Sasquatch! Music Festival is celebrating its sweet 16 this weekend.
That’s right, one of the biggest music festivals in the United States of America is old enough to drive a car by itself here in Washington. And my, how it has grown. There have been some growing pains (the planned then canceled second weekend over Independence Day in 2014), but the festival is still in its prime under the direction of founder and organizer Adam Zacks with Live Nation.
There are more than 60 musical performances, plus nine comedians offering a palate cleanser, spanning noon to midnight over three days across Memorial Day weekend at the Gorge Amphitheatre.
To preview what’s to come this weekend, I checked in with Everett Herald music blogger and 107.7 FM The End Locals Only radio host Steven Graham. He’s a Sasquatch stalwart, someone who has gone since he was a teenager in the mid-2000s, who has romped with the throng of eager crowds to Kanye West and hobnobbed with the stars backstage.
I’ve been about 10 times, don’t know much more about local music beyond what my local music news guy, the aforementioned Graham, informs me of via airwaves, email, phone call and text. But some of my most memorable experiences have been at Sasquatch, and I always look forward to going when I’m able.
We discuss what bands and performers he and I are looking forward to hearing and seeing (there is a difference), what theme we perceive throughout Sasquatch! Music Festival’s 16-year run, our advice for surviving a three-day, 12 hours-per-day musical experience in the Eastern Washington sun and heat (and then cold and wind).
(Author’s note: Graham happens to be my best friend of the past 20 years — I even officiated his wedding. The interview has been edited for length and clarity, and to eliminate the absurd ramblings of two friends mocking one another, inside jokes that almost certainly are not funny, and obscenities.)
Ben Watanabe: What’s the thing, the single emphasized thing, you look forward to about Sasquatch 2017?
Steven Graham: LCD Soundsystem, next question.
Ben: Why them?
Steven: They played in, I want to say 2012, maybe 2011, I can’t remember, and of all the performances I’ve seen at Sasquatch, it was probably the best performance I’ve ever seen at the Gorge. Which is really an impressive thing to say considering they weren’t the headliner, and they were part of a major music festival. You think about the big shows that you’ve seen, you think about a big band like Coldplay at the Gorge, and they’ve got confetti cannons going all over the place. LCD Soundsystem played in the middle of the day of a massive music festival, and you could’ve gone home right then. It was just very impressive considering the setting, the way they gave what I consider a life-altering experience.
(Author’s note: LCD Soundsystem last played at Sasquatch! in 2010 before announcing its disbandment in early 2011.)
Ben: I’m trying to think, you haven’t missed a year, almost since it started, you’ve been there since it started?
Steven: I want to say this is year 15 or 16. I want to say I’ve only missed the very first one, and I believe it was Coldplay and The Postal Service. That would have been a hell of a show.
(Author’s note: He’s wrong about the first Sasquatch! Music Festival on almost every level. The first one was in 2002 and was headlined by The String Cheese Incident; Coldplay headlined in 2003; The Postal Service headlined in 2004 and again in 2013.)
Ben: What, if anything, gives it a running theme? Or is it a thematic festival?
Steven: That’s a good question.
Ben: I know, you’d almost think I was a trained questioner, huh? … It doesn’t necessarily have to have one, I’m just curious if one has emerged for you. You’re someone who’s put on a festival before, who put thought into trying to curate a sonic aesthetic.
Steven: I think that, and I don’t want to go and speak for Adam Zacks, but year after year he’s done a really great job of making sure there is absolutely something for everyone. That can be for kids who want to go and dance all night in the dance tent, to maybe older crowds that are into The National or Ween. Or this year, I can’t wait for LCD Soundsystem, to the hip-hop crowd that loves Kanye West. The year we first went, Modest Mouse played right after Kanye West. Are there further ends of the spectrum? That’s a big disparity in musical styles. The other thing I think has been a real theme about the festival is Sasquatch is ready to go in on local artists that they like. That has been on full display in the past with bands like Brothers from Another, Pickwick, Thunderpussy, all who got the opportunity to play the main stage in front of 10,000 to 15,000 people, many of whom have never heard that band. And they’re doing it again this year. Sisters is playing the main stage. So I think that always having the back of local artists and being willing to champion the little guy is a thing I’ve really come to love and expect from Sasquatch.
Steven: LCD Soundsystem, Chance the Rapper, Big Freedia, Manatee Commune, Los Colognes (because Adam Zacks told me so), Car Seat Headrest and Sisters. As far as the local bands go, Sloucher is, I think, one of the most underrated bands in Seattle. They should be getting love from all over, but now that I think about it, they opened for Angel Olsen, they played back-to-back nights at Barboza with Surfer Blood, and now they’re playing Sasquatch, so maybe they’re accurately rated.
Ben: Your blog for the Herald, your radio program, and your former involvement with Everett Music Initiative were all focused on local music. Why? What’s the pull or draw for you and why is that a strong selling point for Sasquatch?
Steven: I firmly believe today, and have since I, I don’t know I was probably 20 or 18 years old when I fell in love with the Blue Scholars. I really felt like those guys could play anywhere with anybody, and that is a feeling I have about so many bands that come out of the local scene. Look at the Everett’s Fauna Shade. These are local guys, Scotty got started when he was real young. He’s already had an opportunity to play Sasquatch and put on a great show last year. There are a lot of people who are never going to find, and I’m not comparing what I do with the blog and the radio station, well, maybe the radio station, to the platform that Sasquatch has, but to put a band in front of so many eyes and ears, that’s a pretty cool thing to do for a band that you really believe in. I really love that Sasquatch does that. When I had Zacks on the show last night, we did get into that quite a bit, how he loves that Sasquatch is a platform for bands. How many of these bands would otherwise have the opportunity to play the Gorge?
Ben: What about the experience of discovering new music? Your radio program’s tag is, “New music discovery,” right?
Steven: Yeah, I remember years ago we got there to the B stage a little early to see Ghostland Observatory, which they were headlining. But Jamie Lidell was playing, and I’d never heard of this guy before, I think he’s from London. All I know is, “This guy’s playing dance music, he’s wearing a gold jacket, and his bass player is wearing a kimono. I don’t understand what is going on.” And it was absolutely amazing. I still regret that I only caught the last three songs of his set. Now every time he drops new music, I’m right on top of it. But that was an experience that really altered the way I approached the music festival, not just for the bands I know and love, but for the wealth on here that can be watched that might be the new big thing.
Ben: What Sasquatch survival tips would you offer to people who are going, who may be neophytes?
Steven: Bring a bag and stuff a pair of pants in there, and maybe a hoodie if you’ve got the room for it. Running back to your tent or campsite is really a pain when there’s a lineup this loaded and there’s nothing you want to miss. When that sun goes down, it gets cold in a hurry.
Don’t wear flip-flops. What is that? Who thinks that’s a good idea? You’re going to be up and down hills all day and dancing in a pit with thousands of people, and they’re not worried about your feet.
(Author’s note: After the terrorism attack at a concert in Manchester, United Kingdom, Sasquatch announced it was implementing enhanced security procedures that prehibited large bags or backpacks. The accepted dimensions are small personal bags or purses 12 inches-by-12 inches-by-6 inches or clear one gallon bags.)
Ben: I’ll add that it’s always important to stay hydrated, more than you normally are, with plenty of water. For those of us from Western Washington, our bodies aren’t used to the heat and arid conditions, add in a lot of movement and sun, and you’re likely to need more water than usual. And, for those of a certain age, stretching is probably worthwhile before any vigorous festival dancing.
The above is a truncated version of Ben Watanabe and Steven Graham’s Sasquatch talk. Read the full interview at www.heraldnet.com.