crowds. This year, the focus didnt appear to lie with any one particular group, but rather on the collective talent to draw in the fans. Now, for those who have yet to see this amazing venue in the middle of nowheresville, you really ought to check it out the next time youre in the area. Few locations allow you to view cows grazing atop a bluff overlooking a beautiful winding river-carved gorge while still rocking out to your favorite band.
Apollo Sunshine, a trio from Boston, MA, kicked off the festival around 11:45 am at the plaza stage. They are Jesse Gallagher on vocals, bass, keyboards, Sam Cohen with vocals, guitar, pedal steel and Jeremy Black on drums and percussion. It didnt even seem to phase the guys that their crowd was rather small due to the early placement in the lineup, but they didnt care; they were just psyched to be there and were having a great time.
Aveo, first up on the main stage, is William Wilson on vocals and guitars, Mike Hudson on bass, and Jeff MacIsaac on the drums. The audience was scattered across the steep grassy hillside with a smaller crowd gathered near the stage. Wilson said he hadnt been to the gorge since he was an employee there. His mumbled, emotional vocals were often lost within the instrumental layers of crashing drums and distorted guitars, but they played an enjoyable show. The highlight for me was Haley with the funky beat and A Perfect Circle-like guitar stylings.
I passed up most of girl-powered Visqueen to check out the Fruit Bats up at the plaza stage. They intrigued me with their Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel influenced sound. Their music was fun and the rhythmic, folksy sound caused most to spring into a dance, however some of their harmonies seemed to drift in and out of tune. They didnt have much of a presence on stage, but they made up for it with their quiet charm.
From there, it was back to the main stage for Harvey Danger. Id last seen these guys at Endfest 98 at the Kitsap Fairgrounds, and while their popularity may have dwindled since their Flagpole Sitta days, Im sure this recent show didnt help to gain any new fans with Sean Nelsons biting comments in regards to their lack of popularity. They played two new songs before returning to slightly more familiar material and did end up playing Flagpole Sitta after all, changing rage against machines to terrorize marines.
I managed to catch a bit of Donavon Frankenreither but somehow missed Ben Lee on the plaza stage, which I had been looking forward to. I blame this on the lack of organization it was damn near impossible to track down a show schedule. All I had to go by was a poster where someone scrawled times next to the names which I copied onto my own little piece of paper to carry around with me throughout the day. Only later, when it was much too late, did I realize that not all the names were on that damn poster. I knew I shouldve printed that out beforehand.
During the time I shouldve been over listening to Mr. Lee, I was enjoying a nice nap on the grass under the hot afternoon sun. I woke up to a ridiculous sunburn and the sensual vocals of Cat Powers Chan Marshall. Her soothing yet scratchy voice blended well with the piano and violin. I ran down to the stage to catch the last half of their act, which ended with Marshalls pre-recorded rap song accompanied by a little dance routine. The crowd seemed to really dig it.
The New Pornographers took the stage next, accompanied by a lot of cheering from their fellow Canadians who had hopped the border for the day. There was the lead singer, Carl Newman standing there with his curly red hair, striped t-shirt and guitar, waiting to rock, and Neko Case (who made a solo appearance in 2003) with her Kansas t-shirt and tambourine and the rest of the group was oddly in a lot of black; Dan Bejar on vocals and guitars, Todd Fancey on guitars, John Collins on bass and Kurt Dahle on Drums. Case belted out each tune beautifully (especially The Laws Have Changed), but she really shouldve stuck to just singing. Her commentary made me embarrassed for her. But the power-poppers were still fun to watch and were an enjoyable listen. During the show a lot of people were dancing, especially during Electric Version and All for Swinging You Around, of course, which added to the overall upbeat energy surrounding the band.
I left halfway through to go check out one of the shows highlights for me, The Long Winters at the plaza stage. They drew quite the crowd, and well-deserved. I kept thinking they shouldve been on the main stage but came to the conclusion that the lack of intimacy wouldve taken away from the show. Lead singer and founder of the Seattle-based band, John Roderick, demonstrated just how far a little personality will take you. He held onto the audience throughout the entire performance with his humor, charisma and energy. His amazing performance of Nora had the audience jumping and cheering him on while he did what could only be described as an unreal electric guitar solo. Im still not even sure if his hands ever touched the strings! You can bet Ill be first in line for tickets when they come around my neighborhood.
