Saturday, November 24, 2018

Pretending to be young in the desert

Prologue; This trip took place from Friday, October 20 to Wednesday, October 25, 2017 and I've been spurred to resume writing this piece after I learned that the 2018 edition of this festival was cancelled. Then Odesza's "late night" made a return to the Slacker alternative countdown and my memories were refreshed.  Notably, this was a quick trip "sans enfant" - let the fun begin!
For the second year in a row, we took a trip to the desert [American Southwest] to attend a music festival. And for the second consecutive year, it was a great time. And I wish you were there.

Introduction; Someone asked how I learned about this new music festival in Phoenix. It took me a while to remember, but it was back in April of this year [2017] when I was reading articles about the Coachella music festival (that we'd been to previously).  As one does on the internet, I clicked another link at the bottom of the article and went somewhere unplanned and read about the lineup for this new festival. [Here's the article - ]  Subsequently a casual email to Julie saying "hey, this festival takes place on your birthday" turned into an actual ticket purchase shortly thereafter; surprising the heck out of me.  However, it doesn't take much to convince either of us to go to Arizona; Julie has family there and I spent a lot of time there many moons ago. 
Even though this festival is brand new, it is being organised by the people who do Bonaroo in Tennessee, and their experience showed. There was very little to take issue with, and the venue was great although the lake sort of got in the way. Yes, there is actually a lake at the park just outside downtown Phoenix, and yes, we heard a kid on day 3 exclaim "Whoa, there's actually a lake here!" as we walked past it on our way out. (You walk past it on the way in as well, in daylight no less.)  While we're discussing this lake, the festival installed these giant metal lotus flowers out in the water. They looked interesting by day, neat when lit up at night, and then amazing when they shot flames 20ft up in the air. Each hour after sunset, they'd do a pyro show with accompanying music; Metallica's "give me fuel, give me fire" was pretty good.  
Other things we liked about the festival?  
•It was licenced throughout. 
•There was a substantial craft beer bar, from which you could grab a cold one and then go wander. (see above) 
•Handmade village of [mostly] local artisans. In keeping with the "lost" theme, they branded it "Found".
•Loads of corporate sponsors giving away free stuff (beer kozies, pedialyte, blinking bracelets, ever-present Red Bull, and sunglasses).
•There were lockers on site, that allowed you to leave stuff overnight.
•The tequila tasting bar, where we made a new well-connected friend. 

Chapter 1; Allow me to set a scene. First things first, load up this song while you're reading this. Hopefully you have headphones.  ☻ Odesza (iPlayYouListen - live)

Imagine that you are walking across a large grassy field. There's a giant Miller Lite neon sign to the left that makes you wonder why they decided to put a typical sports bar at a music festival. On your immediate right is an over-sized croquet game trimmed in neon lighting. The reddish-brown mountains of the desert are visible in the distance over the trees and buildings of the city.  After the heat of the day, the temperature right now is perfect, a pleasantly warm 26°C that makes this craft beer taste real good.  As we near the opposite end of the big field, we come up a small rise and below us there it is - a music festival, main stage. 
Imagine a crowd of 15,000+ people in front of a stage that's shining with spotlights and emanating lasers under a clear desert sky that has the final twinges of daylight.  The music blasting from the stage is loud, so loud you can feel it. Someone wearing a shimmering silver jumpsuit with an LED-lit hula hoop just runs past you, bounding down into the dark mass of people.  Across the field a giant Mad Max-style fire engine belches a cloud of fire up into the air.  You pull down the bandana that's keeping the dust out of your lungs to take a sip of beer and take it all in.  That's the moment. 
There were a number of these for me during this weekend.

