Sasquatch Festival: Day One

Sasquatch Festival: Day One

11:45am: The parking at the Gorge supposedly has a system, but damned if I can figure it out. Bored attendants wave us into symmetrical rows without rhyme or reason, right in the middle of the tall grass—which I mow down with the giant Escalade the rental car company gave me (the magic of the free upgrade!). I look around desperately for some sort of landmark, and some guy—noticing my frustration—says, "This is C3," pointing at a broken sign laying flat on the ground near the base of a light pole. Great.

11:55am: After an incredibly lax security check of my bag ("Uh, any weapons in there?"), I make my way through the onslaught of swag merchants trying to get me to rock the vote or petition this or drink that. The biggest phalanx of pushermen approaches waving bandanas that simply say, "Rocker"—the first of many plugs I'll see today for the upcoming Rainn Wilson movie (more on that later). It's hard to resist a free bandana, and more than half of the crowd is already decorated in them—some more creatively than others.

12:01pm: It's just the first of many steep climbs today—and it's also the most rewarding. Cresting over the top of the hill is some of that purple mountain's majesty I've heard so much about, with the Columbia River snaking across the horizon. For a Texas boy born in the brush—or, at least, the flat-as-fuck suburbs—it's genuinely breathtaking.

All that splendor is the perfect backdrop to the bucolic, baroque hymns of Fleet Foxes, currently making the aural equivalent of amber waves of grain on the main stage. The band plays seated, adding to its round-the-campfire vibe, the only movement the rippling of the members' long hair in the breeze (those beard-y hippies!). They're also flanked by huge ads for Rock Band—funny, since despite the slightly Who-like, anthemic build of "English House," I certainly wouldn't classify them as "rocking." They are, however, an excellent choice to kick off a festival that's as much about atmosphere as music.

12:13pm: "I'm rarely ever up before noon on a Saturday," singer Robin Pecknold says, before humbly, repeatedly thanking everyone for being "awesome." Throughout its set, the band sounds confident and unhurried, obviously at home here in the natural setting where it spends so much time lyrically. Pecknold's solo take on the round robin that opens "White Winter Hymnal" gets some surprising cheers of recognition, nearly drowning out the gentle harmonies that follow; it's obviously the crowd favorite, but my own tastes run more towards its follow-up, the minor chord spaghetti western gallop of "Your Protector." I think it's only a matter of time before some enterprising music supervisor scoops these guys for some soundtrack work. I grabbed Pecknold for a quick interview after his set.

AVC: How was it being the first band to play?

Robin Pecknold:It was cool. I was worried that no one would be here yet. But it was fine. People were here.

AVC: This sort of setting seems tailor-made for your kind of music.

RP: [Laughs.] Yeah, yeah. I love it out here. I've been to a bunch of shows here. There's no place like it—maybe Red Rocks. But this is the first festival we've played. Just getting in here was a huge nightmare. There were so many gigantic tour buses and stuff.

AVC: How'd you like being flanked by giant ads for Rock Band?

RP: That stuff's always kind of weird, but I guess they have to pay for it somehow. At least it wasn't on the microphone. But whatever. Someday we'll get a song on there.

AVC: Oh yeah?

RP: [Laughs.] No.

AVC: Who are you looking forward to this weekend?

RP: We're leaving for Europe on Monday, actually, so I might need to go home tonight to get packed and ready for that. I did see half of Beirut and half of Throw Me The Statue, and they were both really good. But I mostly just plan on going home. I got no sleep last night. I had really crazy insomnia. It was really weird. We stayed at this place—like the kind of place a frat would rent out and go party. So when we rolled in there was this huge frat party going on.

AVC: I have the same problem at my hotel. My whole floor is apparently a college baseball team, plus me. Do you wish you were camping instead?

RP: Compared to that, yes. But camping here isn't really camping. It's still kind of a party. I think it would be even harder to go to sleep. I saw Radiohead here when they put out Kid A, and it was crazy.

AVC: If you had to share a tent with anyone playing here this weekend, who would it be?

RP: Dengue Fever. That girl has a nice voice. She's pretty. Do you mean, like, one of those mansion tents? Or a regular tent? Maybe Throw Me The Statue, because they're buddies.

AVC: If this were Woodstock, who would you be?

RP: Maybe John Sebastian. You've seen that movie, right? He's the most annoying dude. His banter was so terrible. You know, I just assume we're the most annoying band here.

12:20pm: "This is some awesome grass," a guy behind me says. Until now, I've been wondering where all the drugs are. The view, the vibes—this place should be ablaze with a thousand joints. "Yeah," a female voice answers. "It's real nice and cushy." Oh…They're actually talking about the grass. A few minutes later I overhear another conversation: "Man, that chick was rolling like crazy." Ah, you crazy kids and your ecstasy. "I know," his friend says. "This hill is so steep, rolling down it like that is really dangerous." Oh…they're actually talking about rolling. This is like an episode of Three's Company.

12:55pm: There's a total clusterfuck going on at the Comedy Tent where the Upright Citizens Brigade is due to go on. The security guard at one side directs a mass of hopefuls to the other side of the fence—which means trudging back down the hill and up it again—and her partner on the other side says the main entrance is back where we came from, and he doesn't know why she told us to come over here. The total lack of communication between these folks in Live Nation shirts will be a running theme today, as no one seems to be on the same page about anything, or have any idea of what's happening when or where things are. (Those walkie-talkies dangling from their belts are apparently just for fun.) When I get back to the side I started at, the line stretches back up the trail towards the ridiculous MLB Road Show batting cages, and now that same security guard is explaining how everything is at capacity and no one else can come in. I spy Matt Besser through the fence and do something I swear I don't do very often: Drop my Onion affiliation to see if he can get me in. Surprise—it works. He comes around the gate and personally escorts me inside the tent, which, while holding a good 100 people or so, shouldn't really count as "capacity" at a festival this size. Part of the problem are these metal folding chairs, not to mention the dozens of giant backpacks half the guys are carrying.

