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The People of Sasquatch 

The music festival has become one of the Northwest’s biggest events because of its people

click to enlarge JIM CAMPBELL
  • Jim Campbell

It looked like something out of Mad Max if Mad Max was about partying — two school buses parked parallel to each other, linked by a makeshift lighting rig. During the day, it was merely a festival curiosity on the campgrounds of the Gorge Amphitheatre. At night, it seemed to represent the state of the Sasquatch! Music Festival, which celebrates its 12th edition this weekend. That lighting rig shot off explosive hues that hardly appeared makeshift. Thumping hip-hop reverberated from the buses, far beyond the hundred or so revelers crammed between them and across the rolling hills of tents, tank tops and inebriation.

Someone, or some group of people, had access to not one but two school buses, and had arranged a way to get them parked near one another. This isn’t officially part of the festival itself, but rather something the people of Sasquatch have done for themselves. It’s as good as example as any how the enormous success of this festival has been not just a product of a well-curated lineup, but a result of the people who attend what has become a significant cultural gathering.

It used to just be a chance to see three days of excellent indie music. Now Sasquatch is just as much about the people who buy tickets as it is about the bands who appear onstage. It’s a cultural gathering, one that now sells all of its 25,000 tickets in just a couple hours. Here are some of the people you’ll see at Sasquatch, a festival that needs all of these people to function as it does.

NEON COLLEGE STUDENTS

There’s a festival in Southern California called Coachella. It’s basically a massive fashion show in the desert where young people gather to be made fun of by smug bloggers while music plays in the background. Thankfully, the same can’t be said for Sasquatch, although there is an increasing fashion-show element to the festival. But why wouldn’t you be on the lookout for new styles that perhaps haven’t arrived in your town if you’re at something like Sasquatch? That’s all part of an event like this, and these neon-clad, college-age kids provide it in droves.

Some of them still wear feathered headdresses, without a clue as to how this could be perceived as offensive, ridiculous or both. Thankfully, that ill-conceived trend appears to be dying out. But these youngsters, drunk on half a case of the cheapest beer sold under Washington law, are the cheerleaders of this festival. They have demanded more and more electronic music, not only on the side stages, but even the main Gorge platform, and they’re also the ones who instigate the spontaneous conga lines and aforementioned campground afterparties.

Bands they’re here to see: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Steve Aoki, Earl Sweatshirt, Imagine Dragons

FRIENDLY CANADIANS

Neither Sasquatch organizers nor LiveNation, the company that produces the event, would give us a breakdown of international ticket sales, but from a quick accent and license plate check over the prior three festivals, it’s quite clear that Canadians have come to love Sasquatch.

A few bloggers have speculated that Canadian youth weren’t hit as hard by the recession and thus have a little more walking-around money to shell out for this festival. Also, Vancouver is less than a five-hour drive away from the Gorge (about the same distance as Portland), hardly an impossible trek, even if it requires a border crossing and finding party supplies in a foreign country.

Having these folks as your neighbors in the campgrounds or on the lawn is as much of an unexpected cultural exchange as you’re going to find at a music festival. And these Canadians are insanely friendly. Like, kinda-might-weird-you-out friendly.

Bands they’re here to see: Grimes, Divine Fits, Mumford & Sons, Empire of the Sun

AMATEUR DOCUMENTARIANS

Sasquatch is well documented. The festival’s media area looks like a small music festival itself, with every regional and several national publications featuring some sort of Sasquatch coverage during or after the event.

But there’s another army of documentarians roving the grounds at Sasquatch I’ve never understood why or for whom these guys are shooting video and snapping photos at a machine-gun rate, but they’re everywhere. If you’re at Sasquatch, someone is probably capturing your image. It’s like a crowdsourced police state. There are people who watch the entire festival through the screen of their iPhone as they shoot video of every performance. Maybe something unprecedented is supposed to happen during Bloc Party’s set, or maybe they think that the Postal Service will never again return to the stage. Annoying? Yes. But do you thank these people when you’re huddled around YouTube in January wishing it was Sasquatch season already? Hell yes.

Bands they’re here to see: Tame Impala, Postal Service, Dropkick Murphys

NORTHWEST MUSIC JUNKIES

For all of the party vibe you’ll see at Sasquatch, the festival remains one of the most well-curated lineups around, thanks in part to the influence of founder Adam Zacks. If you’re looking to cram a summer’s worth of live music into one excellent but exhausting weekend, Sasquatch is your answer, and you’ll see the Northwest’s most die-hard music fans in attendance. They might not be dancing their asses off, but are up close for the action thanks to pre-planned schedules that enable them to maximize their time. They’re commonly seen in Seattle sports wear. It’s a generalization, but it seems true.

This year these musical purists, who often opt to drive to Ellensburg for a hotel room rather than endure the campgrounds, have a hell of a slate thanks to scheduled appearances by Icelandic psych gods Sigur Ros, living legend Elvis Costello, and Built to Spill. And they can fill you in on all the lesser-known acts you haven’t heard of.

Bands they’re here to see: The xx, Andrew Bird, Father John Misty, Dirty Projectors and the bands mentioned above

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