If you know me at all, you need only read the title of this post to know that what you are about to read and see will be an account of what has consistently been, at least musically, my favourite weekend of the year for the past 4-5 years.
I’m talking a cross-border road trip to see three consecutive nights of one of the world’s greatest live bands at arguably one of the most picturesque concert venues in the world (check out the view in one of the shots below), joined by 9 fantastic old and new music-loving friends, enjoyed under blue summer skies! Now if that’s not a recipe for good times, then I don’t know what is!
So here we go…
Day 1 – The Drive, The Shop & The Sunset
As with all past years, Friday’s festivities kicked off with an early morning border crossing with my good friends Jen (if you’re going to shorten it, shorten it *inside joke*) & Carlos. Thankfully, with a valid green VISA Waiver card already firmly stapled within my passport from a previous crossing earlier in the year, I was spared the usual invasive fingerprinting and photographing procedure the Yanks still put Aussies through, so it was simply the 45 minute line up at the Peace Arch border crossing that we had to endure.
With the crossing out of the way and familiar tunes from the Dave Matthews Band (DMB) safely locked in on the car stereo (a warm-up if you will), we continued on southwards skirting the outer edge of down town Seattle en route to our traditional grocery stop, the nice little city of Ellensburg.
Keeping traditions alive, it was the good people of Safeway who we graced with our presence as Carlos, a mucho-talented cook with a lot of remote culinary preparation experience, set about attacking the comprehensive grocery list he had pre-prepared with specific tasty meals in mind.
With the shop completed, Carlos and I attempted to pull out, re-pack and cram in, camping gear, bags, and now a large amount of groceries into Jen’s tiny Toyota Yaris. Considering we already had three adults to squeeze into the vehicle already, this was no mean feat. I’m not sure whether congrats should go to Carlos and I for making it all work, or to the Toyota car company for creating such a spacious tiny car, but we eventually got there in the end.
While all of this was going on, Jen was hell bent on dressing up the windows of the car with some erasable window crayons she was able to get her hands on. By the time we hit the highway again, the car was suitably covered in “DMB” themed messages and song lyric quotations. We were quite the head turners for the remaining 90 minute or so drive out to The Gorge I have to say. Good fun!
No more than 30 minutes behind us, Michelle and her posse of VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games) mates were making their way through the wind turbine fields that mark the “we’re nearly there” point of the trip out to The Gorge.
With the front gates of the camping grounds in site, we began to get excited about setting up camp. First we had to connect with Michelle and her crew, and then navigate the poorly managed camp ground entrance line up.
It’s odd that this part of the process was handled so badly by staff of the venue. Usually it’s a pretty slick operation and the staff have you inside the grounds pretty quick smart. But not today. I estimate that it took us about an hour longer than usual to actually arrive at our camp spot, but the delay did make it easier for the rest of the gang to catch up!
Finally peeling ourselves out of the Yaris, Michelle was on hand to introduce us to her escorts for the weekend, and as we were soon to find out, a really great bunch of blokes – Joe, Steve, Tom and Toby.
With pleasantries out of the way and multiple cans of ice cold beer cracked, we all got down to business with setting up camp. There were tents to be pitched, a spacious common area to be marked out by a ring of camp chairs, grocery bags and eskys to be rearranged, and dinner to start thinking about.
While all this was going on, the sun began to sink in the sky to the west and hundreds of vehicles continued to crawl in the gates and along the main camp ground road beyond the fence behind us.
With food in the belly, some “giggle juice” in the system and finally a full crew together (Michelle’s brother Chris and his girlfriend Nicole took FOREVER to make it to camp), we grabbed our tickets, blankets, jumpers and cameras and headed along the well-trodden trail to the actual stage grounds a few kilometres away.
As we walked, the skies to the east began turning to a brilliant shade of pink which heightened the excitement levels we were already experiencing – the perfect way to raise the curtain on the first night of Dave!
With a couple of Gorge “virgins” amongst us, it was just that little bit more special when we made the journey up the last little rise to the amphitheatre and the revealing of the breathtaking views to the west across the Columbia River in the gorge below. It’s always hard to imagine a more beautiful place to experience great live music, than The Gorge.
We really had no idea what to expect from the opening night, so it’s a little difficult to suggest that there was, or was not, any surprises in particular, but the set list looked like this:
|Dave Matthews Band Set List
Friday, September 3rd, 2010 – The Gorge, WA
|1. The Last Stop||10. Cornbread||18. Some Devil|
|2. The Dreaming Tree||11. Loving Wings||19. You & Me|
|3. Shake Me Like a Monkey||12. Sleep to Dream Her*||20. Jimi Thing|
|4. Grey Street||13. Gravedigger|
|5. Busted Stuff||14. Sister|
|6. Seven||15. What Would You Say|
|7. Crush||16. Dancing Nancies|
|8. Write a Song||17. Time Bomb|
|*Played for the first time since 2007|
I’m always impressed with the lighting/video set up that DMB bring to The Gorge, but I think they were bang on the money this year as you will no doubt see for yourself by the end of this post. I’m pretty sure that Michelle and Joe (below) agreed.
