Every Memorial Day weekend, legions of young men and women strike forth for the wilds of Central Washington State. It's a formidable landscape, with broad desert skies arching over endlessly rolling hills. Into this proud panorama is carved a mighty chasm, its treacherous depths hundreds of yards below. The relentless Columbia River is coiled at the foot of this basin, and its pounding waterways sprawl over miles and miles of remarkable American terrain. It's enough to give a bald eagle the noblest of erections.
Far above the river, etched into the rim of the canyon, is a structure that serves not as a monument to our leaders of yore or as a hardy shelter from the devilishly gorgeous landscape, but rather as a pavilion of frivolity. It is the Gorge Amphitheatre, and youngsters from far and wide gather here to seek the fabled Sasquatch. But this Sasquatch is not the hairy manbeast of legend! No, indeed, these young troopers are searching for a furrier, more insidious creature—"Rock Music."
For the three days and nights of the annual Sasquatch! Music Festival, all sizes and shapes of this Rock Music burst from the Gorge Amphitheatre's triptych stages. Along with the music comes an assortment of colorful characters, a shantytown of impromptu campsites, and a full holiday weekend's worth of feats of skill which shall test the preparedness of even the keenest young adventurers. We'll tell you how to be in a full state of readiness for the duration of the festival, and how to avoid the common errors that have doomed lesser festivalgoers to a weekend of chill, fatigue, and crotch rot. So be sure your fingernails are clean, and that your neckerchief is properly knotted. Are you ready, scouts?
The Gorge Campgrounds are a place of timeless drama, where man meets wild, where metalhead meets hippie, where a scout can stare into the veritable face of death (death, in this case, being a drug-addled teenager spending the night away from home for the first time). 'Tis not a place for the timid, and it is of utmost importance to choose a safe haven for your campsite. For general camping tips, see our sidebar ("Let's Go Camping: A Practical and Fun Guide to the Great Outdoors and The Great Outdoors," below), but camping at Sasquatch! presents its own unique set of challenges.
First off, put a tarp under your tent. If you don't, you deserve to be cold and wet. It will rain. Make sure your tent is securely fastened, then make sure again—the winds at the Gorge are infamously fierce. You may even want to dismantle your tent each day and re-pitch it at night, if you are worried about it blowing away while you are not inside of it (although this is a slight pain in the keister). But whilst setting up camp, the most important thing is to be looking for fellow loyal and honorable scouts. You do not want to camp near tweakers. I shall repeat this: You do not want to camp near tweakers. In the light of day, a tweaker may be hard to identify, but here are some easy-to-spot red flags to avoid:
• Does your neighbor's camp have one of those multi-colored rotating lights?
• Are there shirtless guys with tattoos walking around?
• Are they blasting Thievery Corporation?
• Is anybody wearing a jester hat?
Stay far, far away from these warning signs.
Instead, look for campsites that proudly display Canadian flags. (It's red, or something, with a leaf on it maybe?) All Canadians are gentle and wise, and the Sasquatch! Festival is full of them, as the Gorge is but a mere jaunt from the contentious US-Canada border. Canadians possess a variety of charms and talents, including the following:
• Good manners.
• Reasonably decent taste in music, except for that whole Nickelback thing.
• Naïveté—they're Canadian. They will gladly share their food and supplies with you if you ask politely.
• At birth, each Canadian is given a magical bauble that, when rubbed, summons up a cavalry of Mounties, should any trouble arise.
Lastly, a good scout will want to set up camp reasonably close to a porta-potty—but not too close.
So you've established your bivouac—good job! You're well on your way to becoming a loyal and honorable Sasquatch! scout. But for your daily excursions from the campsite to the actual concert, you'll need to carry things with you as you go. For this, we shall refer to the three P's: packing, preparedness, and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches*. Traditional expeditions require you to bring along such hardy gear as a compass, rustproof canteen, crossbow, machete, astronomer's skywheel, GPS, sedan chair, rape whistle and signal flare, Bobcat backhoe for digging bear pits, and waterproof matches. However, since the environs of the Gorge Amphitheater are slightly more hospitable, these items won't be necessary.