1:05pm: Matt Walsh comes out on stage, acting as host for this performance. He bitches about his intro music, saying that it should be something more upbeat—it's a rock festival, for God's sake. Matt Besser pops up behind the DJ booth, and they have a funny back-and-forth as Besser repeatedly puts on stuff like "Piano Man" ("Who doesn't love 'Piano Man'?") and a maudlin selection from the Lion King soundtrack before Walsh gives up. It's a funny bit, but hindered by the fact that Walsh's microphone keeps cutting out. Frustrated, Walsh says, "This is a really good opening bit, where no one can hear what I'm saying."

1:08pm: Walsh introduces Jerry Minor (Mr. Show, Lucky Louie) as "the guy who does all those great sound effects from the Police Academy movies—Michael Winslow!" Minor proceeds to do a routine as Winslow, recounting the Jasper hate crime against James Byrd Jr. and punching it up with lame sound effects. It gets more stunned silence than laughter. When he gets to the part about how, when Byrd died, his bowels released—punctuating it with a long, drawn-out fart noise (usually comedy gold)—it becomes obvious that most people here are uncomfortable. "I see some of you are laughing, but this is a very serious story!" Minor says. "We're not laughing," someone calls out.

1:10pm: Walsh and Besser come back out and get the crowd back on their side with some funny bits about all of the things that are for sale after the show, including T-shirts and "Wet And Wild Teen Cunt downloads." Besser reminds everyone that by entering they've agreed to have their image used in the UCB video they're taping, and that "we can also Photoshop a donkey dick in your mouth." He then does a funny bit about the various hats you can and cannot wear, including, "No ironic sombreros. If you're Mexican and it's your siesta time, it's okay, but we don't want to see you wearing a sombrero just because you won some stupid margarita contest or something." Again, a funny routine hampered by the fact that the microphones keep cutting out every 10 seconds or so. Everyone's eyes keep turning to meet the soundman, who's shrugging and texting someone on his iPhone.

1:15pm: Poor Sean Conroy is the hardest hit by the sound problems: The mic seems to cut out right on the punchline of every joke, forcing him to repeat it once it cuts back in. It's absolutely killing his timing, and his frustration is obvious. Finally, he just starts screaming his jokes without a microphone, which adds a funny Sam Kinison vibe—although his routine is mostly of the "skewed observation" variety, focused on his little niece and nephew and the things they say, such as his nephew's tendency to talk in hip-hop slang despite being white and incredibly nerdy. ("Yo kid, I gots a bassoooon lesson.")His struggle wins him the sympathy of the crowd, though, and he's finally getting the laughs that Minor's act presumed he would be getting.

1:20pm: Walsh introduces the next act as a veteran of Last Comic Standing—a comedian who overcame the adversity of being deaf and blind and having no arms to win. Besser comes on stage, his arms tied behind his back, speaking in a voice that someone familiar with the show (is anyone?) would probably read as a dig at fourth season winner Josh Blue. It's a little bit wrong, but jokes like, "What has two thumbs and likes to eat pussy? Not this guy" are so, so right.

1:30pm: Walsh introduces Tim Meadows in his "Leon Phelps, The Ladies Man" character, who gets huge whoops and applause as he enters draped in a toga, explaining that he's late because he was "taking care of M.I.A. She's a feisty little number" and that "The Breeders are next—because they're breeders." The gags are pretty stale—not surprising for a character that was played out over a decade ago—and the Q&A; session with the audience is about as obvious and uninspired as you'd expect, with people asking Phelps if he "likes to do it in the butt" and what his favorite position is. The one slightly funny moment comes when Walsh asks if Phelps likes to "toss salad," to which Phelps says, "I don't know. I've eaten salad. I also like licking ass, if that's what you mean." Hey, can we get Opera Man in here next?

1:45pm: Lots of people clear out after Meadows, and even more walk out during Rich Fulcher's set, which seems entirely based on stuff that he and Besser (a former roommate) found funny while stoned at 4 a.m., including a bizarre, joke-less riff on how he has moles growing in the shape of a Starbucks and a Subway, and a Taco Bell growing out of his ass. Huh? He does a semi-funny riff on the Austrian incest dad ("If that were my house, my mom would be screaming at me down in the basement, 'What are you doing down there? Do you have a secret family where you're raping your daughter?"), and Besser calls out from the audience and asks him to do his impression of Dr. Smith from Lost In Space. "Mmmmm, stop rrrraping me!" Pulcher says, for his second rape-related gag in a row, then takes it one step further by doing an impression of Smith as the Austrian incest dad. Besser is cracking up, but, uh, I guess you had to be there? Pulcher wraps up his half-baked set with some all-too-obvious "fake porn titles based on real movies" gags, better examples of which I've seen here in the comment boards. ("Juno? How about, um, Spooge-o?") Hi-larious.

[pagebreak]

2pm: As the show wraps up, I spy Eugene Mirman in the corner—whom it seems like I bump into at least two to three times a year—and head over to say hello.

AVC: Who are you looking forward to this weekend?

Eugene Mirman: I'm looking forward to a lot of bands: R.E.M., Modest Mouse, The New Pornographers. There are so many bands that I forget their names, uh…

[Attendants start stacking up metal chairs in the tent, banging them together really loudly.]

EM: This is a good background sound. I'm looking forward to this, this kind of art-rock. I don't know if you've heard this band before. They're very good.

AVC: Is this Einstuerzende Neubauten?

EM: Yeah! This is my favorite industrial noise band out of whatever town we're in.

AVC: So which band that peaked in popularity in the '90s are you most looking forward to?

EM: Does R.E.M. count? Yeah, and The Breeders. All the bands everybody's excited to see. I'm not like, "You know, Blobbity Bloo. Nobody but me knows about them."

AVC: If you had to share a tent with anyone performing this weekend, who would it be and why?

EM: The New Pornographers, because they're fun. And I already know them. Or, did you want me to say, like, "MIA—because she's dangerous!"?

AVC: Is she dangerous?

EM: No, she's probably very nice. But I mean, do you want me to say realistically or unrealistically? Because I was like, "Well, they're friends, so I think it would be fine if we shared a tent." [Laughs.] But I could actually be interesting and say, like, "The Flaming Lips—because they wear suits made of blood, and that's something that I want in my tent." I could also pick people I know who are comics, I guess. I've given you three versions: Realistic, made up, and douche-y.

