Review: Stars Align at Sasquatch 2014

2014 brought my lucky 5th trek down to Washington State’s natural amphitheatre, and the stars really did align to make it all possible, after losing my passport only hours before we departed. Karma was on my side though apparently last week, as it was over the whole weekend, getting across the border no sweat with an expired drivers license and tattered birth certificate.

This year’s festival surprised even a well-seasoned veteran like me with a diverse and energetic mix of artists, perfect weather and an ample supply of good times and 24oz Budweiser cans. This year saw an expansion of the festival stages, with a bigger, better Yeti stage for folk/roots and blues acts such as Shakey Graves and the Growlers, a super-sized dance tent that – still packed – allowed cushy dance room and supersonic visual displays. The Narwhal stage, which is a relatively new addition, sat front and center showcasing grunge, surf-rock and punky acts from the Pacific Northwest, notably Dude York and Seattle’s Hobosexual. Another stage new this year was a slightly stranger decision on the part of the organizers, featuring jarring dub/metal/scream-o performances and gaudy carnival style dance and fire-throwing spectacles.

Stranger still, was the placement of said carnival stage, directly at the festival entrance, snapping passersby out of their spacey meandering with aggressive lights and deafening voices. Regardless of the intention, most aspects of Sasquatch 2014 spun together with ease to make this year another musical junglegym of perpetual smiles and sun-soaked hippy sways.

Here are the hits, and maybe one miss, from my experience this year at the Gorge.

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Crystal Fighters

The british alternative vibe monkeys kicked things off Friday afternoon for a sun-stomping, high energy performance that for me, was the best way to start the day. The pit was shirts-off by the second number, and the Fighters had me bobbin’, shakin’ and hip swinging from beginning to end. Highlights included their explosive rendition of “I Love London,” which threw pit-dwellers into a jumping-raving frenzy. Another was their bright and airy tune “You and I,” connecting smiles with arm waving pumps. Great to see organizers booking such a band as Crystal Fighters on the main stage early afternoon, sun burns and heart-pumping energy for everyone.

The Growlers, Shakey Graves, Hozier

I’m going to package these acts together because they all offered comparably awesome performances on the new-and-improved Yeti stage this year. Hozier stood out for me however, the 24 year old Irish kid really impressed with his lovely, inspiring and spine-tingling blues/folk ballads. Great sound on this stage this year, and with bigger crowds then I have ever seen to hear it. California grungy surf-rockers The Growlers are a favourite of mine, and kept pace with passed performances. Finally, Shakey Graves captured the crowd all on his own with a whimsical waltz-like set that offered a much needed break from the dance pit down at the main stage. Every year I am reminded why I like Yeti stage so much, always providing exceptional singer/songwriters and blues/folk acts, and definitely highlighting why a healthy balance is so important to a festival lineup.

Black Joe Lewis

How much fun was this! Totally caught off guard when I stumbled into a sunny mosh at Bigfoot stage on Sunday afternoon. Black Joe Lewis is a chameleon of a musician, blending together boot stomping good rhythm, blues instrumentals, brass, wind, and songs that range from something out of footloose, to something out of the Seattle grunge scene of the early 90’s. Let me just say my calves were never so toned after an hour of Black Joe Lewis. One of the best live shows I’ve seen in years, watch out of this guy, he’s a serious, serious talent.

Haim

These are some serious rad chicks, and are candidates for one of the coolest families in the music biz. Haim were up at the top of my festival to-do this year; they didn’t disappoint and provided a set that was as unexpected as it was enjoyable. Playing towards the end of the day on Sunday, on what was for the most part an overcast afternoon with hints of mist, the sisters from LA county brought the sun out to huge cheers from revellers down at the main stage, and created another weekend high point. The girls shied away from playing their album from start to finish, preferring off-the-cuff jams that reminded me of Jack White, amazing. Haim have showmanship in spades, and are as entertaining to watch as they are enjoyable to hear. Este Haim, bass player and QUEEN of bassface, was probably the highlight. Thank you mega-screen for such a clear closeup.

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Cut Copy

Dancing. So much dancing. Dreamy, fast, effervescent Australian electro-poppers Cut Copy closed out Saturday night on the Bigfoot stage to a huge crowd, keeping us late night festivalers warm well passed midnight. The boys focused mainly on banging out tracks from their latest album Free Your Mind, which definitely is their most danceable album to date, but did pay tribute to old favourites of mine such as “Lights and Music,” and “Strangers in the Wind.” The visuals left a bit to be desired, usually the late night electronic act is ripe with confetti, inflatable objects of every kind and tripped-out videos on the big screens – most of which I didn’t notice during the set. Either way, it was a big get-loose moment for the weekend, and kept me going until sunrise.

Queens of the Stone Age 

Now, this was probably the biggest – and most welcome – surprise for me this year. Veteran rockers Queens of the Stone Age were not on my festival to do list specifically, and I’ve seen them perform in various capacities, including last years Squamish Valley Music Festival. In the past I hadn’t been wowed, wooed or left with a lasting impression. This time however, Queens played harder, cleaner, heavier and with an execution worthy of over a decade of hits, tours and sold-out arenas. “I Wanna Make it With Chu” stood out for me as a high point of the weekend, with easily 10,000 back-up singers aiding the band. Closing out the main stage on the final night of the festival is a big task, and usually doomed by over-tired and over-cooked festivalers who generally stare blankly at the stage or opt-out entirely, but Queens had a full audience in their hands, and judging by the pain in my neck this week, it was a hair-thrashing bonanza that I won’t soon forget.

All in all, the whole experience went off without a hitch. My only miss for 2014 was the cluster-fuck of a campsite this year. Very strict parking guidelines meant that about 40,000 cars were tightly lined up leaving little room for tents, and jumbling together to block pathways and killing a usually very communal campground. I’m not sure if they were expecting more campers, or if an overeager usher went too far to keep things organized, but in the end we ended up with a real mess, and what’s worse is there was plenty of extra unused room at the opposite end of the site! But, it didn’t taint the weekend much, it just meant more quality time was spent in the festival and not boozing on car tops at camp. Best year yet, next stop Tall Tree Festival.

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WORDS: The Lion-at-Large

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