I learned while on vacation last year that Sasquatch (exclamation point!) was the best undiscovered music festival in the country, and I’m happy to report that’s still true. The three-day fest, held Memorial Day weekend at The Gorge — a breathtakingly beautiful venue hanging over the Columbia River in central Washington State — boasts small crowds, terrific programming, and a laid-back vibe juiced by thousands of camping hippies living in communal bliss out in the parking lot. I scheduled yet another personal trip up here for the ’09 festival and was pleased to discover that all of the above, combined with moonless, star-stocked nights and the kind of weather I’d like to imagine God has running up in heaven, makes for a pretty transcendent experience — which I suppose explains the couple having sex on the ridge in full view of 25,000 people at sundown on Saturday. (They were applauded heartily.)
Once again, aspects of the lineup were stronger than Coachella: Saturday night’s dominant headlining block of The Decemberists, Yeah Yeah Yeahs (just outstanding), and Kings of Leon. Or Monday’s well-crafted afternoon run on the mainstage, from the pleasant twiddling of Grizzly Bear through the dance parties of Santigold (who brought a full band) and Gogol Bordello, then back into the placid stillness of Fleet Foxes. That the harmonic local five-piece was able to calm the same masses who’d just moments before been flailing about like whirling gypsy dervishes was no small feat, but as their modern madrigals washed across the crowd — along with the first breeze of the day — it was the sonic equivalent of being wrapped in cool cotton sheets and laid down for a perfect nap. Magical moments such as these were in vast supply, perhaps most intensely during Explosions in the Sky’s hypnotic Monday night set, as their sweeping Texas soundscapes guided the sun to sleep and the festival to its close.
Other standouts: King Khan and the Shrines resurrecting the spirit of James Brown; Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band rawking out in their matching vests; St. Vincent torturing her red electric on “Now, Now” before dipping back into twinkling prettiness; the grateful cheer that rose from the crowd when the Airborne Toxic Event launched into “Sometime Around Midnight,” transporting their LA club vibe to a field speckled with cows; Trent Reznor proving that he can function quite well in daylight; Of Montreal demonstrating that, beneath all the theatricality, they’re also terrific live musicians; and Perry Farrell bleating the loopiest of banter during the not-horrible-sounding Jane’s Addiction reunion. My fave of his many, many classic nuggets: “We came up here when Kurt Cobain was still alive. We traded funky sunglasses. We had great parties. This is just another one for the books!”
Finally, as those who regularly follow my festival blogging know, the mark of a good set is if Aunt Whittlz gets peed on, but still doesn’t leave. I’d like to thank the girl who squatted and let loose on my feet during Kings of Leon for reinforcing how much I enjoy that band. Were you out at The Gorge this weekend, Mixers? Weigh in on your experience!