by Dru Dinero -
SGN Contributing Writer
I woke up on Friday, May 22, on a mission. Having been hit with a number of obstacles both personal and professional recently, I needed a breather - bad. Over the next four days, I would join tens of thousands of gorgeous fellow music aficionados at a setting that makes you feel as if you are living in a painting with an around-the-clock live soundtrack of some of today's finest and most innovative musical creations. The 2015 Sasquatch music festival brought names like Modest Mouse, Kendrick Lamar, Lana Del Rey, and Robert Plant out this year to The Gorge Amphitheatre, which is generously blessed with spectacular sunsets on the horizon of the Columbia River. The mix of beautiful landscapes, gracious sounds, and delicious eye-candy from all over the world makes Sasquatch an event that I would selfishly rather keep top-secret, but must share with the world as it is truly life-altering. I'm not exaggerating. Hearing my partner in crime, SGN photographer Nate Gowdy, talk about his experience last year, on how attending Sasquatch 2014 got him out of a personal and professional rut, and what I can say from my own experience, is testament that attending Sasquatch is a must-do if you are living in the Pacific Northwest.
Nate picked me up from my place at around 10 a.m. on Friday after planning to be on the I-90 East around 8:30 a.m. While we were packing Nate's '97 Toyota Corolla to the brim with camping gear, Nate says he'd been running late because he had just gotten his car back from a shop in Ballard. I commented on how they must've done a good job because I saw his anti-freeze leaking. 'They really topped off his fluids,' I thought to myself. Nate, with a worried face, asked me if I was joking, so as soon as we got to his place, we opened his car's hood to find that the radiator was stiffly pissing anti-freeze fluid out from it's side. For those of you who don't know, cars are not supposed to do that. To make a long story short, we finally hit the road around 2 p.m. with a new radiator. While we were really glad to finally be on the road, I was a bit disappointed to be missing the first act on the main stage, Seattle native Ayron Jones and The Way. I first got to know a little bit about them from a good friend of mine, Capitol Hill's beloved Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, as she was in one of their music videos. They are a rock band that is a love child between Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix mixed with hip-hop conscious lyrics, and their sound restores faith in the heart, soul, and flesh of live instruments in an age when the turning of knobs with one hand in the air is the boring expectancy of live shows. I give this description of Ayron Jones and The Way as an intro to a later part of the Sasquatch experience. An experience that shows you what is behind the curtain, the staircase between the plane where music gods become regular men and women.
After driving, stopping at rest stops, being stuck in traffic, me singing 'Savages' from Disney's Pocahontas and looking out on the grand and lush landscapes along I-90, we finally arrived at the festival around 6 p.m. After Nate and I settled into our campsite, the first order of business was to catch Action Bronson live in the flesh. Action Bronson, also known as Mr. Wonderful, is an Albanian-Jewish rapper from Queens. A former sous-chef in New York kitchens, Action Bronson must be weighing in at over 250 pounds of pure charm and wouldn't look out of place with his trademark long beard at Diesel Seattle, the bear bar on Capitol Hill, on a Saturday night. His highly energetic set including songs like 'Actin Crazy,' 'Baby Blue,' a rendition of Biz Markie's 'Just a Friend,' and the hit-single 'Easy Rider,' Mr. Wonderful brought the authentically urban sound of Queens to the rural Gorge. At one point showering the audience with marijuana bags because he believed people weren't smoking enough, Action Bronson came back for an encore after going to 'grab his chicken out of his car.' Action Bronson is a true entertainer and gives the feeling of being a really sweet and nice guy that won't hesitate to clothesline someone off their feet if they get out of line. I guess that's why along with 'Mr. Wonderful,' they also call him 'Bam Bam Baklava.'
On Saturday, Nate and I got to know our camping neighbors who were a blessing to have as neighbors. Turner and Carol are a cute, young couple from San Francisco who drove all the way to The Gorge for Sasquatch. Over the weekend we shared food, drinks and stories of our lives. Although our backgrounds couldn't be more different, the love of music and art brought us together to have deep, playful, and introspective conversations. It goes to show the great job that Sasquatch does to bring people together who would, otherwise, probably never meet. Interactions with people like Turner and Carol really give hope for our future. Whereas differences such as culture, whether LGBTQ or straight and being a minority or a part of the majority, were once used to divide, lines are blurred these days and instead of division, we get honest inquiry and excited appreciation.
