The clean Northwest breeze splashed her face as she made her way over the grassy hill. The breath that she was trying so desperately to catch was knocked right back out of her lungs as she took in the sight. The glittering ripples of the Columbia River mimicked the deep blue of the sky as it weaved through the scaling cliffs of the Gorge. The bright sun sat regally in the west of the massive globe above her and the pounding bass of the music resounding from the stage at the bottom of the hill vibrated inside her ribcage, welcoming her back. Finally able to deeply inhale the clean air of the Pacific Northwest, Berrin Boyce, with the broadest of grins on her face and tiny pools of happy tears collecting in her eyes, bellowed out in her loudest voice:
Founded in 2002 by Portland, Ore. concert promoter Adam Zacks, Sasquatch! Music Festival brought a new way to listen and watch music to people in the Pacific Northwest. Zacks, whose job in Portland was to book and manage shows at the Roseland Theater, had years of experience working with bands and music-lovers stemming from his time as a student at the University of Oregon when he coordinated events at the EMU. In an interview from 2007, Zacks says that he moved to Seattle after following a hunch that the Washington-Oregon area was craving a venue that would allow people to come together and enjoy the art of music. Once he made it North, he began work on creating a festival that, today, is comparable in both quality and quantity to that of Southern California-based Coachella, with major differences that set it apart from any other festival venue.
Zacks chose to embark on his festival dream when touring festivals like Lollapalooza began to fade out and regional festivals started to take over the live-music. Located nearly three hours from Seattle in George, Wash., the Gorge seemed a promising location for a music venue, but there was no guarantee that the turnout would be rewarding. In its premiere year in 2002 as a single day event during Memorial Day weekend featuring just seven acts, including Jack Johnson and The String Cheese Incident, Sasquatch! rapidly sold out of tickets. 2006 marked the initiation of the three-day festival profiling Nine Inch Nails, Sufjan Stevens, Death Cab for Cutie, and Beck. Starting in 2011, the weekend event began to encompass four days of music, making the Gorge the ideal locale for the celebratory weekend.
Nine-time winner of Pollstar Magazine’s Best Outdoor Music venue, the scenery surrounding The Gorge far surpasses any other music festival in the United States. From cascading landscapes of leveled cliffs towering over a vibrantly blue river to the breathtaking colors that the sunset paints behind the main stage each evening, the location alone would leave a Sasquatcher with a satisfying album of mental imagery.
“The Gorge is an amazing venue,” says Berrin Boyce, who has enjoyed two years of Sasquatch!. “The amazing scenery is a great backdrop to incredible performances.”
Once you get past the fact that you are quite literally in the middle-of-nowhere-Washington with limited cell service and scarce reliable plumbing, attending the festival is strangely liberating. The isolation allows the worries of every day life in the “real world” to fade away, if only just for a while.
For those with an affinity towards music ranging from independent and folk rock to hip/hop and jazz, throwing in favorite bands with the spectacular sights and intoxicating environment of The Gorge often leads to a metaphysical experience, even for those who don’t partake in the hallucinogens.
“Ecstacy is pretty popular, along with LSD,” a two-year Sasquatcher says of the drug-scene at the festival. “Being on those drugs up at the Gorge is indescribable. The weekend’s pretty hazy, actually.”
After a decade’s worth of practice, Sasquatch! noticed that over 90% of their festival-goers were also camping on-site. This encouraged the inclusion of camping fees into the festival pass at a discount, lessening the financial burden of the weekend. In 2012, a four-day pass with camping amounted to $315. That breaks down to less than $80 a day spent on the campsite and numerous live performances. During the same year, Coachella featured a pass at an equal price, camping included, covering the shorter weekend of three days. Coachella, with its emblazoned headliners and impressive interactive art sculptures, pulls in a crowd of celebrities and media coverage and has been deemed one of the nation’s favorite music festivals. All of the glitter considered, it mimics that often disingenuous Hollywood-feel that is difficult to sense at Sasquatch!. The Northwest festival is centered on good music, pulling local musicians to add in a “hometown” flavor and familiarity. Although Sasquatch! has grown significantly since its inception and now features corporate vendors, fans never feel distracted from the music.
“It’s cool they’ve added more stuff [like Starbucks and the Fuze bounce house],” third-year Kaylin says. “But I’m all about the music. I can get Starbucks at home.”
The purpose of the festival remains blatant and clear: Give music-lovers a place to love music.
Sasquatch! Music Festival has stayed faithful to profiling a wide range of music genres from indie rock to hip-hop, to techno to comedic acts and nearly everything in between. It caters to a broad fan-base while still managing to stay fluid and relevant. The musical acts may vary in sound and technique, but their shared passion for their work radiates from the stage they perform on.
“It still has the big festival draw as far as performers go,” says third-year Sasquatcher Will Kanellos. “It has a pretty intimate atmosphere.”
Headliners for the 2012 weekend included Jack White, Beck, Bon Iver, and Tenacious D. The breadth of these artists alone shows that popularity, talent, and stage presence all go into play when arranging the weekend lineup.
As the popularity of Sasquatch! has grown, so has its efficiency as a festival. This year’s gate check implemented weekend wristbands versus the former paper documents, significantly decreasing the wait time to enter the venue. The addition of a fourth stage allowed for more musical acts and more performance time for the artists. A Kokanee sponsored acoustic tent invited select Sasquatchers the opportunity to listen to their favorite bands in an intimate (and shaded!) setting.
Where major improvements have been made, frustrations remain among the pricing of food and drinks: $10 for a couple of chicken tenders and fries and $8 for a tall boy. To quench your thirst with some ice-cold water, a Sasquatcher chooses between a 10+ minute wait at the fountain or purchasing a $6 bottle since no outside beverages are permitted inside the venue.
Negative aspects aside, there are few complaints about Sasquatch! Music Festival. The fan-base reaches past Washington-natives to include Californians, Canadians, East-Coasters, and the frequent European crowd. Few festivals can claim a turnout so infused with culture, spirit, and pure music appreciation. Watching strangers come together to relish in the music at The Gorge is inspirational andunforgettable; an experience incomparable to any other. And it’s all thanks to a man who followed a hunch.
Watch my Sasquatch! 2012 experience below: