Day two began on a much more relaxing note. Knowing that press wouldn’t get in until 10:45am, I was able to leisurely take my time in getting up, which meant that I awoke at 8:00am. My body was already feeling the pain from the day before, mainly in my over loaded shoulders and calves. I punctured three massive blisters on the bottom of my feet and covered them with band aids. Wiser and more experienced than the day before, I emerged from my tent ready to conquer Sasquatch.
It seemed that each day became progressively harder for people to get out to the festival when the gates opened. Saturday morning there was roughly two hundred people eagerly waiting to enter. Sunday it was more like fifty, these were the die hards who literally crawled out of the tent in their pajamas and crashed at the gate.
If you were having a hard time waking up, then the place to be was the Bigfoot stage. The first show of the day was a beautiful and subdued performance by the Watford, England trio of sisters, The Staves. They sang in pitch perfect three part harmony with minimalistic instruments, sometimes a guitar, sometimes an accordion, sometimes an ukelele, sometimes a cappella. They played with such passion for the American folk masters, I had to remind myself that they were from the UK.
It was a sublime way to begin the morning, with a moderate crowd who swayed gently to the music, and relished the soft sounds amidst the early afternoon sun, washing us all in its glow.
If The Staves were attempting to wake the audience with a soft song in their ear, then Greylag was a soft tap on the shoulder. I tried to get a feel for every band that I would be covering, but with little association it was hard to really tap into their core, or at times even remember which band was which. I didn’t have a good grasp on who Greylag was, and at times it was fun to go into a performance this way, because that surprise of hearing something truly earthy, and full, and wonderful, is addictive.
There’s a growing stigma concerning folk music emerging from the PNW. It’s true that for every Fleet Foxes, Head and the Heart, and Cave Singers, there are ten other carbon copies without the formers originality and talent, that doesn’t mean that every now and again a folk inspired band can’t come around that has the potential to reach the level of a Head and the Heart. Greylag is one of those bands. What makes them all the more impressive are their stripped down songs that are so basic at their core that you could mold almost any genre around them. I highly suggest picking up their debut EP, The Only Way to Kill You.
I’ll admit that the only reason I went down to the Sasquatch stage to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was for the name alone. That’s not entirely true, I’d run across their music once before, the hook that kept me interested was the name. Not entirely different from Saturday’s Electric Guest, I’ve been having a difficult time categorizing exactly what they are. I suppose they provided the best answer by playing a cover of the Beach Boy’s, God Only Knows, so think that, with more modern drum beats. It came as no surprise to learn that Brian Wilson was a major influence on the band.
My press pass didn’t gain me access to the photo pit at the main stage, so I chose the shows that I would watch there very carefully, so not to miss something else that I could photograph. Perhaps all you really need to know is that I stayed for the full performance. They were just as awesome as their name.
Back at the Bigfoot stage I was treated to Hospitality. They might have been the most deceptive band I came across that weekend, five chords in you think you have them all figured out, but wait just a little longer and they’ll show you just how complex they are. The surface reaction is to call them bubble gum pop, with very little edge. You don’t have to dig very deep to find melodies and sounds of much greater sophistication.
They retain that bubble gum popness, while kicking that concept around a bit and in some ways deconstructing it. This year they released their debut album Hospitality a challenging blend of sweet, sway worthy songs, and harder edged rock. As a side note, their 2008 EP of the same name was produced by secretly-important person Karl Blau.
It could be said that perhaps the most fascinating bands I saw in my three days were at the Yeti Stage, on Sunday it was the San Francisco quintet Howlin Rain. Even by day two the Yeti stage was building a reputation among the other journalists as a place where a lesser known band could explode like a time bomb, sending bits of stage shrapnel flaming across the grassy field before it. It happened time and time again, and Howlin Rain was no exception.
Of everyone I covered HR was the most pure retro rock-n-roll, from the moment lead singer and guitarist Ethan Miller walked out on stage with his long bushy beard flecked with grey, I knew these guys would be something to behold. There’s no better way to put it other than they rocked. A retro revival of classic bluesy rock that harkens back to Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, even a little Zeppelin. These were serious musicians who brought it hard and heavy, giving the crowd wind-blown hair.
Scheduling conflicts caused me to miss much of the comedy of day three, one comedian I was NOT going to miss was the languid comedy of Todd Barry. He’s one of those comedians who you may not immediately recognize by name, but he’s been around so long that you’ve probably seen him in something. In recent years he’s best known for his role as the bongo playing Todd and third Conchord in Flight of the Conchords.
Some comedians are energetic and hop around the stage, some, like Saturdays Pete Holmes, yell and inflect their voices to make their jokes land, Todd Barry stays calm and even keeled all the way through. He does this without having to play some impotent character on stage, he has a commanding presence, one that is always in control while on stage.
The major flaw of the Banana Shack was that it opened up into the festival and acted like a wind tunnel of sound. Any bumping bass from the “Maine” stage was funneled right into the tent and onto the stage. This made for a more challenging environment, and Todd handled the most distracting music of the weekend perfectly, and hilariously.
