Whilst communing with nature in Grant County, one will experience tear-jerking sunsets, blue-sky bliss, shadeless infernal heat, and bone-shivering, after-dark chills typical of deserts. Add to that dreary downpours and unexpected meteorological attacks like the hail bullets that pummeled Neko Case at Sasquatch 2006. Sunblock, waterproof jacket...pack for a plethora of weather possibilities. You might be wearing your plaid shorts and sunglasses one minute and a wool sweater the next.
Eats, drinks, plasma-TV lounge, convenience store, and, of course, a drowning-in-beer garden—organizers have provided for all basic needs, for a hefty fee. As a few lonely gas stations compose the sum of nearby civilization, self-supplying helps ensure that at the end of the fest, if someone queries, "What's in your wallet?" the answer won't be, "Sand." Plus, the festival food groups served—nachos, cola, and beer—may not suit the health-conscious.
Ask most any Gorge vet what to bring, and the first word that pops out is "water." You'll need it to stay hydrated, and you won't want to buy it there: It's $50 a liter (or seemingly close to that). You can also bring an empty sealed bottle and fill up at the free water station (until the cast of Girls Gone Wild arrives in white T-shirts and security closes the valve).
When selecting a jacket or towel to tote, keep in mind that it may be the only cushion between your tokhes and Mother Earth (oft a bit littery and tainted). A flashlight's also handy for navigating swaying, drunken bodies in the darkness. Remember as well to leave room in your pack for un- or wanted promo goodies (pins, flyers, self-marketing musicians' CDs).
Lastly, whatever you bring, don't leave anything in the car, as the hike to the lot could be a good 20 minutes.
Security will screen for contraband. Funny-smelling smokes certainly. Also on the prohibited list: factory-sealed soda bottles, digital cameras, tarps, coolers, and alcohol.
When you're standing or lounging on the downward sloping, lawn-covered terrace overlooking the Columbia River, the view from nearly any spot's spectacular. Above-stagers will attest to the advantage of the big-picture, panoramic bliss of hillside seating, while below-stagers laud the closeness to the golden circle of reserved front-floor seats. If the latter is appealing, snag an early-entry gate coupon available at some food or drink vendors. At multiplatform events, people cycle in and out as acts change, so lines tend to be shorter and the stage easier to reach.
Any Gorge regular will tell you that camping is half the fun. It also prevents the hours of life lost inching out of the parking lot. (Once on the open road, the herd thins.) The site rate applies per car, so if the only gear you've got is a car blanket and matches, the good will of fellow campers (augmented by love-your-neighbor inebriation) coupled with the facilities (convenience store, showers, etc.) may make an impromptu stay doable. But be ready for the possibility of an all-night party that will keep you up way past your bedtime. Penny-pinchers might want to stake out a spot at cheaper camps in the surrounding area, though they may lack the niceties (air-conditioned bathrooms, for starters) of the amphitheater's new VP camping.
Practically speaking, an event at the Gorge is like any outdoor band-nic. Expect a carnival of commercialism and crowds, fickle weather, etc. Except there's a reason people make the four-hour-plus pilgrimage each summer. Not any average fairground or field, it's a spectacular riot of beauty and sound. Van Morrison backed by a cosmos of stars, guitar riffing off a chasm of basalt cliffs, it's, dare we say, like a true sky church. And worth some trouble, even though the angels running the place seem a bit greedy.