Why I Keep Coming Back To The Gorge

I could probably just post a billion pictures that look something like that and call this post a day. Who wouldn’t want to go to a concert with a view like that?

My first trip to The Gorge was back in the summer of 2003. The Vans Warped Tour. Admittedly, not my first choice — I like so-called pop-punk okay, but even when I could call it a phase, it was still a lackluster love affair at best — but I went because I had friends who wanted to go, because the tickets were super cheap (if the Internet is to be believed, they were as low as $30 back then???), and because I’d heard so many great things about The Gorge.

Since I’m a sucker for live music of pretty much any kind, I had a wonderful first experience, and I made it a goal of mine to go to The Gorge at least once a year. Indeed, from 2005 through 2010, I went 7 times (2 Pearl Jam shows, 4 Sasquatch festivals, 1 Dave Matthews Band show), and The Gorge never disappointed.

I know those grounds backwards and forwards. I know the best and worst places to catch a show on the hill. The best and worst Port-A-Potties, and so on and so forth. The drive there is long, but scenic, so it flies by. Anticipation slowly building as you climb Snoqualmie Pass. When you see the signs for Vantage, WA, you know you’re almost there. If you leave early enough, getting into the parking lot isn’t a hassle; otherwise you’ve got a long crawl. But, once you breeze through security and take your first steps inside, all that angst melts away.

I left my apartment in Seattle somewhere around 3pm or so, freshly showered. As I’m going through a move, I packed my car with various objects I wouldn’t mind losing in a Smash N’ Grab, as I intended to drive from the venue to my dad’s house in Tacoma for Father’s Day the next day to drop them off. I checked my car’s water & oil reserves (full and ready to go) and loaded up my front seat with a bunch of CDs to listen to on the drive over. Kanye, Eels, Primus, The Mars Volta, Bruce Springsteen, Interpol, a few others I can’t remember.

I’d woken up pretty early that morning, but went down for a 2–3 hour nap to make sure I had enough sleep in me to make the long drive home. If there’s one significant drawback to going to shows at The Gorge, it’s that drive back. I’ve camped on site for Sasquatch plenty of times (go with the V.I.P. camping experience and thank me later; it’s well worth whatever they’ve decided to charge for it now), but I’ve always gone back home on the final night rather than stay an extra day and leave the next morning. And every single time, it’s been about as miserable an experience as you can imagine.

For starters, any concert there is bound to end between 11pm and midnight, as the headliners are going to want to take advantage of the nighttime for their light shows and whatnot. So, especially for a long day of shows like with Sasquatch, or even if you’re just there to see one band — like I was with Tool last Saturday — you’re bound to be pretty exhausted when it’s all over. Then, you make the long walk back to your car. Then, you get in your car and proceed to the nearest endless line of cars trying to get out of there. Then, you wait and wait and wait some more. Then, if you’re lucky, an hour later, you’re on a road and able to go more than 1 mile per hour.

Then, you’ve got a 2–3 hour drive ahead of you. If you’re home by 2:30am, you’re doing something right.

On top of that, while they’ve done a good job re-paving I-90 in recent years, there are still abnormally long stretches where the lines haven’t been re-painted. On top of that, if you’re like me and you were driving back last Sunday in the wee hours of the morning, you had to deal with constant rain and sporadic fog. If you’re exactly like me, you did all of this in a 1980 Camaro that maybe gets 12 miles per gallon and doesn’t have the best windshield wipers or anything resembling fog lights.

So, when I woke up from my nap, I made sure to pound a few cups of coffee to get me going. I held off on filling my gas tank or getting lunch until I’d made it to Ellensburg (about 43 miles from my destination). I rolled in with about 1/16 of a tank and filled that puppy up, then moseyed on over to the Dairy Queen for a chicken strip basket and a Blizzard.

They were lining up on the shoulder of I-90 just to get off at Exit 143 (Silica Rd). If there’s a more opportune way to get to The Gorge, I don’t know it; I guess I’m not that much of an expert. I lined up at around 6pm and didn’t get out of my car to start walking to the front gates until a little after 7pm. From there, as I mentioned, it was a snap to get through security and on inside for yet another order of coffee.

By the time I was ready to find my spot on the hill, it was pretty well crowded. Apparently, a lot of Tool fans camped out, or otherwise got there supremely early. Can’t say that I blame ’em.

I also can’t say that I’m one of ’em. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the band Tool, but this was my first time seeing them live. For whatever reason, I was never able to catch them when they were touring regularly. I’m thinking because by the time I started going to a bunch of concerts, they were headlining arenas and I couldn’t afford to see them. For most of my 20s, my concert-going dollars were reserved for festivals, where I could see many bands for the price of seeing one giant band like Tool. I regret nothing.

I’ve long heard that seeing Tool live is quite the experience. I figured, seeing them at The Gorge would only enhance that tenfold.

I parked myself to the left of the stage — as indeed, there wasn’t much in the way of open property by the time I arrived — and settled in for a fine show. I feel like you probably get more out of it if you’re down front and center, but they also didn’t get to gaze at that view as the sun went down throughout the set.

Tool came out with a 4-spot from Lateralus, then sprinkled in 4 from Aenima, 2 from 10,000 Days, 2 from their Opiate EP, with a drum solo and a new song called Descending. Nothing from Undertow, which I thought was a little surprising, but probably isn’t. I have to imagine they’ve played those songs — and gotten requests to play those songs — endlessly throughout their career.

Frankly, I like Lateralus and Aenima better anyway, so I was perfectly happy with the setlist.

When they announced Stinkfist would be the closer, I started heading up the hill. I heard most of it as I walked, but I definitely preferred getting to my car in a timely fashion. It turned out to be well warranted, as I was out of the parking area in a flash. I made it back to my dad’s house in Tacoma — in spite of the weather trying to kill me — a little after 2am, no worse for the wear. All in all, I had a great time.

Why do I keep coming back to The Gorge? That view. A million times that view. It makes it well worth all the hassle. Once you’re there, sitting, basking, it’s just the greatest.