AVC: If this were Woodstock, who would you be?

EM: Of course I wanna say, "Oh, I'd be Jimi Hendrix." But more realistically: Country Joe And The Fish. Or, uh, Nash? Of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The thing is, who that played that isn't dead? Crosby, Stills, and Nash are still alive. Did Simon and Garfunkel play Woodstock?

AVC: Nope.

EM: I'm just trying to list who isn't dead. I would be anybody who's not dead—or too wacky. I'm like, "Oh, there's some people who aren't dead: Wavy Gravy, Country Joe." Nah. Arlo Guthrie? I don't need it. Whatever.

I then figure it's a good opportunity to chat up Besser, who's standing on stage waiting for the soundman to fetch some new microphones.

AVC: What was the inspiration behind having the mics cut out? What does that add to the comedy?

Matt Besser: It's a challenge, you know. It's not enough just to do comedy anymore. It's like a steeplechase. You gotta have barriers, so we decided we wanted to have our microphone cut out once a minute, at least. On punchlines in particular.

AVC: It did add sort of take it to an Andy Kaufman-esque higher plane.

MB: Yes, maybe we should embrace that further and insist that you never hear the punchlines of any set-ups.

AVC: Is it hard to be funny in a tent?

MB: You saw me. Did it look like I was having a hard time? Come on. It was effortless.

AVC: So, if this were Woodstock, who would you be?

MB: I would be Country Joe.

AVC: That's what Eugene Mirman said.

MB: [Laughs.] He already said that? That was his reference? Okay. I would be Wavy Gravy. I'd tell people to stay away from the brown acid. All the more brown acid for me.

AVC: What's the equivalent of the brown acid at this festival?

MB: Those bandanas for The Rocker. And everybody's on it.

AVC: If you had to share a tent with anyone playing this weekend, who would it be?

MB: Robert Smith from The Cure. We have a long feud going back years and years, the UCB and The Cure. They're the kings of depression rock, and we're the kings of depression comedy.

2:15pm: One of my biggest fears about this weekend is coming true: I have zero bars on my cell phone, which means that all of the publicists and bands who were supposed to call me about our various scheduled interviews are not going to be able to reach me. I manage to get one bar by crouching down and putting one hand on the backstage press trailer, and I make all of my phone calls for the day at once, setting concrete appointments to meet me back here. This means I'm grounded in the press area for the next couple of hours, but it's not so bad. I can see the main stage from here, and I end up chatting with several people who happen by, including Will Sheff from Okkervil River—who, before he became Mr. Big Time Indie Rock Star, was just my coworker at a little video store in Austin. He happens to be hanging out with Carl Newman from The New Pornographers, so I turn on the recorder for an incredibly rambling, self-indulgent interview.

AVC: Hiya, Will. How are you?

Will Sheff: Hi, Sean. I'm doing pretty good. I just got here an hour ago, and I'm still getting my bearings. The staff here don't communicate here with each other very well. There's a lot of confusion in the air. But…you know that.

AVC: Who are you looking forward to seeing?

WS: I wanted to see The National, but I guess they're having a hard time getting here. They're getting held up at the border. I just saw them at All Tomorrow's Parties, and I was excited about seeing them again, so I hope they get here. I'm kind of excited about seeing M.I.A., Destroyer, and The New Pornographers.

AVC: You're just saying that because Carl Newman's right there.

WS: Yeah, well. I was trying to say it loud enough so he'd hear me.

AVC: So which band that peaked in popularity in the '90s are you most looking forward to?

WS: [Laughs.] Okkervil River. Yeah…Isn't it interesting the way that that stuff happens? Everyone gets to have their revival now. But I'm okay with that. It doesn't make me disgruntled. I'm gruntled. I feel like some very cynical hipster part of me wants to be disgruntled, but it's not kicking in, so instead I'm just gruntled.

AVC: That's my job.

WS: That's true, that's true. But you know, your cynicism is sort of poisonous.

AVC: Oh, sorry. If you had to share a tent with someone playing here, who would it be?

WS: Uh…CARL NEWMAN! I love those guys…We just got off tour with them, and they're so fun. They're the sweetest, sweetest band we have ever toured with. And we've toured with some pretty sweet people.

AVC: What kind of tent-mates do you think they'd make?

WS: They'd be considerate. And we'd talk a lot about music arcana. Their drummer is the identical twin of our drummer, in pretty much every way. It's weird. They're like the same person, essentially, which is occasionally frightening and freaky.

AVC: If this were Woodstock, who would you be?

WS: I'd be John Sebastian, tripping my balls off on stage, saying creepy poems about children on acid.

Carl Newman: Should I drop in on this interview?

WS: Hey, it's Carl Newman!

CN: Just doing a Bob Hope-style drop-in. Hey guys!

WS: I see you brought your guitar—why don't you play us a solo? You should answer this question too. I just gave an answer that's already been given. Oh, wait…I'd be the Incredible String Band. The band that got rained out, and then Melanie played instead and made a career off it.

AVC: Who would be the Melanie then?

CN: Is Mary Lou Lord still around?

AVC: Carl, who are you looking forward to seeing this weekend?

CN: I don't really listen to music anymore.

WS: Yeah, that's a really bad question to ask cynical musicians.

AVC: OK. What band that peaked in the '90s are you most looking forward to?

CN: Oh…Modest Mouse, definitely.

AVC: If you had to share a tent with any band here, who would it be? Don't feel like you have to say Okkervil just because Will is giving you puppy eyes.

WS: Yeah, I already said you guys, so if you said Okkervil, it would be creepy.

CN: Well…I wish that just once Michael Stipe would look at me. Just once. I was at my friend Ruben's art show last month, and there were only like 50 people there. And Michael Stipe walked over to talk to Ruben, and the whole time I was just like, "Look at me, man! Just look at me!"

WS: "I just want to take up a blip of your mind space."

CN: Yeah. But no. Not even worthy of a glance. Not even a "Who's your friend, Ruben?"

AVC: Have you tried dressing a little sluttier?

CN: What…You don't like this shirt?

AVC: So, if this were Woodstock, who would The New Pornographers be? You can't say John Sebastian, because we're all sick of hearing that.

