Perhaps it's unfair to blame the amazing Neko Case, but the last two times Tacoma's finest played her home state, bad weather has followed. In August 2005 at Woodland Park Zoo, the pregnant clouds overhead let loose a thick and soggy downpour all over the unsuspecting lawn crowd, and this past Saturday at the Sasquatch Music Festival, not even three songs into her set, the patchy skies unleashed a storm of marble-sized hail pellets, sending the sold-out crowd (as well as Case and her band) running for cover. While my lady and I managed to squeeze in under the awning of the Easy Street Records tent (thanks, Kevin!), not everyone was so lucky. We watched as a soggy group of about 30 tried huddling under a 10-inch-by-10-inch sheet of gray tarpaulin. But most went sprinting toward the exit gates. As for my companion and I, soaking-wet socks and frozen shirtsleeves were enough to make us abandon the Gorge, especially when we heard Ben Harper switched his performance slot with the Flaming Lips. Even a motel room in Ellensburg seemed a lot more appealing than waiting for the Lips and catching a cold. So we lit out for warmer, drier territory.
But I did manage to make a few observations that made the whole affair worthwhile. Chief among them was just how fucking huge the Gorge is. It's one of the most expansive outdoor venues in the country, and while this isn't news to anyone who's been there, it only dawned on me this past Saturday that the Gorge is not equally friendly to all kinds of music. As I stood atop the steep hillside lawn and gazed out at the dramatically carved earth and muddy Columbia River, the land served as a reality check for how insignificant popular music can be compared to the grand scheme of nature. The soft delivery of artists who thrive on intimacy (Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine) stands no chance when there is a vast natural landscape to tussle with and virtually nothing for the sound to bounce off.
Admittedly, House of Blues put together an awesome lineup, but is anyone there considering whether the Gorge is the best showcase venue for our precious indie rock? True, bands like NIN and Queens of the Stone Age have no problem conveying their gigantic noises, but for bands accustomed to twisting knobs to fit the confines of a four-walled rock club, trying to fill the air with their songs is an awkward adjustment. All told, $55 is a hell of a deal for that many bands in one day, but considering I could barely hear Arcade Fire last year and Sufjan this year, I would rather pay $25–$30 each to see them at the Paramount. Of course, fans in Yakima and Spokane don't always have that option, so maybe for their sake I should quit bitching and just enjoy seeing these bands in a place where beer is cheaper, water is free, and there is at least a little bit of shelter from the storm.