Arise Music & Arts Festival 8.14 – 8.18.2013

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Word of a new musical endeavor swept up and down the Front Range this summer. At first glance many people assumed that Arise Music & Arts Festival was a yoga conference on performance enhancing drugs. They were incorrect. In one word Arise was ambitious. This aspiring event saw some of the best and brightest music producers collaborating to create a festival on the size and scope of Bonnaroo here in Colorado. Located at the Sunrise Ranch outside of the heart of Loveland, it would have been difficult to find a more picturesque and pristine place to throw a festival this side of the Continental Divide. The Sunrise Ranch is also the national headquarters for the Emissaries of The Divine Light who teach Attunement, which is the belief that “positive shifts in consciousness release healing energy.” Some have called them cultish however my experience over the weekend with members of that community did little to dredge up thoughts of Jonestown or Charles Manson. In fact what the attendees found was a holistic approach to a music festival. Workshops, activism opportunities, and panel discussions were dotted throughout the schedule, which seeded to go from sunup to sunup for all five days of Arise.

Now there were definitely a few logistical hiccups along the way, but all in all I would say Arise was spot on with scope, budget, and personnel. The biggest and most obvious issue was the fact that Arise occurred on the same weekend as Bohemian Nights: New West Fest. This yearly tradition pulls in about 30,000 people a day for three days, is free, and was headlined by Ben Harper this year. The fact is that historically New West Fest has been the second weekend in August, but this year it fell on the third weekend.  So by accident really Arise took a big hit to possible attendees from the start. Secondly the festival began on Wednesday and ended Sunday afternoon. This made it hard for people to get there early and stunted the first couple days of Arise. Finally the beer situation was confusing. The Beer Garden offered mixed drinks and Odell’s, which is fine, but you were not allowed to leave the beer jail with your drink.

All that being said everything else was well executed and done with great care. Solid food and vendors lined the edge of the massive main stage area. The valley floor was a huge swath of beauty dotted with incredible art installations and great music. The lineup was absolutely appropriate. One end of the festival grounds featured tall rock walls and the opposite side features a massive reservoir. It was just an incredible place to camp, convene with friends, and see live music.

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On my lunch break on Thursday I headed up the canyon to Arise and set up my tent. I met with the press coordinator and got my credentials for the weekend. My wife and I wouldn’t make it back until Keller and The Keels emerged from backstage around 6:30 PM. Keller and The Keels is another demonstration of the fractional mind of Mr. Williams. He is concurrently playing with his funk band More Than A Little, continuing to play with the Travelin’ McCourys, and also playing solo looped performances. That is just in the last year. The Keels are immensely talented in their own right and add a full bluegrass sound to Keller’s picking style. They played classic versions of the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” and K-Dub’s opus “Breathe.” Keller stepped up to the microphone and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen please welcome acoustic reggae music,” before he went into Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks.” By this point music had been going all day and people were getting acclimated to the flow of the festival. Unfortunately Genetics was on at the same time as Keller so I raced over to catch a short snippet of their set.

These guys continue to add depth and range to their musical repertoire. They recently had a lowly attended show at Hodi’s. Rather than playing angry or rushing through the show they took the opportunity to host an epic instrument-swapping jam that was truly impressive. They were messing around at Arise playing heavy rock riffs for the small assemblage of people. They were by far living the closest to the fest, residing just ten minutes from the grounds. They are a band with enormous potential and true thirst to learn and play together. Genetics is most definitely worth checking out live.

The Motet played a very different set than what I witnessed in Telluride a couple weeks prior. Once again this band is showing that they are one of the most versatile groups touring today.  They shredded through almost two hours of electro-pop funkiness that turned into an all out dance party. Songs like “Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed” and David Bowie’s “Fame” were obvious highlights from this crowd-pleasing set. Dave Watts continues to be one of the tightest and most dynamic drummers in Colorado. They were a great choice to play on the big stage at Arise.

