It’s hard to describe the Sasquatch! Music Festival, but imagine somewhere between sleepaway camp and a post-apocalyptic world in which the only survivors are a bunch of musicians and hipster 20-somethings. While the festival has traditionally tried to separate itself from other more commercialized festivals by “focusing on the music,” there has been a shift in recent years. I hate to be a music snob, but I can’t help judging the many people who only go to see the headliners, try to get a selfie with a random celebrity and sleep through all the great bands who play early in the day. .
That being said, there’s a lot I love about Sasquatch! For one, it’s in the most beautiful place in the whole world. Seriously, there’s nothing more magical than watching a killer show while the sun sets over the Columbia Gorge.
This year’s festival brought together some of my favorite musicians for four days of incredible music, with everyone from Lana Del Ray to King Tuff to St. Vincent. Every year, I say that it was my favorite time going, but I’m not sure if anything can beat this year’s festival. Here are some of my highlights, from the music to the people to the #festivalculture. I’ve included a playlist along with my photo diary to get you into the festival spirit, even if you weren’t there.
Every year, one of the first things I do when I get to Sasquatch is go and spend a few minutes looking out over the Columbia Gorge. I’m not the only person to be inspired by the Gorge. Folksinger Woodie Guthrie traveled to the Pacific Northwest to write a collection of songs for a documentary on the construction of public works projects in the area. While the documentary never came out, some of Guthrie’s most memorable songs were compiled in the “The Columbia River Collection.”
Listen to: “Roll on Columbia”
Seattle duo SISTERS have made a splash since forming last year. The group, which is the project of Andrew Vait and Emily Westman, is able to create a full sound by playing no less than three instruments each. The two often switch instruments, even during the same song. While this could be chaotic, for Vait and Westman, it’s a natural process and keeps them on their feet. Check out our interview from Sasquatch with the band.
Listen to: “Back 2 U”
I’m a big fan of good pop music, and New York-based Cardiknox packs poppy electronic tracks with a punch. Lead singer Lonnie Angle commands the stage with dance moves worthy of any aerobics class while Thomas Dutton mixes beats straight out of an ‘80s dance club.
Listen to: “Hold Me Down”
Canadian rockers Mother Mother brought the energy of a rock band to a festival traditionally dominated by indie acts. Despite lead singer Ryan Guldemond’s rough look, he perfectly combines a harder rock sound with sweet, ‘80s pop moments.
Listen to: “Modern Love”
GoldLink is a rapper on the cusp of success. The Virginia native is still relatively unknown, but could easily be the next, more self-reflective Kanye (his debut project is called “The God Complex.”) He is a confident performer, but knows that he still has to put on a show, and he does.
Listen to: “When I Die”
I’ll admit it. I’m not the biggest fan of Of Monsters and Men, probably because I’ve heard “Little Talks” one too many times on the radio. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the group. The undeniable energy evident in the group’s pop folk tracks comes through in spades in its live sound. I even found myself dancing along to the infectious “Mountain Sound.”
Listen to: “Crystals”
A dark storm straight out of “The Wizard of Oz” didn’t stop singer/guitarist Angel Olsen from capturing an audience of fans with her glistening, sorrowful melodies. If there is one word overused in music recently, it’s ethereal, but it describes Olsen’s haunting vocals perfectly. Olsen was given a night set, which is usually reserved for groups with the hutzpah to match a drunk, high-energy crowd. But she didn’t need theatrics or more upbeat music to prove her worth at a festival setting.
Listen to: “Windows”
Since the release of “No Cities to Love,” Sleater-Kinney has been able to juggle its heritage as a fundamental group of the riot grrrl movement and current status as Pacific Northwest rock stars. During its set, the group mixed older tracks like “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” with “No Cities” tracks like “Fangless.” Despite the less than enthusiastic audience, Sleater-Kinney brought it like it was 1994.
Listen to: “A New Wave”
Multi-instrumentalist Will Butler is much more than the brother of Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler. His solo work is more pared down than his contributions to Arcade Fire’s stadium-worthy sound. He was recognized last year for his work on the soundtrack for “Her,” which got him an Oscar nod. Without the constraints of being in one of the biggest rock bands of the past decade, Butler is able to experiment, and he might just find equal success on his own.
Listen to: “Something’s Coming”
It’s nice to take a break from the music and hear some comedy. Cameron Esposito was a highlight of this year’s festival, telling jokes about the kind of weird people who go to music festivals and how her side mullet helps her attract the ladies.
Listen to: Buzzfeed’s “Ask a Lesbian With Cameron Esposito”
Diarrhea Planet is the perfect description for the kind of music the band plays. Consisting of no less than four guitarists, the six-piece group sounds like not one, but two ‘70s hair metal bands forced to play a high school dance, at the same time. The show had by far the best mosh pit of Sasquatch! and the band was just as into it as the audience was, if not more.
Listen to: “Platinum Girls”
Diarrhea Planet’s only hair rival was King Tuff, aka Kyle Thomas. Thomas is truly a king, commanding the stage in his signature denim vest. He’s a sort of idol for 20-something wannabe hipster/punks who are just waiting for the day their garage band will open for any artist on Burger Records. And King Tuff does not disappoint, launching into each song with the ease of a king comfortable in his thrown, but also with the energy of a court jester.
Listen to: “Black Moon Spell”
I saw twenty one pilots by accident, having arrived to the main stage early. I immediately pulled my camera out as lead singer Tyler Joseph ran around the stage and ended up at the back of the mosh pit, performing from a perch on the sound booth. While the group’s rap/pop sound might not be for everyone, Joseph’s showmanship is impressive.
