Memorial Day weekend touchstones: Flags, BBQs, baseball, and a cavalcade of cars cramming I-90 and heading to the Gorge for the Sasquatch Music Festival. Since the festival’s inception in 2002, Sasquatch has been the go-to destination for Northwest fans wanting to check out the hippest acts in indie rock, hip-hop, and more in the Gorge’s scenic setting. Festival founder Adam Zacks has been there every step of the way, helping his creation grow into one of the premier music events in the country.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Zacks about the festival’s growth, its role in the summer festival landscape, and making love to the Decemberists.
Did you expect Sasquatch to get this big when you first started it?
At very beginning, it was just a complete shot in the dark. And then when it sold out in advance the very first year, that’s what really spurred any long-term thinking around it. Prior to that, there wasn’t any grand design. But after that it was just a process—for lack of a better phrase—of the festival finding its own voice. We were committed from that second year on that we would grow it slowly and only as demand warranted.
Do you feel like you’re competing with the other summer music festivals or are you more part of a bigger tapestry that makes up a festival scene that spans geographic locations?
I lean on the tapestry side. Any competitive instincts I have I try to keep at bay, because I think they’re counterproductive. For music in general—live music specifically—the festivals and the Internet are the best thing that could ever happen, in terms of proliferation of music and music having a role in culture. It’s just the fucking greatest thing that could’ve developed.
Considering how quickly tickets sell out, are there any plans to expand Sasquatch to a second weekend like Coachella has done?
There are no plans right now to double-down on the festival. I really like that the festival is what it is, although we have to deal with this issue—which is a great issue—of demand exceeding availability. As of right now, our solution is not to double-down. It just feels like it would dilute the spirit of the event, and it sort of leans more toward greed.
Since the Sasquatch now only sells full weekend passes and no longer offers single-day tickets, is there any fear of alienating people who can’t make that time commitment or cost work?
I’m aware of the issue, but obviously I feel the way I feel because we continue to sell it the way we do. There is demand to sell out the whole thing. So from an economic standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. (Before eliminating single day passes), 92% of people were going all four days anyway, so that 8% either can’t afford to buy the full festival pass or can’t get the time off work or whatever. It’s hard to turn our backs on those people, and I’ve certainly been in the same situation. I compare it to a cruise. You can’t choose to go on a cruise for two days, and not the full cruise. I hate to say it’s a cruise because cruises suck, but you’re either in for the whole experience or you’re out. There is a very positive side of that in terms of the way people behave once they’re out there. They’re just in it. Because it takes effort to get out there, because of the remote location and all that, that time investment makes for a better festival community and overall event.
What up-and-coming local bands should people check out?
Rose Windows. They’re playing the festival and just got signed to Sub Pop. They’re really an interesting band, especially live.
Do you have any personal favorite festival moments from over the years?The immediate one that comes to mind is the hailstorm that happened in 2006. It was of such biblical proportions and so out of nowhere and so bizarre in that Gorge landscape that it’s hard to describe unless you were there. There are YouTube videos of cell phone footage, but it doesn’t give you the same feeling. It was so intense and so outside of our control. Society seems so organized. When bizarre events you can’t plan for happen, those are the great moments. In 2009, there was a couple that decided to have sex on the cliffside in full view of everybody, during the Decemberists of all bands—it’s funny and it also takes you out of the normal concert experience. I like those moments.
Sasquatch! Music Festival
May 24–27, Gorge Amphitheatre, sold out