6 Stories I Took From The Sasquatch That Weren’t Bands

I went through a bit of  a post-quatch depression this last week.  I’m on the other side now, but here we go anyhow.

1.  The Gorge

There are still a few things in the world that just cannot be described photographically.  Like the view from the top of the CN tower or standing on the edge of the grand canyon or the “big sky” rumored to exist somewhere in between east and west.  Or just  stars.  No matter how nice a photograph you take or how good your camera is (unless, maybe, it’s 3D) the scale just can’t translate to that medium.  It’s that sort of distance and height that makes the horizon look like it’s a matte painting and not even a real, physical place.

So the Gorge is one of those places.  I’ve seen it before, but one of my favourite moments of the weekend was walking to the crest of the hill and joining the line of onlookers stopped in their tracks and taking pictures with their point and clicks that will disappoint them when they get home.  I was with two people who had never seen it before, and their reaction is exactly what I’d hoped for: nothing.  They were just taking it all in.

Is there a more epic stage for a band to play in the world?  Well, I hope so, because otherwise we just peaked.

2. The Car Fuckers

As we drove up to the camping lineup on friday night, guided faithfully by our boxish friend tomtom, we settled in behind a convey of cars packed clown-style with a group of kids who had started the party way too early and were clearly already fucked up on any combination of poisons you want to credit.  The lineup was moving sometimes and others not, and between every slight burst  of progress we made these guys would slide, slither, explode and erupt out of their car doors and windows and start ferociously dance-fucking between and sometimes with the rays of light emanating innocently from our nearest star.  Sometimes they’d manage to find another human and would twistingly envelope each other’s bodies like the red and white stripes on a candy cane.  Other times they’d just hump the shit out of their cars or whatever imaginary thin-air phantom being was addling their brain.  Now I’m not against people getting fucked up at music festivals.  If ever there’s a place for it, there it be.  But in the camping lineup at 6 o clock?  How the hell are you maniacs planning to set up your tents?  By fucking them?

We would have none of this, we decided.  We really didn’t want to camp next to these guys.  Watching them pelvically maul inatimate objects in the lineup was enough. We didn’t want to be woken up each morning by the flourescent glowing of their dilated pupils counterrotating as they hysterically copulated with their car’s running exhaust pipes (which is what they were planning).  So we pulled over, and we let many cars pass us.  Many!  We waived the cars by until there was at least twenty between us and we could see them taking the turn in the distance and merging with the other lane of camping traffic.

Surely, we would never seem them again.  After a jubilant and carefree hour of waiting in line we arrived at our spot on the farthest edges of the regular campsite, emerged from our car, and there they were.  The Car Fuckers.  Somehow, despite our efforts we’d managed to be parked RIGHT NEXT TO THEM.  What’s amazing is that they were in three cars driving bumper to bumper and managed to all stick together, which means that somewhere between the last time we’d seen them all the cars in between had been re-routed and diverted and the calm, orderly procedure of the lineup had only reasserted itself when we arrived.

We managed to escape, of course, but that’s a story for another time.

3.  Crotch Hooch

The generous inclusion of in-outs this year made it seem almost pointless to try to sneak booze into the festival site.  Sure, nobody wants to have to pay festival prices to be trashed all day, but there are always some breaks between bands where you can hustle back to the campsite pound five beer and be back in time for your next act.  Most days, this is the case.

On monday, this wasn’t the case.  On monday, there was The Sheepdogs, Walk the Moon, Gary Clark Jr., Cloud Cult, fun., The Joy Formidable, Feist, John Reilly and Friends, The Silversun Pickups, Tenacious D, and Beck.  And there was not time at all.  So we went with the tried and true method of packing vodka into ziploc bags and packing ziploc bags into… regions.  Regions they’d fear to search.  Was this wrong?  Maybe.  Will I be banned from future Sasquatches?  I hope not.  Please, nobody share this blog with the organizers.  PLEASE.

So anyway, I packed about four ounces of vodka into a plastic bag and then hid it in my crotch.  Not right in there, I’m not an animal.  I doubled up on (CLEAN) underwear and placed it snugly betwixt.  Why do I tell this story?  Because it started to leak as I went through the lineup.  The good news is I made it through and got to drink my three ounces of ill-gotten crotch hooch.  The bad news is there was another ounce of crotch hooch still in the crotch, in the form of a wet and boozy sensation all over my underwear.  I walked around in this state for some time, legs spread in a wide stance apparently to reinforce for onlookers my inherent masculine power (but really to assist the drying mechanism) and sometimes considering the possibility of ringing out the vodka from my underwear.  Not to drink it, you see.  That’s disgusting.  Though it occured to me that having a vodka spunge for a crotch could make for some absolutely horrifying pickup lines.  Maybe next year.

The girls fared better with their boob hooch, bee tea double you.  Also, smuggling in a flask taped to the inside of Mark’s thigh turned out to be a success.  However the heat of his loins (and the sun, we hope) made the whiskey inside drink like hot sake.

4.  Warpaint

Why isn’t it socially acceptable to wear silly face paint in day to day life?  It should be.

5.  The Anthem-Off

Almost two hundred years ago an American man named Francis Scott Key wrote a war poem about the defence of Fort McHenry in the face of British bombardment during the War of 1812.  That poem would go on to become the lyrical basis for a very popular patriotic song that’s still sung before hockey games today.

The War of 1812 is most commonly remembered in Canada as the one time that Canada and the USA went to war.  Technically speaking of course Canada wasn’t a country yet; the war was between the USA and Great Britain.   America was trying to annex upper and lower Canada for any number of reasons and Britain wasn’t willing to give them up.

Frank’s poem was a defiant one.  It’s actually a pretty cool poem, if you can get past the jingoistic anthemicness of it all.

I imagine explaining some things to Frank.  I imagine telling him that in two hundred years there would be a great gathering in the desolate west. Descendents of the nation that was trying to kill Frank would meet with descendents of the nation that Frank was risking his life to defend (or at least, to write about defending).  They would be guided by tiny boxes full of moving pictures that would utilize beams of light shot into space and reflected back  to determine the location of everything on Earth.  They would come together under the influence of outlawed pharmaceuticals and medicines in packs of hundreds and thousands.  The vibrations of instruments would be amplified by electrical currents to  radiate deafeningly over the plains as the musicians danced beside gigantic two-dimensional doppelgangers constructed of coloured lights that would mimic their every move in real-time.

And when the last chord had been struck and the crowd was marching back to their campsite in a uninterrupted rank and file river of humanity thousands of people long, the poem he wrote would be sung to a tune he probably had never heard as a drunken competition between representatives of the very two nations whose war had inspired it two hundred years before.  And the response to the challenge wouldn’t be violent;  it would be drunken Canadians trying to outsing their American counterparts with their own jingoistic theme.

6.  Whiskey Bottle Mornings

The next morning we were packed to go.  The campsite was almost completely abandoned.  We stood there at about eleven in the morning in the haze and the sun and killed the end of a bottle of scotch between Wes, Mark and I.  There was more than a bit to go and we went at it to fast, but there was an unspoken agreement between us that at this time there would be no need for glasses.  There’s a special kind of trashy decadence to drinking whiskey straight from a bottle in the middle of the day in en empty field and then casting the bottle aside after the final drop without a second thought.


Top 10 Acts I Fought the Sasquatch For

The sun.  My oldest and most fearsome enemy.


SCATTER!  Fuck it, he was funny.   Go find him on youtube if you dare.


The last time I went to the festival was way back in ’09, and the scene was different then. It’s transitioned in a big way towards EDM and everyone’s dancing with Molly these days. It can be tempting to turn your nose up at something like dubstep. It sounds fucking weird at first, and it’s hovering just on the other end of what can be called music. And I’m still and probably always will be a pretty traditional rock guy, but fuck it, I wanted to see some dubstep live. Honestly I only caught about twenty minutes of Feed Me’s set, enough for the bass to drop about ten times and to chuck a couple thousand glowsticks in the air.