Listen to: “Stressed Out”
Father John Misty, aka Joshua Tillman, wins two awards for this year’s Sasquatch!: one for being biggest heartthrob, and the other for being most difficult to photograph. Performing from an almost pitch black stage, Tillman was not much more then a silhouette in the blue mist. Despite being almost invisible, he was still a captivating performer. I’m still a little bitter that I only got a few good shots of him, but I would see him again any day, just to hear him play the love anthem “I Love You, Honeybear.”
Listen to: “I Love You, Honeybear”
It is clear from last year’s “Too Bright,” that Perfume Genius has truly found his sound, even though it took three albums to get there. Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, is flamboyant in quiet ways, sporting red lipsticks and the shiniest black loafers I have ever seen. His stage presence is equally subdued, but every move is intentional. Despite playing to a hometown crowd, the audience seemed only passively interested, which was sad.
Listen to: “Queen”
I’m not the biggest fan of the Decemberists’ last two releases, which have abandoned the odd, theatrical narratives of the group’s early work in favor of more mainstream, folk melodies. But the group still brings the same energy to its live shows. Lead singer Colin Meloy reminisced about writing songs for his son and brought out more harmonica than I have ever seen at a Decemberists concert before.
Listen to: “A Beginning Song”
It’s rare to have an artist who it’s difficult to draw comparisons to, but Kate Tempest is singular. The British rapper/poet/playwright has toured the world, collaborated with the BBC and the Royal Shakespeare Company and won many poetry slams. While Sasquatch! was her first American festival, it sure didn’t show. Her set was solid, as Tempest smoothly shifted from spoken words to more melodic raps about the power of being yourself. It was effortless, but only because Tempest made it look so.
Listen to: “Circles”
Watching a Shovels & Rope set, it’s as if the husband and wife duo is playing just to themselves. Switching back and force between guitar and drums, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent subvert the southern folk/country tradition with colorful ditties full of soul and rock and roll. They were a little bit of an odd choice for the festival, but were definitely appreciated by a crowd craving some good, heartfelt tunes.
Listen to: “The Devil Is All Around”
The only competition that Father John Misty had for biggest heartthrob was Shakey Graves, and I’m still not sure Misty deserves the title. Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) became famous for his one-man band set-up, with him playing guitar and singing while keeping the beat with a suitcase drum set. Last year’s “And the War Came” marked a shift for Rose-Garcia, and in a year, he went from playing one of the smaller stages at Sasquatch! to the main stage at the 2015 festival. It’s not clear if the Texas crooner can make it in the big time, but he’s sure going to give it a try.
Listen: “Dearly Departed”
Since indie rock band Rilo Kiley broke up in 2011, singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis has struggled to find herself as a solo artist. And while last year’s “The Voyager” is tainted with the bitterness of a star who has been screwed one too many times, Lewis seems to have finally found a true sound. But she’s not nervous to focus on the past. Her set was a thoughtful journey through her career, though Lewis, in her technical jumpsuit of rainbows and blue skies, is set on the future.
Listen to: “She’s Not Me”
The first time I saw St. Vincent, it was at a 150-person venue. The last time I saw her, it was in a concert hall, and she was performing with David Byrne, her “Love This Giant” collaborator. Over the course of a few albums, St. Vincent has become a bonafide rock star already revered for her spastic guitar melodies and otherworldly stage presence. Despite her notoriety, St. Vincent isn’t willing to separate herself from her loyal fans. Like at most shows, she ended her set by crowd surfing through the audience, a star riding the wave of rapid, if not a little surprising, mainstream fame.
Listen to: “Birth In Reverse”
Courtney Barnett has broken into the music scene not with a bang, but a quiet whisper. The Australian musician doesn’t write complicated music. One of the most compelling songs off of this year’s “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” is “Depreston,” a track about the depressing task of house hunting. That doesn’t mean Barnett can’t be loud: “Pedestrian At Best” is a garage rock track that seems at odds with Barnett’s quiet demeanor on stage. Barnett might just be the sleeper hit, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of her work, nor her active live performance.
Listen to: “Depreston”
Phox’s music might, at first listen, seem like nothing more than gleaming indie pop, but there is serious technical skill behind tracks like “1936” and “Slow Motion.” Sadly, the band didn’t seem to totally capture the festival energy, despite lead singer Monica Martin’s cool, smooth vocals.
Listen to: “1936”
Danish singer MØ might have been the artist I was most excited to see at the festival, and she didn’t disappoint. She writes the kind of catchy, dance music that can be appreciated by pop lovers and music snobs alike. Often recording in her room, MØ puts herself directly into her work, even in her high-profile collaborations with Major Lazer and Iggy Azalea. Try to catch her before she’s entered the big leagues.
Listen to: “Waste of Time”
I probably wouldn’t admit it at a party, but I’m not the biggest Tame Impala fan. I’ve found the group’s music to be a little boring, but the Australian indie rockers impressed me. They rocked hits like “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “Elephant” as the sun set over the Gorge. You could say I’m a convert.
Listen to: “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?”
The festival closed with Kendrick Lamar playing for the first time since the release of the critically and commercially acclaimed “To Pimp A Butterfly.” To the frustration of many fans, Lamar only played one track off of the album and somehow performed “M.A.A.D. City” three times. But as the festival came to an end, Lamar asked for everyone to take out their phones and hold them over their heads. A sea of artificial light illuminated the thousands of fans swaying to the music. It was a beautiful moment and the kind of thing you can only see at Sasquatch! Until next year…
Listen to: “M.A.A.D. City”