All in all it was a pretty outstanding way to kick off the weekend’s shows. We all (pictured L to R above – Toby, Michelle, Joe, Steve & Tom) really enjoyed the music and were looking forward to the following concerts where between all 10 of us, we were all going to get the opportunity to view at least one concert from the seated section right in front of stage.
Stand out songs for me for Friday night were more or less some of my personal favourites – “Shake Me Like A Monkey”, “Grey Street”, “Gravedigger”, “Dancing Nancies” & a cracking good version of “Jimi Thing” to cap off the night. I’m pretty sure that all in attendance, however, would agree that Dave’s performance of “Crush” was the standout moment!
Day Two – The Beach, Beer Games & Show #2
Despite the music and partying going on around us, I managed to sleep like a log on the first night and awoke to find everyone keen to throw some breakfast together before heading to a local beach on the shores of the Columbia River for a picnic and swim.
On our side of the camp, “Chef Carlos” had me at work chopping mushrooms, peppers and onion to throw into his gourmet omelettes which were dished up with lashes of crispy bacon. Fantastic!
By midday we were down on the green grass of the Wanapum State Park, about a 20 minute drive from “The Gorge”. We managed to pass the afternoon with a little swimming, some sun bathing, a picnic lunch, an extended round of cross-country bocce and more.
Chris was good enough to string a slack line between two trees in the park which gave a few of the gang the chance to try their hand at some tight-rope walking. Boy did it look hard when anyone other than Chris had a go at it.
Back at camp the masses of fans arriving for the night’s concert (traditionally the most popular of the three across the weekend) were squeezing into spaces wherever they could find them. Inevitably some friendly Yanks wandered into our camp and some spirited games of lasso golf ensued.
Shortly before dinner, the Salmon Arm (ie. “country”) in Michelle well and truly came out as she took on some of the lads in a beer shotgun contest. For those of you who are unaware of the concept, you poke a hole in the bottom of a beer can, wrap your mouth around it and drink as you pop the can open, thus allowing the liquid to flow freely (click for an example). Kind of silly, but when in Washington… right?
As you can clearly see in this photo finish, the throw down from Michelle was only slightly bested by Joe (to her right in the picture). A surprising talent from the “girl with the squirrel bladder”. Haha!
With a couple of relaxing hours up our sleeves before heading down to the stage to catch openers “Ben Harper & the Relentless 7”, we took a little time to sit and chat under clear blue skies. As Steve suggests in the photos below, we were all in a pretty happy place.
In true random “Gorge” style, “Tigger” bounded into our camp at one point. Not surprisingly Michelle used the visit as an excuse for a family photo with the ink on her back. Bounce!
Over in the camp kitchen of Chef Carlos, an impressive salad was being prepared which would be followed up by something pretty special and non-traditional (from a camping perspective anyway)… but more on that shortly.
At the second BBQ, Tom and the boys were cooking up some pretty scrumptious vegetarian kebabs which Nicole and Michelle so expertly threw together.
I had to say I was a little envious of our fellow campers until I feast my eyes upon what Carlos had prepared for me, Jen and himself – a restaurant-worthy dish of peruvian spiced fish and mushroom risotto. Wow!
Considering the ridiculous cost of beers within the venue ($9 a tall can of beer) operation “Liquor in a Zip-Lock” kicked into full gear post-dinner as Steve and Michelle demonstrated the art of “bladder concealment”. Sneaky, sneaky, oh-so-sneaky!
The setting sun signalled time to make tracks from the camp ground to the amphitheatre along the very familiar walking path, and we managed to make it in time to secure a more central position on the hill than last night, AND catch the majority of Ben Harper’s set.
As the temperature dropped just as quickly as the setting sun, Dave hit the stage with his band for a typically energetic Saturday night set that blew our minds.
|Dave Matthews Band Set List
Saturday, September 4th, 2010 – The Gorge, WA
|1. Squirm||10. #41||18. The Needle & the Damage Done‡|
|2. Granny||11. So Right|
|3. Big Eyed Fish||12. Lie in Our Graves||19. Two Step|
|4. The Stone||13. Digging a Ditch|
|5. Funny the Way It Is||14. Don’t Drink the Water|
|6. Stay or Leave||15. So Damn Lucky|
|7. Fool to Think*||16. Why I Am|
|8. Warehouse||17. All Along the Watchtower†|
|9. Rye Whiskey**|
*Played for the first time since 2007
**Tex Ritter Cover
|†Bob Dylan Cover (Performed with Ben Harper)||‡Neil Young Cover|
Highlight of the night, amongst others was probably when Ben Harper joined Dave on stage for a huge performance of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. Some enterprising fan at the front of the stage shot the following video of the song which, happily, I can now present for your viewing pleasure!
Back at camp, we all continued to party on into the wee hours of the morning, and Steve, Jen, Carlos and I even checked out an impromptu amplified concert that was held in front of a large crowd amongst a nearby set of RV Campers. A unique and fun way to close the evening, that’s for sure.
