Sasquatch! Music Festival 2009
[Gorge Ampitheatre; George, WA]

For the five best and worst moments of Sasquatch 2009, please follow this link.

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This journal is dedicated to the best three meals we had over the weekend: Mama's Mexican Kitchen in Seattle (whose authentic cuisine and dangerously drinkable margaritas made me loathe the trip back to Canada), The Cottage Café in Cle Elum (whose 24-hour breakfast probably saved both of our lives), and the Grill-da-beast near our campsite (whose $2 hot dogs sent us off to a realm of gassy goodness every night of the festival).

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DAY ZERO: FRIDAY, MAY 22

I am the guy on the left, Alan Ranta. The insightful, caring, beautiful girl on the right is my partner, Tennessee May. We complement each other well. As a man of tall stature, I can see things from a great distance. And, Tennessee, being of diminutive stature, is able to focus on the eccentricities of our immediate surroundings. And we both love breakfast. As such, I could not imagine a better person to bring along when I was offered the opportunity to attend this year's Sasquatch! Music Festival at the lush Gorge Amphitheatre outside of Quincy, WA. The following is a detailed photo journal of our experience.

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We had never been to Sasquatch before, but we knew it was about a five-hour drive from Vancouver, B.C. So, to make a proper road trip of it, and to cut out a couple hours of energy sucking driving the morning of, we headed down a day early to Seattle to see the sites. Thanks to the struggling economy, we were able to book a $240 room at the fabulously appointed Hotel Monaco for $100 on Priceline. We took advantage of their fancy bathrobes, but decided not to order the complimentary room-delivered goldfish in a bowl, for the sake of the fish.

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We hit up the Frank Gehry designed Experience Music Project, mainly with the desire to see the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock. It was there in all its glory, along with a few of his outfits and a piece of the guitar he lit on fire at Monterey. They also had a complete Heart costume set, a series of electric guitars from the '30s, bits and bobs from the grunge movement, and a gallery of letterpress from Hatch Show Print.

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'Scuse me while I kiss the sky, indeed. Seattle's iconic Space Needle just happens to be right next to the Experience.

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We got a bite to eat while checking out the 38th annual Northwest Folklife Festival, a free community arts festival. We missed Organized Irish Chaos and The Original Potbelly Boys, but props to the Columbia River High School Orchestra and their interpretations of old front porch blues numbers. They had one granny in the audience busting out a wicked Charleston the whole time. The dish pictured above was purchased at a food court; it was reportedly Pad Thai, but it tasted more like ketchup noodles in day-old grease.

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This building freaks me out every time I walk near it. It doesn't seem right.

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A guy at a wine shop gave me props for my Mammatus t-shirt. I have worn that shirt for two years all around Vancouver and not one person ever said a thing about it. I really have to move.

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DAY ONE: SATURDAY, MAY 23

Trying to get through the doors on the first morning of Sasquatch was a gong show. We waited in a line of cars, all playing Kings Of Leon at obnoxious volumes, for over an hour just to be told we had to spin around and head over to the overflow camping and wait for another half-hour. As it turned out, overflow camping was located right next to the front gates, so it ended up being a good thing, but it delayed us long enough to miss A.A. Brody.

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The first band we caught was Sub Pop's Death Vessel at the Yeti stage. Led by the enigmatic Joel Thibodeau and his bizarre soprano, they did an admirable job waking up the crowd of weary travelers with their brand of folk-ish indie. Joel's voice sounded eerily like Cat Power live, and the viola was righteous.

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I took a picture of this shirt during Death Vessel's set because I thought it was funny at the time. After several hours, it became apparent to us that Sasquatch consists of at least 25% Canadian attendees, all of them searching for pot. Though a shocking percentage of the crowd smoked cigarettes, it seemed few brought their stash. The shortage forced me, out of sheer desperation, to walk around with a sign of my own by the end of the next day.