And it was fucking fun. Coming from a guy who doesn’t like to dance and who has zero EDM on his iPod, when that bass drops and the glowsticks fly you can’t not have a blast. The man next to you is an 18th century colonial sea captain having an intense conversation with a lightsaber, the thoughts in your head are being slowly vibrated into particle effects by the frequencies on the wind and everyone in the crowd is planning to jump at the exact same time.

Just don’t wear sandals.

8.  BECK

NaNa nanana nah na-na.  I wasn’t ready for Beck.  I don’t know Beck at all.  Embarrassing to admit.  I knew his name of course, but I had to ask my girlfriend, who is this guy?  She said he was the guy who does the loser song, so why don’t you kill him?

Oh RIGHT.  This guy!  Beck was the closing act, so it’s weird and wrong to talk about him this early, but I have placed him at 8 and so it is.  The top of his set was a strange kind of nostalgia.  It was like watching a really famous movie you’d never seen before and having a sudden post-pop culture reference revelation about a bunch of jokes on the Simpsons.  Beck took me back to a place where I was 11 years old and watching movies that I didn’t get with music that was being written for a generation a few steps ahead of me.  In other words, I recognized his songs though I didn’t know from where.  This was going well, and Beck is a weird-looking guy with a cool voice which I appreciate.  If David Spade and Bob Dylan mixed genetic material and left their son to live on the street for  a few years, Beck would come out the other end.  Physically, I mean.

Unfortunately Beck lost me mid set (and I think a bunch of the crowd) when he tried to mellow us out.  Presumably he realized that the riled up closing crowd was just having TOO MUCH FUN and decided to kick it down a couple notches, maybe to combat the level of rowdiness that was almost certainly spilling out of the Nero set over at the dance tent and threatening to swallow us whole.

So why is he in my top 10?  Because of the encore.  At the very end, Beck came back out and kicked the crowd in the face with Mutherfucker and E-Pro with a little help from a Tenacious D featuring a Jack Black who looked like he was already ready to get post-show rowdy.  The contrast between Beck’s stoic and serious grunge mellow rocking and Jack Black’s manic drunken prancing, rolling and jumping was the perfect way to end the set, the festival, and the weekend.  Wow them in the end, and you’ve got a hit.

7.  Cloud Cult

The best thing about festival season is discovering new bands.  Cloud Cult is not a new band.  Cloud Cult has been around since 1995, apparently.   Their super experimental progressive rock sound was getting trolled pretty hard when I saw them by the “Maine” stage, which for the unaware was the new hip hop stage at Sasquatch situated directly across from both the Bigfoot and the Banana Shack with nothing in between to block the sounds.  It’s placement was not well planned in other words.  Even still, once I stood up and moved into the floor for Cloud Cult I loved their set.

Their’s is a tough sound to describe.  It’s rock, it’s orchestral, it’s instrumental, it’s symphonic, it’s… auto-tuned?  Occasionally tribal.  It’s danceable.  It’s pop.  It’s weird as weird gets and indie as all hell.  My girlfriend suspects Cloud Cult are a bunch of hipsters.  Maybe so – during their entire set there was one guy on stage (the drummer or maybe keyboardest) who was completing a pretty impressive painting from start to finish.  And every so often they’d stop everything to all drum in unison.  It’s the kind of band you would expect ten classically trained musicians with MFAs in music who have nothing else to do but start a crazy rock band to get by to form.  And it’s good.

Most of what they played was off their 2010 release Light Chasers which is great, because it’s the one I know.  The single is called Running with the Wolves.