Cameron Esposito, a comedian whose stand-up comedy is riddled with jokes about dealing with Neanderthal-straight men as a Lesbian began a bit flat at the El Chupacabra Tent that Saturday afternoon. Perhaps for me that was because I'm a straight guy living in a Queer Mecca in 2015, so jokes about how dumb my kind can be is a bit tired. But I also get that I am not the majority in that sense, so it could be that I am just out of touch of backwoods straight culture. Truth be told, if I wasn't up to speed with Lesbian fashion, I'd probably hit on Cameron, as she is very pretty, so there's that. To say that all of her comedy is flat, however, would be unfair. Esposito definitely had us going with her observation of the absurdity of being a Lesbian and still having to deal with a monthly period. The recounting of chunks of her body being cast out of her body by& well, her body, was enough to get the crowd, myself included, laughing out loud.
Los Angeles' classic hip-hop group Dilated Peoples delivered a bouncy set to a sea full of Hip-hop fans, both old and new, on the Bigfoot stage. While only the diehard fans knew most of Dilated Peoples' classic songs, the majority sang along with the Kanye West-featuring hit called 'This Way.' The warm temperature, mixed with it being the first day that most festival attendees got to enjoy a full day of music, created a vibrant energy in the air that set the tone for the rest of the day.
After this, Nate and I made our way to the main stage to catch Philadelphia's The War on Drugs. Having never heard them before, I began to take in the scenery a bit more during their set. Their smooth American rock proved to be a great soundtrack to look off into the sunset's golden hour while taking in the sights of beautiful men and women frolicking about the grassy areas of the amphitheatre. All races, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages and anything that can serve as a dividing factor between interpersonal interactions or inner inhibitions apparently seizing to exist. Nate pointed out to me how many American flags crowned the heads of young people looking to show some feeling of nationalistic pride, which I must say I haven't seen for a while. Funny enough, Nate was talking about me being in that group, since I had a Star-Spangled bandana on. I went on to tell Nate that I believe my generation was greatly affected by 9/11 and the economic crash of 2008, so we decided to test out the process of government that had been taught to us since an early age. So after my generation turned 18, our first vote went on to elect America's first black president. Since then, we've gotten healthcare reform, marriage equality, marijuana legalization, and capped Osama Bin Laden, for good measure. So needless to say, we feel pretty proud of ourselves as Americans. Looking out into the crowd, it was a beautiful sight to see how the men and women of modern hippie-Americana culture (who would otherwise be stiff beauty queens) are letting their hair down and their personalities and thoughts flow - just as much as the bohemian garments they wear to Sasquatch do in the wind. Anyway, that's what Philadelphia's The War on Drugs had me thinking about. Fitting, I reckon.
Chromeo took the main stage at 7:15 p.m. to a massive crowd looking to get their dance on. Going through their hit list such as 'Tenderoni,' 'Old 45's,' and 'Jealous (I Ain't With It),' Chromeo fans were under Dave 1 and P-Thugg's spell. Performing with their signature keyboards that are attached to a pair of glowing-mannequin lady legs in red heels, Chromeo's Dave 1 was clearly a heartthrob for Carol, our camping neighbor. Perhaps not surprisingly, her boyfriend Turner resembled Dave 1 quite a bit.
Finishing our day, Nate was hell-bent on seeing the Austin, Texas, band Spoon. About thirty seconds into the first song I heard, Spoon devoured my attention. Spoon's front man Britt Daniel is one hell of a showman. The passion bursts in movement and vocals make it seem as if you are watching a young Rolling Stones in action. They definitely made a fan out of me.
I'd like to revisit the beginning of the article where I missed Ayron Jones and The Way's set. Saturday evening I actually met Ayron while hanging out with a security person near our campsite. We struck up conversation, I told him I'd wanted to catch his set, we shared some legal Washington bud and talked about dreams and how to accomplish those dreams. Ayron was thrilled to have 'put on' for the city of Seattle and talked about how smashing a guitar on the main stage at Sasquatch was something he'd always wanted to do. He told me he was walking around, riding high, taking in the sights, proud and excited of what he'd done. I congratulated him, he thanked me for my hospitality and off he went to find more adventure. As a diehard music fan, I can't help appreciate the wonderful opportunity Sasquatch provides for fans to mix and mingle with artists, as well as the opportunity of playing for massive audiences that up-and-coming artists get from Sasquatch.
When Sunday rolled around, Nate was excited to show me St. Vincent. Told me he'd marry Anne Clark, the lead singer. Upon laying eyes on Annie, as I now call her, I knew why he would say that. Annie is a lunatic-Barbie doll. Her oh so unique style would be incomplete without her guitar. There seems to be too much perfected-creativity in everything Annie does. It's almost unfair, to be quite honest. Annie has mastered her sexy robot dance moves, her guitar skills are impeccable, and she sings like a true rock 'n' roll seductress. Listen to the self-titled album and you will be as hooked as I am.