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Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele took to the Yeti Stage as Passion Pit started screeching from the Wookie Stage. The stages were too close to each other, so you could hear all of them at once, but Passion Pit was especially piercing due to Michael Angelakos's electro pop falsetto. Dent played through it admirably, though. His style of kitschy indie pop worked well, except for his backup singers. They seemed to parody May rather than support him, and they were a bit high in the mix. Dent was pretty endearing himself. He comes off like he isn't too cool for his own music, and obviously looks like he spends a lot of time indoors.

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The Gorge really is gorgeous.

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Denver's favorite Eastern European punk quartet Devotchka did the scenery a great service by performing faithful yet spirited renditions of the finest tracks from their last two albums, including their many contributions to the award-nominated Little Miss Sunshine OST. They displayed superb musicality throughout their set, as Nick Urata's soul vocals swooned over a constant swapping of accordion, sousaphone, Theremin, drums, guitar, double bass, trumpet, bouzouki, and violin.

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We were off getting food when Animal Collective came on the main stage, and it was hard to tell exactly when their set started. We'd noticed they were on stage by the time we got back to out seats, of course, because it sounded like the same song had been playing for the previous 15 minutes, and the vocals were becoming more piercing by the second. Their stage show consists of three guys bobbing their heads behind samplers and FX, sounding something like a whale being raped by a drum machine. Their visuals looked like a cheap screen saver.

On record, their songs appear to have some kind of direction, and the vocals are rich in harmony, but seeing them live was a completely different story. All the songs sounded roughly the same, and the tuneless vocals cut through them like a wet fart in a sauna. The audience didn't seem to know what to do with it, as only a handful of people put their arms in the air and about as many nodded quietly. A few even hoisted themselves up for some lethargic and tragically out-of-place crowd-surfing, but the majority just stood there solemnly and faded in and out of consciousness. It was the most boring and brutal performance of the entire weekend by far.

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There is nothing like warm ranch dressing on a hot summer's day. Aramark, the Halliburton of food service vendors, provided all of the nosh for Sasquatch. It makes sense to have a single provider from the Gorge's point of view, considering they had 70,000 some-odd people drinking in the sun without immediate access to cooking equipment. One wouldn't want to risk anything going wrong, and Aramark is insured until the end of time.

However, the single choice for food service caused some problems for us. Not only did we not want to give a company with a notorious record of union-busting one dime, we really didn't want to give them $9 for the worst chicken fingers and starchiest fries ever to emerge from a gauntly yellow heat lamp box. I chewed one bite for 20 minutes. When I went to throw both of ours away on the way to the Porta potties, I discovered the trash bin was half full of the very same chicken fingers. On the up side, taking a crap afterwards turned out to be the most interesting thing to happen during Animal Collective's set.

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This band has a frontman/guitarist named Wes Miles, who loves what he's doing, but the star of New York's classical dance-punk anomaly Ra Ra Riot is inarguably masterful cellist Alexandra Lawn. She was beautiful in every way possible: on point, eloquent, rocking, and moving. Watching her twist and contort her cello without missing a note was like watching her dance with a ballroom professional. Her instrument was hollow, but filled with more life than I heard from anyone that day. She could sing well too. The crowd was atwitter with guys slapping each other on the shoulder and pointing.

Miles tried big, and his grizzled emo looks were easy on the eyes. The violinist, drummer, and bassist gave it too, but from all accounts, Alexandra is the one band member who has undeniably hit the next level. If they can get that to come across on record, you will be hearing a lot more about this band. As is, this was the best performance we saw on Saturday.

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Awww… the right way.

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[Photo: Karen Hart]

Owww… the wrong way.

There was a shocking lack of earplug usage over the course of the weekend. I swear one girl gave me a weird look when I put mine in once. With the average concert sound going well over 100db, you risk permanent hearing loss after about 15 minutes of exposure, and hearing is something you can never get back. So, for Gawd's sake, go to www.earlove.net and buy some proper noise reducers immediately and without question.

