Our Favorite Sets From Meow Wolf’s Vortex Festival

Jean Dawson shot by Lily Fox

Meow Wolf’s Vortex Festival happened in Denver for the second time this weekend and transported the city into a land of music and color, smiling faces and a whole lot of love in the air. While marred somewhat by weather — Sunday night actually had to be cut short due to rain and lightning before the headliners Tokimonsta and Justin Martin could play — there was a warmth permeating the air throughout the weekend as people danced and sung, the music more important than the falling rain. With over 35 acts playing, the music felt almost like a physical thing, like air itself, everywhere, keeping us all going. Read on for some of 303 Magazine’s favorite sets from Meow Wolf’s Vortex Festival.

Read: Our Favorite Looks From Meow Wolf’s Vortex Festival

Jean Dawson

Jean Dawson

The rain began to fall as Jean Dawson hit the Ara stage running, unfazed by the weather in an oversized hoodie and a bandage wrapped around his head. In fact, the rain combined with the smoke machines and lights to create an electric mood that fit his unique brand of hip-hop and punk-tinged pop music. The performance overflowed with energy as Dawson made full use of the stage, running jumping, tossing his arms around his band. The fans came alive, following Dawson’s every movement and responding in kind by singing along, jumping and throwing their hands up into the pouring rain. The set was quite unlike anything else that occurred over the weekend and truly left an impression on the mesmerized crowd.

Remi Wolf

Remi Wolf

Friday night headliner Remi Wolf brought a measure of warmth to the cold and wet night. The California-born singer-songwriter sprinted on stage when it was her time, hugging her band, waving at the crowd and throwing a little ass. The set felt so beautifully alive, awash with color and energy, the crowd feeding off it and beginning to love one another. It featured fan favorites such as “Liquor Store,” “Monte Carlo,” and “Sexy Villian.” It was so playful, almost goofy, but heartfelt.  At one point, around the middle of the set, Wolf traded places with drummer Conor Malloy Wolf. She played with gusto while Malloy recited positive affirmations he had written on his notes app earlier that day. Fans shouted them right back to the drummer for a moment of reprieve, enlightenment and freedom – a common theme at the Vortex Festival.

Another time saw Wolf rolling on the ground while her guitarist soloed while standing above her. It had a joyous and sweet feeling to it, a sense of comradery, almost like siblings.

The set did encounter a few technical difficulties with an amp blowing out. But Remi Wolf handled it like a pro by cracking jokes, sharing anecdotes and overall radiating a light from her that eased any worries found in that crowd. The group played popular songs “Disco Man” and “Photo ID” to end the night and set a fine precedent for the rest of the festival.

Claude VonStroke

Claude VonStroke

Closing out the Atria Stage Friday night, veteran DJ Claude VonStroke brought a blend of house music that the crowd could not resist. From the dramatic opening, fans slowly became loose, feeling the music and releasing inhibitions. VonStroke —who also founded and owns Dirtybird Records — celebrated all things house music, incorporating elements of deep, tech, and minimal house for fans to groove to as Vortex wound down for the night.

At a festival all about freedom and releasing negative energy, the crowd felt in unison with the music. As the set progressed, fans came closer and closer, entranced by the music playing from the turn tables. With the Denver sky above, music and good energy flowing in the crowd – it felt like anything was possible that night.

Brownies and Lemonade All-Stars

Brownies and Lemonade is a Los Angeles-based musical collective focusing mostly on dance and hip-hop music. They have a large roster of artists that work with them and brought a few to the Atria stage on Saturday afternoon. The 4 p.m. set was the first of the day for many festival-goers and the crowd slowly filled in as it went on. It was a truly fun one — unique, surprising, funny. It had a lot of people smiling in the sunlight, their first drinks of the day dripping down their hands.

At one point, the set changed gears entirely from rolling house to the early chords of AC/DC’s “TNT.”  This led to a bit of a medley that also featured “Thunderstruck.” The songs started straight — as everyone in the crowd had heard them a thousand times before — but they soon devolved, melted into something else, twisting into an EDM/classic rock hybrid. It was the perfect way to ease into a long day of music.

