So difficult to fathom in fact, that this year I decided it was imperative to make the trek all the way from Brisbane, Australia to the legendary venue on the banks of the Columbia River.
As you well know, a road trip like this is only as good as the people you take the journey with. In saying that, I was elated to learn that some of the gang from our epic trip two years ago were once again flying in from places like LA (Toby) and Toronto (Joe) to get on board!
Add to that the luxury factors of “premier camping” and a swanky RV that Michelle and Kevin chased up (FINALLY I was able to experience what it would like to “camp” in style), and all the ingredients were there for what would become yet another incredibly memorable Dave Matthews Band Gorge weekend!
Day 1 – The RV, the slick border crossing & our friendly neighbours
Arriving at Michelle and Kevin’s super early (thanks again Bosh for the lift), I was immediately introduced to our luxury chariot and immediately got excited about what was to come. Toby and Joe both soon arrived and in quick time we had all the gear we needed packed away in the sizeable rear storage area.
Fuel tanks were filled, coffee runs were completed and we were on our way towards Washington State, hoping and praying that the circus that usually meets anyone with an Aussie on board at the “Peace Arch” border crossing, was going to be a fairly short and painless one.
I honestly couldn’t believe our luck when we actually got a fairly “human” female border guard who asked us a few questions, asked me when I entered the USA last (2 weeks ago through LAX) and wished us all the best for a fun weekend!
Wow, no entering the processing centre for photographing and finger printing?!?! It RARELY goes that smoothly and I bit my tongue to make sure no words spilling out of my mouth could possibly ruin our good fortune as we sped off into the US!
The drive to George, Washington, as anyone who has made the trip out to The Gorge would know, is a scenic one moving through mountain passes, pine forests, fertile farming lands and finally desert terrain punctuated by the unmistakable shape of numerous wind turbines.
Thrown into the mix was the obligatory groceries shop which we completed this time at a “Fred Meyer” chain store in the township of “Cle Elum”, a 90 minute drive from Seattle. With ease we managed to clock up a few hundred dollars of groceries, beer and liquor, which were all conveniently located in successive aisles.
Usually packing away groceries into coolers (eskies) and vehicles in general, is a bit of a mission with little room to be found amongst tents, pillows, bags etc. But the RV posed little challenge and we had everything packed away in record time.
Excitedly, the wind turbines marked the imminent arrival at the banks of the mighty Columbia River and roughly a half hour to the camp grounds and our collective “happy place”.
Arriving in good time, we tumbled out of our comfy RV seats and set about immediately setting up tents in an attempt to repel the overzealous camping staff who would have slid two RVs into a space big enough for a family car next to us, given half the chance. It’s a stunt they try every year in an attempt to maximise the space available for arriving campers across the entire weekend, but not something we thought we would be faced with in the premier camping section.
Our speedy operation was helped along by our friendly American neighbours on the open side of the RV who chipped in to ensure the captured space would be there to the benefit of everyone. We were handed cold welcome beers, names were exchanged, and it soon felt like “home”… like I never left this place two years ago.
With beers cracked, camping games set up and the mandatory selection of camp chairs strategically positioned, the only thing left to do for the afternoon was soak in the desert sun, get to know the neighbours a little better, exchange DMB fan stories and get set for the opening night of the weekend’s 3-concert series.
With a full “blue moon” rising behind us and the hot sun dropping over the gorge in front of us, we headed to the amphitheatre and made the climb up and over the hill that drops down into the grassed area revealing a view that I will never, EVER get tired of. Just check out the image below to see what I mean.
With Toby, a veteran of the sports and event ticketing industry on board again this year, the opportunity to get my hands on a seated ticket front of stage and just behind the “pit” area were too good to pass up, so I made my way down with him to some pretty decent seats left of stage from where we took in the amazing opening night’s performance.
Dave and band were firing from the opening song which just happened to be “#41”, one of the band’s most loved tunes, and significant in that this performance was their 41st concert at this amazing venue.
“#41” transitioned into “Proudest Monkey” and “Satellite”, signalling that the band weren’t going to be afraid to wheel out some of their most-loved tracks, despite being the opening night and knowing that they rarely play the same track twice over the three concerts on these weekends.