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Award-nominated actor and emcee Mos Def took a minute to warm up, but once he got his flow, he worked it. His righteous beats and conscious lyrics proudly repped the positive power of hip-hop. He's good shit. Yet, I can't help shaking the feeling that even good hip-hop is still more based in male bravado than the message.

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I own everything New York's notorious Yeah Yeah Yeahs released before their latest album. It's Blitz sounded like a Karen O solo project, with an almost unnoticeable presence of lead guitarist Nick Zinner. While I was sitting there listening to Karen's non-studio treated vocals, something became clear to me: they have hit a wall.

Nick is disappearing before our very eyes, and Karen needs to sing better. Nick has talent, allowed to bubble forth for a brief second during his acoustic rendition of "Maps," but it is usually buried beneath the sea of FX pedals. Karen has an amazing energy and a captivating smile, but no vocal control whatsoever. They all looked like they were having a good time, and the crowd certainly appreciated the effort. Yet, its obvious they are capable of more, and they are at a point where they need to bring it. There are The Beatles and there are The Blues Magoos, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are looking more Magoo-ish every day.

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[Photo: Sean Pecknold]

Both Bon Iver and Mos Def, the only acts I attended at the Wookie on Saturday, experienced serious sound problems. The decks completely dropped out during Def's set, and Bon Iver complained that they couldn't play many of their songs. Compounding matters, the stage was sandwiched by the Yeti and the Comedy/Dance Tent; there was no downward grade toward the stage; and there was a honking VIP section tower halfway through the crowd. It was the worst stage of the event, especially that day with the schedule off by about 45 minutes since the first act. As such, it was hard to get a real sense of Bon Iver's music, but they tried their best to play through it anyway, though they were understandably somewhat bitter.

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[Photo: Christopher Nelson]

Crystal Castles are a regrettable electropop duo from Toronto, noted in the industry for copyright infringements and canceling shows for weak reasons. We could only stand to watch vocalist Alice Glass screech over a single recycled mid-'90s house track, but we heard her shrieking over an alternative rocktronic style track as we walked away. Not only do they seem like assholes; they are annoying assholes.

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[Photo: Christopher Nelson]

It pains me to admit it, but Kings Of Leon are competent musicians. Sure, allegedly sexy front man Caleb Followill's lyrics are pathetic and his squonky voice was even squonkier live, but I can see why people listen to them. They technically play very well, just like their soul mates Nickelback. Of course, I was happy to see that the Festival Guide write-up only talked about how "Sex On Fire" is so poorly written that it describes syphilis better than intercourse.

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DAY TWO: SUNDAY, MAY 24

Notorious for rain, the weather was thoroughly beautiful. There was barely a cloud in the sky over the whole weekend. As such, it was nice to see men overcome their homophobic reservations to embrace complete protection against the sun's penetrating rays.

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Mad Rad's brand of emo electro pop, hollow chest-thumping, and honkey hip-hop was more like Sad Bad. They aren't The Streets, and we've already got too many Streets. Lord only knows why they weren't at the comedy tent.

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Portland's Viva Voce has a plethora of wonderful songs at their disposal and thankfully brought to life many tracks that sounded a little flat on their latest record, Rose City. They're like a less pretentious Dandy Warhols. Yet, as the band appears at least in their 30s, they may have maxed out their potential.

Bassist Kevin Robinson seemed nice, as he reminded people to chase booze with water and joked, "It's always 4:20 at the Gorge. You guys are so fucked up." But he can't carry a tune all that well, so the few tracks he lead on didn't help the set much. Kevin's wife and lead guitarist/vocalist Anita led the way. She has a truly endearing stage presence, as she profusely thanked the audience and gave context for some of the songs. Thankfully, she sang most of the time. The whole band needs to be tighter in general if they ever want to move up from an opening slot, and I hope they do.

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I guess it rains often and even hailed one year, so many people came unprepared for the blazing sun. At least boxer guy was wearing earplugs.

