Sizing Up Sasquatch

There’s the perennial big names in the festival world: Coachella, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza. Then there are their efficient, manageable siblings that don’t get all the attention.

One example is the Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington, held annually at the jaw-dropping Gorge Amphitheatre. It’s the same age as Bonnaroo and, even though it may not grab all of the headlines, it keeps getting better – without getting bigger.

Adam Zacks has helmed the event since its inception as a talent buyer for House of Blues Concerts, which means this year he’s doing it as a senior talent buyer for Live Nation. He doesn’t anticipate the transition leading to many changes.

Zacks said Sasquatch averages about 22,000 fans, which keeps it distinctive from the larger summer offerings, and that’s exactly what organizers have worked hard to achieve – an intimate festival. It’s like a backyard party – but one that, in 2005 for instance, brought in the Pixies, Arcade Fire, Kanye West, Wilco, Ray Lamontagne and Modest Mouse. This year, it was all about Björk, Arcade Fire, and Beastie Boys – with some Smoosh thrown in.

"The whole concept of the touring festival was sort of losing its appeal," Zacks told Pollstar. "Coachella was already replicating the European festival scene, and really there wasn’t a whole lot else. It’s amazing that destination festivals hadn’t cropped up sooner. And now a bunch of them are having some big success."

Pushing the camping and community elements, and focusing on an event that is representative of the region, has made Sasquatch a success despite some near setbacks.

Sasquatch has faced weather issues in the last two years.

In 2006, Zacks thought "the whole festival was coming down" when a hailstorm hit. This year, organizers were forced to pull the plug during The Polyphonic Spree’s set fearing that gale force winds would destabilize the light rigging, which rocked menacingly during the performance.

Sets were pushed back and moved to different stages but, fortunately, the festival wrapped with everybody getting a chance to play.

Zacks chalks up that ability to persevere through the issues to the vibe that organizers have worked so hard to achieve. Problems that arise at the festival have had sort of a "Woodstock effect" and "just brought people together," he explained.

"People recognize that there is this collective mood here and it’s something that we’ve worked really hard to achieve," he said.