WS: And I said Incredible String Band, so you can't say that.

CN: Sha Na Na. They stole Woodstock. Have you ever seen that footage? It's not the Sha Na Na you remember from the TV show. It's like this weird punk rock Sha Na Na—like this '50s precursor to The B-52s. They were so far ahead of their time. The '50s revival in the late '60s? The whole early to mid-'70s glam thing dipped into the '50s, but Sha Na Na were the first ones to go, "Hey, you know this music that only died out, like, eight years ago? Let's do a resurgence!" It's like somebody doing a tribute to 1999 right now.

AVC: Isn't that what's happening this weekend?

CN: [Laughs.] Well, just between us…You know, all of your questions have been very leading.

AVC: That's what I do.

CN: It's like when Pitchfork asked me, "How does it feel having your song ["The Bleeding Heart Show"] linked to the crappy University Of Phoenix?" Like, what are you going to say?

AVC: Well, how does it feel having your songs linked to Rock Band?

CN: That kind of thing makes me very proud. There's a level when you get into music, where it's all about being "hip" or "indie," but there's a deeper level that comes from being a kid that's into music, that comes from liking pop culture. And being even if only a footnote in pop culture? I love that kind of stuff.

WS: Is that one of those things where it's not really you singing, and they got a Carl Newman soundalike?

CN: No, no. It's me. When we played the game and we finally got to our song on "Expert" level, I sang along…I was, like, "Finally!" And I got 85 percent singing along with my own song. Without Auto-Tune I'm at 85 percent. But come on…It was "Expert" level. I can nail "Intermediate" level any time. I pretty much run on "Intermediate" all the time. If I could nail 100 percent on "Expert" level, I wouldn't be talking to you.

WS: You'd be hanging out with Michael Stipe.

AVC: Speaking of rock star games, I noticed Okkervil was signed up to make an appearance in those batting cages over there.

WS: That's probably Patrick [Pestorious]. He got in a fight…uh. Never mind. I don't want to air any more stories about fighting. I've already aired two stories involving Okkervil River and fisticuffs.

CN: It wasn't quite fisticuffs. It was more of a knife fight.

AVC: You were in another knife fight? [Note: At a New Year's Eve party we both attended, Will disarmed a drunk guy who was brandishing a knife at people. It was very brave. And kinda stupid.]

WS: And I think I broke up a gang rape in Wellington, New Zealand.

AVC: When the hell did you become this sort of vigilante, superhero guy?

WS: [Laughs.] I know. Wherever there's a woman threatened by some drunken yobs…Wherever there's a knife being pulled at a party, I'll be there.

AVC: Are you gunning for martyrdom? Not too many rock stars die as martyrs, I guess.

CN: Are you kidding? There's so many of them.

AVC: Who are the rock martyrs?

WS: Uh…St. Cobain.

AVC: But that's not what I'm talking about. He didn't save somebody by blocking a shotgun blast with his face.

CN: That's true. Has any rock star ever died heroically?

WS: Right, like pulling a child from underneath a bus?

CN: There's gotta be one.

WS: I heard that Ray Davies chased a purse snatcher, but I can't remember any more…You know, recently I was at a pub quiz, and there was a Pink Floyd question that I couldn't figure out, and I looked at my iPod to find the answer, and I had this vision of a Pitchfork headline that said, "Will Sheff shamefully ejected from a pub quiz." That would be the opposite of that—a moment of public shame.

CN: That could make front page. It's amazing what makes front page sometimes. Like, one time we figured out we had to cancel a date in Winnipeg because the drive was too far, and there it was, front page on Pitchfork, "New Pornographers cancel Winnipeg. Are The Pornographers getting too big for their britches?"

WS: People will make a story out of anything. I've seen entire stories from completely fabricated press releases get fed to blogs and get repeated constantly. There needs to be a fact-checking police stopping the James Freys of indie rock.

AVC: Who are the James Freys of indie rock?

WS: There are whole bands of James Freys.

CN: And every damn writer.

WS: Yeah, they're liars! Every last one of you!

2:35pm: I'm somewhat missing Beirut, though I can hear the winsome melodies and squeals of hipster female delight from here. This is interrupted, however, by another round of reunions with my friends in What Made Milwaukee Famous, who are doing some sort of impromptu acoustic performance for somebody's video blog. Then my wife's old friend from Sub Pop happens by (with a bottle of Jim Beam), and we sit and chat for a while. I've also made the acquaintance of a couple of girls from The Stranger, who ask me to do one of their "How High Are You?" interviews for the website ("Like giraffe ass," I say—thanks Clipse). All those worries I had about not talking to a single soul this weekend were apparently for naught, as there's actually too much talking going on to actually hear the music.

3pm: On our way down to the hospitality yurt—a word I've never heard before, which my new friends from The Stranger think is hilarious—we run into David Bazan, an incredibly nice guy who enthusiastically agrees to listen to my smart-alecky stock questions.

AVC: How's your festival going?

David Bazan: It's going good. I have a headache like I've been drunk all day, but I haven't. Otherwise it's been great.

AVC: Who are you looking forward to seeing?

DB: Fleet Foxes are playing again at 4:20, and I'm very excited to see that. Modest Mouse. The Cure. Death Cab For Cutie.

AVC: What band that peaked in the '90s are you most looking forward to seeing?

DB: Disintegration came out in, what, '90? [Ed. note: Actually, 1989.] Definitely The Cure.

AVC: If you had to share a tent with anyone here, who would it be?

DB: I'm visiting with a good buddy of mine here whom I would gladly share a tent with—Horatio Sanz. We ran into each other, and we were both major alcoholics at the time, and we had a really good time together. He can come off as kind of quiet and shy, but he's really easy to get laughing. He's very much a normal guy. We both snore. And I think we'd be pretty much down to business. Uh, like sleeping, up, and out.

AVC: Not Brokeback Mountain-style "down to business."

DB: [Laughs.] Probably not. He's got a girlfriend and I'm happily married.

AVC: If this were Woodstock, who would you be?

DB: The Woodstock back in the '60s?

AVC: Yeah, not the '90s perversions.

