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2008 Sasquatch! Music Festival - Day One

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If there is a more beautiful place to see a concert than the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington please direct me to it. Each year, this is the home for the annual memorial weekend blowout known as the Sasquatch! Music Festival. A short two-hour drive east from Seattle takes you to the Gorge, built on the side of a cliff, overlooking the Columbia River. The scenery is as gorgeous as anywhere, when you add in some of the greatest music acts around you have the combination for one of the most enjoyable festivals in America.

With the beauty comes one major down fall, being that it was the Pacific Northwest and we all know how the weather in the region can be. Last year the fest had a few acts canceled due to high winds and the obvious threat for rain is always there. Until 10:30 pm Saturday night, during R.E.M.'s headlining performance it was looking like the bullet would be dodged, but alas there would be no dodging and while the rain never poured down it came down hard enough to get everything wet and make for a cold viewing experience.

That did not deter Michael Stipe and Co. from putting on a fantastic show. Even in the rain and wind, the showmanship and musical talent of Stipe and the whole band for that matter really shined through. Performing bare-foot, (probably a safe move on the wet stage) REM played a set heavy with songs from their new, rock-heavy album, Accelerate but didn't forget the hits that made them as popular as they are today. "Losing My Religion," "Man On the Moon," "Orange Crush," the list goes on and of course like any band with such a large catalog of true hits some are not going to make it to the set. Watching seasoned bands is such an enjoyable experience, as they do not need to rely on tricks and gimmicks to entertain, only the charisma, showmanship and quality music that has made them a seasoned band. The headliners of this festival (REM, The Cure, and the Flaming Lips) are all veteran bands and there is a certain mystique that follows and was evendent in not only this performance, but in the Cure's the next night as well. (Full review of that later)

On the complete opposite end of this you have someone like MIA, a relative newcomer who has been tearing up every festival she has performed at in the past three years or so. The pop/hip-hop/drum and bass queen has been packing tents and stages all spring (we saw the madness she created at Coachella) and for good reason. Her brand of music is so fresh and fun compared to the crop of acts out there. While only two albums deep into her career, she already knows how to rock the crowd and put on an outstanding show. She also knows how to create a security nightmare as two songs from the end of her set she invited as many people as could fit up on stage to party with her. The crowd, as most of them have, was thoroughly into each song she brought out, singing and dancing and reached it's climax when she closed with her current hit "Paper Planes." After her current round of performances, M.I.A. can easily be ranked with the top performers out.

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The day also featured an outstanding performance from Modest Mouse, who by the count of fans wearing their shirts (yes, me and my friends counted, I believe we got up to 30+ before the band even went on), seemed to be the most popular group at the event, being from nearby it was not surprising. They are a thoroughly entertaining group live, and their maturity in sound and performance has made them one of the better live indie groups touring today.

The standout, underdog performance of the day award goes to Beruit. His baroque melodies and eerie voice was a perfect compliment to the beautiful scenery. I am amazed each time I hear this group as, Zach Condon the voice of the group, is only in his early twenties and to create such lush, beautiful music so young makes me excited to see what they will create as they progress and grow. Both of their albums Gulag Orkestrar and Flying Club Cup are filled with lovely instrumentation from both brass and string instruments and all of this translates to the live show with perfection.

What differs Sasquatch! from a behemoth festival like Coachella is the laid back nature that it possesses. There was little crowd infighting, everyone just wanted to have a good time and hear some good music, where at Coachella there seems to always be a nervous energy and a scramble to see all the bands you want. I have enjoyed Coachella for the past 4 years and will continue to but this is a festival you do not want to miss. It is truly an escape from reality, and looking upon the Gorge while hearing the sounds of some of the finest musicians is an experience everyone should try and have.

I will have a write up of Day Two tomorrow...

Photos by Christopher Nelson/Sean Pecknold