The Cowardly Lion gets freaky with the Flaming Lips

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Guerrilla Candy’s Brent Stecker preparing to use his catlike dance moves

Ostentatious as it may sound, The Gorge Amphitheatre means a lot more to me than to most people.

Now don’t get me wrong, anyone who enters the confines of The Gorge is affected by its beauty and usually stellar musical acts. But I take so much pride in that place, having grown up just 25 minutes away from it. I mean, it’s the only thing of cultural significance we have in Grant County (except for I guess the Grand Coulee Dam and maybe the 60-foot lava lamp in Soap Lake if they ever freaking build it). And to go one further, it’s our only gateway to a transcendent experience without driving three hours to the west (if manning a pea combine isn’t your idea of transcendent, that is).

My pride is especially strong because I worked at The Gorge for a few amazing summers, and was essentially paid to watch both Sasquatch! 2005 and 2006, three Pearl Jam shows, a Tom Petty/Black Crowes bill, Tool, and James Taylor, to name a few. I also did security for the dressing rooms at times, and therefore kind of met Jack Johnson, Widespread Panic, and the duo of Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina (if you ever see me at a show, ask me about Loggins & Messina and I’ll tell you a ridiculous story).

But in those two summers, there was one thing I never was able to do: step on the actual main stage. Thanks to The Flaming Lips, that changed at Sasquatch! 2011.

With a little luck and the generosity of Guerrilla Candy head honcho/Flaming Lips stage-dancing veteran Travis Hay, I donned a Cowardly Lion costume, joined a horde of Dorothys, a few Scarecrows, and a couple of Tinmen (including Mr. Hay), and danced my ass off to what turned out to be an abbreviated version of the Lips’ landmark album The Soft Bulletin.

So, what is dancing on the stage with The Flaming Lips like? Mainly it’s a rush unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. A lot of people claim it to be a life-changing experience, and while I personally didn’t have that kind of moment, there is no denying the shot of adrenaline I received from dancing like an utter maniac in front of a sea of people.

And those people! Not being much of a Lips fan myself (I love the big songs like “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Race for the Prize,” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” but was pretty much confused by most of the Soft Bulletin songs), I couldn’t help but feel almost guilty being on the stage.

Every so often I would find myself making eye contact with random FLips die-hards on the floor, and I could see a look on their faces that was filled with the hope that one day they could be on the stage dancing their asses off. Every time it happened I wished I could switch places with them, but it just wasn’t as easy as clicking my ruby red slippers together… probably because I was wearing sneakers, but also general rules of science.

But on to more important matters — there are such things as Flaming Lips girlfriends! I know because I had one, a tall brunette who was quite enamored with this furry beast… as long as the music was playing. For the majority of the show we danced together, sometimes arm-in-arm, and we even spawned a giant group-hug circle on our side of the stage for the bulk of “Waiting for Superman” that will forever be one of the most memorable moments of my life. Yet once we left the stage, there wasn’t but a word uttered between myself and my Flaming Lips lady friend. It was OK, though. The arrangement was pretty much understood the moment we put those costumes on.

Now, the ironic thing about being on stage with the Lips is how you don’t even pay attention to the mega-huge rock band playing mere feet from where you’re standing. It’s such an exercise in over-stimulation, from the confetti machines blowing past your arms, the giant balloons bouncing about, or the urge to just dance, that you kind of don’t care that Steven Drozd is right next to you playing a record that is idolized by millions (and as I mentioned before in the Day 3 recap, that was fine because it wasn’t the Lips’ best effort.)

In the end we were rushed off the stage, handed free merch, and met the Wizard himself Wayne Coyne. I even got an autographed setlist for my correct answer to roadie extraordinaire Zachary ‘s trivia question about Back to the Future (which just happens to be my favorite movie). But by that point it was all gravy, because I had just danced onstage with The Flaming Lips, on the very stage that I have seen so many greats play before.

Was it life changing? Maybe not. But would I trade the experience for anything?


Guerrilla Candy’s Travis Hay & Brent Stecker with Wayne Coyne

Brent Stecker

About Brent Stecker

Brent is a journalist and small-time musician based in Wenatchee, Wash. His passion for music wasn’t discovered until his teenage years, however, when he first got his hands on a Rage Against the Machine CD. He spent the rest of his adolescence broadening his musical tastes, obsessively learning guitar, and harnessing his writing abilities in journalism classes.