Random. No matter how many ways come up to describe my first trek to the 10,000 Lakes Festival that word keeps jutting out of the thought. But the definition doesnt quite work:
adj: lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern
Whats missing is the result. The degree of random comedy found in the State or Mr. Show can liquefy organs. Random music can bring that rush of energy from the spine down to the feet, felt among an entire field of people. Enjoying nothing obvious. There might not be a plan, but theres a result.
It was a tough choice between enjoy the camping or the music. The festival grounds contained the grand productions of a Bonnaroo, yet entwined with comfortable areas and campgrounds like Summercamp. The festival has grown without losing that fragile intimacy achieved when most festivals are in the first couple years of events. I cant speak for the first few, but walking from the warmth of the Lake Sallie campground, through a tunnel under the street, and out into the festival areas to look upon tens of thousands spinning bodies and hula hoops alike, tossing glowsticks in the air and shouting loud during a solid set from String Cheese Incident felt like a return. The big festivals grew to where the home feeling is swallowed, but somehow this one kept its old form under a new dress.
The main and field stage had much to appreciate. Family Groove Company brought their tightness and cohesive sensitivity towards a whole sound, all with erupting energy within the tight sensitivity to the whole sound. Its like those insane motorcycle jumpers at the X Games. Chaos, but behind that idea is someone conscious of just how frenzied it all becomes. U-Melt is another group to that struck a unity between tightness and intensity. Railroad Earth somehow mastered an implausible blending of forces by rocking out at a medium volume, while letting their tone ring. AC/DC was never big on tone.
The Keller Williams Incident is a mash of missing links. As one fest goer put it, Keller needs a band, and String Cheese needswell_something_! The pairing brings out the very best of the two. It allows Keller to relax more and enjoy the space in sound without searching for a sound to fill it. String Cheese gains the frontman role that Nershi and Kang try hard to play, but not really at the level done by Keller.
Some bands went hard with theatrics. The Mutaytor made all the insecure males quiver with a hula hooper named Kris who performed a strip tease while hoping. It took a little while to realize he is a man. Their dense drumming and fire dancing got the crowd gyrating. The Everyone Orchestra’s approach to theatrical music is to play big. Steve Kimock, Michael Travis, Michael Kang, as well as players from Tea Leaf Green and Railroad Earth came out to share in this simple yet challenging exercise that is playing in the Orchestra. Matt Butler is one of few musicians known in the scene to take the form of guided improvisation to a height. Using placards with symbols on it and simply shouting things out, the Orchestra’s dynamics rose and fell with powerful ease.
While it was interesting to enjoy the filled sound of G.R.A.B., it wasnt as a high up a highlight as I wouldve thought looking at the schedule. Gordons and the Duos take on Foam and Becky had this dark swing feel to it. If youre going over ground already trod, why not take it in a new direction, especially when some of the people collaborating have their own material to add. It just seemed like that quartet has more than upbeat rock n roll to bring out.
No matter the handful of campouts, roadtrips or simply going to a solitary show on a run, I missed Phish. Saw enough amazing shows to see their true power, and felt massive love from the folks I met either at shows or were reunited with people from earlier in life, but I never was immersed. Time passed and it was first hiatus. But as a hoard of umphreaks stood at the foot of the field stage waiting for the nighttime set that would start just after Phil and Friends wrapped up on the mainstage, it felt like a reckoning was afoot. Fuck the arguments on whether Umphreys will inherit the Phish crown. The scene is too different today for any one band involved to get to such a plateau. More importantly is this amazing group of people, who enjoy this music and each other to such a gargantuan extent, were content to wait for the band and revel in the company while Phil and Friends played a sheer heart attack of a set. One could smell the energy of the Dead tunes spreading all around those festival grounds. And yet, when Jake Cinninger hit a hard chord during his soundcheck, many heads turned sharply around.
The size of scene doesnt matter. Rather maintaining the original idea of quality by taking care of each other and enjoying the fans as people as much as the music is the true blood of these festivals today. That, and a big guy with antlers taped to his head wearing nothing but green glitter and strategic saran wrap over his junk. His friend called him the Lorax.
A major quality of this festival was the convenience of water, bathrooms and showers scattered solidly throughout the ground. Sometimes it was almost too comfortable to sit by the lake and enjoy a sunset. Or the all night drum circle around the bonfire every night of the fest at Lake Sallie. Or to enjoy shenanigans with friends. Or to see Medeski Martin and Woods evil late night set. Ah, thats right. Few groups put a sledgehammer strike of a closer on a fest quite like those three. With Trey joining in, they once again brought a harsh reality back to the revelry of the fest through found sounds and free improv.
10KLF shed a bright light on the importance of the well-rounded fests. Such an event is one that has grown in size and draw, but not without losing the comfort and appreciative touch of their original undertakings. In a lot of live music situations, it seems the runners dont care that people have traveled far and paid high to be able to enjoy it. 10,000 Lakes remembers that the fans are in charge.