Sasquatch Music & Arts Festival
May 24-27, 2013
By Andy Bookwalter
Well, that was a hoot.
Back from Sunday Sasquatch duty, with a belly telling me to lay off the fried food for a little while. (Just because you’re basically at an incredibly expensive fair it’s not a law that you have to eat that elephant ear.) I went in with a few bands I very much wanted to see (Dropkick Murphys, Elvis Costello, etc.) and a few I had heard of in passing, hoping to be pleasantly surprised along the way. And I was.
Deep Sea Diver is one of those bands I’d heard talk of on KEXP, but never connected with any specific songs. To be honest, what sucked me in was that they just seemed so dang happy to be there, playing in the sun on a Sunday afternoon. Jessica Dobson sings and plays a mean guitar. (She played with James Mercer & the Shins last year as a touring guitarist) Word on the street is that she and drummer husband Peter Mansen are religious folk of the Christian persuasion, which would explain the blessed look on Dobson’s face all through their set. Lovely stuff.
Sean Nelson owns the voice you heard a million times on “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger, which you have to admit is a great song. He has a new band and a new album coming out and he still entertains with humorous, learned pop music. I’d say if you liked Harvey Danger, or still like They Might Be Giants, you should spring for it.
Then I took a break because I’d been up since 6 a.m. and needed to rest my eyes. When I got back to my car I found a woman passed out more or less underneath it. I wasn’t parked in the main camping area, which I hear gets a little Caligula-ey. Turns out that if you show up out of the blue on day three of Sasquatch they really don’t give a crap where you camp, so I set up in the parking lot by the main gate. I’m a nice person, so I made sure she hadn’t died under my car before I went back in.
That whole episode kind of creeped me out, so I hankered for rock. I had a feeling that between Wild Belle and Fang Island, the latter would probably provide the guitars I needed. Fang Island is from New York and they play what I call “hard rock,” but the Internet calls “math rock,” “prog metal,” “post hardcore,” and a variety of other complicated names. Whatever. The crowd was enthusiastic and the band churned that enthusiasm back into more heavy, guitar-laden (mostly) instrumental goodness. The enthusiasm and appreciation by the teeming hordes for lesser known bands was a constant theme of the day, and Sasquatch was definitely the better for it.
Dropkick Murphys. The reason why I whined at (Nada Editor) Matt incessantly for weeks, tugging at his sleeve as I followed him to work and home. (“I wanna go for free” I would say in a high pitched nasal voice. “Get me a ticket NOW!”) This is the part where I’m not very objective, but DKM’s sound is really made for this kind of event. Big guitars, fast paced short songs with catchy sing along bits, a very small dash of danger, and a core of Irishness, which is familiar to their pinkish fans in a way that afropop or mariachi, as cool as that would be in a punk context, will never be. The boys pretty much stuck to the fist-pumping stuff, no slow Irish ballads.
A word here about the pit: As we know, the mosh pit is a living entity. an entity that of late is filled with guys wearing backwards caps who all call each other “Bro.” Unlike when I was young, when a Bro falls, the other Bros generally won’t pick him up, which is a shame. I’ll talk to anyone within 10 feet of me about how cool it used to be that in the middle of the most aggro pit, if the biggest meathead in the place knocked you down another big meathead would always pick you up. Now I am old, with creaky joints and rheumy eyes, and I stay out of the pit, but sometimes the pit comes to me. During DKM’s set, a youngster got knocked flat on his face right in front of me. Much to his surprise, I picked him up and sent him on his way back into the pit, where he was undoubtedly trampled to death and eaten by other Bros.
Next on my list was Shovels and Rope. There’s a reason why the boy/girl/guitar/drums/country/blues thing works so wellL: when you can manage the stripped down sound and add some witty repartee between two people who, if they aren’t “a thing,” have at least spent huge amounts of time together, it’s a beautiful thing. (In the case of S&R, the “they” is a husband and wife team of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst who hail from Charleston SC) Shovels and Rope manage it in heaps, and their too-short set was a highlight of the day. I felt like I’d discovered something new and unknown (maybe the 1000 other people in the crowd did too?), but it turns out they’ve been on Letterman and NPR and toured the hell out of America. See them next time they come to your town. That’s an order.
I spent much of Elvis Costello’s set waiting in line for an elephant ear, but thanks to the Jumbotron screens it was like he was right there next to me, also waiting for an elephant ear. Which I would have bought, for the record. Elvis and his Imposters ran through his 40 odd years of awesome music, including “Chelsea,” “Pump It Up,” “Less Than Zero,” and of course “Peace Love & Understanding.”
After Elvis there was a choice: Mumford & Sons or Primus. I like Mumford & Sons. Their mix of English accents, vests, banjos and soaring harmonies is a potent one, but they’re just so damn earnest. Primus is not earnest, Primus is weird. In fact, any physicist will tell you that Primus and M&S’ are diametrically opposed, and any attempt to bring them together would be catastrophic. So it was a pretty ballsy move on LiveNation’s part, booking them together and all.
I chose weird over earnest. We got 3D glasses before the show, as the band planned to “blow our minds sending effects out over the crowds. My mind was less than blown, but my eyes are kind of messed up and I was off to the side. Also I wasn’t stoned out of my gourd, unlike approximately 100 percent of the rest of the mostly male crowd. If I may make a gender-based generalization: Women generally don’t like Primus, and women at a festival where Mumford & Sons are playing right over the next hill really aren’t going to be seeing Les Claypool play bass and sing songs about fishing.
One final note/fashion report: If Sasquatch attendees are fashion predictor types, this summer we’ll all be dressing like filthy stuffed animals and extras from Gleaming the Cube. I’m not sure why, but there you go.