We wandered around in the darkness as the various art installations took different shape under spotlights. DJs and EDM Producers played in the Syntonic Stage area until the wee-est hours of the morning. Kan’Nal also took center stage before the night was over. There was a distinct flavor to the lineup and performances. Everyone seemed to have their space with the more popular groups playing the two larger stages. We headed back to the tent to get ready for Friday.

Under the ill advice of a disc tossing wookie, my friend and I drove up to Buckhorn for an early morning round of disc golf. He said it was about 15 minutes up the road, which turned out to be just under an hour. Afterwards I jumped right back into it with Shimshai who is a crunchy acoustic singer-songwriter. He had reggae flair and powerful riff-heavy guitar work.

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Earth Guardians were one of the most impressive bands that I had not heard of prior to Arise. This group of young leaders spreads positivity and change through hip-hop. Lead by brothers Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez and Itzcuauhtli Roske-Martinez they sing songs like “The Hope Is In Our Hands” and “Live as if our Future Matters.”  It’s obvious that the Earth Guardians are working at a more conscious level than most other 9 and 13 year olds. They have a bouncy, approachable style that is full of optimism and encouragement.

Fort Collins favorite Better Than Bacon was up on the Solar Overdrive Stage next. They have paired down to a straight forward power trio

“Welcome to the dust bowl.” –James Yearling

Dust only really became an issue under the thousands of feet of Franti fans as he urged them to jump and or move, but we’ll get to that. Bacon only got 45 minutes, which seemed to be pretty typical for the smaller stage. They opened with their take on a boogie jam with “Texas Tune.” The band sounds trimmer and more concise with just three members. Their set was enjoyable, but I was left wanting more. They also played originals “Pounding Nails” and “Loosing You.”

On the Center Stage was Nahko & Medicine For The People. This was definitely the breakout surprise of Friday. Their acoustic bombardment is chocked full and energy and a real passion for life. Reminiscent of Rusted Root from an earlier time, Nahko leads a robustly talented group of musicians who seem very much in tune with each other onstage. With only an hour to perform they truly succeeded in leaving an impression on me. Great energy, great set.

I headed over to the press conference, which took on a very eclectic feel. Chali 2Na along Nahko & Medicine For The People would later be joined by Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez for some questions from the press. They discussed their music and eventually moved on to activism in a festival setting. Nahko talked about the variety at Arise and about his own group.

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“We don’t fit into a genre, (Arise is) all types of genres and all types of vibes.”  – Nahko

When the young Martinez arrived he turned heads with his eloquence and wisdom. It was an enlightening event, but I left before the end to catch Greensky Bluegrass. This band has been on fire all summer long. They tour relentlessly and continue to play to larger and larger audiences. Bluegrass was scattered on the lineup so it was nice to see a band of this caliber on the Center Stage. Their set at Arise was yet another top-notch experience from a band that is becoming known for constantly delivering. Their progressive style of bluegrass has elevated them beyond the label of a simple touring string band. Greensky Bluegrass is a powerhouse in the world of bluegrass and their set at Arise was an example of just that.

Xavier Rudd took on the headlining slot for Friday night.

“I need to watch what I say… instead of say what I watch.” – Xavier Rudd

He is yet another musician who focuses on positivity and delivering a visceral live experience. Relying on percussive instrumentation primarily, Rudd can simultaneously blow on a didgeridoo and knock out a beat on the kit. He began his set solo, but was soon joined by another drummer. This gave him leeway to bust out a guitar and demonstrate his amazing skills as a multi-instrumentalist. He is Australia’s native son and he is a true ambassador of their indigenous music. His version of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” was impeccable. This was a real highlight of my weekend at Arise.

The night was rounded out with hippie hop favorite Chali 2Na. Perhaps it’s going back to his days with Jurassic 5, but 2Na is a member of an elite group of rappers that seems to have a real connection with jam and festival crowds. Artists like Big Boi and 2Na are well known in this realm and for good reason. Chali’s set at Arise was bouncy and a great way end my Friday. Music bumped on literally all night long with sets from The Magic Beans and Michael Menert.

