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Posted Jun 9th, 2010 (8:59 pm) by Matt Midgley
The Festival Review: Sasquatch 2010 tune-yards
Image by Maomi Blackburn

With travel expenses, hotel, camping costs, festival tickets, as well as any edible/drinkable entertainment one may choose to indulge in, today's music festivals are just too expensive and too numerous for most people to attend without doing some picking and choosing. Well, lucky for you that we at Inyourspeakers have decided to attend a wide slice of this summer's festivals in order to answer ye old debate over which festivals are worth your time and which ones aren't. Throughout the summer, we'll break down our own festival experiences to help you decide which events are right for you.

Today, we discuss the Sasquatch! Music Festival, which is held at Washington State’s breathtaking Gorge Amphitheater over Memorial Day weekend. In its ninth year, Sasquatch! has come to gain quite a name for itself among the festival-going community, playing host to a huge list of indie favorites such as The Arcade Fire, R.E.M., The Flaming Lips, Joanna Newsom, The Pixies, Beck, Björk, The Cure, Neko Case, Death Cab for Cutie, The Mars Volta, M.I.A., and Mos Def. Year after year, it is a major contender for best music festival of the West Coast; considering some of its competition, this definitely says something.

So how did this year stack up? In the following review, we will take a look at some of the different aspects that are key to making a festival great: production and organization, presentation, sustainability and greening efforts, non-musical entertainment, and overall festival atmosphere.

Section 1: Festival Production (Organization)

This year's lineup was undoubtedly one of 2010’a strongest with a varied swath of genre-defining heavy hitters and fresh indie favorites, including My Morning Jacket, Massive Attack, Pavement, Ween, LCD Soundsystem, The National, Vampire Weekend, KiD CuDi, The New Pornographers, Dr. Dog, The Mountain Goats, Neon Indian, Mayer Hawthorne, The Middle East, and Dirty Projectors, to just name a few.

A brilliantly organized show with a boring lineup will send you home disappointed, but a festival's organization and production are more than just the year's lineup. Overcrowding, improper stage layouts, dirty facilities, security (or a lack thereof), high food/drink costs and poor crowd control can all ruin an otherwise great weekend experience.

Luckily for those of us there at The Gorge last weekend, Sasquatch 2010's lineup and organization were both solid. The fields and hills were crowded, but not overbearingly so; most of the time, it was easy to find a place to sit down to watch the performers or simply take it easy. While the main stage's large hill likely proved to be an annoyance to anyone out of shape (or drunk), no stage was more than three minutes away from anywhere else, making show-hopping relatively easy. Bathrooms were readily available and cleaned regularly. ATMs were a bit too scarce, but this only posed a problem until we appropriately adjusted the amount funds we carried around the festival grounds. That said, we did not mind withdrawing all the money we believed we would need during the day; for others who prefer to take out only a small amount of money at a time, this may have been an issue.

Score: 28/30

Section 2: Presentation & Originality

Originality in presentation is the key to turning a festival from a series of back-to-back shows into an encapsulated experience. Overall festival themes and uniformity of presentation help take things to that next level, guaranteeing that you will want to return to a particular festival yearly, rather than just chase your favorite lineups around the country. Sasquatch is lucky to have a built-in theme (that of an American beast-of-legend), but their capitalization on the idea could certainly be carried a few steps further.

That said, Sasquatch's organizers could do far worse, to be honest, and the festival's presentation would still likely be a home run based solely on the venue. As we gushed before, Sasquatch's yearly placement at The Gorge is undeniably a major reason why the festival has become so popular. One day, when we humans have colonized dozens of planets, The Gorge will likely be mentioned in the travel pamphlets for Earth from the intergalactic equivalent of AAA.