Key Songs:  Running with the Wolves, Unexplainable Stories

6.  The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable may have lost a huge chunk of their crowd to fun. (who has that incredibly popular hit We Are Young, and fair enough) but if they noticed, it didn’t seem to slow them down.  Joy had absolutely one of the biggest sounds of any band I saw at Sasquatch.  Their sound was so big that it was a revelation to see that there are only three people in the band.

Ritzy Bryan, the vocalist and the guitarist, is incredible.  She’s one of the best frontmen I’ve ever seen for a band and she’s a girl.  When she speaks to the crowd between sets she’s this charming Welsh girl in a pretty white dress who you expect to be offering you tea and advice on manners.  But as soon as the music starts she’s a wild(wo)man, charging around the stage and challenging the audience with a gaze that I can only describe as a serial killer stare.  She’s seriously terrifyingly intense, and with every break in her singing she seems to be challenging the audience to either rock the fuck out or get up on stage and fight her.

The lyrics to her songs have taken on a whole new light for me since seeing her live, and I have to say, I am now worried she’s fucking insane.  Really insane, like, she needs to see someone.  Her performance is unprecedented.  An absolute must see.

Key Songs:  Whirring, A Heavy Abacus

5. Gary Clark Jr.

If you missed Gary Clark Jr. , don’t miss him again.  It’s too bad that his mainstage slot was at 2 o’clock and the heat was beating us into submission.  All around me on the floor were people trying desperately to find the energy to rock out, but the violence of the sun was keeping them in check.  Maybe this was the plan?  I feel that if Gary Clark Jr. had closed a night, it might be the only act anyone would be talking about.

He’s an incredible guitarist.  A lot of great guitarists have a lot of fun messing with the way they play their guitar live.  They play their guitar with their ear, with the drumstick, they play it behind their head.  And I love that shit!  Gary Clark Jr. does this shit, but when he does it he’s not messing around.  No, he means it.   His funky breakdown leading into Bright Lights was something to hear- it was Tom Morello meats Jimi Hendrix meets awesome and everything in between.

In the short set he had he rocked out, mellowed the crowd, made us slow dance, and back again.  A highlight of the whole weekend, and deserving of a much better timeslot.  Even still, the crowd was clearly devoted, and the “Gary” chants preceded, post-ceded, and interceded his set.

4. Tenacious D

What can be said about Tenacious D that hasn’t already been said?  If you were there you know why they were awesome.  Jack Black is a showman, he knows how the hell to work a crowd, and more than that, he knows how to make every word of his song understood.  My girlfriend wasn’t familiar with the D at all, but she had a ball because she could understand the guy.

In a lot of ways this was the heaviest, loudest, rowdiest set of the whole damn thing.  The crowd was going nuts.  Jumping, crowd surfing, girls on shoulders, and Fuck you Gently got either the biggest or second biggest sing-along of the whole festival.  Is this the defining song of our generation?  No.  But it felt like it when The D played it.  The gigantic penis Fenix (Blizzard to sue Tenacious D?) on stage that came confetti all over the audience has been much talked about, and with reason.  That reason.

3.  ReignWolf

Who the hell is ReignWolf?  Why is he top 3?  ReignWolf is the stage name of Jordan Cook.  ReignWolf is from Saskatoon.  ReignWolf is going to be big.  ReignWolf is the man who had the courage to bomb Jack White’s crowd with an impromptu set from the top of a black van beside the food stand.  ReignWolf is amazeballs.

I caught his set early on Sunday at the Yeti and it was a game changer.  He was tearing around the stage madly, howling over his bluesy shredding and working the crowd like he didn’t expect to be alive after the set was done.  In short he had a fucking blast playing Sasquatch, despite having one of the smallest crowds I encountered at the whole festival.  Climbing on amps, playing the drums and guitar at the same time, practically falling into the crowd a couple of times.

