Be warned. This may end up as a multi-part post. There was just so much that happened, that I'd like to talk about, I may have to break this into installations. But I can at least get the party started.
First of all, please excuse the few-and-far-between nature of my blog postings lately. I've been working a ton of long hours lately due to the big upcoming conference my work is hosting. It's a three-day event, and we're anticipating over 550 attendees. And there are, essentially, just four of us putting the whole thing together. Things kick off this upcoming Wednesday, so I've been a little tired and swamped. Once this is over, I imagine I'll be back on track again.
Anyhow, C., his friend D., and I decided to head out of town this Memorial Day weekend and hit up one day of the Sasquatch Music Festival taking place at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington. Somehow in my life I've managed never to attend a concert at the Gorge, and the line-up was good, so we chose to give it a go.
We left Portland on Friday at about 6:00 bound for the Emigrant Springs Campground just East of Pendleton, Oregon. It was a beautiful day and we roared out of town in fine style. It was in the mid-70's, and we rolled the windows down as we wound our way along the Columbia River. After a quick stop in the Dalles for gas and a fast-food extravaganza at the Eastern-most Burgerville in the world (not to mention a woeful mishap with Officers Biggs & Wasco and an improperly worn seatbelt--expect more on that point in a future post), we were off into the setting sun. The eastern reaches of the Columbia Gorge are quite stunning as the light seeps from the hills.
We had a quick drive down I-84. It was interesting passing out of the rugged, rock-lined cliffs that edged the river and into the flat, rolling hills around Pendleton. In the dark, the landscape change was more apparent from the way the air smelled and the nature of the road signs we encountered than from what we could see. You could smell the spicy tang of sage on the night air, and you'd smell alfalfa and dry grass as we passed through cow country. The road signs changed from warning us of things like "Falling Rocks, next 3 miles" or "Windy road ahead" to advising us be wary of "Blowing Dust next 43 miles." The lights spotting the hillsides grew fewer and fewer between, eventually just clustering around the small towns huddled on the banks of streams and rivers.
We zoomed past Pendleton and up the road into the Blue Mountains. It was about 10:30-10:45 when we reached our camping destination: Emigrant Springs State Park. We'd reserved a cabin to stay in, and we were tired of driving for the night. The Cabin turned out to be the best decision we made on the entire trip. Constructed of warm, honey-colored wood, it was set up with a little fridge, a wall-mounted heater, two queen-sized beds (and a bunk above one!), and a table. Outside on the porch there was a gas-powered stove. We slugged down a beer or two to congratulate ourselves on part one of the trip, spread out sleeping bags and crashed out asleep.
The alarm clocks went off at 7:30 the next morning. We had a 3-hour drive ahead of us in order to get to the Amphitheater by 12:30 when the first band we wanted to see took the stage.
The drive was a little more subdued (it was early) than the prior evening, but we took in all the amazing scenery and eyeballed the Umatilla Weapons depot and signs to Hanford a little fearfully. With no real directional mishaps (thanks to Charlie's awesome information file, henceforth known as "the dossier"), we arrived right on schedule.
The festival itself was awesome. It was packed with people, and waiting in lines became one of those things you just accepted, but everyone was thrilled to be there, friendly, and overall good samaritans. The whole drive down we'd joked about the fact that the beers there were going to coast us $15 a pop when we arrived, so we'd better bring a few of our own for camping. We were honestly quite surprised to get there and find that they in fact wanted $11 for a 24-oz Corona. C and I had just bought a 24-oz bottle of beer at the grocery store the week before for $3.o0. Good grief. No wonder they let people wander anywhere they wanted around the grounds with beers in hand--you'd have to be rich to get any kind of drunk at those prices! And you're certainly not going to share it with anyone!
Beer-lamenting aside, however, all of the shows we saw were excellent. I'm not really qualified to discuss the finer nuances of music, and I'm not much of a writer when it comes to describing shows and bands, but I'll give you a brief re-cap of what we saw below.
- The Saturday Knights: We were so excited to see this hip-hop rock fusion band out of Seattle. They were scheduled early in the day to play on the mainstage, and I think this may have been a bit of a mistake. Their set wasn't great, in part due to the fact that they didn't seem to quite know how to interact with a crowd that clustered right in front of them and then spread up an enormous hill. They would have been better on one of the smaller stages. Oh well.
- The Hold Steady: This band is so much fun to see. They are high energy, and are such a great, solid rock band. The lead singer had grown a big shaggy beard since C and I had seen them last, but the keyboardist still had this fabulous mustache. It was weird seeing them in such a big venue. They had a really tight set and they sounded great. Thumbs up all around. Too bad the beer was so expensive, though, this is the best beer-drinking band ever.
- The Blow: Gosh. While I love the music she puts out, and I love her CD, the between-and-during song patter really spoiled this show for me. I don't care if this song is about some guy she met at a party in Los Angeles. In fact, knowing the personal details behind a personal song is sometimes kind of gross. We left in search of something else. While I'll still listen to her CD, I'm not sure if I'd see the Blow again live for a while.
- Two Gallants: Great show. While I hadn't been super-impressed when I saw these guys open for another band before, and the MP3's I had were so-so, I was so impressed by their live show! These guys were fun and kind of a quirky mix of folky rock. They had the high-energy sound that makes an act a festival success, and they had some really interesting songs. Would see again. Would buy CD now, I think!
- Viva Voce: Awesome, as usual. As C. always says, it's amazing that two people can make that much noise. We only stuck around for two or three songs--despite the fact that they were AWESOME songs, because they're a local band, and Neko Case was coming on soon.
- Neko Case: Great, as usual. Not even the guy laying on a blanket in front of us (with his girlfriend!) yelling "I LOVE YOU NEKO CASE! I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABIES! LET ME BE YOUR SURROGATE DADDY!" could spoil it. She had the perfect sound for laying out and gazing across the amazing Columbia River Gorge scenery. Oh, and it was about 85 degrees out by this point in the day. Awe-some.
- Ghostland Observatory: ROCKED! These guys were great! One of them had on a satiny, powder-blue cape that he wore throughout the show. They had such an exciting, interesting sound, and they were such good sports when the power went out on their stage part-way through their set. I will definitely look them up again.
- The Long Winters: This band gets so much buzz. I keep giving them second and third and fourth and fifth chances, but I keep getting let down. I think they have a charming presence, and I think they interact with the crowd well, but I think their lyrics are kind of lame, and I think their sound is boring. Too bad.
- Manu Chao and the Radio Bemba Sound System: I was so excited to see this band, and I wasn't let down. Complete with their signature sirens, and play-like-your-house-is-on-fire style, they amped up the energy at the mainstage in a serious way, and people were dancing all over the hill. They played an awesome set--I love the way that their shows end up sounding like one big song because they seamlessly blend them all together into one long musical blur. Awesome. The stage crew nearly had to drag them off the stage with big shepherds crooks, though--they played 6 or 7 "last songs" and kept expressing their live for the crowd and for the show. They were great.
A taste of things to come:
The Arcade Fire - Bjork - Crazy night driving - setting up tents at 3:30 am with a thunderstorm looming - Tumbling along with the blowing dust and the tumbleweed.