Sasquatch! 2010: A monstrous beast of a music festival

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Fans enjoying some downtime at Sasquatch! Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay

The 2010 Sasquatch! Music Festival proved to be a monstrous beast of music during its three-day run.

Throughout Memorial Day weekend, Sasquatch! featured more than 80 bands spread across three stages and a dance and comedy tent. Kicking off the summer concert season in the Pacific Northwest, the festival’s first day contained a grouping of buzz bands and established acts, making for a day of musical ecstasy.

Musical ecstacy was a theme that carried throughout the weekend. Set at the picturesque and remote Gorge Amphitheatre (about 150 miles east of Seattle), Sasquatch! boasted not only one of the most eclectic and indie-friendly lineups you’ll find, it also took place in the most beautiful spot in the country to take in a show. The sundresses, sandals, and ponchos (the festival is known for having unpredictable weather) were in full effect.

SATURDAY

America’s perfect bar band, the Hold Steady, showed that they are also the perfect festival act. Craig Finn’s story-songs helped create a rousing performance in the summer sun, filled with shout-along choruses and plenty of fists pumping in the air. As a performer Finn is like a rock n’ roll Muppet, wildly gesturing, smiling, and laughing when not singing. His enthusiasm is infectious, which is what makes the Hold Steady such a fun band to watch live. Three songs–“Rock Problems,” “Hurricane J,” and “Barely Breathing”–from the recently released Heaven is Whenever, were peppered into the set and fit perfectly alongside Finn’s other narrative tales about partying, religion, and rock n’ roll lifestyle.

Craig Finn of the Hold Steady. Photo by Christopher Nelson

In the early evening, the action really picked up on the main stage, with the National delivering an emotionally stirring set just before the sun went down. Songs from the critically acclaimed Boxer and this year’s High Violet dictated the performance. Some of the material was sparse, while other songs carried a full sound punched up by horns that filled the Gorge. As a performer, singer Matt Berninger is so compelling that you practically feel the emotion. It made for an entertaining and highly engaging show.

Anyone who doubted the hype surrounding Vampire Weekend should have seen how the nearly 20,000 people reacted to group’s sunset performance. Thousands of people on top of the Gorge’s hill jumped up and down while dancing to the likes of “Cousins,” “A-Punk,” and “Horchata.” It was the biggest set and biggest response of the day.

While the National were stirring up emotions on the main stage, Nada Surf was closing down the activities on the solar-powered Bigfoot stage. The set was heavy on covers, several from their new album, the palindromic If I Had A Hi Fi. The Go-Betweens’ “Love Goes On” and Kate Bush’s “Love and Anger” stood out, but the best selection came when Nada Surf turned Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” into a poppy love ballad.

The night was capped by My Morning Jacket’s two-hour headlining set. Jim James and the rest of his band came blazing out of the gates with a hard-rock instrumental unlike anything in the MMJ canon, which led right into “One Big Holiday.” From there “Dondante,” “Off the Record,” the short but extremely funky “Highly Suspicious,” and about 15 others songs followed in a career-spanning set list. These touring warhorses are one of the best live rock bands in America, and their set was a fitting way to cap a day filled with a wide variety of music.

Brad, fronted by the soulful Shawn Smith and featuring Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard, morphed into the darker and heavier Satchel for two songs after Gossard left the stage. OK Go played a high-energy and hit-laden set. Power poppers The Posies performed a blissful set of unreleased songs and Portugal. The Man’s psychedelic rock and the excellent Afro-pop of Fool’s Gold were two distinct styles of music that stood out.

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SUNDAY

Sasquatch!’s second day kicked off with a dance party on the main stage, led by the dual drumming assault of Caribou. The high noon set woke up the sleepy-headed campers that showed up early, its upbeat rhythms and tempos providing a great precursor to what would come later in the evening (hint: LCD Soundsystem).

Local Natives at Sasquatch! Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay

Local Natives filled the day’s quota in the soon-to-be-breakout-bands category. The quintet encompassed the entire musical vibe of the festival with a sound that is melodic, poppy, jangly, and jammy. In a festival forged around musical discoveries, Local Natives was the cream of the crop of the blog-friendly buzz bands.

Speaking of buzz bands, London’s XX  played dreamy, synthesized bedroom music and was one of the bright spots of the afternoon. The set could’ve been a disaster, given the music’s slow-burning leanings in such a large and expansive environment, but the material translated well, and the crowd was enamored by the music, singing and swaying along to every song.

The swaying turned to full-blown dancing when James Murphy and his band (a.k.a.LCD Soundsystem) managed to stir up the crowd with driving beats and plenty of cowbell. Highlights included the one-two punch of “Daft Punk is Playing at my House” and “Drunk Girls” from This is Happening, which was the most unstoppable dance force of the weekend.

