Sasquatch! 2016: Best Dance Party, Light Show, Hairdo & More Fest Highlights

ALEX CRICK
Florence + the Machine performs at Sasquatch! Music Festival on May 30, 2016.

Sasquatch! Music Fest, the annual Memorial Day Weekend event held at the mind-blowingly gorgeous Gorge Amphitheater in Eastern Washington State, came to its peak Saturday night at the Bigfoot Stage. Rapper Big Boi and electronic duo Phantogram, together known as Big Grams, cranked the volume and threw down, with the Atlanta native rhyming over bass throbs far more thundering than any other act all weekend. As far as festival-defining highlights, Big Grams was an unexpected dark horse.

While rumors of surprise appearances from Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa proved untrue, it didn’t distract from Big Grams’ big moment. Typically a mid-lineup act, the unlikely collaborators nabbed the sought-after closing slot, performing to tens of thousands of high, sunburned, and epically thrilled festivalgoers. It was a coronation -- Big Grams is here to stay and this ain’t no sideshow. In a red baseball jersey and cap, Boi waddled all over the stage, as lead singer Sarah Barthel strutted her long, stilettoed legs up and down the catwalk. They had a playful, awwww shucks/Ozzie and Harriet banter that was endearing. Later, producer-guitarist-beatmaker Josh Carter beat a piñata hanging from the stage’s rafters for his birthday. The deal was signed with “Lights On,” the single from the group’s debut release Big Grams. The massive crowd sang the hook in unison, arms rising and falling with the bass drops: “I hope you keep the lights onnnnnnnnn, for meeeee!!!” These festivalgoers certainly will.

Big Boi & Indie-Pop Duo Phantogram on Their Big Grams Side Project, 'Tralien' Music and Hitting the Strip Club With Dave Chappelle

And that’s just the beginning -- the four-day festival was jam-packed with notable moments. For starters, the scenery is jaw-dropping: The Gorge Amphitheatre is located a three-hour drive east from Seattle, up over the Cascade Mountains to the Columbia River Gorge, scene of a cataclysmic flood at the end of the last ice age. The sheer scale will make you dizzy. From the grass hillside, one looks out across a vast canyon and the mighty Columbia, up the mountains of the Eastern Slope of the Cascades.

Here are 24 other festival moments.

Best Fashionably Late: A$AP Rocky

A$AP Rocky didn’t set foot on the mainstage Friday night until 45 minutes had passed -- and the crowd was growing restless. Instead, a DJ and two opening rappers performed in front of a neon sign flashing the headlining rapper’s name. But, still, no A$AP Rocky. Finally, the man appears on the DJ high rise in jeans, a jean jacket, white hoodie, and red sneakers, with psychedelic colors flashing on the screens at his feet. "I was a little afraid that we'd be too turned up tonight,” Rocky said. “But if you feel how I feel, then you're ready to turn the f-ck up. Glad we speak the same language." Hey, better late than never.

Best Stage Décor: Yeasayer

To bolster the psychedelic mood, the Brooklyn experimental pop band decorated the stage with glowing mannequins of iconic personalities, like Einstein, who came complete with flashing eyebrows and mustache. There was a mannequin of Michelangelo’s sculpture David with a flashing TV on his head, and a baby with a coconut for a hat (also flashing, of course). Several other sculptures flashed and glowed, like a trippy visit to The Louvre in Paris.

Best All-Out Dance Party: Disclosure

Wow. This British DJ duo sure knows how to incite a riot. It’s simple: Just play their hit song, “Nocturnal.” Standing atop their DJ podium Saturday night on the main stage, the duo -- brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence -- had the crowd chanting “nocturnal, nocturnal, nocturnal,” as epileptic lights flashed ad nauseam. Later, Disclosure "slowed things down just for one minute” for “Willing and Able.” "This is my fave song, like ever," one girl yelled to another in the pit. The crowd sang, “We’re fallin’ in love, fallin in love, fallin’ in love” and grinded in the sweaty, shape-shifting mass. Singer Jillian Hervey of New York City neo-soul group Lion Babe joined for “Hourglass,” dancing in silver glitter pants and top over fluxing beats: "Eyes on the hourglass,” she wailed. “As we sink into the sand. Time's up, there's nothing we can do about it.” The fleeting moment was certainly enjoyed.

Best Shenanigans: Late-Night Fireworks

Risking having his weekend pass revoked, one reveler snuck fireworks into the campgrounds and at 2 A.M. Saturday morning, launched a barrage of Roman Candles. He fired and maneuvered, outsmarting a camping grounds security officer, who came in search of the perp shortly thereafter. We salute you, firework dude.

Best Canadians: Cute Calgary Couple

With the Great White North just a short drive away, Sasquatch draws an uncanny number of Canadians, who post their nation’s flags in the campground and otherwise do their country a service by being awesome. This cute couple high-tailed it from Calgary in 12 hours for the festival. They sure love their new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and will welcome any Americans fleeing their homeland if/when Donald Trump is elected, eh.