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Point Juncture, WA were a standard indie band notable for featuring the elusive lead singer/drummer. Amanda Spring can drum for sure, but her vocals left much to be desired. They could be decent if they got a stronger singer.

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Street Sweeper Social Club is the newest Tom Morello project. Basically, it's Boots Reilly (The Coup) fronting Rage Against The Machine, just like how Audioslave was Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) fronting RATM. Tom Morello still has it. He pulled off all of his old tricks flawlessly, but it was simply not the same. This proved that Tom could make the same band with anyone.

Perhaps the world still needs a RATM, and hearing Morello encourage people to text him so he could tell them how to feed the poor in their area was certainly admirable. His heart is always in the right place. But, for someone who remembers what RATM was like, it will never come close. It wouldn't hurt Tom to branch out and try something completely different rather than the not-so-vaguely same thing.

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They probably could have used a few more trashcans, but at least people were trying to throw things away properly.

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Notable long-time comedians Todd Barry and Jon Benjamin recently joined forces to become The Red Wine Boys. They appear with only one or two pre-planned ideas that they may or may not get to and simply wing it. As we saw, they are masters at reading and reacting to a crowd. Though the vast majority of the crowd were in the Comedy/Dance Tent for the sole reason of getting out of the sun, The Red Wine Boys gave them a reason to stay and watch the best stand-up set of the weekend, though Benjamin admitted that they "can't compete with shade." They won the audience over quickly when they called the entire VIP section douchebags, and they held their attention with continued sharp and engaging observations.

The Boys didn't just suck up to us, though. They read their review in the "The Stranger's Official guide to Sasquatch!" aloud for the audience; it referred to them as being "allegedly" funny. They then proceeded to rip the festival for it. While every other act trotted out the typical "we've never been here before; this place is beautiful" wank (Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen practically choked on the words as they dribbled from his mouth), The Red Wine Boys had the balls to tell Sasquatch to fuck itself. They were drunk and droll with the right amount of crass, diss, and self-consciousness.

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[Photo: Christopher Nelson]

Aziz Ansari followed the Red Wine Boys, and highlighted the difference in their styles. Aziz has decent jokes, but his approach is completely standard "set-up/punchline" fare. As such, his themes were detached and predictably topical. Aziz could have done the same show whether we were there or not. Barry and Benjamin were able to adapt to the room, feeding off our energy. They were truly there with us, in the moment, just like the best musicians.

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Everyone stood up and squished forward between sets, so the newly arrived people in front of our blanket ended up inching backwards until they were literally in our laps. As such, we left before Zach Galifianakis hit the stage. We ended up coming back for the last 20 minutes of his set, just in time for his Obama Change inspired be-a-better-man Michael Jackson video presentation. He said he's going to stop getting drunk at Cracker Barrel and stop looking for God with peyote, but I'm sure he wasn't being serious. If you see Zack at a mall near you, and sweaty, shirtless frat boys aren't cozying up to cuddle position in your crotch, it would be in your best interest to stare at him for a while.

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The Submarines from Los Angeles were one of many bands to present straightforward indie pop. However, props must be given for being one of the tightest bands at the festival, as well as to lead singer Blake Hazard, whose Jennifer Tilly/Renée Zellweger-like voice was actually one of the best in show. She looked genuinely happy to perform for the biggest crowd we witnessed at the Yeti Stage.

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Aren't all pictures of Sasquatch like this?

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[Photo: Christopher Nelson]

I had the pleasure of seeing Nine Inch Nails a few years ago, so I knew to expect technical excellence and a cesspool mosh pit full of tears and torn-out piercings (this was Tennessee's first time). This was their kind of gig, and the crowd ate it up accordingly. The energy they produce is beyond intense. They remain one of the best live acts we have ever seen, so one can only hope this isn't their last tour, as the rumors have stated.

