A few years ago I was invited to join a small, friendly poker game just starting up among a group of Seattle music people. I knew most of the players already, or knew them through friends, and although we were keeping it friendly, we were playing for large-enough sums that there was an unmistakable intensity to the game. I remember the first time I went “all in,” risking $200 of my own money on a stupid bluff. The sweat was pouring down my face. I lost that $200 (to Chad Queirolo, who books the Showbox, lucky bastard), but we’ve been playing for a couple of years now and I’ve won a few too.
Checking out the lineup for this year’s Sasquatch Music Festival, I was not surprised to find that quite a few of my poker buddies are playing on one stage or another over the weekend, and even more will be gobbling up the catering backstage. I figure that the way a person gambles provides an insight into their craft, so I offer you this program guide to the festival with my top picks among the inveterate gamblers of the Seattle music scene.
Dave Bazan at 5:25 p.m. on the Yeti Stage
Don’t miss the fabulous Dave Bazan, formerly of Pedro the Lion and the Headphones, tearing up the Yeti stage. Dave doesn’t really dig Texas Hold ‘Em and has only attended one or two games, preferring instead to gamble where the stakes are a little higher. Picture Christopher Walken in Deer Hunter playing Russian roulette in some Saigon warehouse, and you’ll begin to fathom the depths of depravity that Dave Bazan considers sport. I watched Dave wager ten grand on a cage fight between two geoducks without batting an eye (that fight is still in progress). I won’t gamble with Dave, because I value my life, but he’s a good man to have around if you have trouble paying your debts.
M.I.A. at 6:50 p.m. on the Main Stage
At last year’s Sasquatch, the Long Winters were called at the last minute to stand in for M.I.A., denied entry into the United States because of a Homeland Security Orange Alert targeting teenaged Sri Lankan girls who rap. It was a great experience to play the Main Stage in the afternoon, but the show was most notable for the fact that I spent several hours backstage trying to convince Sarah Silverman to spend a long weekend with me in Banff. Unfortunately, her talk-show-host boyfriend, Jimmy Kimmel, was always lurking nearby texting someone, and in the end she and I were separated by our cultures just like Tony and Maria in West Side Story. Anyway, I never got the chance to meet M.I.A., obviously, so her poker-playing abilities remain a mystery, but I can speak to the poker skills of M.I.A.’s tour manager, Gabe.
Gabe Kerbrat may be best known to Seattle audiences as the original roadie of the Murder City Devils. He’s since parlayed that illustrious job into a gig as a full-time, showbiz, rock-and-roll tour manager. Gabe dresses like Sky Masterson from Guys and Dolls, if Sky Masterson worked for Willy Wonka, and he plays with an aggressive, even brutal style. He’ll ash his giant cigar right in your drink and dare you to call his bluff, blinding you with his diamond stickpin. Have you noticed it’s always the punk-rock guys who get a little money and start dressing like Tom Wolfe? What’s that about?
What Made Milwaukee Famous at 1:30 p.m. and Mates of State at 6 p.m. on the Wookie Stage
Neither WMMF or Mates of State have ever joined us for cards, but the president of their record label, Josh Rosenfeld, is a regular at the games. Josh plays cards like he runs his label, which is to say that he takes money from artists and uses it to buy things for himself. He is a cruel and unpredictable card player, and widely regarded as the one person who should be stopped at any cost. Despite this fact, he still wins a disproportionate amount of the time. He has personally ruined me on several occasions, each time claiming that he needed the money for baby formula when I happen to know he feeds his baby an exclusive diet of condensed rainbows. Unfortunately, my band is also on his label, and we keep making records for him in order to pay down my gambling debts.
The Presidents of the USA at 4:40 p.m. on the Main Stage
The Presidents of the USA got so addicted to high living in their mid-’90s heyday that they will now resort to almost any vice in order to keep the demon dogs at bay. Chris Ballew takes 37 different prescription medicines every day just to keep all the doggies and kitties and boll weevils that he “sees” from viciously attacking him, and as a consequence he’s never made it to a game. Drummer Jason Finn, however, occasionally makes time from his busy schedule as an ether-huffing degenerate and patron of the arts to attend. Amazingly, Jason is what we call a “lucky” gambler, who manages to rake in considerable winnings despite occasionally falling asleep behind the wheel and accidentally killing another showgirl.
Death Cab for Cutie at 7:15 on the Main Stage
Death Cab for Cutie are the original gamblers. They’ve already squandered their considerable fortunes at the craps tables in Vegas and Macau, so when they return to Seattle they’re always trying to hustle up a game to support their incredibly lavish lifestyles. Ben Gibbard likes to “sweat” his opponents, issuing veiled threats like “Your girlfriend is awfully pretty, it’d be a shame if something happened to her.” Fortunately, he often overplays his hand and loses big. I own two, two, white stretch Hummer limos that I won from Gibbard, and he’ll just go buy another one like it ain’t no thing. Bassist Nick Harmer is a more controlled player, powered by an inner rage at having washed out of Navy SEAL training when he was 19. He often makes it to the final table, but his playing becomes reckless in the clincher moments, especially if anyone comments on the ghastly fencing scar that runs across his right cheek.
Cave Singers at 4:40 p.m. on the Wookie Stage
The Cave Singers’ guitarist, Derek Fudesco, is an old-school crooked gambler. He’s quiet, has a wry smile, and carries a pearl-handled derringer in his ankle boots. He can often be found hustling old ladies at Indian casinos throughout the Northwest, and he runs a rigged bingo game up in Everett on Wednesday nights when he’s not on tour. He’s also a check-forger, a welsher, and a chiseler. The Cave Singers themselves are an elaborate Ponzi scheme, a “long con” involving some shady mortgage brokers and a union retirement trust. If you try to buy a T-shirt after their show, you’ll be invited to sign their mailing list. Don’t sign anything!