DB: I was gonna say…I could make a fortune off of bottled water. I guess pretty similar to me now—you know, I have a good time usually, and I could imagine getting my hands on some chemicals and, like, losing myself for a couple of days, and…yeah.

AVC: Uh, so which artist would that be?

DB: Oh! That's right. I'm an artist. Uh…Something about David Crosby is appealing to me. I don't know what kind of guy he is, so I don't know how good a parallel that is. Just a guy that likes to sing some songs and chill out.

AVC: David Crosby?

DB: Oh, he's kind of an alcoholic, huh? Uh, maybe not current…but, yeah.

[pagebreak]

3:35pm: Hanging outside the yurt, drinking complimentary beer and noshing on crudités—ah, the life of a professional rock journalist—I can hear the party-starting Latin funk of Ozomatli. For a moment, it makes me a little homesick—then I remember that I'm fucking sick of Latin funk. Time for another beer.

4:20pm: The Office's Rainn Wilson, unofficial master of ceremonies for this weekend—and star of omnipresent movie The Rocker, which is being advertised everywhere from those bandanas around people's necks to a plane that's been circling overhead for the last couple of hours—takes the main stage to let everyone know that The National, who were scheduled to play this slot, couldn't make it. Filling in, he says, is an amazing band from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, famous for its hit songs like "Turn Me Loose" and "Working For The Weekend." Wilson continues to read Loverboy's Wikipedia entry from his phone, before admitting that, okay, they're not really playing. Instead, "the Fleet fucking Foxes" are coming on to play an encore set—which prompts him to read us the Wikipedia entry on foxes. He's nearly drowned out by yahoos shouting, "Dwiiight!", all of which he takes in good humor before escaping to our backstage area. After he grabs a free cone from the Ice Cream Man, I snag him for an interview as he stretches out on the grass to sneer at the Rocker plane circling overhead.

A.V. Cub: How does it feel to be the Wavy Gravy of Sasquatch?

Rainn Wilson: It feels great. I don't know what that reference means.

AVC: You've never seen Woodstock the movie? You're the guy who comes out and does the announcements.

RW: Ohhh. There was a guy named "Wavy Gravy"?

AVC: You should Wikipedia it.

RW: If I could get a signal I'd look it up. That's cool, though. I like that. Thank you for that. I am the Wavy Gravy of Sasquatch.

AVC: You're also the most oppressive corporate sponsor.

RW: Yeah, The Rocker is everywhere. You notice I didn't mention it on stage.

AVC: True. But there was that plane circling overhead.

RW: I know. I think people can put two and two together. Yeah, I'm like, enough with the plane already. If they could just bring it by once an hour it would be perfect, but it's literally going around and around and around. People are like, "I'm never going to see that movie."

AVC: And you're part of the fashion too, with all the bandanas.

RW: I know, I know. And I busted out my flannel today, to represent the Northwest.

AVC: So tell us about this movie that everybody's already sick of.

RW: The movie starts in 1988, and when we meet my character Fish, I'm the drummer for a heavy metal band called Vesuvius. They kick me out right before they become huge, like as big as Cinderella or something. And I live a life of total mediocrity and depression, but get a second shot at fame by joining my high school nephew's rock band. So it's me touring and living the rock star life 20 years too late with a bunch of teenagers.

AVC: Did you ever have any inclination toward being a rock star before becoming an actor?

RW: No. But I've always loved music, rock music, and alternative music, and I play some guitar. I may even bust out a song tomorrow.

AVC: What's the most impressive song you can play on guitar?

RW: Probably the one I'll play tomorrow is, I do a really sad, introspective version of "867-5309" by Tommy Tutone.

AVC: That song is pretty easy, though.

RW: Eh…It's not that easy. C-sharp-minor? That's kind of hard. But no, all actors want to be rock stars, and all rock stars want to be actors, and definitely after I got more successful as an actor I was like, "This is perfect. I have notoriety. People know who I am. I'm a celebrity, and I should channel this into being a rock star." You look at so many terrible actor bands, actors who make terrible rock stars. Don't they? Has there been one truly successful one? Jenny Lewis. But no one knows her as an actor.

AVC: Depends on how you define "success." David Soul from Starsky And Hutch had a number one single.

RW: That's true. [Sings] "Don't give up on us baby…" I should learn that one. What about [Sings] "My girl likes to party all the time, party all the time, party all the time…" Number one.

AVC: Not as good as "Boogie In The Butt," though. Have you heard Scarlett Johannson's new album?

RW: I heard it's pretty bad. I think if you're going to do Tom Waits covers, you have to have some kind of voice that's equally as interesting as his. It doesn't have to be rough and gravelly. But I'd like to hear, like, Bjork do Tom Waits. Or Thom Yorke. Someone with a cool voice. But turning it into showtunes is a bad idea.

AVC: So what's your favorite Bruce Willis album?

RW: I'd definitely go with Return Of Bruno.

AVC: If you had a band, what would you call it?

RW: I'd call it The Rainn Wilson Band. No. I always liked the name Throbbing Gristle. Can you reuse an old band's name?

AVC: You should probably ask P-Orridge first.

RW: How about, like, when Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship and then became Starship—how about Starship Jefferson? Or Jefferson…what?

AVC: Davis?

RW: [Laughs.] It has to be a vehicle, right?

AVC: Pushcart?

RW: Jefferson Pushcart. It needs to be in the air. Jefferson Blimp?

AVC: Can I make a suggestion? Purple Rainn—with two "n"s.

RW: Not bad! Not bad at all.

AVC: So what band that peaked in popularity in the '90s are you most excited to see this weekend?

RW: I think you're nudging me in a certain direction.

AVC: I'm only asking leading questions this weekend.

RW: Uh…The Cure is pretty amazing…You think about the scope of the stuff he's done over the last 20 years, that guy with the weirdest voice and no discernible musical talent—and yet they always produce these really amazing, catchy songs that get hooked inside your brain.

AVC: Were you a goth kid?

RW: I was in like the thrift store new wave crowd. And I had a ska period, and for a while I was all about the skinny black tie and the Specials pin and the porkpie hat.

AVC: Do you know how to skank?

RW: No comment. Ask my wife.

AVC: So does it feel good to get out of The Office?