Seeing him reminded me of the first time I saw Wolfmother way back before they’d broken through in North America at the old Richards on Richards.  I know Wolfmother has fallen apart these days, but back then they were a show to not to be missed.  He reminds me of them for a couple of reasons.  One, he kind of looks like Andrew Stockdale.  Two, Wolf.  Wolf wolf wolf.  Third, the music is the same kind of balls out 70s heavy metal fuzz rock that I will just never get tired of.  Finally, I felt like this was the last time I’d ever see him on a stage this small.

Key Song:  Electric Love

2.  We Are Augustines

I have a bit more to say about these guys than the rest.  I immediately took to them when I heard Chapel Song on the Sasquatch website. I’m not great at describing music in music words, but I’d probably call this emotional, triumphant, painful indie rock. Good music to listen to when you have a long walk home on a cold dark night with nothing but an iPod that’s almost out of batteries, a pack of cigarettes, and something like half a buzz. My kind of music.

Much of the appeal of We Are Augustines comes from frontman Billy McCarthy’s powerful and plaintive and oddly mumbly singing voice. He reminds me of a latter day Bruce Springsteen poured over Marcus Mumford and shaken with six ounces of sadness. Seriously, he’s the saddest looking guy on the website. Google him! He has a permanent worried brow look. At first I thought it was sort of funny and odd, until I found out why. Billy McCarthy, it seems, has had it rough. Fucking rough. He spent his childhood in and out of foster homes. His mom, a schizophrenic drug addict, committed suicide when he was 19. Then in 2009, his brother James (also a schizophrenic) hung himself in a mental institution.

An odd part of being a musician seems to be having your tragedy precede you everywhere you go. Fans hold it up like a shield made of legitimacy and the media can’t help but mention the whole ordeal anytime they write about you because it would almost be negligent not to since everyone else already is… right?

Grim stuff. But it gives context to an album of beautifully written songs about driving into the abyss and restless angry oceans and 99 cent stores. Not only that but it goes a ways to explaining why McCarthy looks like he’s singing every song as though he’s carrying a chevy on his back and is an eye twitch away from collapsing under it.

Of all the bands that I was going to see this weekend this was probably the one I listened to the most in the months before.  Sharing the sunset with them at the Yeti stage in front of such a small but enthusiastic crowd was almost the most cathartic part of the whole endeavour for me.  They seemed so honestly happy to be there.  As McCarthy said as the sun set, being in a place like this reminds you that sometimes life is good.

Key songs:  Chapel Song, Book of James, Headlong into the Abyss.

1.  Jack White

In the end, nobody else could even compete.  There’s just nothing else to put at number one.  This was a top 5 act I’ve ever seen in my life.  If I had paid $300 just to see this, I would walk away happy.  Granted, a big part of my excitement is that I’ve never seen the guy before.  I’ve been a huge White Stripes fan for years now and one of my great life regrets was never seeing them live.  Well, I feel like I can safely say I solved that one.

But Jack White tore the fucking place apart.  This is the set that out of all of them I most feel I will probably be telling my kids about one day.  “Oh yeah, I saw him live, in his prime.  You bet your ass he played Seven Nation Army.”

The ear blistering mind raping shredding on his Ball and Biscuit solo is something I’ll never forget.  Swaying with my girlfriend to We’re Going to be Friends.  Rocking the fuck out to Black Math right off the top or dancing to Hotel Yorba or hitting the sky with Steady as She Goes.  The post-show euphoria of the crowd exodus chanting en masse the Seven Nation Army riff as Jack White returned to his tour bus.  Or just fucking Seven Nation Army live, probably one of the most important rock songs of our generation.

The world sometimes feels like it’s running out of true rock stars.  They are a lot of great rock bands, but I’m talking about those singularities of personality so massive and so inescapable and so convincing in their self-assurance that you would swear they were not even really a human at all but rather a flesh conduit to another dimension that could only communicate with us through explosions of sound and fury. I’ve seen a few real honest-to-God consummate professional rock stars in my time, but too few and fewer in their prime.  Jack White is one of them, or if he isn’t, he’s faking it well.

The best review I read of the Jack White set was one word: legendary.