While I missed the legendary rocker girls from Olympia, Sleater-Kinney, there was no way I was leaving The Long Winters. Next, introduced as The best-dressed band of 2000 and 2003 by David Cross, Built to Spill hit the main stage for a somewhat less than lively, vocally sleepy, yet still musically-inspired performance. While Doug Martsch may not have acted as excited as the fans, the girl in front of me made up for it, air guitar and all. Since I stayed for the whole performance, I missed The Decemberists on the plaza stage.
Despite Modest Mouses lack of physical appearance, their music managed to emerge twice throughout the day. The first was the Fruit Bats slower (almost torturously so) rendition of Float On, which they said they heard in a dance club and loved it so much they had to cover it. Next, the same was song played during one of the main stage setups and the crew turned it up for all the Gorges inhabitants to dance and sing along with. Im sure the plaza band was happy to be upstaged by the radio.
The enthusiastic Shins took the main stage after BTS, another festival highlight. Martin Crandall referred to the fans as Gorge Dwellers. As the day progressed, I was feeling more and more like we were a bunch of swamp monsters. They played a lot of material from their new album, Chutes Too Narrow with the highlights Kissing the Lipless and So Says I. What can I really say they just plain rocked! Even Ben Gibbord said as much when The Postal Service took the stage a half hour later: How awesome were The Shins!? Apparently a crazed fan decided to dance around the stage without bringing his clothing, but not-so-sadly, I missed it.
By the time Gary Jules was setting up to perform around eight, the sun was beginning to set and the brisk winds had everyone grabbing for anything to keep them warm. Jules commented on how he couldnt feel his fingers. They managed to keep a good attitude even when the wind would knock their instruments out of tune mid-song. But by far, the award for most emotionally intense song goes to Jules for his performance of Mad World. He took the microphone in both hands, closed his eyes and sang with more passion than Ive seen from anyone. I think I saw a tear in his eye when he opened them to thank everyone for coming.
The Postal Service had already begun their only scheduled 2004 show down on the main stage. Everyone was excited to see how the snail-mail band would perform live performances of songs from their hit album Give Up. Ben Gibbard, also lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie, introduced them as the imaginary band. The mastermind behind the whole project, Jimmy Tamborello from San Francisco, CA, managed the electronic side of the bands distinct and quirky sound. The multi-talented Gibbard spanned the roles of lead singer, guitarist, keyboardist and drummer. With Gibbard dancing on the stage in a sport coat and Jenny Lewis jamming away on her guitar, you couldnt deny this group had a strong presence. The best part for me was the duet, Nothing Better, between Gibbard and Lewis. Lewis was given a bouquet of roses during the song which she tossed out into the audience. But what really got the crowd roaring was Such Great Heights which had everyone clapping and dancing to their dreamy, electronic hit, a definite high point for the evening.
Following The Postal Service was a very long setup for the gigantic hip-hop group of 7, The Roots. The largest crowd of the evening gathered around the stage. These guys delivered an amazing non-stop performance of their entire high-impact set. What was impressive is that this group managed to blend the hip-hop vocals with indie-rock-inspired music. Its not often you hear someone rap to an electric guitar jamming in the background. It was like a musical explosion. Their performance was upbeat, inspired and intense. The only downside was when you have an hour of non-stop rap; it starts to run together after awhile and just sound like a song that has gone on for too long. Maybe its just personal opinion, but theres something nice about having a breather now and then.
For those of us who stayed for the last performance, Thievery Corporations Rob Garza and Eric Hilton dished up a flawless closing act. Having never seen this group perform live, I wasnt sure what or who to expect, but these guys brought the whole crew along, including Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini. Rather than an electronica song that just goes on forever with the same vocals continuously running over themselves, these guys weave together layers of instrumentals and vocals to provide the listener with a full experience from beginning to end, not just a repeating sequence. Such flavorful influences included rock, electronica, Middle Eastern, soul and Latin.
The best part about the Sasquatch Music Festival was the overwhelming feeling of camaraderie and support among the bands. Most groups, while saying how excited they were to be there, named off performances that rocked and who they were looking forward to catching that day. Whether it was the 25-year-olds rolling down the grassy hill and giggling like little children or members of various bands mingling with fans as they, too, fought for a space near the stage it was obvious that everyone was there to have fun, soak up the beautiful day and most importantly, enjoy some great music.
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