If you are a music fan living in the Pacific Northwest, chances are you have seen a show at the Gorge Amphitheatre. And if you are lucky enough to have experienced a show at the Gorge, you know the trip there is absolutely worth it. Indeed, this venue is such a special and beautiful place, people travel hundred of miles just to go see shows there. The Gorge has also become a sort of gathering place for Dave Matthews Band fans for their annual labour day weekend shows and it’s also where the Sasquatch Festival is held every Memorial Day weekend.
The drive from Vancouver to the Gorge (located in Quincy, WA) takes about 5 hours and about 2 1/2 hours from Seattle. The show we attended was on a Saturday, so we left very early that morning to make sure we made it on time to line up and get a good spot in the lawn. This was our fourth time going to the Gorge, but the first time that we were seeing a different band other than Dave Mathews Band. This was also our first time taking our three-year old son to a major outdoor concert, so the logistics were a bit different this time around.
The Gorge is a huge venue, but from the gates you are unable to see the stage or anything at all since there is a big fence all along the field. So when you are finally allowed to go in and you dash along the road to reach the lawn, the beauty of the place always hits you.
As we were one of the first in line, we found a good spot right where the general admission area starts in the lawn, exactly the spot I had in mind. Because it was almost 6:00 pm when they opened the doors, we did not have to wait very long for the show to start.
We went to this show to see Phillip Phillips as much as John Mayer, and I have to say I was extremely excited to see him play. He has become hugely popular with his two radio friendly songs, “Home” and “Gone Gone Gone,” but if you listen to his album, The World from The Side of The Moon, you know there is much more to his sound. He’s been compared to Dave Matthews a lot, and is not a bad comparison depending where on the spectrum of DMB fandom you stand. For some, he is too much like DM and feel he is not original or trying too hard to imitate him. Others, like me, think the comparison is somewhat fair and because of it, certainly exciting. When he came out on stage he was very unassuming, but together with his band launched into an energetic set that got people hooked from the start. Yes, Phillip is influenced by DMB but not so much in the style of music as in his approach to live performances. Like DM, he lets each musician shine by playing tight extended jams and surprising you with clever arrangements of covers and of his own songs. His voice live was wonderful and he was very entertaining to watch because he gets so much into the music. He played 6 or 7 songs, but the set went by very fast! I’m glad we managed to make a couple of videos of his performance.
The crowd really loved Phillip and I think having him as an opener for John Mayer was an inspired idea. We loved his set too and it was amazing to see the type of ambitious arrangements and playing he put on display. He played mostly songs from The World from The Side of The Moon and a sexy cover of Usher’s “Nice and Slow” that had epic guitar and organ solos (by the amazing Errol Cooney and Bobby Sparks respectively). He closed his set with “Home” and had everybody join him in a sing along at the end. His set was fantastic and we could easily and happily have listened to another 45 minutes of his music.
After Phillip finished his set, it was time to wait for John Mayer. The sun had started to set, and the background behind the stage started to get more and more beautiful. I have to admit that, before this show, I had never considered attending a John Mayer concert. For many years I had been a casual listener, mostly aware of what he was doing through my brother, who is a big fan. But I had seen enough concert DVDs and heard enough of his music to know he is an accomplished guitar player and songwriter; his music is certainly very easy to listen to and to like. Listening to his older music and his last album, Born and Raised, I realized there is a lot of musical depth as well.
When John finally came out, the screen behind the musicians lit up with a beautiful image of a night sky. He opened the show with “Queen of California,” a song with a lovely, easy groove and road-trip feel that ended with a piano solo and a cool jam. And from then on, he proceeded to play one of the most beautiful shows I have ever attended, both musically and visually.
John’s set was mellower than Phillip’s, as Born and Raised, from which he played many songs, fits into the whole folk and Americana wave happening right now. His set design was beautiful, with images of big American landscapes (very much like the one we were in) playing behind the musicians: rocky canyons, snowy dessert mountains, star-filled skies. The Gorge, as much a protagonist of any show as any of the artists that play there, was the perfect setting for John’s more folksy vibe and for the images that played in the background; it was simply spectacular. John Mayer’s guitar playing and singing were excellent: sincere, heartfelt and moving. And his band was excellent as well; I have a weakness for drummers, and I loved the solid simplicity of Aaron Sterling, John Mayer’s drummer for this tour.
As the sun set at the Gorge, and night fell, John Mayer did a couple of acoustic songs by himself, “Daughters” and “Stop this Train.” Once again, he shone with emotion and amazing musicianship. His set list was a great mix of earlier hits and many songs from Born and Raised, including my absolute favourite “If I Ever Get Around To Living.” For his encore he came back with “Vultures” and finally closed the show with “A Face to Call Home.” By this time our son was so tired he wanted to go to sleep in the blanket, so we made a little pillow for him with other blankets and clothes. But he was so exhausted he could not fall asleep, so he finally fell asleep on top of me. We finished the show almost lying down on the ground, but I did not mind: both Phillip Phillips and John Mayer were amazing and this concert was one of the most perfect I have ever attended.
I know we’ll definitely be back to the Gorge for more shows, and I know that we’ll see John Mayer again whenever we have the chance. As for Phillip Phillips, I have the feeling this won’t be the last time we’ll drive all the way to see him play at the Gorge.
Finally, when I was planning this trip to see this show, I looked for information about bringing children to the Gorge and to outdoor concerts in general. I did not find much and was very nervous about the logistics. Here are some notes about bringing small children to shows and to the Gorge:
*We wanted to grab a good spot in the GA area and lined up very early to get in. In the future, we will go to the show later and don’t mind if we sit a bit further back. All in all, it was an 8 hour marathon for our little guy.
*We invested in a good set of protective headphones for our son. The sound was not too loud, but the whole show we had peace of mind knowing that his ears were well protected. We bought them well in advance for him to get used to them and get excited about wearing them. We got him the Baby Banz Hearing Protector Earmuffs and they are great.
*We brought plenty of water, fruits and other snacks for the whole family. So have enough food for everybody and specially for the kids, it will be too long and too late for them to wait until after the show to grab something to eat. Also, as the Gorge is quite remote, it may not be very easy to find a place to eat after the show.
*Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, hats and sunglasses for the little ones. We were such bad parents, we forgot his sunglasses and his hat! 😦 There is a general store by the campground at the Gorge, but they did not have anything for children there.
*Next time, we might bring a small mat for our son to lie down when he gets tired. He was so uncomfortable trying to sleep on top of the blanket that I finally had to hold him for him to fall asleep.
*Think about the type of music that will be played. Phillip Phillips and John Mayer were the perfect music to introduce our son to a live show. Rush, on the other hand, may not be the most suitable for any kid 7 and under.
*Finally, but more importantly, talk to them about the trip, the show, the music or the artists they will see. They will get excited and be more likely to enjoy the show if it’s their first time.
Phillip Phillips’ set list (probably not the right order):
Get Up Get Down
Gone Gone Gone
Where We Came From
Man On The Moon
Nice and Slow (Usher cover)
Home (with funky “Let’s Get it On” intro)
You can see John Mayer’s set list here.