For the thousands of people who’ve spent the last three days camping in the grime and grit that is the Sasquatch General Admission campground, calling the Gorge “Heaven” may have seemed like a bit of a stretch. Especially so, at 3 a.m., when you’re flat on your back, your legs too exhausted to even maneuver the uneven ground, as music – the thundering chorus of Mumford and Sons’ “I Will Wait” - burst from speakers at a camp site half a mile away.
That’s not heaven. That’s a sick dream – made more disconcerting by the frigid night air and the false perception the “biggest fucking band on the planet” might actually be performing feet away from your tent. But hours earlier, when members of Mumford described the amphitheatre, and the festival in general, as just that, it couldn’t have felt more true.
“Maybe it’s because we’ve been here for almost three days,” said the band’s Ben Lovett partway through the British four-piece’s headlining set. “But if we died tomorrow – playing music for all of you, at this place – this would be heaven.”
You should probably credit the increased popularity, the overall rise of Americana/folk in the last few years, on the success of this band alone. Their brand of warm, relatable folk tunes reached new heights this year after the group moved more than 600,000 copies of their sophomore release, “Babel,” in the first week, took home the Grammy for Album of the Year, and paved the way for the success of acts like American Idol alum Phillip Phillips and the Lumineers. But this meteoric rise has not come without criticism.
On one hand, there’s adoration – people who find truth and comfort and honesty in the front man Marcus Mumford’s simple lyricism and raw delivery. On the other hand are those who fight vehemently against the “band with a banjo” makeup, blaming the act for dumbing down rock music. Even so, you couldn’t find an open space to sit, let alone stand, at the main stage on Sunday night.
On record, Mumford’s songs could seem contrived – too clean, too cookie-cutter. But in the flesh, they’re booming, and lush and full of grit. That’s how this kind of music is supposed to be performed – and experienced. And that’s why people continue to support them. Because they do it all so well.
When the fellas of Mumford and Sons perform, they make it look easy. As the harmonies grow, so too does the beefy percussion, booming bass and twang-y banjo licks. Jumping from one instrument to the next the band is a circus on stage - delivering memorable moments in songs like “Little Lion Man,” “Winter Winds” and “Lover of the Light” – all of which were met with 20,000 people singing along to every word.
Those not convinced by the wonders unfolding on stage straight away didn’t have to wait long – as the group dove into track “Thistle and Weeds.” As the song grew, so did the feelings. Played in any other setting, it would have been lovely. But played against the rolling hills of Eastern Washington, underneath the a sky of stars, Lovett was right. It really was heaven.