My Weekend at Arise Music Festival 2014
The 2014 ARISE Music Festival animated the rural landscape of the Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO, showcasing musical performances that included EDM, bluegrass, reggae, rock and even world-inspired harmonies. The lineup transcended the boundaries between genres and created a safe space in which progressive, experimental music could flourish.
Only in its second year, the festival drew crowds from across the state of Colorado and much of the southwest, holding true to the motto “uplifting the world through music” across a variety of events. From empowering people through educational workshops and art installations, to helping them reconnect with their spiritual side through daily yoga and meditation classes, the ARISE festival lineup was alive with creativity and inspiration. In addition to the diversity of these many components, the overarching theme of unity was evident in every musical performer, vendor, volunteer and festival attendee. ARISE stands out from other festivals because it asks people to adopt a universal oneness, using that as a platform for enacting meaningful change in the world.
The first good omen of the weekend occurred when I saw that the forecast of rain and thunderstorms had suddenly changed to clear skies and sunny while on the drive from Denver to Loveland. My three travel companions and I were surrounded by an array of festival objects which included coolers, camping chairs, tent poles, and a bottle of haphazardly placed cinnamon whiskey. Everything evoked a sense of urgency—even the brown rain tarps we had borrowed from the farm held a dampness from a recent rain. I looked out the window at the bucolic hills rolling by and tried to imagine what was going to happen and how it would make me feel, something I always do when embarking on such an adventure.
Finally, a sign appeared directing us to the entrance of Sunrise Ranch. After waiting in line amongst our fellow festival attendees, we made it to our place in the car camping lot and began to set up our tent. To one side was a vast field dotted with the rainbow colors of hundreds of cars and tents, all neatly packed in rows. To the other side was a lake in the distance, pristinely reflecting the pastel blue hue of the descending sky and contrasting against the deep red rock cliffs that hung above it.
Everyone around us had euphoria running through their veins. Soon after getting settled at camp, we met our neighbors: a genuine, adventurous group of young men from Austin, TX, who became our comrades over the next three days. Night was beginning to fall and I could hear the different genres of music reverberating over the fields, beckoning us to join in on the action. I walked towards the festival then, entering through the wooden arch that was marked with a hand-carved ARISE logo at its top.
The electronic beats of Azon Classic emanated from the Souls Rising stage to my right, guiding me through the row of vendors. I breathed in the salty smoke of food trucks and taco stands, ran my fingers along the handmade jewelry of artisan collectives, and smiled at the sight of naked, dancing babies and carefree people sporting neon light-up tails.
I made my way to the front of the Eagle stage as Tribal Seeds began to play. The sounds came in waves of both music and motion, and the main singer rocked back and forth to the soulful, jazzy reggae, his long dreadlocks just barely brushing the brim of his heels with every sway. I touched the cold, gray metal of the stage then, enthralled with everything that the universe had to offer me at that moment. Soon after, as if he had read my mind, the lead singer of Groundation said to the crowd ”You could be anywhere else on the planet right now, and you’re here at ARISE.” that seemed to set the tone for what everyone was thinking and feeling, and the energy of the crowd began rising with every note. A man to the left of me gestured to the notebook I held in my hand, told me to switch it to the other one, and pointed to his chest. After he took my hand and put it over his heart, he smiled and whispered, “feel it.” I did, but not before wondering to myself, who was I this morning?
Groundation continued on into the night; the trombone and trumpet of the brass ensemble keeping the tone of the evening in balance. He called us beautiful magical people, and as I looked out onto the crowd of dancing people, each of them free from the burden of the days behind them, I thought how much I agreed with him. At 11pm, Beats Antique captivated the stage with an elaborate show filled with full-length animal costumes, belly dancing, and even a giant fish head with black lips. The circus of musicians all bobbed their heads to the bursts of oriental undertones and bright prisms of beat. They ended their set with a fittingly animalistic howl at the moon. Soon afterwards, The Polish Ambassador kept the crowd energetic and most people kept on dancing, both unaware and unconcerned that the early hours of the morning had dawned.