I made the same terrible mistake as Saturday by needing a break and walking back to my tent to eat and change into warmer clothes for the evening. This time I didn’t even make food on the stove, I just collapsed onto my sleeping bag and laid there, wishing that someone would poke their head into my tent and offer me a plate of warm food. That didn’t happen, and instead I ate a string cheese, a yogurt, and a peanut better and jelly sandwich. Food wasn’t about enjoyment so much as it was about filling my stomach. Walking back to the festival I felt less refreshed than the night before, this was just a case of taking more and more water from the well, until it was empty.
Occasionally you will stumble across a performance passing by the stage. It was the massive harp sitting stage left that got me to stay and figure out just want was going to occur here. Musically I really respected what Pat Grossi was able to do, but I’ve got to be honest, this just wasn’t the kind of music that I could ever really see myself listening to.
It was an intriguing blend of Church choir music with electric beats, not too dissimilar from what say, Pure Bathing Culture is doing, but just dissimilar enough that it wasn’t exactly my thing. More than anything the performance was perfect for that moment in the day. What had been cloudy and threatening to rain for hours, opened up to a sapphire sky with story book clouds. A decent breeze blew in and Grossi looked like a ginger haired angel blowing in the wind.
If there was one performance that I wished I could have photographed but couldn’t, it would be The Head and the Heart. They seemed to instantly rise to fame with their addictive Americana folk, and their self-titled debut is one of my all time favorite albums. I’ve desperately wanted to see them live, our schedules just never aligned.
They could have closed the evening, they were that good. Musically they were spot on, playing songs from their album as well as stripped down versions from their itunes session, they even played brand new songs that might have been their first live performance. More than all that the audience was more into them than any other concert I attended all weekend. There’s an asphalt tarmac in front of the Sasquatch stage which always had people dancing and physically engaging with the music. The grassy hills all around were generally full of people laying calmly on blankets, baked out of their minds, or just enjoying music. The Head and the Heart had those people on their feet dancing and engaging as if they were down below.
The Sasquatch stage performances were the one time that I really got to experience the festival as a pure music lover, I had no pictures to take, not jockeying for optimal camera position, I was able to lay back and become a part of something with forty thousand other people.
Rumblings within the press crowd concerning Zola Jesus convinced me to check them out. Even standing atop a five foot stage could make Zola’s lead woman, Nika Roza Danilova seem tall, but her presence was something to behold. At just 4’11” and 90 lbs he was amazing to see so much voice and power come out of that tiny frame.
She followed a similar trend to other bands like Electric Guest, Little Dragon, tUnE-yArDs, and Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, with an eclectic mix of traditional rock instruments with electronic synthesizers and beats, but her voice steals the show. To me the lyrics were unintelligible and sparse, but her lusty whaling was beautiful, bigger than the meager Yeti stage on which she was performing. People were talking about her long after the show was over and when there are more than a hundred other bands performing, sticking in your mind is high praise.
By the evening of my second day at Sasquatch I began to understand the logic behind their scheduling. Soft and warm music from noon to about three, then you gradually mix in heavier rock and bumping hip-hop. As the sun began to set the ravers emerged and many of the acts got more trippy, more danceable, and more electronic. Zola Jesus blending seamlessly into Little Dragon is exactly what they had in mind.
Mid set I ran back to the media building to use the bathroom, (we had a real bathroom there, not a port-o-potty). When I got there several other members of the media were telling anyone who would listen, “hey something really great is going on over at the Bigfoot stage, you should check it out.” They of course were talking about Little Dragon who was in the middle of impressing the socks off everyone.
I was mildly aware and looking forward to this Swedish band who, despite working against all the odds has attained a significant level of success in America. When it comes to this electronic cum soul cum hip-hop cum indie rock quartet, Little Dragon has mastered the style. There are few artists who you can listen to and say to yourself, this is the future. Lead singer Yukimi Nagano has the voice of any great soul singer and it becomes the glue that holds all the genres together.
Everyone in the media building was right, something was happening over at the Bigfoot stage, it was an incredible performance that along with The Head and the Heart was the concert of the day.
The evening closed with the landscape of sound that is Bon Iver. I’d heard about them for a while but I could not have told you one of their songs, even after watching them for ninety minutes I couldn’t identify anything as Bon Iver. Don’t misconstrued that last sentence as a poor review, I loved the show, for me Bon Iver is someone I would love to see live again I just don’t think I’ll listen to their music in my car. Unlike Jack White, Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, or The Head and the Heart, Bon Iver is not the toe tapping, sing-along kind of band.
The stage was littered with large candelabras and shredded dangling chunks of draped fabrics, it looks like a haunted house set for a seance. Maybe that’s what they did, raise the spirits with a cacophony of beautiful sounds from a variety of instruments. I stand by what I said earlier, The Head and the Heart could have played this slot and done so perfectly, but I can understand why Bon Iver closed the evening.
Day three, my second day of Sasquatch, came to a close and I made my way back to my campsite. The following day would be the last of the festival and I was preparing for a marathon day, where I would try to fit in as many performances as possible before I turned back west and crossed the Cascade mountains home.
As I lay down on my sleeping bag my mind briefly reflected on just how much music I’d already seen in just two days. If I were to wait for every band to come to Seattle and see them individually it could take years, this was a like a hundred yard dash of music.
UPDATE: Okay, in preparation for this article I listened to all the bands again (that I haven’t been obsessed with) and I’d like to change what I said about Bon Iver, I’ll totally listen to this in my car.