Armani White

Armani White

Hip-hop artist Armani White had the best entrance of any artist at the festival. His DJ hit the stage well before White did to start building hype. This was done by playing classic songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The crowd sang along at the top of their lungs, a little confused but all in nonetheless. But the classic rock abruptly gave way to the beat from White’s viral hit “Billie Eilish.” White then ran out screaming the now iconic chorus as smoke blasted into the air. He jumped and landed hard with both feet as his DJ played an explosion as White landed, standing tall, looking over the screaming crowd and basking. He then told the crowd he’d be saving that one for later and the set was quickly underway. It moved through his substantial but still limited discography. The honestly felt like hanging out with friends. It was laid back. White and those that joined him on stage including the hype man and DJ shot the shit between sets, asking each other how it’s going and cracking jokes. Classic rock even returned as they got down to a medley of some of the biggest hits of all time. Eventually, though, the set ended with the full version of “Billie Eilish” and the crowd lost its mind.




Producer and DJ Zingara took Vortex to another galaxy with a set filled beats of the spacey, bassy and psychedelic varieties. She opened the set and immediately took into another dimension beyond our imagination – a place of true freedom. Fans glided through the setlist in a therapeutic way that took them through their own spiritual journey. While the set was led heavily by spacey bass, there were sprinkles of pop moments including a soothing remix of the Lana Del Rey cover “Doin’ Time.” They took the time to really sink into the music being thrown down by Zingara by surrendering to the new galaxy. Vortex goers danced and bobbed around for each drop leading to an out-of-this-world experience.

GRiZ — Saturday Night Banger Set


The GRiZ love was overwhelming throughout the three days of Vortex. Almost half the people there were rocking some form of his gear — shirts, hats, whatever. Saturday was to be his second to last set in Colorado before going on hiatus to rest, address mental health and work on new music. A bittersweet, uncertain feeling cut with a healthy dose of anticipation hung in the air as the crowd readied themselves for the set. The applause was deafening when he hit the stage accompanied by a trumpet player and trombone player, the crowd rabid and ready.

The set was an onslaught of heavy bass accentuated by powerful horn sections and a whole lot of wubs and the crowd ate it up. Die-hard fans wrapped their arms around new converts to headbang together, bonding in almost a primal way, a purity about it. It was the perfect end to Saturday at Vortex Festival and set the stage for Sunday.

GRiZ — Chasing the Golden Era Set


GRiZ’s final set in Colorado before the break captured a piece of magic. The day had been a little harder than the others, the rain coming down a little more drastically, the temperature a little lower as a result. For many of those rabid GRiZ fans, the day was somber for other reasons. GRiZ’s final Colorado set before the hiatus had arrived. This somber feeling however was elevated with a hint of hope, anticipation, the excitement that comes when an artist explores the music that got you into them in the first place. For many, GRiZ’s infamous Chasing the Golden Hour Vol. 1-4 albums were their introduction to the artist and that night, he’d promised to play through them.

Though originally from Michigan, GRiZ has become something of a hometown hero here in Denver. He’s almost like some mythical being with fans reporting sightings all over town with disbelief. He’s played countless free popup shows, done so much for the LGBTQ+ and has generally been a beautiful human being that makes music that captures a part of the soul, enthralls the mind and gets you fucking moving.

The set lived up to all this. It truly was something to behold. He moved through all of his eras as an artist smoothly and with a cool enthusiasm that served to comfort rather than worry those saddened by his impending break. At many times — especially when he’d tell the crowd how much they meant to him and that he’d be back — tears began flowing, the emotion overwhelming many in attendance (including a 303 Magazine writer who shall remain nameless). It was a beautiful moment in a long career led by an artist who’s saying “See you later” and not “Goodbye.” We’ll miss you, GRiZ. See you soon.

Photography Courtesy of the Artists, Vortex Music Festival and Lily Fox


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