Natural Beauty & A Massive Lineup: Four Days Squatchin’ at Sasquatch! 2016 [Festival Review]

Beloved and high-demand Memorial Day festival Sasquatch! came to an end today. Now a staple in the Pacific Northwest festival scene, Sasquatch! boasted an impressive lineup spanning all genres and musical backgrounds. There was something for just about everyone at legendary Gorge Amphitheater this past weekend.

Now operated by music industry giants Live Nation, Sasquatch! has undergone many changes over the festival’s lifetime. After an unsuccessful attempt to span the fest over two weekends, event organizers returned to their traditional four days of madness.

I was surprised to see the landscape of Eastern Washington. It was very different than the rich green Northwest I’ve spent the past two weeks exploring. Quincy and the surrounding landscape is flat and fairly sparse, with farm land sprawling in nearly every direction. Few trees occupy The Gorge. But once inside the festival, I realized why the amphitheater has been dubbed time and time again as the most beautiful venue in the world. The festival itself is of an epic proportion, but what truly makes the Sasquatch! experience so special is the location. Nicknamed “Heaven’s Amphitheater”, The Gorge offers breathtaking views of the canyon, the Columbia river, and the foothills of the Cascade Range.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Gates opened at 3pm. Festival goers steadily filled the venue as the first day came to a start. The variety of the weekend to come was apparent in the first acts; among them an interesting lo-fi performance by Unknown Mortal Orchestra and a dreamlike down-tempo set by Alina Baraz.

As the sun went down Friday night, I experienced my first ever Gorge sunset with a hell of a view, standing at the top of the massive hill that sprawls down to main stage. Unfortunately, also unforgettable than the sunset was the performance by New York rapper and major headliner A$AP Rocky. Excitement and high anticipation were met quickly with disappointment for many. Thirty minutes late starting his set, the critically acclaimed East Coast rap superstars’ performance was far less engaging than expected.

Meanwhile over at Bigfoot stage, Yeasayer humbly engaged fans with a psychedelic and somewhat short set, surrounded by cardboard props of historical figures. Afterwards, we enjoyed an incredible performance by Chet Faker. With his four-piece band, the dreamy set successfully hit fans right in the feels. Both Chet’s intimate relationship with music and his drum were showcased as he soulfully played on, despite an all-too-typical Bigfoot equipment failure that cut the sound mid-song.

Chet Faker

Saturday revealed an interesting array of artists, both local and beyond. Earlier in the day, The Dip came at us with some unexpected funky soul. Seattle based hip-hop group Brothers from Another performed with intense energy and rhymes hitting close to the local Washington community to a loving crowd. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats played with soul and distinct, gospel-infused sound. Folk lovers were satisfied thoroughly by the almost haunting performance by M. Ward.

Digable Planets drove Sasquatch! stage wild as the sun set Saturday night. M83 stepped in afterwards with an undeniable energy and meanwhile at El Chupacabra duo Marian Hill threw down for some bass-thirsty fans. The indisputable sexiness of their performance permeated the tent and left the crowd craving more. Rudimental followed, treating us to a set stacked with drum n’ bass and breakbeats, leaving everyone thirsty for more.

Over at the main stage, festival goers went ecstatic as Dr. Steve Brule himself announced Major Lazer in full character. The group gifted the crowd with a hard-hitting set full of mind blowing lights and dance performance. Tycho ended the night with a bang over at Bigfoot stage.

Aside from the sheer beauty of the venue, Sasquatch! also seems unmatched in diversity. A massive event and jam-packed eclectic lineup draws an eclectic crowd. I met all types of people from all walks of life this weekend. The festival has been dubbed as “the biggest frat party”. While I can definitely understand this perspective, it does not represent Sasquatch’s culture as a whole. Never before have I seen so many large groups in matching costumes at a festival before, ranging from a banana gang to a cluster of lavender-lipsticked lips. Also unique to Sasquatch! This year was a lineup gifted with tons of female-lead talent and women musicians, something all too rare at many festivals. Other aspects attendees appreciated about the venue itself were water stations scattered around the fest, and the bathrooms were relatively well taken care of.

Savages

Unlike many festivals, Sunday means two whole days of Squatchin’ lies ahead. But due to increasingly bad weather, high wind concerns disrupted and even canceled some sets early in the day. Houndmouth was never even able to play. The wind was wild. A mini vortex sent an entire canopy and other gear spiraling through the air and through the Gold campground. A wildfire raged nearby and caused evacuations just miles away.

Despite a rough start, the day was still packed full of talent. Savages played a wildly energetic post-punk set. A lovely performance by old school indie heroes Yo La Tengo was enjoyed by both die-hard fans and confused newcomers alike. I thoroughly enjoyed Mac Demarco, especially as he played his sultry “Ode to Viceroy”, although the set was not loved by all. Icelandic Kaleo moaned out bluesy tunes, and Purity Ring enchanted excited fans playing beneath a raining curtain of LEDs. A most notable Sunday act was Bauuer, a producer new to me. The 27-year-old Philly producer filled the El Chupacabra tent with mind-blowing bass and dancing bodies. Leon Bridges didn’t let the weather get him down; the blues-rock God played an epic unplugged set, dancing through fans at the main stage. The Alabama Shakes shook the ground with their distinctively Southern roots rock stomp sound that’s been catching on like wildfire. Closing the main stage on Saturday, The Cure played a truly magical set, melting their crowd together in nostalgia. Timeless classics such as “Pictures of You” and “Love Song” were brought to life. The second encore of “Boys Don’t Cry” echoed up the hill to teary eyed, die-hard fans. And as much as I love The Cure, the highlight of my night was over at Bigfoot stage, where Big Boi and dynamic indie-electronic duo Phantogram performed as Big Grams in a seamless and surprising blend that straight stole my heart.

Big Boi and Phantogram as Big Grams. Photo by Emily Kemper

By the time the wind and the festival died down, the campgrounds looked even more apocalyptic than usual. The wind tore down camps. Battered tents and canopies lay several sites over from where they were set up. Some of us lost camping gear and others left early due to the harsh weather. But despite certain hardships the fest faced this year, Sasquatch! 2016 provided innumerable memorable performances, a lineup packed full of almost unmatched variety, and a view that none of us will ever forget.

Per usual, I think we all left the festival with a heavy heart. Even after four straight days of getting down with your friends to genre-blending music madness, time still flies by too damn fast. This year Sasquatch! has set the bar high; we are looking forward to seeing how the lineup could possibly be any more diverse. Regardless, there is no doubt that next year’s Memorial Day weekend at The Gorge will be phenomenal.

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