I’m admittedly archaic when it comes to music festival planning. In the age of festival apps and LTE coverage in the middle of nowhere, I still employ the analog process of printing out schedules and highlighting my daily itinerary. When it came time to get ready for Sasquatch! 2016, one thing became instantly clear: Sunday was the day for me. The entire day’s lineup was loaded with acts that I love and couldn’t wait to see. Leading up to The Cure’s headlining set, the scheduled looked like this:
Deep Sea Diver
It wasn’t until Saturday night, while winding down and looking ahead to the following day that the obvious unifying element of that list—and the prominent theme of the weekend—became apparent. Women ruled Sasquatch! 2016. Women front all of the bands in the list above*, and most of the weekend’s best moments came from female performers. (*Autolux isn’t solely female fronted, but drummer Carla Azar sings lead on multiple songs.)
Having a lineup filled with talented women might not seem that remarkable, but summer music festivals remain male dominated scene. Coachella—dismissively referred to as Brochella in some circles—hasn’t had a woman headliner in nine years, and in 2015 only 16 percent of the fest’s lineup was female fronted (damningly illustrated by a Photoshopped poster that removed all the male artists). Bonnaro has faced the same issue.
Sasquatch! quite simply doesn’t have this problem. Over the past weekend, there were only a few gaps when there wasn’t a female fronted act on one of the stages. There were even times when women were playing on all four stages (see: Sunday’s block of Alabama Shakes, Purity Ring, Speedy Ortiz, and Shamir).
The planned Sunday slate outlined above didn’t go off without a hitch. When wind gusts reached 50 mph shortly before Tacocat’s opening set on the main stage, which led to the main stage closing down for the day for safety concerns. While Tacocat and Allen Stone rescheduled sets between other acts at the El Chupacabra dance tent, Houndmouth, Saint Motel, Frightened Rabbit all saw their slots get canceled, and Leon Bridges improvised by performing songs acoustically on the hill at the Gorge. The main stage finally reopened at 9pm, eight hours behind schedule, and fans poured down the hill in droves to catch Alabama Shakes.
Apart from the wind mess, Sunday lived up to the (internally-generated) hype. Perhaps the only greater force of nature than the wind was Savages singer Jehnny Beth. To call her a commanding charismatic presence would be an understatement, and her captivating vocal power made Savages’ set the most buzzed about of the entire weekend. The one-two guitar-shredding punch of Bully’s Alicia Bognanno and Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis graced (and closed out) the Yeti stage, with their respective grunge howling and whip-smart indie wordplay feeling equally cutting. When Jessica Boudreaux of Summer Cannibals wasn’t verbally ripping apart catcalling cretins in the crowd, the Portlander tearing her way through her group’s no-nonsense distorted rock tunes. The crowd turned out to fill up the tent for Tacocat's delayed set, and the band made it worth the wait with a delightfully drunken pop punk dance party. Deep Sea Diver battled wind that was literally blowing Jessica Dobson’s mascara across her temple to turn in another wonderfully melodic set. Wimps sped its way through a cavalcade wry punk tunes (complete backing dancers in hot dog costumes) with 15 minutes to spare. Overall, Sunday was an embarrassment of female performer riches (and that’s not even including acts I missed due to time conflicts like Alabama Shakes, Shamir, and Briana Marela).
Most of the highlights outside of Sunday were also female-driven. Grimes once again displayed an unparalleled level of performance glee while taking the Monday main stage audience into her unique world of synthpop joy and guttural demon screams. Florence and the Machine headlined Monday’s festivities with soaring, crystal clear pop tunes beautiful enough to penetrate any hardened heart. Behind Frances Quinlan’s vocal dynamism, Hop Along’s earnest indie rock turned out to be Saturday’s best offering. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down got into a dancable groove during its Monday Bigfoot set, complete with a Missy Elliott cover. And it was a kick watching Childbirth sing its comedic feminist odes removed from Seattle’s urban setting.
That’s not to say that there weren’t some excellent male moments from throughout the weekend. Vince Staples showed why he’s one of hip-hop’s rising stars when he owned Friday night by bouncing around stage during an incredibly energetic performance. Sufjan Stevens eschewed his sad folky side (for the most part) to turn the main stage into a cathedral of lo-fi oddity and wonder during his Age of Adz-heavy set. Todd Barry’s tightly honed low energy comedy provided a much need humorous reprieve from the weekend’s hectic pace in the shade of El Chupacabra on Monday. Iska Dhaaf, expanding from a duo to a four-piece live act, scorched the earth with blistering indie rock. And Carbiou closed out the festival in the dance tent with a euphoric blast of instrumental electronic bliss.
Sasquatch! still has a few lingering issues that it needs to address that became evident over the weekend. First and foremost, it might be time to end the tradition of legacy act headliners. The Cure sounded absolutely terrific during its Sunday headlining set, as Robert Smith’s voice seems to have somehow defied aging. But by the end of the night, the crowd was troublingly small. It wasn’t as bad as Sleater-Kinney’s crushingly tiny turnout last year, but it seems to be a continuation of that trend. The Sasquatch! attendees appear to skew younger every year, and the festival may want to adjust by not having acts whose heyday occurred before a large portion of the audience was born closing out the main stage anymore. It's just bad optics.
Speaking of youth, the festival absolutely needs adjust gate times in order to give the young bands that open the Yeti stage a break. The earliest acts like Tangerine and Cosmos were asked to start their sets at noon, the same time the gates open. That's logistically moronic. Maybe organizers think if a band is playing early, it’ll act as a sort of siren call, but with security checks and the Gorge layout, the upstart acts that play first essentially are forced to play at least half their sets to a nearly empty field. Even a 30 minute gap between gates and the first music would make things worlds better and fairer for these artists. But these issues are far from enough to run an otherwise superb weekend.
Sasquatch! Music Festival 2016 felt like a gender inclusive celebration. Music festivals shouldn’t be about meeting certain demographic quotas, they should be about getting the best music out there. It certainly doesn't feel like Sasquatch! is attempting to make some grand progressive stand. The festival organizers just happen to know something that the other big fests still fail to comprehend: women currently make most of the best music.