Saturday saw a few more fresh faces that had made it for the final full day of the Arise Music & Arts Festival. I awoke in desperate need of a shower so I made my way over to them in general camping. I have to say this may have been the best festival shower experience I’ve ever had. As you enter, you are greeted by a Zen garden of cleanliness. Operatives offer to wash your feet as you wait for a stall to open. I declined, but it was a nice gesture. They cleaned each shower before use and were very attentive to their customers. It was a brilliant way to start my last day at Arise.

I spent an hour or so joining in an aerial photography that reenacted the logo for the festival with human bodies. It was punctuated by a massive group hug before everyone floated on. I was disheartened to hear that Grant Farm had actually performed on Friday having switched set times with another band. I opted for some activism instead and went to the Sunrise Dome for a panel discussion with Daryl Hannah and Julia Butterfly Hill moderated by Rock The Earth’s Mark Ross. Hill discussed her harrowing experience living in the ancient redwood affectionately known as Luna for 738 days. Hannah talked about her work to stop the Keystone Pipeline for which she has been arrested twice. Mark asked intelligent and wide-ranging questions that covered both of their careers and work as activists. He also fielded a number of questions from the audience. The 90-minute talk flew by and it was time for She Said String Band.

They are another local group with a very genuine approach to the bluegrass tradition. They had an almost wholesome sound that was truly inviting. TIERRO was back on the Center Stage with their fiery tribal beats. They were fun but musically Zap Mama was on another level. They are a self-proclaimed blend vocally of “Polyphonic” and “Afropop.” To me it was amazing harmonies backed by a sometimes-jazzy sometimes hip-hop flair. Zap Mama originates from Belgium and they have received international recognition for their tremendous sound.

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Finally it was time for the main event in the form of Michael Franti and Spearhead. Having just played a show at Red Rocks Franti is well loved and well attended here in Colorado. The fact that he was the festival headliner made perfect sense. Again his brand of positive, inviting performances is exactly what Arise seems to be all about. His use of funk, world, hip-hop and reggae stylistically in his music also demonstrates the eclecticism of the festival itself. How could Franti not headline the first Arise? His set was a series of fan favorites with a few newer tracks tossed in for good measure. Franti invited young Jayden Carlson up to the stage. At the tender age of six watching Spearhead, Carlson decided that she wanted to, “make people happy like that.” She had performed earlier in the day with her band and let me just say that kid can shred.

“It’s cool to be at Arise on the day it was invented.” –Michael Franti

Spearhead continues to be a high impact group capable of backing the full on musical assault of Franti. He regularly jumped off the stage and mingled directly with the crowd still singing into his wireless microphone. The enthusiastic crowd caused a serious storm of dust as they jumped and danced. Crowd pleasers like “The Sound of Sunshine” and “Life Is Better With You” energized the audience. The bassist took a turn at the microphone with a baritone rendition of Sly  & The Family Stone’s “Family Affair.” They also ripped through a smoking version of “Say Hey (I Love You)” and teased the crowd with Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” All in all it was one of the best shows I’ve seen from Franti and company.

We wrapped up our Arise experience with east coast favorite Twiddle. This band has a Phishy demeanor and rarely makes it out this far west. They are a powerfully talented group that played well into the night. They too invited young Jayden Carlson up to the stage to jam.

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Twiddle blasted through originals like “Doinkinbonk!” and “Box.” However the highlight of their set was a huge jam that included “Gatsby The Great” into “Big Country” into “Divided Sky” back into “Big Country” and back into “Gatsby.” This run featured some of the cleanest jamming I witnessed all weekend. These guys need to get out west more often.

The great thing about Arise Music & Arts Festival is that it is literally the “Choose Your Own Adventure” of music festivals. The experiences had by any given attendee have the potential to be incredibly different and varied. For the activist there was plenty of film screenings and discussions. For the burner that was plenty of electronic music and wholesome community interaction. For the music fan that was literally live music happening at any given time over the course of the 96 hours of Arise. There was obviously a nascent community beginning to form at Arise and I for one am interested to see how it grows. Not only is this something we are truly lacking in Colorado, but more importantly the organizers seem to have a solid road map by which to develop this festival. Time will tell if their ambition will match the overall outcome. I hope it does.