Best Campground Neighbors: Four NYC Dudes

A few buddies from New York City recently piled into a rented RV and crossed the country, stopping to let loose in Chicago, Montana’s Yosemite and Glacier National Parks, and, finally, to see their favorite bands at Sasquatch Fest. They’re in a band, too -- check out the Cosmic Coronas, who strummed Sublime’s “What I Got” and held impromptu jam sessions with musically-inclined passersby in the campgrounds. There was never a dull, music-less moment. And on Tuesday morning, when our car battery was discovered dead, the guys provided a jump. Now those are good festy vibez.

Most Welcome News Update: The Fire Is Extinguished

High winds plagued the Gorge Sunday, forcing the mainstage to cancel early performances from Saint Motel, Frightened Rabbit, and Houndmouth. Sets from Leon Bridges, Alabama Shakes, and headliners The Cure were in limbo. Then worse news spread: A brush fire, located just outside the Gorge, was spreading fast. The thick smoke was visible from the grounds. Apparently evacuations were imminent. But the wind died down and the fire was controlled, allowing good times to roll on.

Most Demented Stage Presence: Ty Segall

With a raging five-piece rock band behind him, the prolific California garage-rock prodigy absolutely ssssslllllayyyyeeedddd. As he’s wont to do, he also brought his creepy stage personas to the Bigfoot Stage, wearing several odd masks with his suit and tie, and then chanting "today is a beautiful day" over and over in a high voice. A circle pit formed, kicking up a dust devil in the dry heat. “Drink your water. Go swimming for it," he said, nonsensically. Okay then.

Best Advice: Ty Segall

“The doctor said to eat your vegetables and drink a little less, so I think I'm gonna do that,” Segall said, apropos to absolutely nothing, during his weird and rippin’ Saturday set. Thanks for the tip, dude.

Most Appropriate Soundtrack: Lord Huron

With the life-affirming natural vistas covered in golden wheat, the Columbia snaking across Washington at your feet, the Gorge is basically a Fleet Foxes song incarnate. Enter Lord Huron, holding the Americana indie-folk torch in the Seattle band’s steed.  The quartet strummed tracks from their 2012 debut, Lonesome Dreams, and latest release, 2015’s Strange Trails. The reverb-rich, soaring vocal melodies of the band’s popular acoustic anthem, “Ends of the Earth,” floated out across the Gorge, providing the weekend’s most on-brand moment.

Best Nostalgia: M Ward

The singer-guitarist, aka 50 percent of She & Him, was dressed casually in jeans, a flannel, and a duck-billed baseball cap, but his performance was all ‘50s rock n’ roll. His backing band was done to the nines in throwback suits, ties, and top hats, and his songs came with extra juke joint twang. With his smoky, Louis Armstrong-esque vocals, he performed "Primitive Girl” and “Rave On” with the crowd doing the mashed potato. Later, several couples waltzed to a slow, lilting track with crisp guitar riffs. "Talk to me, baby,” Ward crooned. “Talk to me, baby."

Best Light Show: M83

The French electronic band had knitted lights in the backstage area and tossed glow sticks to the audience, creating a canvas of flying color to animate their grand electronic epics, as the last sherbet oranges of the sunset went to bed over the Gorge and far off mountains.

Anthony Gonzalez Talks M83's Latest Opus: 'You Can Have Fun and Cry at the Same Time'

Best Newcomer: Marian Hill

Sasquatch does a solid job of booking new talent, but, wow, they nailed it with this Philadelphia duo of Jeremy Lloyd (production/songwriting) and Samantha Gongol (vocals/songwriting). The act drew a late-night crowd Saturday with dubstep and deep R&B, with Gongol’s wild vocals on top. They even covered Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" all slow and sensual, as a parade of girls in long white angel gowns and glowing headdresses pranced among the adoring crowd.

Marian Hill Unwraps a Secret In Hypnotic 'I Know Why': Exclusive Premiere

Holy Wow Zomg Moment: Major Lazer

“They say this is the most beautiful venue in America,” Diplo said from the main Sasquatch Stage Friday night. “It has the most beautiful people in America!” Say what you will about Diplo, dapper and suave leader of this bass-dropping duo, but the guy can mobilize an army of music fans to a single cause: dancing! He had the crowd -- and we mean everyyyyooonnneeeee -- rip off their shirts and twirl ‘em overhead. Then he demanded all cellphones and lighters in the air. Next, he instructed the massive crowd (really, one of the biggest in Sasquatch history) to all run to the right, then all run to the left. It’s a miracle someone wasn’t trampled. Dancing girls in Go-Go pants and Seattle Sounders soccer jerseys booty-danced across the stage. Diplo and Major Lazer are more than musicians; they’re party-starters, and they’re damn good at it. 