As it turned out, the band continually reeled off hit after hit and played well beyond midnight, cementing this Friday night performance as probably the best opening night set I’ve ever experienced. It was quite extraordinary.
“Eh Hee”, “Grey Street”, “Digging A Ditch”… the list of favourites went on and on. Although we knew there was plenty more to come over the weekend, Toby and I couldn’t help but think they weren’t going to have any big numbers left after the night’s gig!
Giddy with musical goodness (and the odd wobbly pop), we made the long trek back to camp eager to find out what Joe, Michelle, Kevin and our new neighbourhood friends had to say about what they experienced. Needless to say a few night caps were consumed over much conversation and shared enthusiasm over what had just been witnessed and what was possibly yet to come!
Dave Matthews Band Setlist → The Gorge Amphitheatre, Washington (31 August, 2012)
- Proudest Monkey
- Why I Am
- Grace Is Gone
- Eh Hee
- You Never Know
- Shake Me Like a Monkey
- Typical Situation
- Grey Street
- Digging A Ditch
- So Damn Lucky
- Thank You1
- You & Me
- Lie In Our Graves
- What Would You Say
- Pantala Naga Pampa
- The Space Between *
- Still Water2 *
- Don’t Drink The Water *
1 Sly & The Family Stone cover
2 Daniel Lanois cover
Day 2 – Ryan, Corrie & family arrive
Evidence of last night’s big evening of fun and entertainment was somewhat evident as I climbed from my oven of a tent on day two of our DMB weekend. Toby was sucking down H2O and Advil in an attempt to quell his throbbing head, while the rest of us scrambled to throw some breakfast together knowing that lashes and lashes of bacon would easily heal any ill that any of us felt at this point.
As is usually the case in the mornings at The Gorge, the sun was already beating down, the place was just starting to stir with activity and views towards the amphitheatre and the desolate rolling hills beyond from the top of the RVs was nothing but spectacular.
Quality breakfast eats continued to roll off our collective assembly line as Jim, Cheryl and Tommy emerged from their digs, proclaiming that it was GAME TIME – USA vs CANADA!
“Ladder Toss” (or whatever name plagued with testicular innuendo you wish to give it) was a hit, as well as the crowd favourite “Flip Cup” breaking out into an all-out war, attracting even more of our nearby campers.
Yes, that IS a HD GO PRO atop Michelle’s head in the shot below. She was a good sport and agreed to throw it on for a couple of rounds of “Flip Cup”.
As we continued into the afternoon, we received news that our good friends Ryan and Corrie had arrived and set up camp with their two daughters Peyton (toddler) & Kennedy (baby). We left camp and headed into the general camping area looking for a raised Vancouver Canucks flag as instructed by Ryan.
We easily found the family and spent the best part of an hour chatting to them about their hellish trip down across the border (due to an accident and subsequent highway blockage) their “Taj Mahal” sized tent, and our plans for meeting up for concert #2 later that night.
It was so cute, you could tell that Peyton was just as excited as Mum and Dad for the show and that got everyone in the mood for a great night ahead.
Back at camp, the lads got ready to cook up our juicy steaks bought specifically for the Saturday dinner, and Kevin surprised us all by supplementing the meal with some lobster tails he had snuck in during the shop on the way down. Sneaky LEGEND!
All of a sudden our original beef dinner had turned into a good ol’ “Reef & Beef” event! Awesome!
With full bellies and zip lock bags filled with liquor successfully hidden away, we took advantage of the premier camping shuttle bus which delivered us at the amphitheatre all ready to secure a spot where we would meet Ryan, Corrie and the girls to watch the sun set and take in the concert.
As the sun slipped over the hills in the distance, Toby and Joe left us to go take their seats down the front leaving the rest of us to be thoroughly entertained by little Peyton’s energetic antics as she ran circles around our little allocated blanket covered space.
Over the next few hours we were treated to a vintage Dave Matthews Band show filled with favourites including “Alligator Pie”, “Crush”, “Dancing Nancies”, “Crash Into Me”, “Jimi Thing” and an epic jam-filled version of “Two Step” to close out the main set.
Aiming to make their return to the camp grounds as easy as possible, Ry and Corrie intelligently picked up their blankets and the kids and made for the exit in ample time to avoid any kind of mass exodus. They seemed to really enjoy their night, the kids included, so despite missing an awesome final encore performance of probably the band’s most successful single “Ants Marching”, it was a smart move on their part.
