Haley Scheer went in search of the best music festival in the Northwest U.S.A. -and she found it.
Snuggly secured amidst backpacks, coolers, and bags of food, we began our drive east in an over-stuffed car. The typical arguments over music choice were reconciled with a Mumford and Sons album, in anticipation of their live performance. We were headed for Sasquatch, one of the biggest and best Northwest summer music festivals, originally set up by Adam Zacks eleven years ago in 2002 to fill the gap which had been left in the U.S. from erstwhile top-bar festivals like Lollapalooza shutting up shop. As the road began winding gently through the mountains, the dense emerald green forest enshrouded in fog became replaced with dry, open landscapes. The contrast between western and eastern Washington never ceases to surprise me, and before I knew it we were looking at miles of vast, barren earth, drenched with sun and not a tree in sight. In a matter of hours we left the rainy city in exchange for brilliant, open blue skies and desert-like landscapes.
After dropping our bags, we rushed to the grounds, anxious to catch the main opening act of the night. Wristbands secured, we rushed through security and were thrown into the swarming crowds of drunken college kids. Music boomed from every direction, and as we walked down the path we passed the various stages, each blaring different genres of music. A massive tent, referred to in previous years as the ‘banana shack’ was rave-central, complete with a DJ stand in the middle, flashing lights and booming bass. As we approached the end of the main path we reached the hillside overlooking the main stage, with the gorge behind it. The whole hillside was strewn with blankets and groups of people awaiting the main act. As we found a spot the stage lit up and cheers began ringing from the mosh pit below. Macklemore had arrived. Chills ran down my spine as the whole hillside rose for his first song, cheering and screaming. Ben Haggerty, otherwise known as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis did not disappoint in their performance. New songs from his recent album ‘The Heist’ were featured as well as older ones like ‘Otherside’. In the middle of the set Haggerty delivered a heartfelt speech, expressing his gratitude to his fellow Seattlites for their loyal support during his journey, and his happiness to be back in the Northwest, his home. The crowds went wild, and Macklemore’s set was finished with skin-tingling enthusiasm.
The next morning revealed the stunningly dramatic scenery of the Gorge Amphitheatre, which served as the setting for the main stage and had been previously hidden by nightfall. Perched atop the hillside we looked down in awe at the main stage below and the Colombia River Canyon behind it. The outdoor music venue is one of the most scenic concert locations worldwide, and has won many awards for music venues in previous years. Supposedly it is one of the top three places in the United States to see a concert, and I don’t doubt it. We spent our weekend based on the hillside, soaking up every ounce of sunshine possible in an attempt to make up for Scotland’s vitamin-D-deficient environment. Each day began around noon, and we would wander to and from the various stages throughout the day. As the day began to cool off we would meander out to our car and have a picnic-style dinner before returning for the main acts. As well as the headline acts, the weekend played host to The Lumineers, Capital Cities, Bloc Party, Wild Belle, The Artic Monkeys, Atlas Genius, Vampire Weekend, Grimes, Devendra Banhart, amongst others. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were the main stage performance on Friday night, while Saturday featured Sigur Ros as well as a hauntingly beautiful set by The XX.
Sunday night was a personal highlight of the festival for me. As the sun set in the Gorge, casting a warm glow over the hillside, crowds packed in to see Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The performance left me in euphoric awe as they finished with their famous song ‘Home’, pausing to pass the mic around the crowd and hear stories from the audience. And if that wasn’t enough, the main act of the night, following a bit later, was Mumford and Sons. Tens of thousands of people swarmed in, squeezing into places that I had thought impossible to reach. Heading down an hour early to get a spot was not nearly early enough, as people had evidently been securing places several hours beforehand. As the lights on the stage started to flicker and sound checks began, the crowds erupted in cheers. Mumford and Sons did not disappoint, playing both classic older songs as well as a number of songs off their newest chart-topping album, ‘Babel’. The set was slower and calmer than might have been expected, but nonetheless was greatly received by the crowds. They surprised everyone by closing their performance with a collaborative song with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and it was a long time before people reluctantly began wandering off, dreamily humming and swaying.
Monday saw Imagine Dragons and The Postal Service take to the stage, both of whom were greatly well-received. Fittingly, it began raining that day, and left us in a melancholy mood with gray skies overhead. But for me, it was all worth it to see Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros strum along with Mumford and Sons. For the rest of the drive home and the days following I had excerpts from their performances as the soundtrack to my thoughts. Sasquatch, I’ll definitely be back next year.
Gorge Amphitheatre -Daniel