RW: Yeah, this is really cool. My wife and I have a cabin up in Oregon, and I drove up today. It's great doing a rock 'n' roll movie, because I get to go to a lot of rock 'n' roll concerts and see some incredible bands. It's a lot more interesting than going to awards shows and Hollywood bullshit.

AVC: What about the IFC Awards? That was pretty cool, right? Hanging out with Dennis Hopper?

RW: That was really fun. I got to hang out with Dennis Hopper for the day, man. What a legend. What a cool guy. That was hard work, but it was actually a lot of fun.

AVC: Did he give you any advice on retiring?

RW: Yeah! "Collect art." He has the most incredible art collection—Basquiats, Chuck Closes. These giant canvases fill his Venice house. That guy's amazing, because he started in Rebel Without A Cause and Giant in the '50s, then Easy Rider in the '60s, and Apocalypse Now in the '70s. In the '80s Blue Velvet and Hoosiers. I mean, he made classic movies in four decades. I don't know who else has done that. Jack Nicholson?

AVC: Al Pacino?

RW: No, The Godfather was '72. And he's made nothing but crap lately. I did a play with Al Pacino—Salome. I played the page of Herodias, and he was the king. That was fascinating, watching him work. You just never knew what kind of performance was going to come out of him. There was no consistency at all. They were really expensive seats—like $100 seats, and this was 10 years ago, so that's crazy expensive. And on some nights people should have paid $1000, because he was that good. And some nights it wasn't worth $5, because you couldn't hear him, or he'd just phone it in. You just never knew what you would get.

AVC: Did those kind of curveballs prepare you for working in improv comedy?

RW: Well, I started as a theater actor—honing your performance and bringing a certain level of consistency. It's not regimentation, but you spend weeks rehearsing, and you give the illusion that it's happening for the first time, but it's a carefully crafted illusion. But on film it literally can happen for the first time. In film you can have Marlon Brando reading his lines off the side of somebody's head, and it will appear to be spontaneous. Those are just two very different ways of working. But what do I know? I'm just on a sitcom. I just have to be annoying and have a bad haircut.

AVC: Isn't that mostly done with gel?

RW: Yes, and a blow dryer. You're very discerning. How's Austin these days?

AVC: Good. My house just got hit with a minor tornado. A tree crushed my wife's car.

RW: Oh no! How terrible…. But, good breakfast tacos.

5:00pm: The saving grace in this sea of strangers, my buddies from What Made Milwaukee Famous stroll back down from their video shoot ("I had to pretend to drum in the dirt," Jeremy Bruch says, baffled) and we spend a few minutes catching up before I whip out the tape recorder on lead singer Michael Kingcaid, whom I'd teased earlier about his crush on singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards. I promised I wouldn't bring it up anymore—but the guy can't seem to help talking about it.

AVC: How's your festival going?

MK: Pretty good. This is a really cool place. I'm kind of scared of heights, but I'm all right now that they have this fence up. If this fence weren't here I'd be fucked.

AVC: Do you think if you wanted to you could lead the audience out into the wilderness there?

MK: I doubt it. I'm not that influential. Maybe after four Makers. Then I have a pretty slick tongue. But before that I stammer a lot. I'm practically a legal stutterer.

AVC: Who are you looking forward to seeing?

MK: Kathleen Edwards. She's great. Very talented, among other things. And she drinks Makers. Uh, I'm married. I'd like to see Modest Mouse, too, and The Flaming Lips, since I've never, ever seen them. And M.I.A., The Breeders, and The National. David Bazan is a big one too, and The Cure. Death Cab For Cutie, sure.

AVC: If you had to share a tent with anyone here, who would it be?

MK: Uh…Kathleen Edwards.

AVC: But you're married.

MK: We could still hang out. And just kick it.

AVC: Is that a euphemism?

MK: Could be, if I wasn't married.

AVC: If this were Woodstock, who would you be?

MK: Who was the black guy with the Pancho Villa thing? Who played right before Jimi Hendrix?

AVC: Richie Havens.

MK: Yeah. Him. Maybe after a few Makers.

5:35pm: Recalling the words of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous, I finally decide that it's my journalistic duty to get away from these people who are not really my friends, stop getting drunk on feeling like I belong, and get out of VIP Land. Besides, The New Pornographers are on the main stage, and the stars have finally aligned to where I can catch a full set by them. "We don't often get to be in the same place at the same time," Carl says as he, Neko Case, and Newman's niece Kathryn Calder are joined onstage by Dan Bejar, who's just finished playing a Destroyer set on the other side of the festival, with everyone singing along to "All The Old Showstoppers" and "Testament To Youth In Verse," which Bejar sings while clutching a Budweiser in one hand. It's one of the most crowd-pleasing sets of the day, despite the fact that it's finally started to rain, prompting several folks to cover up in their ponchos and huge plastic tarps.

6:15pm: I've been pretty negligent of the far-off Wookie Stage today, so I decide to hike over to see Crudo, the brand new rap-rock goof from Mike Patton and Dan The Automator. Patton and his fellow emcee (whose name I can't find) are dressed in spattered butchers' aprons and latex gloves—supposedly because they're cutting up big meaty chunks of R&B; or something?

The music is a little more goofy than good—the dominant facial expression in the audience is "bemused"—but Patton has a surprisingly convincing slow jam falsetto going on, and the various samples (including "We work hard, and we play hard" from Homer's trip to the gay steel mill on The Simpsons, and an impromptu cut of C&C; Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat") make it clear they're just trying to have fun up there, which is infectious. At one point, Patton pulls a little girl and her father on stage, and when the girl waves to the crowd, everyone waves back. It's a sweet moment. Dan The Automator does his scratching thing, which isn't nearly as impressive as their tiny keyboardist, who pulls out one of the most impressive beatboxing solos ever done by someone not named Rahzel, all while playing the piano with her other free hand. The crowd goes officially nuts—as does Patton—and then, by some cosmic coincidence, the group bursts into a song whose chorus is "Gonna make it rain!" just as the scattered drops turns to a full-on drizzle. Who knew Mike Patton had command over the elements?

