Every summer for the past six years, I’ve traveled across the country from festival to festival writing about live music. It’s a cycle that begins with South by Southwest in March, and then heads to Coachella, Bonnaroo, Newport Folk Festival, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Virgin Mobile Festival, with other lesser-known events sprinkled in along the way. I usually miss one or two each season, but there’s one I never miss and will crack my own wallet to ensure just that: Sasquatch! Fest, held every Memorial Day Weekend in rural Washington State. The lineup for the 2012 installment was just announced—and it’s full of reasons to head west, my friends.
This year I won’t be missing Bon Iver, Jack White (playing solo), Beck, St. Vincent, Metric, the Shins, Spiritualized, Wild Flag, Portlandia stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen, Dum Dum Girls, Cass McCombs, Feist, Kurt Vile, Explosions in the Sky, the War On Drugs, the Roots, Beirut, M. Ward, Little Dragon, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Mark Lanegan and Tenacious D. But that’s just the tip of the proverbial glacier (hey, this is Washington State we’re talking about here)—so check out the full Sasquatch! lineup right here.
Every festival has its non-music draws and charm—SXSW has the 6th Street culture (tequila and tacos!) of downtown Austin. Bonnaroo has the massive Tennessee farm and hippie vibe (psychedelic mushrooms!). Lollapalooza has the convenience and urban chic of Chicago (parties at the Hard Rock Hotel!). Sasquatch has the unrestrained, untainted, large-and-in-charge natural beauty of eastern Washington State. True, I’m biased—I spent my high school and college years working at my friend Steve’s family’s slurpee stand inside the festival’s venue, the Gorge Amphitheatre—but Sasquatch might be the best summer rock festival of them all. It’s certainly the best kept secret.
The Gorge Amphitheatre is situated on top of a massive cliff that opens dramatically into the Columbia river gorge, a canyon along the nation’s fourth biggest river. The scenic gorge was—history/geology lesson alert!—shaped millions of years ago at the end of the last Ice Age when a glacial lake in what is now Montana burst, sending an unfathomable amount of water rushing across the Pacific Northwest at 80mph. Mountain-sized ripples are visible in the land above the river, where a series of hills seem to explode as they approach the base of the Cascades Mountain Range’s eastern slope.
The view is literally breathtaking. A few years ago, as I stood backstage, I saw Karen O speechless as she looked out over the gorge.
Also, believe it or not, eastern Washington is a desert. This isn’t the 364 days of rain that Seattle is known for. No sir. During the day the temps will hit (and often surpass) 100 degrees—perfect festival weather. The camp ground is located a 100-yard walk from the amphitheatre, and most concertgoers camp. So, the party is crazy fun. If you’re so inclined, you can rise each morning by making the short drive to the banks of the Columbia for a hangover-dissolving dip.
Since its humble beginnings in 2002, Sasquatch! has steadily grown into one of the nation’s premier musical fests. It started as a one-stage event with local and lesser-known (read: cheap) indie bands, and has expanded into a four-stage event (plus a comedy tent) featuring the biggest names in music and comedy. In 2012, Sasquatch! added a fourth day, too. It’s on its way to being mentioned in the same sentence as Coachella or Lollapalooza. The only reason it hasn’t demanded the same respect already, I’d argue, is because it’s located in the middle of nowhere. It’s a solid three-hour drive (at least; festival traffic can double that) to the Gorge Amphitheater from the Seattle area.
But let me reiterate: It’s totally worth it. I make the journey every year and will continue to do so for as long as I can. See you at Sasquatch! this Memorial Day Weekend. Be there!