|Reviewer: Nathan Atnikov|
Sasquatch 2012 was one for the ages—musically, at least. Featuring one of the best top-to-bottom lineups of any festival I’ve ever attended, there was little doubt that there’d be a lot more time spent running between stages than waiting in line for food and beer. That’s not to say the festival didn’t have its shortfalls. As the festival grows bigger (and seemingly longer) each year, organization is becoming an issue. It started with a massive traffic jam on Friday that caused most festival goers to miss almost the entire first night of the festival, and left many wondering whether they’d be able to get into the campgrounds at all. I showed up early enough to catch the very last act of Friday night – Pretty Lights. From there, here’s a little taste of what Sasquatch had to offer this year.
What You Missed: The Sights. On the last day of the festival at 12:00 noon, let’s just say people weren’t streaming in from the campgrounds quite yet. When this Detroit-based classic rock band strolled up on stage, there were about 25 people there to greet them. Of course, Jack Black from Tenacious D was among them. From the first note, The Sights absolutely tore up the Bigfoot stage, to a small, appreciative, hungover and slightly woozy audience. They won’t be one of the first names that people think of when they think of Sasquatch 2012, but they more than held their own in a tough situation. A couple of days earlier, Reptar opened the same stage at the same time. A similarly energetic rock band with a bit more of an electro twist, they were equally up to the task of kicking off a day in the right way. There’s nothing quite like seeing people dancing and losing their minds at the beginning of what’s bound to be a long day.
Who Didn’t Show Up: I Break Horses and Mogwai. The latter because of problems at the border. The former for reasons that remain hazy (at least to me). But one person’s loss is another’s gain. When I Break Horses was supposed play (right after Reptar on Saturday), the crowd was instead treated to a raucous show by STRFKR, a band that played the previous night while most of the festival goers were stuck in traffic. It’s not entirely fair to say STRFKR ended up being the better option, but more than one person proclaimed them the best band of the festival after their fill-in set. Mogwai created a bit more of a ruckus by not showing up for their headlining set on Monday night on the Bigfoot stage. Spiritualized was bumped an hour later, and the gap was filled by Deer Tick doing cover songs—opening their set by sheepishly admitting that they hated cover bands.
The Headliners: Saturday night provided the thrilling one-two punch of Jack White and The Roots—on different stages, mind you, but at least their sets didn’t overlap. White treated the crowd to songs from Blunderbuss as well as songs by The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. Throughout, his band was tight and precise, though too much so for some. His performance received mixed reviews from the people I talked to, but I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Particularly the closing numbers ‘We Are Going To Be Friends’ and ‘Hotel Yorba’. By all accounts, The Roots were thrilling, though I couldn’t get anywhere near enough the stage to appreciate it.
Sunday’s headlining set by Bon Iver should’ve been enough to put any doubters to rest. Drawing from both of his acclaimed albums and the EP in between, Justin Vernon and his band blew the Gorge Amphitheatre away. He started by showing the crowd he could rock out with ‘Perth’ and ‘Minnesota, WI’, and by the time he came around to ‘Re: Stacks’, he had the entire crowd eating out of his hands. The crowd of 20,000 or so was eerily quiet, as not to miss a note.
Monday was a little more interesting. Beck hit the stage with a look on his face that amounted to something like confusion-meets-disinterest. He seemed entirely out of place through the first four songs, including when he unexpectedly broke out ‘Loser’ early in his set, only to forget most of the lyrics. Worried looks were exchanged in the crowd, though he eventually pulled it together, blazing through favourites like ‘Devil’s Haircut’, ‘The New Pollution’ and ‘Where It’s At’. The high point of the evening came when he settled in for some songs from Sea Change, which seemed a little more where his head was at on this particular evening.
Festival Problems: No music festival goes without its issues, and Sasquatch 2012 was no exception. The litter and garbage situation was nothing short of disastrous. By early Saturday afternoon, the entire grounds were covered in wrappers, packaging, napkins, beer cans, water bottles and more. You couldn’t take two steps without something crunching under your feet, and by the evening, finding somewhere to sit on the grass required moving at least seven pieces of garbage out of the way. Certainly the patrons had a lot to do with the problem, but there was also a severe lack of garbage and recycling bins, and those you could find were overflowing. This should definitely be the festival’s focus to improve upon for next year.
The next biggest problem was the crossover of sound between stages, which was pretty much unacceptable as a music festival goes. Two of the side stages were predominantly used for dance and hip-hop, and could be heard clearly throughout the grounds—including during the headlining sets on the main stage. A particular victim of this was Jamey Johnson, performing on the main stage during the day on Saturday. He was competing with Com Truise, who was performing on the other side of the festival, throughout his set.
Sound crossover problems weren’t helped by persistent technical issues at the Bigfoot stage, as nearly every act I saw play there was either delayed by sound problems or plagued by them throughout their set.
Another Strong Year For The Women: Yet again at Sasquatch, the women ruled the weekend. Incredibly strong performances were turned in by tUnE-yArDs, St. Vincent, The Joy Formidable, The Alabama Shakes, Zola Jesus, Wild Flag, Metric and Feist, not to mention many others.
Top 6 Shows of the Weekend: In no particular order, and apropos of nothing, here are my top 6 shows that I saw at Sasquatch 2012.
1. St. Vincent. The act I was most excited for at Sasquatch, and she did not disappoint. She deserves nothing less than to be considered among the greatest guitarists in rock today.
2. Bon Iver. His wonder and humility shone through, and his music was as captivating as ever. He’s the ultimate cure for cynicism.
3. M. Ward. An understated set that oozed cool. Ward is an old soul that lives comfortably in our time—a true joy to watch perform.
4. Grouplove. A band of California hippie misfits that came out of nowhere to get a tired audience jumping and dancing on a Monday afternoon. They’d give Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes a run for their joy factor.
5. The Sights. An absolutely killer set from a band that very few people saw. Hopefully they’ll be back to play to a bigger audience in the next year or two.
6. The Alabama Shakes. One of the most hyped bands coming into the weekend, and for good reason. Brittany Howard is a superstar in the making.