6:40pm: Over on the Yeti stage, recent Sub Pop acquisition Grand Archives is making more of that vaguely pleasant, vaguely country-ish pop that's become the label's signature ever since Band Of Horses took off—which makes sense, because Archives features Horses co-founder Mat Brooke. Fleet Foxes aside, I'm not really a fan of this new genre of easy listening bands that BOH have spawned like fucking gremlins (another spin-off, Sera Cahoone, is headlining this stage tomorrow). "Inoffensive" is the most charitable word to describe their soporific, white-bread cover of Sam Cooke's "Another Saturday Night." I'm watching them from backstage and would leave immediately were it not for the fact that The National have just pulled in, apparently relegated to playing a set on this tiny regional stage as a last-minute solution. I hang back, hoping to chat with one of the various Berningers walking around, but they all look understandably harried so I give them a pass on pestering them with my inanity.

7pm: "We're gonna pretend we're in Glastonbury, 1992, and everybody's on ecstasy!" M.I.A. is throwing a multicolored melee on the main stage, everything bathed in pixilated neon while air raid sirens and klaxons pierce the air. Her two back-up dancers—sporting a fire engine-red wig and the last surviving Fly Girl costume from In Living Color, respectively—keep the momentum going as M.I.A. hops back and forth in her sparkly green tights and gold jacket, ripping through the club bangers from Kala and Arular.

"We want to take you somewhere hot—Africa!" she yells. Last time I checked, though, there weren't any penguins in Africa.

7:15pm: "Sunshowers" causes a huge commotion of waving hands and jumping up and down, but suddenly the waves of joy are rippled by a speeding current of security guards who have a struggling fish in their hooks. Judging by the way he's being hustled out of the pit, I'm guessing he tried to join in the fun by hopping on stage; he's screaming, "Fuck you guys!" and trying his damnedest to latch onto anything he can grab to stop their momentum. It takes four men to wrestle him to the ground and slap a pair of plastic handcuffs on him before hauling him out.

7:25pm: I'm surfeited on noise and getting jostled by people doing awkward, outré arm motions in some approximation of dancing that should have remained in their bedrooms, so I decide to trudge back up the hill to see if The National is playing yet. It's my fourth or fifth climb, and by the time I reach the top I'm completely winded. As I say every year around festival time, I should probably quit smoking. And as if it were a sign, the Yeti stage is sponsored by stop-smoking site BecomeAnEx.com—yet ironically, there are more people smoking here than at any other stage I've seen. Take that, corporate sponsors! The National is nowhere near ready, so, sighing audibly, I head back down to M.I.A. who has apparently invited half the audience to join her on stage, screaming, "We want everybody jumping!"

Security is visibly freaking the fuck out as more and more kids stream past the barriers. I ask the pleasant-looking redhead girl next to me what happened and she says it's a "lawsuit waiting to happen." I spy the What Made Milwaukee Famous CDs in her hand and ask if she works for Barsuk; as it turns out, I've managed to run into Kathleen Edwards, who's nice enough to grant me an impromptu interview.

[pagebreak]

AVC: So you said you've run afoul of security in the past. What have you done in the past that got you in trouble like this?

Kathleen Edwards:Maybe just saying things that should have been better self-edited.

AVC: Seditious things?

KE:Oh, just stuff that wasn't intended to be bad, that was taken the wrong way. People in the music business can be very sensitive about themselves. I'm sure I'm included in that. I'm sure I take myself way too seriously.

AVC: Who have seen that you've enjoyed or who are you looking forward to?

KE:I really wish I could see Sera Cahoone, but we're not going to be here. The New Pornographers, I was really excited to see them, but I couldn't get close enough to really feel like I was interacting.

AVC: If you had to share a tent with anyone here, who would it be?

KE:If you'd asked me that five hours ago, I probably would have said Neko Case. But know I'd say Michael [Kingcaid] from What Made Milwaukee Famous.

AVC: He said he'd share one with you too. So…That could happen.

KE:[Laughs.] That's very cute. Am I blushing? Oops.

AVC: Unfortunately he's married.

KE:Well, I'm also married. We can sleep adjoined tents, and text each other from each other's tents.

AVC: If this were Woodstock, who would you be?

KE:I couldn't answer that. I'd be giving myself too much credit. That would be weird. Well, OK…I'd be like the Porta-Potty cleaner. Except they didn't have those at Woodstock.

AVC: Uh, you'd be the person that dug a trench to direct the river of feces away from the crowd?

KE:Ew. Pretty gross. I'd really just like to be a fly on the wall. I wouldn't want to have to shit in the river of feces.

AVC: But if you were a fly, you'd be all about that river.

KE:Oh yeah, I'd be really enjoying that. Good point.

7:55pm: Somehow The National still hasn't finished setting up, after more than 40 minutes of loading and tuning. Even worse, the rain—intermittent since Crudo's set—is becoming steadier. Maybe it's the fact that Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" is playing (you know: "When the rain washes you clean you'll know")? I'm not sure who's being clever here—the guy choosing the in-between songs, or Mother Nature. It's another 20 minutes before anything happens, then Rainn (enough with the irony!) Wilson comes out again to introduce his "favorite band, The Nationals," explaining that they are "assholes, and such total fucking douchebags and rock star divas" who didn't play earlier because they requested s'mores on their rider but they were too burnt. Wilson continues to berate the band ("Ooh look, they've got a trombonist!") before turning his deprecation inward and saying, "You know about my movie The Rocker because you've seen that plane like 80 times today. You know what? Don't go see it." He then proceeds to read off the lyrics to "Squalor Victoria," openly mocking every line as "meaningless" or "too repetitive." "Who writes this shit? Skinny Brooklyn hipsters!"

8:00pm After Rainn drops the act and introduces "the greatest fucking band in the history of rock 'n' roll music," The National finally takes the stage, four hours tardy for their scheduled appearance, with "Start A War." "Look at this view!" Matt Berninger mock-exclaims, gesturing at the trailers and tents behind him before saying, "Oh wait. This isn't the picture they showed us." While it obviously isn't the ideal main stage setting they were hoping for, the band's slightly mournful, reflective rock is far more suited for these early evening hours, particularly with the backdrop of gray storm clouds. The relatively tiny Yeti stage, too, adds to the club-like intimacy, boosting songs like "Baby We'll Be Fine" and "Mistaken For Strangers" into full-bore, surprisingly noisy rockers that the hermetic seal of being up in the stratosphere of the main stage probably would have reduced to merely adequate. I'm missing Modest Mouse right now but can't seem to turn away.