Unfortunately, besides the beautiful surroundings, Sasquatch did not offer more than a handful of characteristics that set it apart from other major music festivals. Unlike other nationally-recognized fests (such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza) that pride themselves on a specific theme or set of themes, Sasquatch 2010 ended up feeling like a three-day concert and nothing more. Quite simply, the theme was the key here, and we felt it to be a bit on the lacking side at this year’s Sasquatch Festival.

Score: 12/20

Section 3: Sustainability Practices

Festivals, by their nature, draw huge crowds of people, which make for huge carbon footprints. Nearly every festival out there is trying to do something to offset this, though all efforts are not equal in this regard.

Sasquatch’s organizers put their money where their mouths were, and paid a Chicago Climate Exchange member consulting firm to mitigate 125% of the festival’s expected carbon output (including the estimated carbon output for the average attendee’s transportation to and from the festival), and bought enough energy credits to ensure that 100% of the event would be powered by wind energy. In simple terms, this means that a relatively significant portion from each ticket sold went directly to the one-hundred thousand plus dollars it took to effectively “green” Sasquatch.

Add this to the large-scale recycling capabilities and hefty incentives for carpooling and you've got a winning combination for anyone who claims to care for the earth (which in a place as beautiful as The Gorge, is a hard thing not to want to claim).

Score: 20/20

Section 4: Non-Musical Entertainment

Most contemporary multi-day music festivals bill themselves as "Music & Arts Festivals," and provide various non-musical attractions for those times when either none of the bands interest you, or you really just need to mellow out in the Sonic Forest for a while.

Unfortunately, Sasquatch does not bill itself as such. Besides the seriously solid comedy lineup, basically zero non-musical entertainment options were available. Sure, we all came for the music, but everybody loves options.

Score: 4/10

Section 5: Overall Festival Atmosphere

Sure, there are a number of x-factors involved in a festival's general atmosphere (Bonnaroo’s organizers couldn't have planned last year’s mass mud-wrestling, but it sure as hell made for a great time), but the underlying elements of any given music-centric event’s feel live with the event’s organizers. Daily costs, campground setup, security presence and general attendee security are some of the most notable aspects herein. Cover each of these bases appropriately, and you’re likely to have a very successful festival; implement one more of these items, and you’re likely to have a disaster.

While nearly every one of the aforementioned atmospheric elements was carried out appropriately, we did take issue major issue with one of Sasquatch’s policies: namely that of the hard-and-fast No Re-entry policy. As any festival-goer knows, a huge benefit of camping at a festival is the relative accessibility of your food, friends, and a place to sleep, at any time you may need it. The No Re-entry policy made for all sorts of annoying situations. For example, due to Washington's volatile weather we had to lug around clothing / accoutrements for both the (potentially pounding) heat of the daytime, and for the breezy chill of the night. Also, at one point during the first day, our photographer’s camera ran out of juice, and the spare battery was left at our camp; if not for the kindness of a fellow photographer, we would have been totally out of luck. And lastly, considering how late each night’s festivities ran, we found it especially annoying that we were not allowed to go back to our tents for a quick mid-day refresher nap (an issue that appeared to resonate with more and more attendees as the festival progressed).

Score: 15/20

Conclusion

So overall, how does Sasquatch measure up against the other dozen or so major summer festival options?

Pros:
As always, the music is pivotal, and once again, Sasquatch 2010 delivered three days of the best lineups this summer. The festival also impressed us with its exemplary attempt to stay carbon-neutral and to subsist purely on renewable energies. Potential festival-goers would be hard pressed to find a better setting for a music festival, what with Washington's fair early-summer weather and such an incredible setting.

Cons:
We wish that Sasquatch had more to offer with regards to non-musical entertainment; there were points during the day at which we didn’t know what to do with ourselves other than watch acts that we weren’t terribly excited about. The costs of food and beverage were extremely high and the selection therein was somewhat boring (we hope you like Dominoes’ and $12 Bud Lights). We found Sasquatch’s no re-entry policy to be incredibly irksome.

Final Score (Multi-Day Festivals): 79/100

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