Got your earplugs and sunscreen ready? It’s time for Sasquatch! 2013, the 11th annual music festival that inspires mass pilgrimages to the sunny Gorge in central Washington. With five stages and dozens of acts over four days (May 24-27) it makes an insane racket. (Maybe that explains the exclamation point in its name!) If you haven’t been, it looks like hordes of party zombies crawling over arid plateaus surrounding the Columbia River. And it sounds roughly like tinnitus, but not necessarily in a bad way.
The big headliner is Macklemore, the Seattle rapper who exploded to national star status in 2012-13. He and his partner Ryan Lewis, anchor the Friday night action. Last year he wasn’t even part of the official Sasquatch! lineup, just famous enough for an unannounced three-song set on the main stage. This year he’s had two number one songs (“Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us”), played “Saturday Night Live,” been on “The Colbert Report,” toured the world, and sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his album, “The Heist.”
Maybe you read The Seattle Times’ prediction of Macklemore’s star trajectory back in 2011? Well, here’s another prediction: the iconic image of Sasquatch! 2013 will be the emcee waving a flag over his head. The guy just has a thing about flags. In the epic music video for “Can’t Hold Us,” he plants one on the Space Needle, and he likes to wave an Irish one on stage. Trust us, there will be a flag.
Macklemore is huge, and so is fellow local Sasquatch! act the Postal Service, closing out the festival Monday night. Likewise Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers are big deals, representing the mainstream neo-folkie movement.
But even with that heavy artillery, Sasquatch! isn’t about names. It’s about a joyful noise, a wondrous setting, and the way those two things go together. It’s a feeling. And in today’s music industry, with downloading killing album sales but humans still needing ecstatic communion, the festival experience is big business.
Nobody knows that better than Sasquatch! organizer Adam Zacks, who also books the Seattle’s Paramount, Moore and Neptune Theatres. He says there was a typo in the news release stating how quickly Sasquatch! sold out this year. It was actually 60 minutes, not 90 — the fastest rate yet, and with the most tickets sold. He won’t say exactly how many, but it’s around 25,000 per day. Barring unforeseen problems, it’s already the most successful Sasquatch! yet.
Zacks won’t use the shock-and-awe booking tactics of Coachella or Bonnaroo, partly, because he’s not messing with what isn’t broken.
“The goal is not to book bigger bands, or household names,” said the soft-spoken mogul, “but do exactly what we’ve been doing — push new music to new audiences.”
He’s a fan of music, not just a businessman, and Sasquatch! is a place where the music matters.
The atmospheric rock band Sigur Ros from Iceland is “not there because they’re popular,” he says. “They’re a great fit for the festival. I’ve been wanting to see them in that setting for years.”
Zacks is also looking forward to seeing Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala, and the comedian Tig Notaro, whose bit about having cancer became the comedy cult event of last year.
Those kinds of strong midlevel bookings can turn fans on to new acts they haven’t heard before, and give Sasquatch! a common language of discovery.
There is also the common language of inebriation, of course — despite double-digit beer prices and security guards frisking for drugs. But Zacks thinks the breathtaking landscape has a similar effect.
“It’s the first thing musicians from out of town notice when their bus drives in. It’s a little mind-blowing.”