Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Sasquatch: The Footprints We Leave Behind

    There’s a lot of stuff about Sasquatch that kind of sucks. So why do people keep going back?

    Every year, when spring rolls around and Seattle is just starting to bloom into color, the question “Are you going to Sasquatch?” becomes a mainstay in most conversations. If the answer is yes, then you get to share a few moments of excitement about the year’s lineup with a friend or total stranger, swap expectations about who you’re most excited to see, and—if you have them—exchange crazy stories from past festivals. It’s a kind of badge of honor, a connection to your fellow denizens of the Northwest that becomes an axis for the rest of your year; there’s everything that happens before Sasquatch and everything that happens after.

    And, because, Sasquatch is an integral part of Northwest life, the answer to a question like, “Why did you come to Sasquatch this year?” might seem too simple. It is, after all, a music festival, and there are few opportunities to see so many incredible artists in one place. But, as the concert has grown in size, the list of complaints from attendees has increased as well. Apart from ticket cost, which is over three hundred dollars–only if you nab them before they sell out on announcement day–the festival harbors a number of issues that constantly threaten to dampen the experience.

    The first of these is lines. From the moment you arrive at the campground they are everywhere. People told me horror stories about arriving at midnight, waiting for four hours in the stretch of cars that snaked out from the camp entrance and starting to put up their tents at four in the morning. And then there’s the entrance to the actual concert itself, which usually has you waiting for forty-five minutes to an hour under the blazing sun, surrounded by really drunk—and loud—guys throwing beach toys at your head.

    The crowds don’t just create problems in the form of lines, either. With the number of people at the festival now somewhere near 100,000, finding a comfortable spot to enjoy your favorite band becomes a bit of a problem. While the main stage, with its massive hill and beautiful panorama of the Columbia Gorge, usually has more than enough room, the other, smaller venues struggle to maintain themselves when the crowds get too large. The Yeti Stage, which is crunched into the northeastern corner of the grounds near the food stands, simply can’t sustain a large crowd. When someone like Youth Lagoon or Tame Impala comes on stage, the enjoyment of seeing the performance is also laced with a good bit of claustrophobia, and some of the people I spoke to told me they would have preferred a smaller venue.

    This complaint speaks to the event’s most divisive issue: the people. While many I talked to said that they came to the festival for the music, nearly as many told me that they came for the party. Because Sasquatch requires camping, and because any music festival inherently brings with it a lot of alcohol and a variety of drugs, the campground becomes a massive shantytown of drunks, wigged-out drug users and terrifying Porta-Potties. While this is only mildly annoying in the evening—when you’re trying to get some sleep after a long day and the guys camping next to you prefer blasting dubstep out of the speaker system they brought with them—it becomes an actual obstruction to the enjoyment at some of the shows.

    At no other place will you see people more out of their wits, and you’re liable to see a few of them pass out in the front row, vomit off the sidelines or pee on themselves. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if they weren’t also standing next to you during your favorite band’s performance, either screaming at one another about how good the last show was, or stumbling against you when you’re trying to get your groove on. This can be particularly bad if you’re a female, where the combination of booze, heat and drugs makes a lot of male concert attendees think they’re entitled to ogle and touch every girl in a twenty-foot vicinity.

    Yet, despite the complaints I heard, everyone had a lot to say about why they choose to suffer through the rough patches, and it usually went beyond a mere, “I came for the music.” Because, even though you see the worst of people at the festival, you also see the best of them. For every stranger who’s taken ecstasy for the first time and won’t stop rubbing your shoulders at the Father John Misty show, there are thousands of people who all love the same music and who are willing to let down the walls they’ve built around themselves all year to dance together at their favorite show.

    When I asked the guy standing next to me at Grimes why he came to the festival, he said that he enjoyed being able to connect with people he didn’t know over music that he loved. He spent most of his time wandering to different shows and dancing with complete strangers and, for him, spending four days only caring about which great band to see next was pure bliss.

    “The only thing I have to worry about all weekend,” he said, “is which Honey Bucket to use.”

    And, while most folks come for the music, there’s something else about Sasquatch that gets at the heart of why so many keep coming back each year. Because the moment people start talking about why they come to the festival is the moment they start telling stories about the incredible things that happen to them every year when they return. Couples recount how they fell in love standing next to each other at the entrance line. The more stories that get told, the more obvious it becomes that Sasquatch is just as much about the connectivity between attendees as it is about the music.

    Sasquatch offers people an opportunity to grow together with the bands they love. Tallest Man on Earth, The XX, Mumford and Sons and a whole slew of other artists, now successful and playing the main stage, talked about how, just a few years ago, they had been playing at one of the smaller stages nearby. There is a sense of gratitude and love that fills the hill when the audience realizes that they’ve been a part of an artist’s journey and there is a beautiful moment when both musician and audience member realize their connection to one another. And the more times people attend, the more they seem to use Sasquatch as a way to catalogue different parts of their lives. Most people had a story about seeing a great band a couple years back, when they were just beginning to become popular, and the sense of fulfillment that came along with returning and seeing them play a huge show.

    While it’s easy to forget about how much you used to care about now-popular bands like Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and Macklemore, standing at the top of the hill at sunset and watching a couple thousand people move their bodies together makes you realize that Sasquatch is just as much about growing up together as it is about listening to great music or partying for four days. It’s about that time you stayed up until sunrise with your best friends because the music was so profound that sleep wouldn’t come. It’s about the bonds you forged in only a few days with people you barely knew when the weekend started.

    For people in the Northwest who spend most of the year shivering under thick jackets with their earphones plugged in, trying to ignore one another, it becomes an opportunity to realize how much music keeps us all together when things get rough.

    So despite the white kids who still haven’t realized that wearing a feathered headdress isn’t OK, there’s still the guy at the end of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ set who gets down on one knee and, with the sun sending streaks of orange light through the clouds behind him, proposes to his girlfriend. And when a couple thousand people on the hill erupt into applause when they catch sight of it, you realize that a little heat and some annoying kids are a small price to pay for being a part of something that’s bigger than music, and bigger than you.

    The editor may be reached at [email protected]

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    • P

      Jul 22, 2013 at 6:05 am

      There are only about 30,000 at Sasquatch tops. 100,000 is grosly overestimated. Anyway, nice article.