A light rain fell on Saturday afternoon, but I welcomed its presence and the way it washed away the relentless heat of the morning sun. As I neared the Eagle Stage a few hours later, a blue-suited couple on stilts danced to The Wandering Monks, their arms twisting around one another high above me in the sky. I too, joined in on the dance, inspired by the socially-conscious lyrics of the progressive hip-hop act.
A woman standing beside me in the ticket line on Friday had told me to be sure to see Everyone Orchestra and all of the ways they were breaking barriers between musical collaboration. Later, I was incredibly thankful for her suggestion. The orchestra includes acoustic and traditional string instruments, brass and woodwind ensembles, and funky percussion instruments all around. Everyone Orchestra is improvisational—no two sets are ever played the same—and the audience is invited to participate in the action through clapping and cheers. In true ARISE festival fashion, the ensemble focused on playing with the people, not at them.
So while the intermission between Everyone Orchestra and the Infamous Stringdusters held me in a transient state, I wandered towards the Starwater stage within the Star Bar, catching a few songs by The Recovery Act. As I drank in their funky sounds, I found solace in the warm, tapestry-draped den of the Star Bar, still sharp with the warm scent of caffeine and chai tea.
Eager to fully indulge in the smooth harmonies and string plucks of The Infamous Stringdusters, I decided to step back from the crowd and enjoy the music in a place where I could take in a broader perspective. I lay down in the grass just where the hill began to rise, reveling in the eagle-eye view of the stage I had been granted. The catchy yet original bluegrass had familiar undertones and brought me back to my hometown in the countryside—I felt as though I could have listened to them all through the night.
After their set had ended, I walked up along the hump of the hill towards the art tent. People were moving through a circular hallway that ran along the inner edge of the tent, admiring the vibrant colors and patterns of the artwork. Mystical paintings, wooden sculptures and mountainous landscapes all found a place inside the gallery. The tent was anchored in the middle by a circular room filled with oriental rugs and satin pillows–it was a makeshift tea den that welcomed all to have a seat and warm their insides before laying to rest beneath the cool mountain twilight.
The final day of the festival marked a performance by Tierro Lee of Tierro, one of the original masterminds behind the ARISE festival itself. Earth-Punk guitarist Daniel Katsük of Katsük joined him on stage, adding to the electro-tribal vibrations for a performance that sustained the interest of the crowd throughout the set. I realized it was critical to take advantage of one of the many free educational workshops being offered, so I chose to attend a lesson on natural first aid, taught by a nutritionst and herbalist named Brigitte Mars. Standing in the middle of a circular dome draped in purple, turquoise and magenta, Brigitte shared her brilliance with those seeking natural relief from everyday ailments like back pain and low blood pressure.
After the workshop I stopped to listen to The Magic Beans, who captivated the crowd and kept them dancing in the daylight. I was lucky enough to witness the performance by Peter Yarrow, iconic folk-singer and lifelong social justice activist. He took the stage with his daughter Bethany Yarrow to deliver an important message of environmental protection. The duo was joined on stage by Josh Fox, anti-hydrofracking activist and creater of the documentary Gasland. Fox dubbed Colorado an “oil-igarchy,” calling upon the residents of the state to take action by signing petitions and attending hearings on the issue. To commemorate the message, the father-daughter team sung “Let It Shine.”
Although the sun had descended behind the dark silhouettes of the Rockies, hearing it played in that setting reminded me how I always feel in the midst of great mountains, with nature putting my life and all the things that matter into perspective. The cool, dry breeze enveloped me then, and although I felt a shiver, I remembered how good it felt to be listening to music outside. I didn’t miss the congestion of Denver and the way it holds within it the heat of the day, even late into the night. I looked out over the vendor tents in the valley below, each one a warm, glowing hearth of safety and honesty.
I discovered my place then: to be part of the ARISE festival culture, but also to sit outside of it and contemplate what attending music festivals has come to mean for the young people of today. The strength of the ARISE festival in encouraging unity and peace across all genres of music and art is unparalleled, and I am certain that the movement will continue to inspire people from all walks of life to reconsider what they can give back to the world.