The ninth installment of the Sonic Bloom Music and Arts Festival overran the Shadows Ranch in Georgetown Colorado last weekend and for me, it could not have gone any better. This festival may be small (selling out at roughly 2,500 tickets) but it packs a punch that is unrivaled by my past festival experiences and it left an impression that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Sonic Bloom takes the idea of a music festival and pairs it with the Burning Man philosophy of generosity, creativity, self-expression, and a fully immersive sensory experience to create a community that exists beyond just music and art and aims at a spiritual experience for both mind and body. Yoga instruction, sonic-massages, binaural-beat equipped meditation areas, live-painting, and a giant vibrating rhombohedron are only some of the features that give festival goers an experience beyond live music, and when you consider the incredible scenery of Georgetown and the cool creek flowing through the campgrounds, it is easy to see how music is equal, if not secondary, to the aesthetic appeal Sonic Bloom is striving for. This isn’t to say that the musical performers were not up to par. In fact, I was blown away by most of the acts I saw over the weekend, but even the musical performances often incorporated visual art, intricate graphics, and live dancing/acrobatics, giving DJs, producers, and bands alike an aesthetic that they couldn’t achieve with their own resources.
This focus on the individual experience makes trying to recap this festival in a conventional sense somewhat inappropriate. Most of the music could be heard clearly from all throughout the festival grounds and seeing as how it was no more than a ten minute walk from anywhere to anywhere, most attendees were not clamoring to keep on top of schedules or trying to get to stages early for a specific artist. In fact the crowd kept itself so comfortably spaced that it was easy to walk right to the front of even the biggest sets if one were so inclined. This allowed attendees and artists alike to wander the grounds comfortably, catching sets at their leisure, and interacting with the small festival in a manner that made the place feel like home after only having been there a few short hours. Because of the way this festival lends itself to a laid back approach, I won’t bore you with a play-by-play account of my weekend, peppering in moments of meditation, interviews with festival organizers and artists, and cool-down dips in the creek, but rather I’ll list for you some of the more profound moments for me, musical and otherwise, and hopefully paint for you a better picture of what Sonic Bloom is all about.
The festival kicked off Thursday with an opening ceremony on the Bloom stage. The short talk introduced the philosophy of community, respect, and family that persisted through the rest of the weekend and also relayed the importance of the fire ban in the surrounding areas as almost ten wildfires had started around Colorado in recent weeks.
Bonobo’s Thursday night DJ set was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening and may have been the best electronic set of the weekend. Pulling samples from live instrumental recordings, Simon was able to explore his extensive recorded catalog over a gambit of danceable beats.
This set was incredible. Layered synths and Papadosio’s signature keyboard tones melded nicely with some super warm guitar jams creating a wall of sound that no electronic artist could attempt to imitate. Their unique visual accompaniment also stepped things up making this one of the most all-around memorable sets of the weekend.
I’m usually a big fan of Pantyraid but this wasn’t their best set. What appeared to be a loose cable caused the sound to drop out upwards of six or seven times. I will say though that they did preview their new album and it is going to be dy-no-mite.
If there is an electronic artist who is headed straight to the top it’s this guy. He’s got a unique sound that spans the gap between soulful crooning samples and bass face madness. I especially enjoyed his new remix of ‘The Weight’ which featured the heaviest drop I heard all weekend.
An elegant solution to the problem of wide awake campers in the wee hours of the morning, the silent frisco featured two djs playing simultaneously through two different radio frequencies which could be picked up by radio headphones. I’m still not sure if it was more entertaining to be jamming out with the headphones on or to just watch people rocking out in silence.
This Saturday morning sunrise set was just what the doctor ordered after an epic Friday night. Beautiful singing and soulful violin pulled the sun up over the canyon wall and steady beats maintained a slow but happily content pace amongst the shuffling crowd. I even noticed a few campers using the daylight to pick up cigarette butts and trash from the stage area, a nobel act you just don’t see at many other festivals.
The more I see this Boulder three piece, the more I’m convinced they’re on their way up. Jam sensibility and heavy electronic overtones put these guys in a category with Lotus and STS9 but with a thoroughly unique and refreshing sound. I will definitely be making an effort to catch their show at the Bluebird this Saturday if only to hear their killer Daft Punk remix again.
Beat-boxing unicorn puppets. If that doesn’t paint a compelling enough picture for you then I don’t know what will.
Talk about making live music into a fully integrated multimedia experience, Tipper brought projection mapping to the next level with two sets that blew minds and dropped jaws. The intricacy and detail of design in the DJ booth was hard to capture, even on video, but whoever did the visuals for this set definitely deserves some sort of award.
This set just hit the spot. It was the perfect time to grab a hammock and vibe to the mellow beats and melodic violin playing of this incredible producer and his associate. I have been somewhat into Emancipator since I saw his sunrise set at Waka in 2011, but I think he just made a die-hard fan out of me.
The Buddah Lounge
This small side stage featured DJs, speakers, and performers of all kinds, making it a nice little distraction from the main festival areas. Bean bags, massage tables, and a shaded lounge also helped add a bit of relief from the mid-day sun.
This was my first time seeing this supergroup consisting of Jamie Janover, Aaron Holstein (Vibesquad), and Michael Travis (SCI) and I have to say they were as awesome as I suspected they would be. All three completely virtuosic musicians who explore live improvisation beyond the realm that most musicians could even dream of. Individually, these are some of the most interesting and awesome people you could ever hope to meet, but together, they form a successful collaboration in every sense of the term.
Solar Powered DJ Booth
Though it was only around Friday night, this small side stage was super cool. Shaped like a flying saucer, this booth bumped sound 100% powered by solar energy panels. Originally designed for Burning Man, this thing looked like some crazy mad scientist with an awesome taste in music had thrown it together in a junkyard. In fact I’m not so sure that isn’t how it actually came together.
Despite the sound problems during his Pantyraid set, Josh Mayer (Ooah) killed his late night set as Of Porcelain. This mellowed out glitch-hop side-project was powerful and emotive, with the soothing accompaniment from Emancipator’s violinist succeeding in getting me a bit teary eyed. Sets from Of Porcelain may be few and far between seeing as how Josh has many other big picture projects to keep him busy, but if you do get the chance to catch one, be prepared to be mezmirized.
The Sonic Bloom Orchestra
The Grande Finale to the whole weekend, this years Orchestra included Michael Travis & Jason Hann (SCI, EOTO), Tipper, Dave Watts (The Motet), Jamie Janover, Govinda, Sasha Rose, Hopscotch, Lafa Taylor, and Kyrian (The Fungineers). The performance was incredible, seeming almost too epic to be real, and when EOTO was allowed to play a full set on their own, I swear I almost fainted from excitement. Jamie Janover and the other Sonic Bloom organizers definitely know how to throw together an epic jam, and if everything else about the weekend had sucked, this set would have made the ticket completely worth it.