Another beautiful night under the stars, another superb performance by the band. Surely there’s nowhere better to be in North America on the Labor Day long weekend each September!
Dave Matthews Band Setlist → The Gorge Amphitheatre, Washington (01 September, 2012)
- The Stone
- Alligator Pie
- Out Of My Hands
- Lying In The Hands Of God
- Dancing Nancies
- Crash Into Me
- Jimi Thing
- Time Bomb
- Two Step
- Some Devil *
- Ants Marching *
Day 3 – Area #41, Carter Q&A & an amazing final show!
Since arriving in our premier camping spot on Friday afternoon, we’d all been intrigued by the neighbouring fenced off area adorned with Volkswagen logos and signage declaring the real estate as “Area 41” – an area for VW fans to hang out before and after the shows enjoying the shade of a chandelier adorned big tent, hammocks, volleyball nets, a snack and smoothie station and more!
With breakfast taken care of, Michelle, Joe and I decided to go for a bit of a walk to see if and how we might be able to get access to Area 41. We had heard on the grapevine that DMB’s world-famous drummer “Carter Beauford”, would be making an exclusive appearance inside Area 41 during the afternoon, so we headed off to the front entrance with the intent of talking our way in. I mean, Michelle and I are both proud VW owners. What other credentials could we possibly need?
As it turned out, we didn’t need to grovel all that much. It seemed the timing of our arrival at the gate was near perfect and we were almost instantly issued a wrist band which we were told would enable us to come and go from Area 41 as we pleased for the remainder of the day, including for the outdoor showing of the classic “The Goonies” later that night.
We raced back to our camp to let everyone else know of the wrist bands, before tucking into some lunch and deciding on plans for checking out the Carter appearance, the evening’s concert, and our intention to head for home post-show rather than waiting for the morning.
Inside the Area 41 gates, we checked out the facilities on offer from the VW people and eventually made our way to a small stage in one corner of the compound where Carter Beauford, considered one of the world’s best drummers, appeared.
Not up to speed with this “smiling assassin’s” clear cut talent? Check out the following video for a glimpse of the man’s stick handling abilities:
Anyway, the intimate Q&A session with Carter was actually really good. It was a real treat for the 80 or so fans that had been given access to the stage area, and Carter, smiling all the while, was generous and thoughtful with the answers he provided to the questions fielded by both the MC and a number of fans (most in attendance) by Twitter.
Back at camp, more games of flip cup were under way and we set about trying to consume every last bit of food and cold beer we had left, before taking down tents and packing up our gear into the RV once again.
There was just enough time left to take some “family portraits” before we made our way, for the last time this year, back to the grassy, scenic amphitheatre where Toby and I made our way down to our amazing 2nd row (behind the pit), dead centre seats ready for the show (thanks again Toby).
As darkness fell over The Gorge, the Dave Matthews Band took to the stage for their final set of the weekend and they absolutely delivered, as expected.
I’ll let the following images and fan videos tell the story, but for me, the highlights of the set were definitely “Gravedigger”, “Where Are You Going”, my first exposure to “Belly Belly Nice”, one of the singles from the forthcoming album, and the incredible weekend closing rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” (see below).
Dave Matthews Band Setlist → The Gorge Amphitheatre, Washington (02 September, 2012)
- The Dreaming Tree
- Funny The Way It Is
- If Only
- Stay Or Leave
- The Riff
- Where Are You Going
- Seek Up
- You Might Die Trying
- Can’t Stop
- Lie in Our Graves (Reprise)
- Tripping Billies
- Sister *
- All Along The Watchtower *
In closing I just want to send a huge thanks out to everyone who helped make this year’s trip such a memorable one.
Firstly to Michelle and Kevin for taking care of all of the organising grunt work, to Toby for the awesome seated tickets across the weekend, and to Joe for forever reminding all the yanks around us where exactly we were proudly from! Haha! (inside joke).
I hope you’ve enjoyed this wrap-up, once again, and encourage anyone who was present at The Gorge this epic weekend, to leave details of your favourite nights/moments/memories in the comments section below!
Till next year…