Pro Camping Tip No. 1: Don’t Do Drugs, Man

Don't eat the ketamine being sold at the campsite with the giant weed leaf flag. Someone went to the ICU from it.

Pro Camping Tip No. 2: Wear a Bandana

By Sunday morning the winds were gusting past 20 MPH and tents were rolling down the lanes Wizard of Oz style. It was also kicking up a ton of dust and sand, lashing campers traversing the long, exposed path from the campgrounds to festival grounds. So go renegade and wear a bandana over your mouth and nose, with big sunglasses over your eyes. It was apocalyptic out there.

Best Triumph: Comedian Lauren Lapkus

The actress and funnygal best known for her roles in Orange is the New Black faced a giant task on Sunday afternoon. With the main stage closed due to wind and the gusts blowing the blurry, heavy riffs of The Twilight Sad directly into her set at the El Chupacabra tent, Lapkus had to keep the laughs flowing despite epic setbacks. She won. With comedian Todd Barry in tow, she engaged the audience with hilarious quips and banter, recorded for her podcast With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, which has her improvising a different character in each episode. This time, she was the owner of a vegan restaurant and one of 12 sets of twins, born at once in a Honey Bucket. “Let’s give it up for Honey Buckets,” she joked.

Best Kick in the Teeth: Savages

The militant, all-female British band brought the post-punk fury to the Bigfoot Stage despite the windy conditions and precariously swaying stage rafters overhead. Due to technical difficulties with the guitar set up, the band continued on as a drum-bass-vocals trio, delivering a hyper-aggressive performance of “T.I.W.Y.G.,” with singer Jehnny Beth huffing and puffing, “This is what you get when you mess with love!!!” Stomping across the stage in high black boots, black shirt, black jeans, and slick-backed hair, Beth was like an art-haus military colonel from A Clockwork Orange.

Savages Talks New Album, Death of Rock & Roll: 'As Long as There's Fans Mosh-Pitting, It Doesn't Matter'

Best Silly-Fun Time: Tacocat

The Seattle group -- their name is an anagram -- played footloose surf rock with twang guitar and clattering drums, as the crowd threw a beach party. Colorful, blow up beach balls blew in the wind, and several pals joined the group onstage for a dance party, one of ‘em dressed in a lobster costume, another as a skeleton, and still another as a cellphone, snapping selfies with the band members mid-song. "This is our second song about periods in one set list,” frontwoman Emily Nokes cracked. It’s called “Crimson Wave.” “Gonna call in sick to work, I don't care, my boss is a jerk,” sang Nokes. “Can't believe all the pain I'm in, get me white wine and Vicodin.”

Best Vocals (and Hairdo): The Cure’s Robert Smith

A festival isn’t a festival without a big-name legacy act, and in 2016 Sasquatch’s legendary headliner was dreamy, romantic British vets The Cure. Frontman Robert Smith and Co. certainly didn’t disappoint Sunday night. After all, their set almost didn’t happen at all. The mainstage had been closed by wind since early in the day, and as Alabama Shakes’ 9:00 PM set approached festival officials finally gave the go-ahead to save the day and reopen the mainstage. Thank God. Smith proved his legend status is well deserved over nearly two hours of hits and deep cuts. He sounded flawless, nailing the vocal quirks and squeaks that give songs like “High” their emotional touch. The band trotted through “Plainsong,” “Pictures of You,” “Disintegration,” and “Just Like Heaven,” the track that connected with both older and younger fans. It’s still just heavenly: The slick, falling guitar riff and the starry-eyed lyrics of blissed out love.

Best ‘Making The Best of It’: Leon Bridges

When wind shut down the main Sasquatch Stage, the Texas soul-R&B crooner’s set was canned. So he made the best of it. Bridges grabbed his acoustic guitar and headed out to the grounds, where hundreds soon gathered to watch his impromptu performance.

Leon Bridges Channels '60s Soul and R&B at NYC's Beacon Theatre

Best Cover: Thao and the Get Down Stay Down Do Missy Elliott

Portland, OR's own indie rock outfit performed Missy’s hyper-rhythmic classic “Get Ur Freak On,” resulting in a bunch of granola hipsters bumpin’ and grindin’ in the mid-afternoon sun.

Best Nap Music: Kurt Vile

And we don’t mean that negatively, whatsoever. With numerous daily trips from camp to festival grounds, traversing nearly two miles each way, a typical festivalgoer can rack up over 20,000 steps each day. That’s a lot of walking. Throw in the long nights, early mornings rising with the sun, the oppressive heat and lashing sand storms, most Sasquatch fans are tuckered out by Monday night. So many crews nuzzled up in blankets and settled into the grass for festival-closing sets. The best came from Kurt Vile. The Philadelphia psych-folk singer-songwriter delivered floating, reverby tracks that lulled listeners straight to sleep on the edge of a massive geological chasm. Purrrrtttttyyyyyy.

Shout Out: The EMS Guys

Thanks for removing the dust from my eye and washing it out.


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