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[Photo by Christopher Nelson]

of Montreal surprised us by giving, hands-down, THE show of the festival. A guy in a tiger mask came out on stage alone and started the weirdness, followed by a choreographed menagerie of aliens, creatures in gas masks, a giant blueberry afro, pig men, magic wands, mud demons, and the entire VIP section, who all acted out various aspects of Kevin Barnes's hilariously brilliant lyrics. The tiger returned later to play-fight with a man in pink spandex, then dance with him, and eventually flip him upside-down and feign performing vigorous oral sex on him. It was like watching Prince in the '80s, Parliament in the '70s, and Arthur Brown in the '60s all at the same time; they were fully committed to the premise instead of searching for a lazy gimmick.

They were unerringly tight through a broad range of eclectic styles. People were going off everywhere. A few escapees from the intensity of Nine Inch Nails wandered up to have their minds blown, then reassembled, and blown again even sloppier. Their cover of Prince's mildly obscure "Computer Blue" brought the house down. Visual stimulus was in a constant peak, embraced by vigorous crowd surfing, and given a button by Barnes, who smashed his guitar and displayed its buzzing guts to the front row. It was a real rock 'n' roll show, like Frank Zappa used to do.

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DAY THREE: MONDAY, MAY 25

Yep, it was still hot. Even on a short walk, we noticed dozens of people sleeping outside, many without any cover. These two were only the ones we could see from our car.

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Despite a dry program description that made them sound like the walking history of roots folk, I was pleased to discover Loch Lomond as my new favorite band from Portland. When someone dressed straight out of your grandpa's high school yearbook walks out on stage, and the first words out of their mouths are "the sound of children laughing makes my eyes bleed," you can't help but fall in love. They obviously practice together a lot, because in a festival full of mediocre vocals, they harmonized five across with perfect pitch and timing, matched by precision musicianship that was full of personality. They knew they could rely on one another to be where they needed to be, and they never disappointed.

As they got to the chorus of "Tic," one of their epic numbers, a serious gust of wind picked up. Seeing their synergy come together as they belted out a Joseph Merrick ("The Elephant Man") inspired chorus while the forces of nature bore down on them was like being at a music video shoot. You could not have scripted it better. That something "special" that every band needs: Loch Lomond has it in spades.

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[Photo: Christopher Nelson]

A combination of seeing Loch Lomond perform first and a glowing festival guide recommendation set up Seattle's Pica Beats to be a little disappointing. They just didn't click the same way that Loch Lomond did and, though they were going for a similar brand of folky indie-rock, they didn't seem to be as committed.

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I love the sound Pittsburgh's Black Moth Super Rainbow create, all vintage synths and a warm rhythm section awash in Bruce Haack style vocoder, but their live show is lacking. They added some visuals that weren't there the first time I saw them a year or so ago, pulling weird stock footage from the Discovery Channel and early Peter Jackson films, but that is all people have to look at.

The band must be studio people, because their sound really is fabulous, but they shy away from any form of connection to an audience. Maureen Boyle plays in profile the whole time, the rhythm section stares vacantly off into space or looks down, and when he picked up a bass, Seth Ciotti turned his back on us. They never said a word to us the whole time. Compounding matters, for a band that uses vocoder in every track, it's shocking that the vocals were prerecorded. That leaves nothing to focus on. As such, people came and people left during every song, and the crowd never got any bigger.

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Gold pants may have been funny on the first day, but three days is a bit much. That is one dirty ass. Imagine the smell inside those things.

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I, myself, do not believe in God or anything along the lines of Christianity, but God's Pottery just seems kind of shitty. While overzealous religiosity can be funny, these guys seem intent on subjecting Christian belief to lowbrow ridicule without a trace of intelligence. Their pathetically enthusiastic religious songs are intended to make us laugh, but most of their blatant Flight of the Conchords rip-offs had no punchline or attempt at sarcasm. Their songs were poorly written and executed, so obvious that they spent the whole time on stage winking each other to death. Someone needs to show these goombas Moral Orel so they can see how tongue-in-cheek religious humor is done right.