*Disclaimer: if you have a fatal allergy to peanuts, please refer to the three alternate P's: packing, preparedness, and pussy-mama's-boy-is-what-you-are.
Items you will need:
• Sturdy, Waterproof Backpack—It rains at the Gorge. Heavily. Without warning. You might want a poncho, too, if you don't mind looking like a nimrod.
• Suntan Lotion—When it's not dumping rain at the Gorge, the sun pounds down like a Catholic priest on a choirboy. No, that's not an inappropriate metaphor.
• Sunglasses—Just to look cool.
• Earplugs—A must. Three days of blaring rock music takes its toll on your ears more than you would think.
• Concert Schedule—So you don't miss your precious Silversun Pickups.
• Hoodie, or Something Warm—Once the sun goes down, the Gorge gets mighty cold. Trust us on this; you'll be happy you lugged it around as you sweated through the afternoon.
• Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches—You know why mom made these for you when you were a kid? Because they're the perfect food. A single sandwich can fill you for days on end. They don't need refrigeration or heat. They're easy to make. And they're goddamn delicious.
• Water Bottles—Sealed plastic bottles only. The folks at the Gorge don't want you to spike your drink with anything that might make you have fun, for crying out loud.
• Lighter—For the slow jamz.
• Camera Phone—If you can't prove to your friends at home that you were here by sending them picture messages, there's really no point in even coming.
Unsurprisingly, the jangly tones and savage drumbeats of Rock Music attract a motley crew of rogues. But all rogues are not the same; many are strict followers of their individual chieftains (or "bands"). Generally, the nature of the Sasquatch! Festival keeps these diverging factions in good humor, and little conflict arises—although this is not always the case. A good scout shall need to stay sharp and on one's toes to classify the individual species, and to determine to which Rock Music Band each specimen pledges allegiance. Take a look at the different characteristics of each, and see if you can identify them.
Edgar Allan Poe quote tattoo
Bottom lip has a rivet through it
Hair dye concealing grey streaks
Answer = Nine Inch Nails fan
Goofy Big Bird hair
Answer = Girl Talk fan
Backward baseball cap
Barbed wire tattoo
Roofies tucked away in pocket
Answer = Ben Harper fan
Answer = lead singer from Monotonix
Collared shirt with logo
Nametag that reads "Shoshanna"
Possibly hitting on you
Answer = sales rep trying to sell you a cell phone plan
by Erik Henriksen, the only person on the Mercury editorial staff who has ever been outside for more than five minutes.
BE PREPARED: It's like my super-friendly scoutmaster always said when he made sure we had all packed enough rain gear, matches, sunscreen, trail mix, and KY: You never know what's going to happen in the woods.
BURN STUFF: Fires will keep you warm, and they also scare off dangerous wild animals! Like that annoying fucker Smokey Bear.
WHEN CHOOSING A CAMPSITE, AVOID THE FORBIDDEN FOREST: Seriously. Trust Hagrid on this one.
CAMPGROUNDS ARE FOR SUCKAZ: Do you know how much it is for an "official" camping permit at Sasquatch? Like $200! Eff that. A reasonable alternative is camping wherever the fuck you want. A Google Earth search of George, Washington (a town which used to be known as "Denzel") reveals many homes, most of which have yards. Camp there. If homeowners complain, light them on fire.
HEY, REMEMBER THAT MOVIE THE GREAT OUTDOORS, WITH JOHN CANDY AND DAN AYKROYD?: Man, that movie is hilarious! Actually, if you're feeling lazy, you should just rent that movie instead of going camping. It's more or less the exact same thing. Or rent Harry and the Hendersons, because there's actually a sasquatch in that, UNLIKE AT SASQUATCH!, WHERE THEY ADVERTISE SASQUATCH BUT ACTUALLY JUST MAKE YOU LISTEN TO BORING BANDS THAT EVERYBODY'S ALREADY HEARD A KAZILLION TIMES. Also recommended is the 2002 direct-to-DVD horror classic Sasquatch, starring my real father, Lance Henriksen.
