The Gorge Amphitheatre, located near the small town of George, Washington, is a beloved, almost mythical concert venue, one that’s been a big part of the stories of bands like Phish and the Dave Matthews Band.
The Gorge is also the subject of a new feature-length documentary, called Enormous: The Gorge Story, which is getting a one-night-only theatrical release this week through Trafalgar Releasing.
We speak to the film’s director, Nic Davis, and its producer, Tim “Jack” Williams, about the film, its pandemic delay, and what it means to bring the film out around the same time the Gorge itself is reopening.
Tell me first, how did this project come about? What was the genesis of it?
Tim Williams: The ball sort of started in my court, here. A fun fact is that Nic and I had never been to the Gorge, at all, despite our big interest in live music. But I had seen some footage of some concerts there on YouTube, and I was just blown away and amazed by what I was seeing, and like probably many people, I got this urge to go there and experience it.
But instead of going and watching a show, being very creative, and being very focused on creating content and video, I thought this is such a beautiful place that it would actually be really amazing to film something there.
So the shortest possible answer is that I cold-emailed the Live Nation executive, the CEO at the time, because the venue is owned by Live Nation, and I just emailed him out of the blue, and introduced myself, and said, the place is so beautiful, it would be such an incredible experience to go and film something there. And much to my surprise, I got a response within a half hour or so. And as he said, there’s quite an interesting story about that place, and that I should speak to some of the people who have been working on the venue for many years.
So he made an introduction, and I was on a flight to Seattle to meet Jeff Trisler, the president of Live Nation Northwest, about a week later. And we had no idea that there was going to be a movie at all, but as the story ended up getting unfolded to me, it was quite an impressive story.
I assume that you’ve since been to shows there, other than just filming them?
TW: We have. We’ve been lucky enough to see shows there, both when filming and when we’ve visited.
What was the time frame of this? How long ago did [the project] start?
Nic Davis: For six years. We started at Sasquatch Music Festival [in] 2015. And that was sort of our first foray out. We had never even been there before, and I remember… I grew up in Montana, so I’d been hearing about the Gorge since I was a kid, basically, hearing about people going out to these shows, going off for the weekend, to Dave, and the Sasquatch, so I grew up hearing about this mythical place, the Gorge. It seemed like such a journey from Montana.
I remember going out there, after Tim asked me ‘do you want to direct this movie?,’ and I’ve been hearing about this place, with my love of music and working with a bunch of artists before, I was like ‘hell yeah, let’s do it.'” So we rent this car, and we drive out-and I’d barely even seen photos of the place there.
We have John Oates in the film, from Hall & Oates, referencing that the first, he had never heard much about it. And he said ‘we just drove through fields and fields and fields.’ Because going out there, there’s not a lot. So you’re wondering ‘what did I sign up for?’
I think I did a redeye flight or something, and I’m literally in the trunk of this Suburban sleeping, and every once in a while, you’re looking out the window, and “uh, I don’ know what I signed up for.’ But you get to the venue, and you crest the hill as they say, and it sort of hits at that moment that this is a special place. And that journey is part of it — that just taking the time, and going through that process, that makes that moment even more special.
Are you guys both big music guys?
ND: We definitely both are. My story is that I’ve been shooting music documentaries basically since I started. My very first film was a short music doc that I directed, taking a musician in Spain, a flamenco guitarist, and pairing him with a country artist in Montana to create a song together in 2010. Sort of transitionally, without ever meeting in person.
I’ve always been interested in music. I just went on tour with an artist named J.P. Sacks, who’s had an incredible year. I went on tour with him in I think it was 2019, and have shot with artists like Killer Mike from Run the Jewels, and obviously through this project. It’s been amazing to work with the artists we have like Pearl Jam, and Dave Matthews, and Shakey Graves, and Train, and the list just goes on. This has been a special one, to meet these absolute legends who we’ve loved for so many years.
The fans who you interview in the film — how did you get hooked up with those people? Did the venue direct you towards them, or was it some other way?
TW: We sort of just discovered them in different ways. It was a combination of things. Some of them, we just sort of showed up at the campgrounds with the camera, roaming around, saying who has something interesting they want to say about their experience here?
Once we started posting about the project online and people became aware of what we were doing, we started getting a lot of just emails and direct messages on social media, from people just naturally reaching out and sharing tons of stories about themselves and their experiences. it was all these different little biopics that started to pop out.
ND: The fan element was really important for me. Because I feel like from the beginning, one of the things I felt strongly about was that we’re not just talking about the venue and how this place got created, but showing the importance of it. And to me, a lot of the importance comes from people that have been to it, and the relationship that they’ve built with this place, and the power of the location.
The reason we were able to get Jason Mraz… and all these amazing interviews are that people love this place, and something really special happens there. That’s why Dave Matthews goes back every Labor Day Weekend, because his whole family comes out, and they get to explore and be outside, it’s a family event for them.
So I think finding those stories like Darren and Pat in the film. And we did so many different ways — we actually gave people GoPros, and showed people how to film with GoPros at different festivals, trying to capture the experience that way, but at the end of the day we landed on featuring Darren and Pat, because their stories are both unique, but they really showcase the impact that that place can have on a single person.
There are thousands of people to who this has happened to. There have been marriage proposals, there have been some crazy things… I think the film does a pretty cool job of showcasing that emotional power the venue has.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.