8:20pm: During the line about "raise your heavenly glasses" from "Squalor Victoria," everyone raises their giant cans of Coors Light—an incredibly open interpretation of the word "heavenly" if I've ever heard one. Incidentally, the Coors Light comes from the nearby "Beers Of The World," which—by my count—carries about four kinds of beers (Coors being one of them).

8:35pm: As I'm mentally stressing out about the fact that I still have about three hours to go, then another hour's drive back to my hotel, then untold hours of transcribing interviews and trying to write up this blog entry before I have to be back here and do it all over again, and I still haven't really eaten today, a guy bearing a huge sign reading, "Intuitive Spiritual Healing" stops right in front of me and does some weird tai chi breathing exercises, looking right at me. Can he really sense my tension? And wouldn't you know it, as soon as he finishes, I feel better. Hey, the pressure on me is pretty bad, but at least I'm not that guy.

9:05pm: The National closes out with a rollicking version of "Mr. November" that finds a red-faced Matt Berninger shredding his throat on the refrain, followed by a truly transcendent version of "Fake Empire" that gets the entire crowd clapping in unison. I'm really glad I caught this.

9:10pm: It's a slightly subdued version of "Float On" that I hear drifting up from the main stage as I make my way down to Modest Mouse. The band is as obviously sick of playing it as most of us are of hearing it. Actually, most of the rest of the set that I catch feels somewhat half-hearted—though it's leagues better than the last time I saw Modest Mouse, on that infamous Lonesome Crowded West drunken free-for-all. On my way to a better vantage point I spy Sean Conroy, the comic whose routine was repeatedly foiled by shitty mics at the UCB show, and tell him I enjoyed his set despite the technical difficulties. He tells me that other shows were better, but the 6:30pm ASSSSCAT show was drowned out by the noise from M.I.A. and "The Oakersons" (Okkervil River). In retrospect, perhaps the idea to put live comedy in an open tent in the dead center of three loud music stages wasn't such a good idea. As I'm talking to him, Modest Mouse finishes its set on a wanky, feedback-y note. Guess I'll have to catch them some other time.

9:30pm: I make my way to the very top of the mountain—that's the last fucking time, I swear to myself—to settle in and wait for R.E.M. I hear the opening strains of The Breeders playing "No Aloha" and wander over to the fence to watch them on the far-off Wookie stage. Having just seen them in Austin a couple of weeks ago, I'm not inclined to make the trek to get any closer, but with no one else scheduled against them the sound reverberates crystal clear across the entire grounds. I'm feeling spent anyway, content to just lean against the fence and take in their redux of The Amps' "Pacer," a sloppy rendition of "Cannonball," and other flashes from the past while listening in on strangers' conversations. Some guy passing behind me says, "Those two music videos are, like, why I am the way I am"—and I'm trying like hell to figure out what those could possibly be. (My vote is for "The Humpty Dance" and "Take On Me.")

9:40pm: Some frattish couple falls into me, reeking of red wine and beer and violently French kissing. The girl leans over and asks if I "have any E to sell—or anything else fun." I say no. "To give away?" Nope. "Do you know anyone who does?" I'm not sure why I always get mistaken for a drug dealer at things like this—though my Dad would say it's because I wear too much black—but I tell the girl she's barking up the wrong tree. She takes a look at my notebook and says, in rapid succession, "What are you writing? Are those notes? Oh, you write in all capitals—me too! I think it's more professional, don't you? But they say not to use it on your résumé, but I did it anyway, and I only have a demo version of Word so now I can't change it!" Jesus Christ. The last thing this girl needs is something to lower her inhibitions any further.

9:45pm: The rain that's been drizzling off and on now starts in earnest, coming down in genuine sheets. There's a race to huddle up under a nearby sausage stand as the wind picks up, sharp and cold. Waiting for R.E.M. to take the stage becomes a battle of wills against the elements, weighing the merits of seeing them play versus surviving to see another day. I vow to stick it out for you, dear reader, despite the fact that it got nasty fast, and already the exodus of casual, non-paid professional concertgoers is streaming toward the parking lot.

10:10pm: "Children of the rain!" Michael Stipe says as R.E.M. finally takes the stage. Stipe is clad in a natty pinstripe suit, but he's completely barefoot, just begging to catch his death of cold on this, only the second night of their world tour. (Mike Mills, meanwhile, is sporting a ridiculous cowboy hat that makes him look like he just got in from the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport.) The band opens with "Living Well Is The Best Revenge," and while I've spent some time with and learned to appreciate Accelerate since my disappointing experience at SXSW, the weather is bad enough that I decide I'm going to bail if it's another repeat of that night's new song-heavy setlist. As if sensing my growing hesitation about sticking around, the band launches into "These Days"—one of my favorite R.E.M. songs of all time—and I'm glad I stuck around to brave the rain. In fact, the set plays on that nice 2:1 ratio of old to new I was hoping for last time around, with some chestnuts I'd recently heard ("Drive," "Auctioneer") and some I hadn't ("Ignoreland") breaking up the Accelerate tracks. Stipe is also blessedly short on wonky politicizing tonight, other than asking, "How many people here think Barack Obama is the coolest person on the planet?" He's even—gasp—kind of funny like days of old, saying, "If I'm on stage and I'm barefoot, does that make you a hippie?"

10:45pm: I've lost track of the setlist and stopped taking notes, as it is officially pouring right now. Huddled back under the sausage stand I hear the opening mandolin notes of "Losing My Religion," and right on cue the torrent slackens. It's my perfect R.E.M. moment, taking me back to the years I spent wearing out Out Of Time on my Walkman, and I decide that that's as good as it's going to get tonight—as do approximately 1,000 others. On our way to the parking lot, I hear "The One I Love"—which I'm sad that I missed, but considering how much work I have ahead of me (and the fact that I have to get up and do it all over again tomorrow), it's probably for the best.

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