Waking Up Is Hard If You Never Sleep
It’s 7:33 in the morning, and I’m staring at a much-too-large deer head mounted over an inactive fireplace. The sun has just started giving me the creeps and reality is setting in. We’re in day two of life at Snowball.
There is no other way to describe a festival of this magnitude other than to call it an experience. It’s not a bunch of button pushers up on stage, hitting play on their remix-infused playlists (though that is a part of it). It’s not a bunch of rich ski kids getting loaded in the mountains, pretending life back home isn’t waiting for them (though that is certainly the case). It’s about the people.
Almost 21 hours ago I set out on Winter Park, Colorado. I spent all morning with my editor and a group of circus freaks, including a young person who unfortunately suffers from the Wolf Man syndrome as well as albinism. But he or she also suffers from Dance Fever, which flares up anytime anyone calls his or her name. We call this enthusiastic creature: The Yeti.
The Yeti Entourage, consisting of George Peele, Citric Acid Entertainment owner and 303 music editor, Noah Mittman, videographer and professional badass, Danielle Odette, the most kickass fire-twirler and hula-hoopin’ woman I’ve ever met (let the record show that because I have met very few of these, it does not diminish her amazing talent), and Pauline Grace, who spat fire at some ski-blokes as they surfed off a huge snow-ramp with feats of agility I cannot comprehend.
We hit up the official 2013 Snowbrunch after a measly six hours of sleep and we were certainly ready for more of the waking life. A full breakfast buffet, including some extraordinary pastries, and a drink ticket for a Bloody Mary bar. They mixed the drinks for rock stars. Oh yes, and there were rock stars there.
Ishi from Dallas, Texas killed it, despite it only being early afternoon. Their vibes couldn’t have come at a better time than being preceded by a really touching dedication speech by Phoenix 999, who discussed the bad stigma Colorado has garnered through recent shootings and acts of senseless violence. Phoenix 999 is a non-profit formed by the survivors of Columbine to provide educational, financial, and emotional support for victims of mass violence. The message was simple: This bad press is NOT Colorado, and should not define this beautiful state.
And let me tell you, I have seen beauty before. But being in the snowy mountains with good people, from myriad backgrounds and life experiences is the most beautiful thing I as an aspiring music journalist could ask for.
After Bloody Marys and Tennessee Honey shots we donned serious faces and hit the festival, going our separate ways. First on my to-do-list: Robotic Pirate Monkey.
“For my music, I’m very picky. I personally think that I could still be better. So what I have right now, I’m really stoked. It’s pretty amazing to have fans… Fuck, I don’t think I’m that good yet, ya know? Fuck,” said Matthew Berryhill of RPM. “It’s cool to see people moved by your music.”
They nailed their set on Friday and brought the after party home later that night.
“I had a DMT trip that led me in a round-about way to getting into it,” said John Robbins, of Run DMT.
Tune your radios into this guy’s frequencies, my friends, because his beats made my brain spin off into a distant cosmic realm I never thought existed, filled with bass drops from dope-smoking otherworldlies. And on Saturday night, DMT put on an intimate after party at the Winter Park Pub, to a small, yet emphatic group of young partiers.
“I love the crowd here, no other feels like this one.”
But I imagined he meant the intense weather conditions.
“It was really hot up there, but that’s more than I can say for the rest of this.”
Back at the festival, Gigamesh rocked the Groove Tent, featuring the dancing styles of Snowball’s hired go-go dancers along with my editor in a Yeti outfit on stage. The crowd was into it. And that’s the main point to focus on here, in this abominable season in the heart of the Rockies with everyone hopped up on chemicals and sound waves, the crowd is just into it. Just cruising through the audience, you can feel the love, the respect, the admiration for the talent.
Inside the Press Tent: The Snowcial Lounge
Then it was time to head to the press tent for some artist interviews. I trudged through the snow, dodging the colorful children milling about, all slipping and sliding into each other and the ground. But I did not fall, because I’m a professional, of course.
“We make music with drum machines, synthesizers and vocals. We tour the world, playing our music. And our mission is to enjoy it,” said Julian Hamilton, vocalist and keyboardist of The Presets.
The Presets hail from Australia where they’ve won a multitude of awards for their unique brand of synthpop as well as creating an album that went triple platinum. I asked them why Australia seems to put out and recognize better music than America.
“There are some terrible, terrible American bands. And some really terrible Australian ones too. There’s just more in America,” Hamilton said.
American Royalty played a groovy set at the Groove Tent. They are an intriguing mix of rock and electronic, supplementing live instrumentation with electronic beats.
“We were both in rock bands all our lives and decided to take this voyage, this journey into the electronic side,” said guitarist and vocalist Marc Gilfry.
Their journey has been a successful one so far. They played their first festival at Snowball 2011 and are hoping to come back for more. They were also asked to DJ an after party.
“Having that classic rock background makes us really song-minded. There are different structures, road maps for writing songs. You have this electronic idea of building and adding an element and building. And then you have the more rock thing: verse, chorus, verse, chorus,” Gilfry said.
“We’re trying to Jedi Mind Meld, as Obama would say,” Billy Scher added.
This spun us off into a lively debate on the finer philosophical differences between Star Wars and Star Trek. These are my kind of people.
After meeting these artists and seeing how they were just as stoked to be here as I was, it really started to feel less like the typical performer/audience dynamic and more like a community of like-minded people who just want to get their kicks with good music.
Then Pretty Lights played and mayhem ensued. The crowd was packed together in front of the main stage. The snow had been packed down into a deadly ice rink and everyone was hopped up on some kind of chemical. It looked like the makings of utter disaster.
Then the lights came on and Derek Vincent Smith took the stage, hit play and blasted us into another dimension: a world where people are free to dance on ice, so packed together few people slip and in fact seem to defy the laws of physics. A world where lasers cut through the frigid mountain air as the entire crowd undulates in ecstasy and complete devotion to the man with the aesthetically-pleasing luminescence.
There were approximately 12,000 music freaks and 51 artists in attendance this year, well exceeding the previous two years. Other acts that really stood out this year were Sound Tribe Sector 9, Datsik, Porter Robinson, Big Gigantic, Krewella, Grizmatik and Destructo.
The Energy Behind the Festival: The True Believers
After the after party a fellow journalist and I talked our way into, we returned to our lodge where we really set into the mission of intoxication. The moment we cracked our first beers we heard some insanity coming from down the hall. Upon further investigation we found what looked like a tweaker den, filled with young junkies who were in a constant state of spasmodic twitching. There would be no sleeping for these children, or for me for that matter. As a professional, I felt obligated to see this thing through to the end.
The following are the fragmented ramblings of two strange fellows I referred to in my notes as Crackhead 1 and Crackhead 2. These aren’t pretentious artists giving their preconceived answers to irritatingly vague questions. This is a real conversation with real people, real fans of the music, the lifestyle, the festival experience. This is the real Snowball.
“It’s like Grateful Dead, ya know? You’re gonna have that head following where you have a bunch of people who are into getting high on drugs and smoking weed. That’s just how it is. Colorado is in the position now to become the next California,” said Crackhead 1.
“Never! I’m from California,” said a passing maid. She looked miserable and looked at us, with our haggard eyes and reeking of 24 hours of booze and dance. She walked away, shaking her head. I asked why they think the electronic music scene has recently become so prevalent in America in just the past five years.
“I think it has a lot to do with hip-hop. Mainstream hip-hop music. The only reason is, you got people who like to party. And electronic music they come out with fresher, new music all the time,” Crackhead 1 said.
“You don’t even need a production studio to put out something worth listening to. I feel like America’s music is so corporate sponsored, as far as what we hear on the radio. It’s the same stuff over and over again. But I feel very strongly that we’re getting out of that.”
“That group of cops that came up to talk to us, they came up to us multiple times. Just to say, ‘What’s up?’ ”
“Tonight I tried 2CT2 for the first time, and I had a handful of shrooms, and then I did molly and then I ate an entire pill of Calvin Klein ex.”
“Don’t look em in the eye, don’t look em in the eye. My pupils are this many times bigger than the last time I saw them.
“Every time we get here, and there’s a joint waiting, I’m confused at how we have one left.”
“Datsik fucking killed it.”
“Yeah dude. How far did you get in? I was like sixth row.”
“You’re insane, a fucking insane person. I couldn’t even get in the tent.”
“What I’ve noticed about DJs overseas, they in their sets can play every genre of electronic music. I hate when you’re there for a set and you just hear house. Or trap. Datsik went a little too heavy on the trap tonight. You gotta keep it versatile in what you’re mixing to keep the crowd interested.”
“I’ve seriously fallen over in the ice like twenty plus times. I’ve been dancing almost perfectly today, so I don’t even care if I fall.”
“Seriously, this is one of the best festivals I’ve been to in the last few years.”
“Who would have ever thought to do this?”
“Right! In the snow? I can understand the desert, but this is crazy.”
“I was perfectly warm yesterday, I don’t know about you guys.”
“I was sweating balls. My feet were freezing though.”
“We went to the thrift store over by Safeway. We found some onesies. It’s gonna be Onesie Sunday.”
“I got one that’s meriwinkle.”
“You mean periwinkle? Dude, you should wear it with a fanny pack.”
The crackheads then told me a story about how they went to the Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas last year and were arrested on the way back, and charged with four felonies. They were pulled over in Utah for tinted windows because, as they suspected, of their Colorado plates (knowing full-well the reputation our state has) and were arrested with over an ounce of weed and less than a quarter of MDMA.
“The cop was like, ‘What are you kids using?’ And I was like, ‘Using? Jesus, what do I look like, a fucking crackhead to you?’ ” said Crackhead 1.
“Well, you do look a little crack-y,” I reasoned, my eyes and brain burning. I needed sleep more than anything, but my journalistic sensibilities kept me waiting for something to show me what this whole adventure was about. What was at stake here?
“We’re all a little crack-y. It’s 8 in the morning. Look how bright it is out. We should not be like this. I’ve accepted I’m a little crack-y a long time ago.”
“For sure, I’m just here to enjoy the ride. I’m here to party. Moving on.”
I listened to them go on like this until noon, when my buzz had long since passed and I could no longer process what was being said or form questions to delve deeper. Then the fire alarm started blaring because some soulless creep needed his nicotine fix, waking up the entire building. I was done. I would get two hours of sleep and then hit the festival for the final day of Snowball.
These doped up hippie flipper junkies are the backbone to every musical festival, especially in the electronic scene. And hidden in their crazed ramblings, if you have the right kind of mind, you may find a small piece of the unfiltered profundity of the true festival experience. It’s gritty. It’s dirty. It’s slippery when wet. But it’s real. Real people.
And that’s what the musical festival is all about. It’s about you, whether you hula hoop with fire, dress yourself as a yeti, geek out all day and night, or just have a passion for the music. It’s about all of our undying love for sweet, bassy soundwaves that effect us to the core and force us to move, hoping it will never end.