** The crowd gathering for Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros outside the main Sasquatch stage
Right off the bat I need to state something for the sheer believability factor involved: Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Danny Brown, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Dropkick Murphy’s, Tallest Man on Earth, and Mumford & Sons. If any of those names are unfamiliar to you, just know that none of these likes is at all like the others and yet that was the line-up for the main stage last night at Sasquatch.
Alright, now let me tell you the story from the beginning. My time at the start of the day was spent in the Media Tent so the first few acts of the day were seen in short bursts but from what I saw, I was mostly impressed. I caught only a single song from Vancouver/Portland based Wake Owl but as they’ll be playing a show at the Electric Owl (just a coincidence… really) in Vancouver late June, I know I’ll be going to catch the rest of their set, impressed as I was with the solitary glimpse I got. Wild Belle, hailing from the Chicago area, took to the Yeti stage later that day, located conveniently just steps away from the Media Tent, and had a number of heads inside looking around to figure out where this unique music was coming from. Lead vocalist Natalie Bergman (her brother Elliot sharing vocals and playing lead guitar) has a vocal styling nearly all her own: at first a touch off-putting as it’s in a pitch much higher than you’re accustomed to hearing, but quickly grow on you as the jam sets in behind her and she reaches falsetto notes perfectly within her register. Cute-as-a-button but with enough attitude to keep you from saying that to her face, Natalie skips and dances around the stage getting the crowd grooving and showing off the fact that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be and precisely where she wants to be. With a horn section and steel drum giving off a Caribbean vibe, there’s a bits of ska, reggae, and funk in this show that certainly had me hoping for more as their set ended.
The awkwardness and, let’s be honest, stupidity involved in the one man wrecking crew that is Danny Brown may have been the low point of the festival for me. I like rap, I’ve got loads of tracks being played regularly on my playlists at home, but I’ve never heard anything as annoying as the stoned-out ramblings barely escaping the scratchy throat of this man. Openly admitting to smoking “…some of the best weed I ever had…” before the show, then informing everyone that he was more excited about smoking another blunt after the show (yes, more excited even than performing on the main stage apparently), I watched as he forgot the lyrics to one of his own songs, had to restart, lost it again, then gave up and just started a different song his resin-soaked brain cell (no “s” needed) had somehow latched onto. There, I got that out so on to the time where everything got much, much better after that.
Tallest Man on Earth took the stage right after and two more polarized shows couldn’t be found anywhere in the world. Just a man and his guitar on a massive stage, the very small Kristian Matsson with the very clever moniker, played the majority of his songs on his toes, seeming to stretch as far as he can for each and every note. At one point the crowd, adoring fans all, begin a clap to the tune of his single “The Dreamer” he’s just started but he shakes his head “no” with a smile on his face, perfectly controlling the mood he knows he needs and holds the audience in the palm of his hand from that point on. Beautifully crafted song writing and skilful, soulful, guitar creates a continuous flow of people coming to fill every available spot on the lawn and packing tighter and tighter into the pit. As I watch this, I wonder how humbling it must be to stand all alone on the stage as he is, able to play a venue as inviting as this with a crowd as appreciative and pleased as they are, when apparently the same thought passes through his mind stating, in light of what just happened on the stage before him, “… I’m not high or drunk or anything but I know I stare at you guys from time to time just to make sure you like what I’m doing. I’m a little weird but I try to do good by you cause I am so grateful that this is my job.” He couldn’t have said it any better and the crowd responded with vigor.
The change in pace happens again as the entire audience, mostly, vacates in a hurry avoiding the beer chugging, shirtless mob that storms in as the stage is prepped for Dropkick Murphy‘s. These proud-of-their-Irish-roots boys from Boston put on a hell of a show and whether you’re familiar with their Celtic inspired punk-rock or not, you’ve likely heard of them by reputation alone. Charging onto the stage, Ken Casey, Matt Kelly, Al Barr, James Lynch, Tim Brennan, Jeff DaRosa, and Josh “Scruffy” Wallace on bagpipes, start the riot from the opening note. Opening with “The Boys Are Back” the crowd immediately starts surging with a life of its own, fuelled by the mania that’s infectiously being hurled at them through the massive speaker set-up on the main stage. Smiles everywhere, it’s amazing to watch the mosh pits toss people around like rag-dolls only to spew them out more excited than ever. No dramatic foreshadowing here but the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up only a few songs in bringing the storm of energy that wouldn’t let up for the next hour. Piano, accordion, banjo, guitars, drums, and, of course, bagpipes played at insane speeds as dozens of crowd surfers at a time rode the wave that crested just as “Shipping Up To Boston”, their most commercially successful hit thanks in part to the film The Departed which it was featured in, reached its peak. Was that how they left things, you ask? No. They covered ACDC’S classic “TNT” and, as the expression goes, everyone, appropriately, lost their shit!
While wandering the grounds in search of more randomness, I gratefully came across Shad on the Yeti Stage. Although I only caught the last song it was intelligent lyrics laid down over a great beat that brought back all my faith in the genre: this is how rap is supposed to sound! The Shout Out Louds were mid-performance on the Bigfoot stage as Shad finished up to ground-shaking applause and I was in need of my daily dose of happy music. Thankfully, upon approach, I knew that Adam Olenius and the rest of his Swedish band weren’t going to disappoint. Catchy hooks and delightful energy emanated freely from the stage and the crowd soaked up every ounce of it and gave back tenfold. The comments coming from those around me (“I can’t believe I’m hearing this right now…” “…this is so amazing…” “…this day couldn’t get any better…”) told me I wasn’t the only one enjoying this performance.
**Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
The energy coming off the stage while Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros played their music was electric. Not only was there a general vibe of good feelings and great sounds but the band began interacting, often physically, with their audience; bridging the not considerable gap between the main stage and the pit where thousands of adoring fans cheered. With a plethora of instruments and just as many bodies filling the stage, it wasn’t hard to see what the fuss is all about whenever Alexander Ebert’s name is mentioned. Although the multi-talented frontman has numerous side-projects, including his solo career, the effect of a folk group putting out that much noise is one that is worth experiencing. Their single “40 Day Dream” had nearly the entire Gorge jumping with joy and the entire band jumped with them. If another group enjoys playing music more than this one, I had yet to see them (I will come back to this comment when I get to Mumford & Sons). Closing with their folk ballad, “Home” Alex and vocalist Jade Castrinos, upon finishing the first few verses, came off the stage and handed the microphone to one fan after another asking for their own stories stating, “You just heard our story, it’s time to hear yours.” After a few touching stories and more than a couple, “… being here, right now is the greatest story I have…” or similar, the two came back on stage to finish one last chorus leaving the audience with a bow and the memories of a great show!
Grimes took centre stage at Bigfoot immediately following Sharpe’s performance on Sasquatch and the masses moved quickly so as not to miss a single song. On stage, the artsy and adorably awkward girl with a knack for beats and an amazing stage presence was known as Grimes, but the Vancouver born Claire Boucher was just as much the innocent looking girl that lives in Montreal as she was the genre defying musical ground-breaker. Getting an incredible reception from a packed audience Boucher pulled mostly from her newest album, Visions, which was touted by the New York Times as, “…one of the most impressive albums of the year so far.” With stripper/rapper (yes, that combination exists) Brooke Candy helping her out on the single “Genesis” things got into full swing fast and the tempo kept up the entire time. I could hear the beginnings of Elvis Costello on the main stage at this point thought and the bucket list called so I unfortunately had to leave before Boucher finished what was sure to be a random, layered, and absolutely dance-move-inspiring close.
Elvis Costello, classy looking pinstripe suit, fedora, neon green socks and signature glasses, walked on stage with the confidence that comes after decades on putting on memorable performances and delivered within seconds. Not two songs in, the aforementioned Natalie Bergman of Wild Belle came onstage to lend backing vocals to “Watching The Detectives” and the party started. With a band hailing from France, England, and the U.S., Costello clearly scoured the Earth scooping up the best musicians he came across while touring and it showed in a flawless performance. Costello held his own, and then some, playing “A Slow Drag With Josephine” alone onstage with little more than acoustic guitar and a symbol keeping the slow, melodic beat. It became clear to all in attendance that this man truly understands music and is constantly tweaking and fine tuning his act while never spoiling the classic nature of songs such as “Everyday I Write The Book” which everybody watching uncontrollably swayed and danced. Closing with one of his signature concert songs, “I Want You”, Costello had 20,000 plus people silenced, hanging off his every word and just waiting to erupt with applause the moment he said goodbye.
The four men widely regarded as the biggest band in the world right now walked onto the main stage at the stroke of eleven to an overly full Amphitheatre crowd just waiting to tell people about the time they saw Mumford & Sons. The slow ballad “Lover’s Eyes” eased the crowd into what was soon to become the best party in the Pacific Northwest and possibly farther. Their massive single, “I Will Wait” picked up the pace immediately following and raised the level of audience excitement for frantic to insane. Marcus Mumford, titular member and lead vocalist sets up his station on stage with a kick drum for his right foot and a tambourine on a peddle for his left but plays his guitar furiously and belts out notes in a clear and powerful voice leaving all in awe of the musically gifted Brit. All through their set however, apart from the occasional jump to the drum kit by Marcus or, alternatively, string bassist Ted Dwane, the four members stood next to each other at the front of the stage and loved every minute of being on stage. Noting that they’re new to the idea of headlining festivals of this size, they were equal parts charm and humour whenever addressing the audience and perfectly suited to the task when not. Only four songs into their set, their break-out single “Little Lion Man” from their debut album Sigh No More, made sure that anyone still seated on the lawn had no choice but to stand, then jump, then dance as the folk-rock hit just kept building to a fever pitch! Marcus took the drums for the first of two occasions to perform “Lover of The Light”, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that this band absolutely lives up to the hefty expectations attached to such massive titles as they’re constantly given. Politely asking the audience, “…shall we have a sing-a-long now?” with a smile on his face, Marcus began the four minute turned ten minute epic, “Awake My Soul” and found himself nearly drowned out by the flood of voices singing his words back to him. The boys, as hoped for and not surprisingly, left the stage for only a minute after their final song of the set to return for an encore playing “Babel”, the first single and title track of their latest Grammy award winning album. Stepping back on the drums for the second and final time, Marcus left nothing on stage during an unbelievable performance of their triple Grammy nominated track “The Cave”, finishing of by knocking over his kit to get to the front of the stage and connect with all his now completely overjoyed and exuberant fans. That could’ve closed out absolutely any venue and rock show but the boys then brought on tour mates Edward Sharpe and all of his Magnetic Zeroes for an unlooked for but wondrous surprise upon announcing their intentions to perform a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s classic, “The Chain”. An altogether incredible day of music that, honestly, I was worried wouldn’t live up to the bar set the previous night. I was wrong and am happy to admit the fact.