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What it’s like to camp at the Gorge for a concert: Readers tell all

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Thousands of music fans venture into Central Washington to camp at the iconic Gorge Amphitheater every summer. Nestled in the Columbia River Gorge in George, their commitment to concert-going is put to the test as they camp, sing and dance through multiple hot days and loud nights. .

In May, we compiled five key tips for festival-going at the Gorge this summer — and we encouraged readers to share their own experiences and advice.

Here are some of the Gorge-gone-right and Gorge-gone-wrong stories we received.

‘Thank God I packed that umbrella’

One year at the Sasquatch Festival everything was sunshine and good vibes until a giant thunderstorm rolled in. It stopped Neko Case mid-set as all the speakers and screens started swinging in the wind… and then the rains came. And the hail. There is truly no shelter anywhere in the Gorge. I had a big umbrella in my backpack, and I made eight new friends very quickly as they rushed for cover and huddled together under my umbrella with me.

The storm passed fairly quickly, but most people’s clothes were soaked, as were the grassy hillside and all the blankets spread upon it. It took hours to get the stages back up and running. So as evening came, droves of people had left because they were wet and freezing. Ben Harper still played his full 2-hour set late into the night, forcing all of us who were waiting for The Flaming Lips to shiver until 1 a.m. When they did finally emerge from their UFO onto the stage, it was a cathartic deliverance. But thank God I packed that umbrella!
— Kirk Heynen, 44, Seattle

A sunset stopped the music

Crosby, Stills & Nash in the early 90s. The band was about 20 seconds into “wooden ships” when Stephen Stills turned to tell something to David Crosby. As he did, he stopped playing, and within a few seconds the entire band stopped playing. Stephen Stills walked up to his microphone and said: “I know you guys can see this, but I didn’t until I turned around. What a sunset! Let’s just take a minute and watch it. Don’t worry, we’ll start the song over.” The much crowd (smaller and more intimate in those days) went crazy. I’ll never forget it.
— Bryan Cole, 63, Seattle

How to not get lost at the Gorge

I have been going to The Gorge Dave Matthews shows for twenty years. A tip: Pay attention to where you camp and look for landmarks when you head out so you can find your way back after a show. The campground is set up in a hub-and-spoke layout. The landscape changes all day as more and more people show up. A lot of folks lose their frame of reference after pre-funking at their site all afternoon with friends old and new. Returning from the venue in the dark, they have no idea where they set up camp the previous afternoon. Every year I’ve attended, there is always some poor thing crying her eyes out at 2:00 in the morning saying. “I can’t find my peeeople…sob!” Some clever campers put up flags or lights to help them find their way home, but it is literally a sea of tents, campers, RVs (and flags and lights). The easiest way back is to pay attention the specific vendor in the “hub” where your “spoke” takes you (Ah! Sunglasses guy). That’s the spoke that will get you home.

— Jeff Curtis

Is that them? From last year?

My husband and I saw Steely Dan with the late, great Walter Becker two different years at the Gorge. It was idyllic both times weather, music, sunset just amazing experiences. The band must have agreed, as they used a photo of the Gorge on their live album cover.

Both times we stayed at a B&B in Cle Elum (that has since burned to the ground). The second time there, I recognized from the first time a group of two couples, so I blithely walked over to their breakfast table to ask how they thought the two performances compared. This was met with quiet, until one woman said, “I. Wasn’t. Here. Before.” Whoa 75% correct and 100% awkward! I had to slink back to my huckleberry pancakes and a husband trying to stifle a chuckle.
— Palmer Raible, Seattle

A rare event

My wife and I were just high school sweethearts when we attended the infamous 2006 Sasquatch that featured a massive hail storm cutting Neko Case’s set short. Massive hail balls falling from the sky sent people running for cover. My future wife had checked the forecast and was smart enough to bring an umbrella, which we huddled under with limited success and tried to protect my freshly purchased Shins poster. I recall that the Gorge made the rare decision to allow everyone to leave the venue and go to their cars and tents and then come back in later. I don’t think Neko ever finished her set!

— Erik Houser, 35, Edmonds,

‘Simply home’

As a George local, I’ve given directions to the Gorge before GPS was available and have heard every show from my backyard. In fact, I’m listening to Illenium right now! It’s a wonderful place to visit and have a blast, but for me it’s simply home.

— Rebecca Freese, George

A road trip relief worth commemorating

Driving home with my brother after a festival at the Gorge we were crawling along in bumper-to-bumper traffic. My brother desperately needed a rest area, but we were nowhere near one. Even though I was in the left-hand lane, he jumped out of the car to relieve himself. He disappeared behind the weeds covering the steep embankment of the meridian.

Just then, for no apparent reason, traffic started to speed up. Terrified of leaving my brother stranded on the freeway, I tried to keep inching along, with other cars honking and swerving around me. I yelled out the window for him to hurry, but my voice was lost in the wind. Finally, after a few excruciating minutes, I saw his head pop out above the embankment. He dove into the car, and we pulled away. My family still commemorates the spot when we drive by.  

— Grace Christensen, 30, Bothell

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