Day Three – The Best Seats Ever!
Sunday was all about just chilling out, having fun and getting set for what was easily the most anticipated show of the weekend for me.
Having made numerous trips south from Vancouver to catch musical acts at The Gorge over the past 5 years, not once had I ever secured tickets for the seated area up close and personal in front of stage. I’ve no idea how she fluked it, but somehow Jen (bless her cotton socks) managed to get her grubby hands on three tickets for the final night and I couldn’t be happier from the perspectives of both the love of great music and also photography!
The majority of the laid back day was actually taken up by multiple lasso golf challenges. There was Canada vs USA fixtures, Canada vs Australia, brother (Chris) vs sister (Michelle), doubles, singles and more. It’s just a damn addictive game and a “Gorge” tradition.
Throughout the afternoon, Toby tried to convince us all that his unorthodox method of cupping his blue balls (another inside joke, but you don’t need to stretch your imagination) and releasing them together was the way to go. I’m still not convinced.
So perhaps a quick explanation is required for the shots immediately above and below here.
Firstly, the point of lasso golf (top left) is to land your balls on one of the coloured bars, for which you earn points accordingly. 1 point for the blue bar, 2 points for the yellow and 3 for the red. Somehow, I managed to get the only legitimate 5 pointer for the weekend. Carlos is just trying to work out how???
Secondly, Jen (top right)… actually there is no explanation for this.
And lastly, this lass was one of our neighbours. Explanation? Well do you blame me?
Before we knew it, it was dinner time again and everyone started working their respective magic. The VANOC gang launched into burgers while Chef Carlos threw together yet another amazing salad while his specialty vegetarian chile bubbled away on the camp stove. What a way to launch into our last night at “The Gorge” with DMB for 2010!
In case I haven’t made it abundantly clear by now, “The Gorge” is well and truly the best outdoor concert venue I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting over the years. Once you enter the gates and make your way to the top of the amphitheatre, you are greeted by the amazing view seen below which I took on Sunday evening as soon as we arrived on the hill.
As not all the gang were lucky enough to secure seats for the show, Carlos, Jen and I stayed on the hill until Ben Harper’s entertaining warm up set was as good as done. We all wore our DMB shirts from Gorge weekends past and present which gave us the perfect opportunity for the quintessential group shots.
The three lovely ladies accompanying us for the weekend all opted for the stylish yellow t-shirt available at this year’s merch stand. Like a group of happy little chickens, they were more than happy to have a few shots taken together “in uniform” in front stage.
All weekend, we were led to believe that our seats were going to be left of stage which would have been an awesome scenario anyway, but we were blown away to find out once we actually headed down to take our seats, that they were DEAD CENTRE, 8 rows back in the second block of seats. A-MAZING!
Jen was pretty stoked with her ticket scoop and we soon became very aware of the value of her efforts as the Dave and the band launched into the following, amazing show!
|Dave Matthews Band Set List
Sunday, September 5th, 2010 – The Gorge, WA
|1. Minarets||11. Proudest Monkey||20. Baby Blue|
|2. Bartender||12. Satellite||21. Black Jack|
|3. I Did It*||13. Can’t Stop||22. Stay (Wasting Time)|
|4. You Might Die Trying||14. Tripping Billies|
|5. Crash Into Me||15. Little Red Bird|
|6. Lying in the Hands of God||16. Break For It|
|7. Everyday||17. Pantala Naga Pampa|
|8. #36 (Reprise)||18. Rapunzel|
|9. Out of My Hands||19. Ants Marching|
|10. Seek Up|
|*Played for the first time since 2004|
People always ask me, “Why do you go to all three concerts?” For starters I like to think it’s the mark of a true fan to commit to all of the concerts presented by DMB across the weekend, but it’s also consistently because Dave and the lads always manage to dig deep into their catalogue of songs across the trio of nights ensuring that most of your favourites are almost guaranteed to be played during at least one performance.
The astute amongst you will have noticed that in the three set list tables I have presented above, not one single song was repeated. In fact, according to the impressively thorough fansite DMB Almanac, “This is the first three-night run with no repeats since the band opened for the Grateful Dead in 1995. It is also the first ever three-night run of full-length shows with no repeats.”
I want to wrap up here by sending out a personal thanks to my travel companions Jen & Carlos who, once again, were good enough to allow for an Aussie to pile into the back of their ride and tell bad jokes all the way down into the US and back. You guys rock and I’ll always be in debt to you for your generosity!
To Michelle, Chris, Nicole and my new friends Joe, Tom, Steve and Toby – thanks for making this one of the most memorable, and easily the most fun DMB Gorge trips I have ever done! You were all great to camp with and I wish you all the best of luck with your respective moves and career challenges coming up over the next 12 months.
And with that, I’m done! Yikes, what an effort this entry has been, but I hope that it gives you some idea of just how much fun these trips are! I hope you enjoyed the read!