Chapter 2; I'll be frank; I don't get Chance the Rapper. He's a nice guy and is the headliner tonight but his music is lost on me. In a similar genre, Ludacris was energetic in front of an enthusiastic crowd, getting them all riled up.  I was content to see the old band the Pixies, but my eardrums sure weren't.  Unfortunately we missed Calexico and Johnnyswim.  The girls of HAIM were pleasant, and if you haven't seen them perform, pay attention to the girl on the bass - her facial expressions are worth it. 
Wandering around the festival site we came upon the Nectar of the Gods booth where a number of knowledgeable bartenders happily share their knowledge of tequila with anyone willing to listen, and pony up a couple bucks.  Our man Brian turns out to be a wealth of knowledge, not just of tequila but many things related to Phoenix.  Where's the best BBQ in town? Head to Little Miss BBQ on a street littered with tire shops near ASU in Tempe.  Want a funky sushi place with a really good selection of tequila?  SumoMaya in Scottsdale. I wish I could remember more of what this dude told us about the finer points of tequila, but my memory's poor. 
Today was day 1 and this festival has made an excellent first impression. The schedule for day 2 (Saturday) is jampacked. 

Chapter 3: Seizing the opportunity we made our way to Little MIss BBQ today to fuel up for the festival.  Brian's advice was spot-on as the line-up reached around the building to get in to this place, and sure enough, some of the tastier bits were sold out by the time we got up to the order desk. Was it the best BBQ ever? I don't know, but it was dang tasty that's for sure. And the setting of being sprayed by the misters under a shed roof while sitting at big communal picnic tables was pretty neat.  Choc full of meat we get ourselves to the festival; a little bit earlier today than yesterday.
It's Saturday afternoon and I'm pumped to stand in the blazing sun to get a good spot for the Kongos show.  Turns out I didn't need to be so keen as there wasn't too much of a crowd for them. But in a space for 10,000, anything less does feel like a small crowd.  Tritonal's electronic sounds occasionally drifted over from the furthest stage but it didn't matter, these guys were good with their South African-tinged rock. 
The main stage today was lit; first with the Roots getting virtually every head bobbing and booty shaking. These guys are fun[ky] - and there's a tuba!  [Sorry, a sousaphone.]
My favourite musical find at the festival? Aside from perhaps Johnnyswim, it's DreamCar.  Their song "Kill for candy" was frequently on repeat in late 2017.  We spent their set playing ping pong on these translucent glowing tables in the games area directly behind their stage. Better sound quality here rather than jostling for a spot somewhere in front of the stage. 
Best not forget to mention that the Killers closed out the show tonight.  Hit after hit streamed forth like the confetti cannons blasting over the crowd. So good.

Chapter 4:  We're getting much better at navigating our way to the festival site and so finally we're here in the early afternoon, when it's really hot, the food lines aren't long and you can randomly stop by the CoolHaus ice cream truck for a massive customized ice cream sandwich.  So good.
Canadian award-winning group A Tribe Called Red was off the hook, working up a sweat with their dancers twirling across the front of the stage.  The festival actually had a fairly prominent focus on Native American talent. There was a small stage that had readings and various indigenous performers on it during the day. Having more time here today we were able to wander around even more and find hidden parts of the site that didn't know were there.  You really could just come here and hang out all day with no shortage of entertainment, and shopping - Julie went shopping today. 
While you're cooking supper tonight, throw on Big Gigantic and play it a little loud.  On the other hand, we ate our supper of tacos while listening to Columbian singer Juanes.  A couple of folks at the table were surprised that we came all the way from Canada for this festival.  And even more surprised that I had intentionally come to this stage to listen to Juanes sing in Spanish. 
The final, massive, overblown wollop on the kickdrum of the festival came courtesy of Major Lazer; holy crap. Insanely loud and packed to the fences. It's electronic music, and whatever your take on the genre is, it packs a crowd, and you really do need to appreciate the sonic engineering of it all. 
When that show ended and the flood of people made their way to the main stage, we sidestepped it and found a lounge chair in a quiet spot.  The softer yet still orchestrally intense sounds of Odezsa closed out the festival.  We did go to watch some of it (see opening paragraph) but returned to the couches to comfortably soak it in.  I was surprised that at the end of it, nobody from the festival came out to say bye, thanks, see you next time.  Maybe I'm just used to the folkie vibe at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.  

Chapter 5: The desert is calling and I must go.  I drag Julie out to the middle of nowhere just to have a date shake in Dateland and visit some farms.  Interesting circle of events in that this is where I was working when we first met, so she finally got to see it firsthand.  

If this link works, you can listen to my LostLake station on Slacker Radio → 
Lost Lake's recap video: 

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