While dancing was a dominant part of the day, the most anticipated set of the festival came from reunited influential indie rockers Pavement. The set was a bit sloppy and surprisingly started with “Cut Your Hair,” the band’s most well-known song. Later it got a bit messy, with a few botched intros to “Rattled by the Rush” (due to instrument troubles), but once Pavement got over the rough patches, they sounded great. Frontman Stephen Malkmus, who was celebrating a birthday, appeared to be annoyed by the minor hiccups, but the crowd didn’t seem to care much as the band played more than 20 songs from its catalog, including “In the Mouth of the Desert,” “Unfair,” “Two States,” and others.

Public Enemy at Sasquatch! Photo by Christopher Nelson

Public Enemy headlined the Bigfoot stage while UK electro icons Massive Attack headlined the main stage. The latter set was chill, moody, and relaxed, complete with a terrific light show that worked well under the Gorge’s canopy of stars. Public Enemy, on the other hand, brought the noise. Flavor Flav showed he is still hip hop’s reigning jester, while Chuck D held court with a nonstop assault of golden age hip-hop hits, heavy on material from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band played a fantastic set of math rock with progressive leaning while filling in for City & Colour, which had to cancel due to singer Dallas Green’s pneumonia. Tegan & Sara almost humorously introduced “Alligator” by beat-boxing. The Long Winters played unreleased material and ended their set with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey.” And the humor of They Might Be Giants had thousands of people getting their geek on while singing and dancing along to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”

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MONDAY

What happens at Sasquatch! ... Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay

Mother Nature made her presence known as the Sasquatch! Music Festival wound to a close Day with warm temperatures, a constant threat of showers, and–at the end of the day–a rainbow.

Throughout the day patches of light rain combined with spots of bright sunshine to create an interesting combination on what was the festival’s strongest day. The rainbow appeared during the summery sounds of the Zooey Deschanel / M. Ward combo, known as She & Him. It was the perfect accompaniment to Deschanel’s voice, which were the main attraction, but M. Ward nearly stole the show during a cover of “Rollover Beethoven.”

The Heavy opened the main stage off with a mix of inspired British neo-soul, funk, and rock, engaging the Sasquatch! early risers with hits off of their latest album, The House the Dirt Built, closing off the set with “How You Like Me Now?”. Having seen their performance earlier in the year before their explosive set on Late Night with David Letterman sent the quartet’s careers into high gear, the addition of live horns added new dimensions to a fantastic set.

If Ben Bridwell’s constant smile was any indication, Band of Horses was the main stage act that had the most fun performing. His toothy grin was almost as enjoyable as the songs performed from Infinite Arms. Another band that was clearly having a blast was the Canadian indie supergroup New Pornographers, which features Neko Case, A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar, and others. It was impossible to not smile and sing along to the group’s catchy, upbeat songs.

MGMT  was the main course of the day, even though cult rockers Ween handled headlining duties. MGMT seemed in awe of the grandeur of the Gorge’s spectacular setting and amazed at the size of the crowd (they drew the biggest crowd of the festival), though they appeared strangely bored on stage. Vocalist Andrew VanWyngarden dedicated the Memorial Day set to fallen soldiers, started things off with “Pieces of What.” A few songs later, “Flash Delirium” began to work up the crowd, and when “Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” and “Electric Feel” finally came along, the dance party was in full force. Similar to Vampire Weekend’s Friday night set, MGMT showed they are capable of anchoring a major U.S. festival.

Sasquatch! wouldn’t have been a summer music festival without a good old-fashioned mosh pit, which is exactly what Vancouver, B.C., duo Japandroids spurred on during the most intense set of the weekend. Prior to Japandroids’ set of thrashing, Canadian, post-garage rock, the deep-fried Southern rock of the Drive-By Truckers washed over the main stage crowd with a three-guitar assault. Patterson Hood’s storytelling skills were in fine form during the twisted “The Wig He Made Her Wear,” while guitarist Mike Cooley showed his skills as a frontman on “Get Downtown,” both from The Big To-Do, one of the Truckers’ strongest records in years.

Kaylee Cole of the Seattle Rock Orchestra. Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay

There were several more memorable moments from Sasquatch!’s final day, making it difficult to narrow things down to just a few. The Seattle Rock Orchestra crammed more than 50 musicians on stage to play a wonderful set of Arcade Fire covers. Aussies Tame Impala proved to be well worth the buzz they’ve garnered, creating a Wolfmother-meets-Howlin’ Rain wall of psychedelic sound that rang throughout the festival grounds. On the other end of the Australian rock spectrum was the Temper Trap, a band with modern-rock radio written all over it.

By the time the 2010 incarnation of Sasquatch! was over, it was clear that the taste-making festival is a force to be reckoned with in the destination festival circuit. Excellent music was happening around every corner at one of the most beautiful concert settings in the country. Sasquatch! is well worth the trip, and if this year’s lineup of more than 80 bands was any indication of what’s to come in 2011, you’ll want to be there next year.

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Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.