Finding Community at a Corporate Music Festival

By: Kaitlin Summer

Finding community at one of the nation’s biggest music festivals requires a bit of magic.

The Gorge Amphitheater in eastern Washington is an incomparable place of natural beauty. It boasts layered and etched cliffs, a rich blue river, and an exact angle to the sunset that provides sprawling, super-saturated color. While spending four days camping on the grounds over Memorial Day weekend at the Sasquatch Music Fest, it was amazing to wake up every morning to that view, and to be serenaded into that sunset by a killer lineup of music.

Natural forces of the landscape were not to be dismissed. The early heat and all day sun, high winds that even disrupted performance schedules, and plummeting night temperatures made for a hearty challenge. There was also a noticeable transition from the camp experience into the festival grounds. This year’s festival was sponsored by multiple alcohol, cigarette, and car companies; it was hard to avoid that feeling of being “sold” something at Sasquatch. With a massive company like LiveNation handling production, the direction that most major summer festivals have been heading (ie: more profit) was visible, and quite a striking contrast to the surrounding natural beauty.

In the midst of that contrast, I did my best to seek out the community behind the scenes. When you get the opportunity to work multiple music festivals around the country, you make friends with people you only see during those events. It’s a great place to connect and network with other people in the industry, whether with press, artists, or production: the crew that is responsible for setup and takedown of multiple, world-touring artists each day; the people that work endlessly to make those experiences special to everyone attending. The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to amazing music festivals, and it’s a great feeling to work with people you recognize in a new place. Everyone is working (in some form or another), but when you get to share in the experience of a beautiful scene or an amazing show together, letting yourself be a spectator as much as a participator, it always feels like some wild and crazy gift.

The more we recognize how good community feels, the more we encourage that life force to emerge from underneath the thinly-veiled mass consumption aspects of corporate music festivals, and the longer we can hold out for magic. Because there is magic to be made in expression and performance, in sounds and light, in being in a moment and a place that so many people have come together to make. The festival itself and the upkeep of tent life was at times exhausting. The rules and the hoops and the designated areas were often a distraction from the bigger experience: the one that extends from the stage to your face, from the crew to this computer screen. The bigger experience of loving music, of loving a live show. And despite the challenges, despite the exhaustion, I would do it again, every time. 

Jackie Canchola First met: Seattle University BFA Photography Why she's there: Working for the Ice Cream Man, a touring van that shows up at music festivals to hand out free ice cream, just because.

Jackie Canchola
First met: Seattle University BFA Photography
Why she's there: Working for the Ice Cream Man, a touring van that shows up at music festivals to hand out free ice cream, just because.

Mike Wallace First met: Pickathon 2015 Why he's there: Drummer for Preoccupations, formerly Viet Cong. The flask says 'Bang Me!' - it's a drum kit.

Mike Wallace
First met: Pickathon 2015
Why he's there: Drummer for Preoccupations, formerly Viet Cong. The flask says 'Bang Me!' - it's a drum kit.

Nate Quiroga and Ben Verdoes First met: Liberty Bar, Capitol Hill, Seattle Why they're there: Touring for their brand new record: The Wanting Creature ; their band: Iska Dhaaf.

Nate Quiroga and Ben Verdoes
First met: Liberty Bar, Capitol Hill, Seattle
Why they're there: Touring for their brand new record: The Wanting Creature ; their band: Iska Dhaaf.

Justin Romito First met: 2013 at the Crystal Ballroom, Portland Why he's there: World traveling tour manager with Leon Bridges.

Justin Romito
First met: 2013 at the Crystal Ballroom, Portland
Why he's there: World traveling tour manager with Leon Bridges.

Rhiannon Betts First met: Running lights at the Aladdin Theater Why she's there: Production and lighting on the Sasquatch (main) stage.

Rhiannon Betts
First met: Running lights at the Aladdin Theater
Why she's there: Production and lighting on the Sasquatch (main) stage.

Ian Krist and Cozette Tran-Caffee First met: Probably a house party, somewhere in Portland Why they're there: Touring with Blind Pilot, driving the vibraphone in Sparky Vanderson.

Ian Krist and Cozette Tran-Caffee
First met: Probably a house party, somewhere in Portland
Why they're there: Touring with Blind Pilot, driving the vibraphone in Sparky Vanderson.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Sunset magic makers.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Sunset magic makers.

Sufjan Stevens: Potential alien/angel.

Sufjan Stevens: Potential alien/angel.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Always on tour.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Always on tour.

Every night: Saturated sunsets.

Every night: Saturated sunsets.

Cherry trees. Not pictured: vineyards, wind power turbines.

Cherry trees. Not pictured: vineyards, wind power turbines.

-Katie

All Polaroids per the author. See more of her work here.