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Published: 2002/07/24
by D. Weisman

Letter To the Editor: Whats in your backpack? Feeding the Corporate Monster at Festivals

[Editors note: last month, we received this letter/essay. If you wish to comment, respond or offer up your own thoughts, please email us,]

This past Memorial weekend, I headed up from Portland, Oregon to attend the Sasquatch Festival at the Gorge Ampitheatre in George, Washington. Those who have been to Red Rocks in Colorado can make the mental analogy-breathtaking, surrounded by natural beauty, out in the middle of nowhere, watching the sun drop behind mountains as you settle in for a night of spectacular music.
I confess, I was there for one reason only: to see The String Cheese Incident, who Ive been following for two years whenever time and funds allow. Heck, whats a five-hour drive each way to see your favorite band? We planned on car camping after the show, in the great, green grassy fields above the venue. Only the true diehards or people who enjoy run-ins with the law would drive home after a ten-hour festival.
Camping, equals tailgating before the show, which equals sitting in law chairs sipping and listening to all kinds of music blasting from peoples trucks, converted travel buses, or Acuras, depending on who you wind up next to. Its quite a sight to see families, college kids, heads and first timers all lumped into one. Most people follow the rules (no explosives, etc.) As with any large event, Security is always present.
These people do a great service at these venues, which often pack in 20,000 people. Someones got to keep the peace, in addition to the men in blue, of course. But at this particular show, monitors walked around the massive parking lots and camp areas dumping out beers. Hey! Im way over 21, and that six -pack of Mirror Pond Ale costs about eight bucks. I wouldnt dream of bringing glass into a venue, and of all the goings-on in the lot these days, a beer with my sandwich before the concert cant be the worst. I planned on doing the wristband thing along with everybody else. Its that simple-
if you want to quench your thirst with beer at the concert, you buy it inside.
However, for those who want to bring unopened water or juice bottles, shouldnt this be allowed? No plastic water bottles, even empties? I guess Ive seen that before. I always wondered: was it because they dont want you bringing in straight vodka, or that they were going to make damn sure you purchased a five-dollar bottle of water?
Heres what really got my goat, and its been a sore subject through the ages-the cavity search at the gate. This time there wasnt any because there just plain wasnt anything to search. NO packs, bags, purses, blankets, nothing in a plastic bag was even allowed past the upper gate. I cant tell you how many people were sent back after a good 1.5 mile hike from their car! I usually carry my keys, wallet, glasses, smokes etc in my purse, but oh well! It gets cold in the gorge at night, so in we walked with extra sweats hung around our necks and tied around the waist, sans food or water.
Once inside the venue, people settled in to watch Galactic, Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, etc. while anxiously waiting for the barefoot boys from Colorado. The music had started around 2pm, and after several hours, Im sure many people, the human ones at least, had the need for food and drink. I was amazed to see so many food vendors, all around, and the bulk of it was ball park food. One might be shocked to see Dominos pizza, but corporate sponsorship/contributions is now the staple at these venues. Im very surprised it is still called the Gorge, rather than the Microsoft Gorge or the Starbucks Ampitheatre.
One last rant, and perhaps the most important of all. En route to find the beer garden, I saw a black tent with the words The Casbah on the outside. It was enticing, and it looked like a bar could be inside, so rather than continue the hike, I decided to enter. To enter, you have to show ID, and have a pack of cigarettes with you, with at least one cigarette in the box. Thats right my friends! Can you say Camel? I filled out the survey, got my wristband, entered inside, waited in line while my ID was checked again, and scanned. I was then presented with a free pack of smokes and was finally free to go buy a drink. The buzz is the drinks were several dollars higher than those in gardens down the road, and the lines are always pretty long. While the folks at RJR would argue they were only targeting existing smokers and trying to get them to switch brands, it still dawned on me what was happening at this all-ages Festival. What a perfect marketing technique, eh? There was even belly-dancing in the tent…
All things considered, I thank the promoters for bringing the best jamband to the most beautiful venue. The concert was amazing, and thats what mattered, and let me tell you SCI never disappoints. I know these musicians are of the conscious sort, and the corporate monster of which I discuss is a huge entity out of their control. However, I might think twice from now on where I choose to drop my 50 bucks for a ticket, 40 for gas, 30 to camp, etc. and risk losing my car keys through the hole in my jeans pocket. And oh yeah, regarding those smokes, let the direct mail flow begin.

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