Sasquatch! Music Festival: Time To Do Better

I have been to a lot of camping festivals. From Shambhala in Canada to What The Festival in Oregon and many others. The sense of community and acceptance from everyone as soon as you touch ground fills you with gratitude. It leaves the festival goers overflowing with appreciation for the festival because of the obvious amount of effort that goes into creating that kind of atmosphere for the entire duration of the festival. Sasquatch! Music Festival was something different altogether.

Excited to get away and experience another festival and geek out at the shows that we had been anticipating for months we pulled up to where the Gold camping area was to unpack our stuff and meet some friends we were camping with. We walked up to a staff booth to ask direction and were met with a taste of annoyance. Our arrival had apparently interrupted the staff’s conversation. This was the first sign that Sasquatch! may not be what I was expecting. After unpacking in Gold camping, we drove our car over to general camping to pay an additional camping fee because Gold doesn’t allow cars for the six-person camp to park in your camping area and doesn’t have designated parking outside of the camping areas either.

Courtesy of Sasquatch! Music Festival

Once we paid the fee for general camping we were directed to row like camping where the woman who waved us into our space was about as pleasant as a bee sting and proceeded to ignore me when I asked for direction to the box office. The space that we were given would have been a stretch to fit our tent and belongings along with our car, so it was an even bigger relief that we landed camping with friends in Gold camping. The walk from general camping to the stages is a long one but that could be said for every camping festival. Getting back to camp is always a trek which is why you come fully prepared with comfortable walking shoes/boots and water— which apparently people were not getting enough of already because we passed a few camps with people upchucking and it was only midday.

This seemed to be a continuous theme throughout the entire weekend, which I am sure had everything to do with the fact that no one at either of our campsites bothered to ask about the typical things music festivals search your cars for— glass, drugs, a specific amount of booze, weapons— nothing was asked, and nobody’s car was searched that I am aware of. Hey, I am all for having a good time. Psychedelics are a blast and I am an Olympic level day drinker, so I understand the appeal for no regulation or security of this kind but in the grand scheme of things throwing an event as large as Sasquatch! without some form of regulation is dangerous. People are going to break the rules and sneak in more booze and dealers are going to do what they do but creating a space for complete lawlessness when much of the ticket holders for this event seemed to be either underage or in their early twenties— it seemed like the perfect storm for predators.

There is security at entry into festival grounds. You’re not allowed to bring water unless it is in a factory sealed bottle or any other liquids inside. They check your bags for drugs and weapons and then off you go! Pretty straight forward. Once inside though it seemed to me that the one security precaution was more about being able to make money at the beer and liquor vendors— which were five to one for every food vendor— than actual safety.

Lizzo|Courtesy of Sasquatch! Music Festival

Now, this is still day one so I’m hoping that Sasquatch! redeems themselves with several stations for water refills since they do not allow it in the festival gates, with engaged staff and conscious flyers around the festival about not only drinking safely but consent. I saw none of this. There were no signs anywhere that I could find about drinking safely, nowhere was there mention of safe sex or consent and there was only one “hydration station” as they called it with four spigots on each side for the thousands of people at the festival.

Tash Sultana|Courtesy of Sasquatch! Music Festival

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed myself. The view of the sun setting behind the Columbia River at the Sasquatch stage is absolutely stunning. We made sure we were there for the sunset every night regardless of who was playing. Jlin’s set was phenomenal. Although, I wish it was later in the evening so that she could have pulled a larger crowd. More people need to experience her genius. Tash Sultana was incredible. The way she effortlessly moved from one instrument to the next within each song was brilliant and the obvious gratitude she had for the crowd emitted smiles reflecting her own all across the audience— a warm experience I didn’t realize I needed. Lizzo’s energy and unapologetic authenticity had not only everyone at the stage but all the way up the mountain on their feet feeling good as hell and yelling positive affirmations about themselves back at her. The performances were on point. Every artist I caught came correct and gave the audience all they had.

The thing is, the music festival experience— especially camping festivals— are about more than just the lineup. And the experience for many is not going to be one they want to remember or will even be able to if this festival does not start really evaluating how important the safety of those in attendance really is. I was worried about writing this review for fear of being blacklisted in the future but what would journalism be if we did not use it to create actionable discourse. It is our responsibility as gatekeepers to give criticism where is it necessary so that the future of events like these are safe and prosperous for everyone involved. I seen one person get ushered out on a gurney and put in an ambulance and I can be sure there were others as well but there are no official numbers as to the amount of people who have been hospitalized or the sexual assault rates at Sasquatch! (or any other festival for that matter) and the fact that this is not made known to the public is troubling and the numbers are telling.

Last year Sasquatch sold around 11,000 tickets— less than half then the year prior. Live Nation, the entertainment company that puts on Sasquatch! calls themselves a “Global Leader For Live Entertainment” and boasts that, “Somewhere in the world every eighteen minutes is a Live Nation Event.” As a world leader, they need to do better. Take a page from other camping festivals playbook. It could be as simple as stressing the importance of staying hydrated, drinking responsibly and broadcasting that consent is sexy. It could be as cheap as allowing harm reduction groups that specialize in festival support like Conscious CrewThe Zendo Project and learning from groups like Her Forest to help facilitate safety. Regardless, as devoted as we might be to one festival or another, supporting festivals that do not support us will only continue the current trend. Spend your money on the artists themselves and on festivals who actively work to elevate your experience with safety in mind.

Luna Reyna

Luna Reyna (she/ella) is the founder of RIZE Entertainment. She is deeply invested in shifting power structures and centering the work and voices of marginalized communities within the industry.