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If you ever plan to attend Sasquatch, bring as much food, water, and booze as you can, unless you want to spend $9 on a Coors Light, $8 on a lousy burger, $6 on fries or a churro, and $4 on a small bottle of water or peanuts. They also removed all caps from water and juice bottles under the pretense that people might throw them, but they actually did it so that no one could refill them. The worst price we saw was $5 for 16oz teas and $7 for 20oz. That's right, a whopping $2 for only 4oz of hot water. You can be sure the prices will only be higher next year.

Thankfully, the Grilldabeast (a charcoal grill attached to an SUV) opened right by our camp, so we could get hot dogs for a third of the price inside the gates, and their $4 chili dogs both saved and exploded my ass every night. The Grilldabeast had a constant stream of business all weekend long. There is a lot of room for renegade venders here.

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School Of Seven Bells were more shoegazey than I remembered them on record, minus the prototypical gauzy synths in lieu of more an '80s synth-rock feel. We liked what they were going for, but SVIIB missed as much as they hit, and stayed at the same level throughout their set. They also rely on a drum machine, which didn't help matters. If you are going to play with a drum machine, you have to be bang-on all the time, or else it's even more obvious than with a real drummer. In this case, it exposed a bit of lacking in SVIIB.

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We aren't much into the sound of Santigold (formerly Santogold), but anyone who staggered by her stage had to admit she's got the goods. It was, by far, the best sound anyone got out of the main stage the whole weekend, crystal clear across all frequencies anywhere you sat. Everyone on the amphitheater floor bounced like crazy, and pockets of grinding and booty-shaking appeared throughout the rest of the crowd.

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With all due respect to Devotchka, Gogol Bordello are the reigning kings of gypsy punk. They play on the edge, like there is no tomorrow. Eugene Hütz rocked out especially hard on an acoustic guitar, while constantly running around all crazy and kicking the guitar tech.

Amazingly, they had almost as many people grooving as Santigold, and to a style of music many of them would likely never be interested in if their tastes were left solely to North American radio playlists. They have successfully revived ancient forms of tested and true celebratory music from Eastern Europe, and dirtied them up with some Lower East Side, New York flavor. They will only get bigger with every performance.

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I totally recall this picture from somewhere. Where's Arnold?

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Monotonix built their reputation by getting banned from every club in Tel Aviv, and it's easy to see how they accomplished this. They don't play on a stage. They play in a mosh of people slamming into them from all sides, while lead singer Yan dives across the crowd, mic in hand and banana in greasy hammock. They are not the most talented musicians we've ever seen, often ending up in a hot mess, but they are rock 'n' roll incarnate, tapping into the true '77 punk desire to play just to satisfy the need to play.

They do some 300 shows a year, all of them like this one. It's where they want to be. Go and buy their Body Language EP if you want to hear them, but you have to see them if you want to experience them.

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We had to leave after Monotonix due to the five-hour drive back to Vancouver and the May long weekend traffic, which backed us up for at least another hour. We had a great time, though. It was encouraging to see so many female musicians and so few of them doing the typical singer-songwriter bit. Almost every band had a prominent female contribution, if not several, which is a welcome change from the sausage-dominated electronic festival scene we usually partake in.

What's more, the crowd was mostly made up of hipsters and frat boys, with tons of neon everywhere, but everyone we talked to seemed very nice, even if our tastes differed. We are a more than a couple of years older than the average Sasquatch attendee, but we remembered feeling pretty dazed and confused in our late teens and early twenties. Obviously, judging from the '80s fashion worship, the present age demographic is just as confused as we were. Yet, there seems to be less aggression among them than we see among our peers. Despite 10 arrests, Undersheriff John Turley said it was the calmest crowd the festival had ever known. Sasquatch gave us hope not only for popular music, but also for the next generation. In the words of the Flaming Lip's Wayne Coyne, everything is going to be just fine.