by Tara Kelly Kearns
The first day of Sasquatch greeted me with lots of good vibes. From high-fives to hugs, and signs saying “You’re looking good” to crowd sign-a-longs, people are here not only to have a good time, but to share it with strangers and friends. Even despite the age range — young teens to people pushing mid-40s — the crowds blended together seamlessly, never seeming imbalanced nor tense.
I pulled into the campgrounds during the 3:30 pm rush and set-up in camp just missing Mainstage opener ZZ Ward, but in time to howl with the Reignwolf. Donned in a black beanie & black leather jacket, Reignwolf, real name Jordan Cook, started his set pounding a bass kick drum and firing electric guitar licks. He rips blues rock, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix, and revives the genre with soulful and raspy vocals, at times reaching into his falsetto for emphasis. Though small, the crowd was glad to have him and the feeling was mutual. Cook stated he didn’t know if anyone was going to be present. After his first song, which took him behind the drum set playing both guitar and drums simultaneously, the drummer and bass guitarist (his brother Stitch), rounded out the guitar heavy songs. Reignwolf is an entertainer through and through, wowing the crowd with his one-handed guitar solos and commanding presence. At times he seemed possessed, staring down the audience, inviting them to come into his world. Every song was full of fire, and the lyrics, not usually subtle (First it’s easy, now it’s hard. I’ll put it in your backyard), light up both men and women. For his last song, he mounted a black Easy Street Records van and kicked the hell out of a bass drum and played guitar, while everyone cheered him on. The audience’s inability to follow along clapping led Reignwolf to exclaim, “You can’t be all that drunk yet, come on!” After which, the audience cheered, pulled it together and said farewell as Reignwolf took his Wolverine-like facial hair and sweaty self, and rode away on his chariot.
Up at the Bigfoot stage, I walked into my inaugural Father John Misty set a little late. The audience was large, but Josh Tillman’s stage presence is larger. Sometimes armed with an acoustic guitar, he hypnotized us with his swivel-hips, back-bending convulsions, and the ability to be a quintessential frontman. The music is pleasant, taking from folk, country and rock genres, but the lyrics tell stories that are real and dark. Tillman counters the sinister mood seen in his face and heard in his lyrics by moving around the stage and dancing to his own music. Writhing around on stage floor and kneeling and singing to the camera (which projected him on large screens on either side of the stage), were just some of the ways he entertained us. Tillman enjoyed speaking to us as well. He informed the audience of the danger of falling in love with his beard, joked that his 5-second scat-singing earned him $10,000 from Bigfoot stage sponsor Honda, and dryly joked how his set was burning the festival to the ground. His often sarcastic comments about himself, the industry and the audience had me laughing, but went over most people’s heads. They didn’t seem to mind, and sang along with many of his songs and even danced for a few. As the set came to an end, Tillman remembered to introduce and thank his band. The final number, clearly the crowd pleaser, had the audience smiling and singing along, but I wondered whether or not they’d be smiling if they listened to what he was actually saying.
I showed up for Friday’s mainstage headliner, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, in plenty of time, as the set started 15 minutes late. The lights turned off and we waited, the darkness broken when Ryan Lewis was lit up in his 20 foot DJ station. Then, Macklemore rose dramatically from a trap door in the stage extension onto a 10-foot+ pedestal, donning a long, gold and black sparkly lounge coat. He started with a lesser-known cut, then paused before his second number. “You have no idea how amazing it feels to be back home in the Pacific Northwest!” he yelled. The audience cheered back and you could feel the energy building in the crowd. After coming on stage with a Detlef Schrempf Sonics jersey, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. The show was theatrical and featured many of the artists on M&RL’s album, The Heist, starting with Wanz from “Thrift Shop” dressed as a janitor cleaning up the stage. Of course, this song is what made the set take off, especially when he rolled out on an old-school scooter in a two-furred vintage coat. Macklemore took time between many of his songs to talk about the things close to his heart: marriage equality, sobriety, and Seattle. It’s clear that he loves his home and is proud of the marriage equality win here in WA. “Same Love” hook singer Mary Lambert joined Macklemore for the number, singing with passion and conviction. He explained how his success started with gaining sobriety in 2008, and illustrated the story and sentiment with an a capella rap. Crediting his home for getting him to where he is, he also thanked the audience for giving him the fuel to keep touring and hustling. And he certainly uses the energy he gets from his fans and gives it back full-force. With a set that included dancers, costume changes, a string quartet, a horn section, jumping like crazy, video displays, crowd surfing – and inflatable raft riding through the crowd, walking on the audience, a light show, and more, he gave it his all. The set also included “Can’t Hold Us,” Dave Niehaus tribute “My Oh My,” and more. Macklemore encored with his alter-ego Raven Bowie singing “And We Danced,” which had the wave of fans jumping in unison. Then for the final number, a lone bag-piper took the stage and “Irish Celebration” played as orange and green confetti blew out of cannons and trumpeter Owuor Arunga waved the oversized Irish flag. All performers came on stage singing the anthem together, and then were introduced and thanked one-by-one, including beat-man and kamikaze jumper-off-high-places Ryan Lewis. At the very end of the set, Macklemore asked for complete silence for a “vulnerable moment” and, after waiting over a minute, left the audience with “You are fucking awesome.”
Photos by Matthew Thompson:
Photos by Morgen Schuler: