I have never been to Arise. I have lots of friends who have, who go annually, who perform and participate—and who were pretty butt-hurt that Madison House and AEG Live Rocky Mountains decided to throw a party during the same weekend. But not me. I was stoked on Vertex from the get go—mainly because it was my only opportunity to see the Claypool Lennon Delirium perform live in Colorado this summer (fact: I’m a shameless Claypool fan girl and proud of it). Everything else was a bonus. And bonus it was.
Vertex was super cool in that quintessential Colorado, ultra laid back, scenic AF kind of way. Rolling into Buena Vista, surrounded by the looming Collegiate Peaks with the sweet smell of the Arkansas River perfuming the air, you knew you were in for it. Whatever it was going to be, it was going to be good. Even when Friday’s rain threatened to turn the event into a mud drenched hippie pit, the proximity of the festival to Downtown Buena Vista allowed festival attendees to come and go as they pleased, grabbing a hot meal at one of BV’s many local eateries or even a dry hotel room for the night.
But as fate would have it, Saturday’s (and Sunday’s, for that matter) sunshine was in full on redemption mode. The sloppy puddles were quickly forgotten, layers were shed and a beach party commenced. DJs serenaded the cheerful crowd, as inflatable animals of all shapes and colors took to the river for their maiden voyage in Vertex’s very own water feature (endearingly referred to by some as the “cesspool,” which was ironic because it obviously wasn’t one).
There were a few fun factors that set Vertex apart from other music festivals. There were hardly any queues anywhere during the festival, whether waiting your turn at the port-o-potties, picking up Will Call tickets or at the beer and food vendors. While promoters estimated a turn out of about 20,000 attendees, only about 8,000 turned up—but it felt even smaller. There were two main stages that featured back-to-back bands playing (with barely a few minutes in between sets, just enough time for the crowds to migrate back and forth across the grassy field), but there was never a stampede, never a frantic surge—just a pleasant and casual mosey from one show to the next.
Also, the live music didn’t really kick off until about 3 p.m. each day. Vertex offered “Field Trips,” ranging from whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River or playing disc golf at a nearby course to hiking six miles roundtrip to a ghost town or just kickin’ it in Downtown Buena Vista via shuttles that started running at 10 a.m.. While the Field Trips may seem ambitious after partying all night (while the live music came to a screeching halt around 1:30 a.m., there was a silent disco on the beach that carried on into the wee hours of the morn), having the music start in the afternoon permitted you to nurse your hangover, chug some coconut water and get your shit together in a timely fashion. But it also infused the local businesses with fresh faces and cold hard cash (yay, local economy!).
Perhaps the most curious and intriguing aspect of Vertex, though, was the wooded arena (“The Bazaar”) that was filled with tiny houses backing up to the river (yay, interactive art!). Well, there were tiny houses and then there were tinier houses. A Tooth Fairy nook was full of treasures, like teensy jars full of extracted snagglers, toothbrushes and candies to enjoy (if you were petite and flexible enough to fit inside). There were little birdhouses stuck into trees that ended up jammed full of love letters, missed connection notes and bite sized lost-and-found trinkets. One house was a virtual ball pit, full of giant yellow balloons (where you could get inside and flail about, sending the orbs soaring through the air, or simply watch through the windows as others did just that). Some feathered French ladies in corsets occupied another house, where they blindfolded visitors, tickled them and massaged their heads. One house was entirely whitewashed inside, where ghostly poets wrote unique prose on typewriters for their visitors, prompted by the individual’s requested subject matter. And lastly, there was a washroom contained in a little shed, where the bonnet-clad Georgia Peach and his lovely lady Miss Rhubarb sang songs (and even took requests, encouraging sing-a-longs and novice washboard solos) and allegedly scrubbed your soiled skivvies for you.
“When I wasn’t cracking up or serenading Wash Room visitors with Coelti (aka Miss Rhubarb), I thoroughly enjoyed sets from Anderson .Paak, The Fungineers, Odesza and Denver local Zack Heckendorf. Pulling myself away from Sunday’s BeeVee Beach Club party for my Wash Room shift was difficult. It was like the Colorado version of MTV Beach Party.” -Georgia Peach (aka George Peele)
Oh, but the weirdness didn’t stop there. All weekend, people were whispering excitedly about that beatboxing unicorn puppet show. “It sounds stupid,” they’d disclose, “but you’ve got to see it for yourself.” Our eyes were peeled. We were waiting in the wings. What is this beatboxing unicorn puppet show that they speak of? Where (and when??) would we find it? And then it happened. Sunday night, after two sets of Trey Band, some furious womp stuff from Seven Lions and a happy-go-lucky set by Eminence Ensemble on La Hacienda Stage (which was just stunning, with complete attention to detail, comprised of reclaimed wood, old cowboy boots, live plants and kinetic sculptures lazily rotating at the top), some guys wheeled out what appeared to be a giant television set atop of a Radio Flyer wagon. The crowds had mostly dissipated at this point, anxiously heading towards the final silent disco, but a few lucky folks hung around to see what the hell was going on here.
Behold, the Fungineers, a troupe of performers from Los Angeles (you may have recently run into them at Bass Center). To anyone who missed this display of hilarity, of creativity, of engaging raging and of an improvisational comedic dance party—well, I’m sorry for you. While it’s undetermined whether or not the Fungineers are paid provocateurs (this is likely the case) or simply renegade party clowns, they won Vertex. Anyone who witnessed their set, where they sang about dick socks, played the boob-a-phone, poked fun at being conscious, praised shoes and took theme requests from the riled up crowd (ie: safe words and cucumbers), was left in a state of shock when they finally called it quits. Our faces hurt from laughing, our throats sore from heckling and our brains hurt from trying to comprehend what we just witnessed. Jungle Pussy and Paragon the Cyber-Unicorn-Tron tore shit up. Period.
To get a glimmer of an idea of what I’m talking about, watch this:
In other news, Madison House Presents and AEG Live Rocky Mountains did a superb job of compiling an eclectic line up of bands and DJs that really ran the gamut and entertained everyone. From the funky horns of Lettuce and the party beats of Rufus Du Sol to the experimental jazzy crooning of Hiatus Kaiyote and the bass slappin’ of Les Claypool (ever so craftily contrasted by Sean Lennon’s ethereal vocals and searing guitar riffs), this year’s Vertex lineup was carefully balanced and dynamically curated. ODESZA was a crowd pleaser, especially when they brought out the University of Colorado’s drumline to accompany them for an electro-psychedelic explosion of a finale. My personal (albeit predictable) highlight was when Claypool and Lennon covered the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows, which paid a magical and mesmerizing homage to Sean’s pops. Anderson Paak was also a favorite, voted as the most entertaining set by a small—but well respected—survey sample size.
Did I mention that artist Shane Evans and his Robot Resurrection crew erected a massive, fire breathing cyborg as Vertex’s centerpiece (built out of airplane parts, complete with a belt of Colorado license plates), whose smiling face watching over the event, its hands articulating and arms gesturing wildly to the sprawling scenery throughout Cottonwood Meadows? And once the rain subsided, the fluffy clouds made for unrivaled sunsets and the heat lightning punctuated the warm nights with enthusiastic bursts of electricity. Yeah, it was all pret-ty great.
Here’s looking forward to many more Vertex festivals to come. If the inaugural event went so smoothly, it’s hard to imagine how much better it will become over the years. Vertex will likely evolve into a regular and much anticipated Colorado summertime staple, joining the ranks with Arise, Sonic Bloom, Riot Fest and WinterWonderGrass.
Check out 303‘s complete photo gallery from Vertex here.
Photos by Will Sheehan