Being a sucker for '60s and '70s culture, Lana Del Rey is one of my favorite singers out today. I've seen Lana Del Rey at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which was one hell of a venue to see her in and now I've seen her at the Gorge. Truth be told, I prefer Lana in California. Unfortunately, the wind blew up pretty heavy at the Gorge around the time of Lana's set and had her dark hair and dust from the desert blowing into the singer's mouth. At least that's what it seemed like. The Brooklyn princess still looked like a jewelry box ballerina amidst her two, slanted skyscrapers as her backdrop, but the true Lana Del Rey experience was a bit altered by the rough environment.
I'm kind of ashamed, but I have to admit I didn't listen to Led Zeppelin as much as I should have growing up. 'Stairway to Heaven' undeniably made it into my boom box as a teenager, but even after I'd discovered The Rolling Stones and The Beatles while not doing too many drugs during my teenage years, the Led Zeppelin sound was drowned out for me as high-babble. Well, here I am after being in Seattle a few years and having learned a few things about life and I and Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters speak the same language. Robert Plant, the former Led Zeppelin lead singer, is a legend at work. His shamanistic vocal loops along with the dynamic band compositions sound like true musical wisdom is being shared. Incredible.
On Monday, I had two very clear objectives. I had to watch two of hip-hop's premiere acts, ScHoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar. ScHoolboy Q's music is heavily influenced by his life story of being a Hoover Crip in South Central Los Angeles, all the while he was raising a sweet little girl. His album Oxymoron is one of the genre's most exciting recent releases. Q is an energetically dynamic rapper and as a performer he definitely has a 'good guy' personality, at one point thanking the fans for believing in him, feeding him, and giving his daughter the opportunity to go to a good school. While Q's story is unfortunately all too common in South Central LA, songs like 'Man of the Year,' 'Collard Greens,' and 'Gangsta' made a connection with the audience like none other. ScHoolboy had original fans and new ones jumping and dancing to the new age sounds of gangsta rap.
'King' Kendrick Lamar took the Sasquatch main stage Monday night and delivered his first performance since releasing his revolutionary hip-hop album 'To Pimp a Butterfly.' Kendrick's debut album, 'good kid, m.A.A.d. city' tells the story of an average kid from Compton caught up in the social and all-too-real bloody crossfire between Bloods and Crips in Los Angeles. Kendrick came out wearing a Canadian Tuxedo accompanied by a full band to the most massive crowd of the weekend. At one point, security had to get people to move back because people were crushing the front-rowers. Kendrick, also known as K. Dot, which was his underground moniker, made it an effort to make his performance more of a party than a show. His interactions with the audience were honest and heartfelt, calling the audience 'like family' at one point. Kendrick's story is one that's very relatable to me - a young man trying to overcome his violent and criminal environment and poor socio-economic background, and finally realizing the true potential that exists for a young man and dealing with the social-PTSD of such a thing. While I've definitely never lost friends to gang warfare, the environment that I grew up in on Las Vegas' East Side was dog-eat-dog in many ways. Much like Kendrick, I did my best to stay away from things that I thought could get me into permanent trouble and watched the consequences of those who took a different road. Songs like 'Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe,' 'Swimming Pools (Drank),' 'Money Trees' and 'Backseat Freestyle' reminded me of being 17 years old and having a chip on my shoulder with my clique running around Las Vegas' underage parties in my black '99 Nissan Sentra with chrome 20-inch rims bumping my stereo with heavy bass and treble. Ah, the good ol' days!
Kendrick proved himself a World Class-performer at The Gorge while commanding his band and leading the crowd into an emotional roller-coaster with songs such as 'Sing About Me' and 'Real.' Bringing it back to a party, Kendrick brought two audience members, Luis and Payton, up on stage to perform 'm.A.A.d. city' with him. Only performing 'Alright' from his latest album, many fans wanting to hear singles such as 'King Kunta' and 'The Blacker The Berry' from the superb 'To Pimp A Butterfly' were left disappointed. The new album is dark and sees Kendrick looking inward and realizing how his upbringing has affected the beginnings of his adult life as he goes mainstream. With the vibe of Sasquatch being the way it is, I must say that upon processing it all, I think Kendrick made a smart move. 'To Pimp A Butterfly' is a very adult and emotional album and going from party mode to dark soul-searching mode wasn't probably a good way to end the festival. Either way, Kendrick had a suburban teenager walking with his friends saying, 'You know I don't usually curse, but tonight has been fucking epic!' Little does that suburban teenager know that that's what many kids who were listening to hip hop - when it was viewed as something only dumb, hood-rat people listened to in the '90s - felt when names like 2pac, Biggie, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg ruled our boom boxes. Long live the beauty of hip hop. Go back and really listen to the greats, learn about and treat the culture with respect and you won't be disappointed. I promise.
This being my second year of Sasquatch, I'm left feeling musical withdrawals once more. I will most certainly be back next year, as it is now a necessity for me. I don't know how people live without it, to be honest.
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