By Andy Bookwalter
By Sunday morning of the four day Sasquatch Music Festival, I wished I’d brought band-aids or at least some better footwear, because my blisters were bigger than my actual feet. Fortunately I’m pretty handy, so I was able to make some effective band-aids out of paper towels and Gorilla Tape©. I chucked my Chuck Taylors into the trunk of the car for the rest of the weekend and headed out.
Here’s a stumper: is it relatively easy for a bunch of people who can sing to get together and harmonize, or is good harmonizing a skill on top of singing? Alialujah Choir from Portland would probably know the answer to this, but I just thought of it so I can’t ask them. Most of what people do with their voices (ordering food, complaining, yelling at their dogs) is pretty annoying but good harmonizing makes you happy for the possibilities.
Alialujah Choir (kind of hard to say once you realize that it’s not Hallelujah Choir) is sort of a side project for members of about six Portland bands (Weinland; Norfolk & Western; M. Ward; Blind Pilot; Hook & Anchor; Neko Case), and whatever they do in their primary bands the vocal skills they bring to AC are significant and beautiful. A little folky, a little country, a little rock and they all wore suits. Pretty much Portland in a nutshell. Here’s a taste:
I planned on seeing Shakey Graves, Strand of Oaks, and Black Whales, on the Sasquatch, Bigfoot, and Uranus (hee hee) stages respectively, but damned if I didn’t get lured into another spell of “sit in the grass and let them come to me,” which is how I ended up seeing Kinski and My Goodness on the Yeti stage. I don’t think I’m much of a math-rock guy, but Matt tells me that although Kinski are good music nerd fodder they are only “sort of mathy” so I was glad I didn’t have to throw myself into yet another complicated genre.
I did like Kinski, though. Their set was mostly instrumental and just intricate enough to please the little tiny Rush fan inside me that never quite died, and I suspect that Kinski is one of those influential bands with rabid cult followings that nonetheless draw about 50 people to their shows.
Also, I’m pretty sure I should have been high for their set.
Speaking of being high, it takes about 30 seconds to tell when a Sasquatch attendee is from out of state. They will invariably start talking about how weird it is that you can smoke weed right out in the open, totally legally. If they are from Washington, they will start smoking weed well before the 30 seconds are up.
I don’t smoke weed, but Washington band My Goodness always makes me happy. Lead singer/guitarist Joel Schneider seemed to make the ladies pretty happy too, as I noticed a lot more pushing their way to the front than during, say, Kinski or Diarrhea Planet. I don’t blame them – Mr. Schneider is one sexy bitch.
Schneider also plays the guitar real good. His band sounds like what I always wished The Black Keys sounded like, but don’t. And since My Goodness actually does sound like that, it frees up the Black Keys to do whatever the hell they want. Handy!
In Sasquatch fashion news, the look for women continues to be high-waisted Daisy Duke mom shorts. For the men of Sasquatch, you can’t go wrong wearing a banana suit and a Camelbak filled with vodka. There were less costumes than in previous years, but I did see one bunny, one gorilla, a group of about 12 bananas and a couple of Jesuses (or is it “Jesi?”)
Shovels and Rope was my big unexpected Sasquatch discovery from two years ago. Husband and wife duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst owned the crowd on the smaller Yeti stage back then, to the point of good naturedly shaming about 1000 mustachioed hipsters into picking up their trash on the grassy field. Switching back and forth effortlessly between various combinations of acoustic and electric guitar, keyboard, drums, and harmonica, Michael and Cary Ann have the kind of chemistry that I always assume (or hoped) that Johnny and June Carter Cash had.
I was concerned this year, because S&R were to play on the huge Sasquatch main stage, and I wondered how the loss of intimacy going from a relatively small stage to the asphalt amphitheater would change the dynamic. My first impression wasn’t encouraging; their whole set up took up about as much space as a sheet of plywood on a stage the size of a small soccer field. Also, at the start of the set the sound was, how shall I put it…crap. I assumed that the sound crew just hadn’t got the band figured out, but later I learned that Shovels & Rope, by their own admission, is constantly using equipment on the very edge of ruin. Apparently it was a wonder they got sound out of it at all.
With the aural bugs worked out I was treated to a funny, sometimes sad, and overall awesome set of pure Americana. Although they didn’t fill the amphitheater with fans, they played the hell out of their songs to the crowd that was there, and I suspect that they would have played just as well for half the crowd, or a quarter, or 20 idiots who were just staking out their spots for Robert Plant. I left a bigger fan then when I got there, no small feat.
Speaking of leaving, I had a choice to make. I was morbidly curious about what rock god Robert Plant would bring. I figured there were better odds on an amazing show than a spectacular train wreck of a washed up grandpa, but I figured either way the spectacle would be worth it. Also, I love love love Courtney Barnett, who would be playing the next day. On the other hand, bed. And real food. And the relative quiet of my home.In the end I chose to go home to my wife and kids, and leave Robert and Courtney for the ticket buying suckers. (I heard later that both artists played fantastic shows)
Bands I heard enough of to wish I’d seen more: St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Ex Hex, Father John Misty, Perfume Genius.
One final note: Tickets to Sasquatch were $350 this year, not including camping. Not a bad deal, but the fact that it sells out every year tells me that tough economic times are over, my friends. It’s all hookers and cheese from here on out for Team USA!