Sasquatch Fest Founder Talks Trials and Tribulations

The annual Sasquatch! Music Festival has so much to offer: beautiful views, enthusiastic music fans with good vibes, and a range of tunes any fan could possibly desire over a three-day weekend. This year, those offerings were going to double, with a second Sasquatch! planned for the Fourth of July weekend. Unfortunately, that plan fell flat, and the fest pulled back to a single weekend that will feature Outkast, The National, M.I.A, Queens of the Stone Age, and many more. No doubt this year’s edition will again impress, but it’s been an unusually trying time for the big fest. We wanted to check in.

No one is better qualified to answer our questions than fest coordinator Adam Zacks, a Queen Anne resident who started his career in booking and festival organization years ago at the University of Oregon as a member of the concert board. While his alma mater was used to acts like Arlo Guthrie, his first booking was Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy. Already starting to shake things up, Zacks has blazed a trail in concert promotion ever since.

Though there’s plenty to keep him busy, he doesn’t spend all year working on Sasquatch!—which he launched, now in its 13th year. Zacks is also the senior director of programming at Seattle Theater Group and oversees events at the Neptune, the Paramount, and the Moore. It’s obvious that much of what Zacks does is for the love of music, but anyone ever involved in the music industry knows it can be a thankless job. Yet when we sit down for a chat, Zacks’ passion shines as I take in the framed posters from nearly every Sasquatch! on the walls of his office. We talked about what makes his job so damn interesting—and stressful. (Read the full interview at seattleweekly.com/reverb.)

SW: Why “Sasquatch!”? And what’s with the exclamation point?
Zacks:
I was looking for something that was uniquely Pacific Northwest. Some people find it corny, but we try to be a little tongue-in-cheek and not take ourselves too seriously. It didn’t take long for it to catch on.

Did you start out wanting to book mostly Seattle-area bands?
The vision wasn’t very strong from the onset, because it wasn’t clear whether or not it was going to work. [That first year] we were all shocked that it sold out in advance. It wasn’t until after that year that we refined what the vision is. There were bands on that lineup that would be so out-of-place now.

Like who?
The String Cheese Incident. Can we just forget that they ever played? I don’t wanna bag any particular band, and it was part of why that first year worked, but in terms of the identity of the festival now, it couldn’t be further apart.

Speaking of identity, why try two weekends?
[It] was an attempt to serve the huge demand. It was selling out consecutive years in a row, and even this year sold out two months in advance. It leads you to wonder how many people are shut out who want to experience the festival. The capacity of the Gorge is what it is; there’s a maximum to what the county can support. I didn’t want to copy what other festivals were doing because that just felt lame. So this notion of two weekends six weeks apart, rather than back-to-back, with a totally different lineup, seemed interesting and fresh and maybe a little bit ballsy. A lot of lessons were learned in that whole experience, doing that and failing. I think the most important was a reminder that Fourth of July weekend is not the best weekend to try this concept.

Do you think that you’re going to try it again, though maybe not on July Fourth?
I think the festival needs to take a breather and go back to its roots. One silver lining is that I was able to turn my energy from building out these two weekends to just making this upcoming Memorial Day weekend the very best it can be, and doing lots of cool things with the site that we’ve never done before.

Like what?
My wife Lynn has developed a bunch of really cool stuff over the years. We do free hearing testing backstage, available to all the artists, for custom earplugs—which are pretty expensive, but they get them for free through MusiCares [a Grammy affiliate serving “music people in time of need”]. We have AA meetings which are really invisible unless you’re in a band. This year we have AA meetings in the front of house as well, for concertgoers.

Do you ever see yourself starting a new festival completely separate from Sasquatch!?
I don’t think being a ball hog any more than I am in Seattle is something I want to do. That’s one thing about the second weekend that didn’t ever quite feel right. It was sucking up a lot of talent that would be serving the whole ecosystem in town here. Again, small silver lining, but that dilemma was relieved when July went away.

mschuler@seattleweekly.com

SASQUATCH! MUSIC FESTIVAL George, Wash., sasquatchfestival.com. SOLD OUT. Fri., May 23–Sun., May 25.

 
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