"PITCH A TENT": Come on by, ladies! I'll be happy to give you a demonstration.
Many of the larger names at Sasquatch! are well established, whether they be old or new. For example, Kings of Leon brought a hit song about a burning case of red-tiger crabs, "Sex on Fire," to the masses a few months ago. Meanwhile, Ben Harper's slow jamz have been soundtracking dorm-room date rapes since the mid-'90s. And the doddering septuagenarians of Jane's Addiction have peddled their brand of heroin-sparked hooker-rock off and on for decades; all the while, the Grand Wizard of Douchebaggery himself, Dave Navarro, has valiantly refused to put on a shirt for even a single instant.
But for the adventuresome scout, these tired-and-true Rock Bands will not suffice. One of the pleasures of the Sasquatch! Festival is the convergence of Bands large and small, famous and obscure, upon one locale. Indeed, even a novice tenderfoot, if they are quick of wit and fleet of foot, can see many new Bands in a short span of time. Here are some suggestions for Bands that are well worth seeking out—keep your eyes wholly peeled and your jackknives fully whetted.
BON IVER—The windswept falsetto harmonies of Bon Iver have their origins in the deep woods of Wisconsin; there, songwriter Justin Vernon trapped his own game, made his own clothing out of pelts, and recorded the devastating break-up album For Emma, Forever Ago. (Well, the part about the album is true.) Earlier this year, Bon Iver released the Blood Bank EP, and despite its brevity, it's even better. The simple title track is on the short list for song of the year, ending with a circling climax that's indescribably emotional, and "Woods" takes Kanye's Auto-Tune to the chopping block and splinters it into a million pieces of kindling. If Fleet Foxes are the Star Wars of the multi-harmony acoustic-based indie rockers, then Bon Iver is the The Empire Strikes Back—just as exhilarating, but deeper, darker, and with no guarantee of a happy ending.
THE WRENS—The Wrens are the prick teasers of the indie rock world, inciting severe cases of blueballs in fans the world over. But it's not their fault. After the release of their second album in 1996, the head of their record label—Alan Meltzer, the tin-eared dunce who later signed Creed—decided the Wrens weren't mainstream enough and left them languishing in an ironclad contract while refusing to release their music. Thankfully, the Wrens broke free of their cage and released the magnificent The Meadowlands in 2003. The power pop ensemble is touring again with unflappably joyous songs and a new album on the way. Meanwhile, by being indirectly responsible for "With Arms Wide Open" reaching the ears of millions, Meltzer's place in Hell is well assured.
TOBACCO—Frontman Tobacco of psych-electro band Black Moth Super Rainbow (see pg. 21) is performing with that band at Sasquatch!, but he's also doing a solo set in support of last year's solo release Fucked Up Friends. The record is a lo-fi Solid Gold dance party, with chubby analog tones, sparkly sound effects, crumpled fuzz-beats, and swanky Innervisions-style synth bass. Don't miss Tobacco's set in the dance tent, which will be a butt-bangin' dance party with some of the drippiest jams from Fucked Up Friends, and probably some new, unreleased beats. You are welcome to bring your own fucked-up friends, but if you don't, you will definitely be able to make some new ones.
THE DUTCHESS AND THE DUKE—Seattle duo (and sometimes trio) the Dutchess and the Duke have played several Portland shows in recent months, including opening for the legendary Vaselines a couple weeks back. Billing the twee-tinged folk songs of the Dutchess and the Duke with the cuddly pre-grunge of that fabled Scottish duo was nothing less than the perfect pairing of old and new. But the Sasquatch! Festival, too, will be an ideal backdrop for the Dutchess and the Duke's songs, which have been described as "campfire punk." (Please note that because Sasquatch! organizers still don't want to allow anything that might make you have fun, actual campfires are not allowed at the festival.) With twin guitars and sparse arrangements, D&D at times sound like a throwback, but you'll be singing along like the loyal, honorable scout that you are.