On the second morning of Sasquatch Music Festival, I sit in a folding camp chair, enjoying a breakfast of bananas and nutella as “tent city” stirs to life around me.
The relative silence is broken by a roar. I watch in growing horror as an SUV accelerates through the campground, tents collapsing under its wheels like bugs, a teenage boy lolling glassy-eyed at the wheel. With a splintering crash, he comes to an abrupt stop into the side of the neighbor’s Honda Civic, only a couple of feet from our tents.
I’m now on my feet, hand over my mouth and tears welling in my eyes. The “Left Shark” bros, our flip-cup partners from the previous day, rip open the crushed tent just behind the car’s rear wheels. I expect them to pull out a corpse, but their friend is still alive. It’s a stroke of luck amidst misfortune that the car didn’t stop on top him. Similar scenes are unfolding along the swath of destruction.
The driver comes to and stumbles out of the vehicle, leering ear-to-ear and laughing maniacally as he lunges toward the injured man with all the coordination of a skeleton. He doesn’t look human.
“Somebody stop him!” a girl shouts, and a couple guys pull him to the ground.
Meanwhile, Josh calls the police and guides them to our location with a description of nearby flags. We move our cars and tents to make an exit lane and stand uselessly by while ambulances carry the wounded off and officers handcuff the driver. The owner of the stolen vehicle claims the 19-year-old boy was on a mix of shrooms and ecstasy.
After the chaos dies down, David and I leave witness reports at the police portables. There, we get the update we want to hear: Everyone’s going to live.
The relief is palpable and I’m able to smile again, joking around with the cops. I don’t envy their job of keeping tens of thousands of drug-addled festival-goers in order, but they have a good attitude. They send us back to camp with cold water and an entire box of donuts.
Everyone in the vicinity is offered upgrades to premiere camping, but we turn it down. After the crumpled cars are towed and our neighbors move out, we have the biggest campsite in all of Sasquatch. The hauntingly empty circle of grass is the only reminder of what unfolded.
In an attempt to stop my mind from playing the accident on repeat, I dive back into the festival.
This eventually takes us to the main floor for the duo Twenty One Pilots. In a way, it’s a full-circle moment – their Vessel album was playing on the drive to my first Sasquatch in 2013. Frontman Tyler Joseph is energetic and magnetic, while drummer Josh Dun keeps the beat even when he’s surfing over the crowd on a platform. At one of the audience engagement parts, Joseph prompts all the girls to sit on the guys’ shoulders. I eye my skinny friend skeptically.
“C’mon, don’t you want to ride a dinosaur?” he asks, gesturing to his green onesie.
I’m sold, and somehow we make it work. As I struggle to balance, all thoughts of runaway cars are knocked out of my mind. I’m in the moment and in the music, like a festival is supposed to be.
But back in my tent that night, I no longer feel safe. Even knowing it was a freak accident, I flinch every time a car engine roars to life.
This is my third year at the Eastern Washington music festival, and the incident dredges up all my negative feelings toward this insane four-day weekend.
Am I getting too old for this, or was it never my scene to begin with? I love music and dancing and friends, but all the crowds and partying I can do without. When it comes down to it, I’d much rather set my tent up at a deserted lake for Memorial Day weekend where there’s no risk of being run over in my sleep. Then, I can cherry pick concerts throughout the year for artists I genuinely want to see.
The trouble is, when it comes time to buy tickets, my mind runs through only the best memories from the previous year: dancing with a sunglass-wearing pineapple, inventing new drinking games involving frisbees and footballs, napping under the warm sun to live music, climbing at Vantage, playing the Star Wars theme on a melodica while stargazing…
Next time, I need to remember the other side of Sasquatch: the bone-wearying exhaustion that wipes me out for the next week, fighting heatstroke by day and shivering at night, mediocre food and porta-potties, watching fellow audience members pass out and be sick on the grass, struggling with panic and pounding headaches as I’m crushed in a crowd…
It’s these feelings that prompt some of us to skip the last day of the festival, driving out Monday morning. Taking a hot shower and lying in the silence of home now seems sweeter than any song, and I repeat a mantra to remember next season:
“I’m done with Sasquatch. I’m so done with Sasquatch.”