Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wanderlust Music Festival

A brand new festival that just finished it's first year on Sunday, the Wanderlust Music Festival took place in Squaw Valley in Tahoe over the course of three days, Friday to Sunday. I had the pleasure of attending Sunday, during which I saw The Honey Brothers, Amanda Palmer, Mates of State, Broken Social Scene, Andrew Bird, and Spoon.

The festival is a brand new idea arranged by three friends who wanted to create a new kind of festival. Indeed Wanderlust is very unique in many ways. Perhaps the main way that it differs from other festivals is the fact that it aims to combine music, yoga, nature, and enviromentalism; during the entire festival, there is music and yoga at the same time. You can go to the music stage and dance or head to the yoga stage and do some Sun Salutations. In addition to this harmonic mixture of activities, the festival takes place at the very top of a gorgeous mountain in California's Tahoe State Park. In fact you have to take a gondola to get up to where the music is, just as if you were skiing. The stage is positioned on a ski slope (the ski lifts in the summer make for an interesting atmosphere), and because of this, the back drop for all the artists playing is a gorgeous and vast veranda of mountainous valleys.

As Amanda Palmer said when she walked onstage: "What the fuck. We're on a mountain."

Probably the only festival to be located at 7000 feet, Wanderlust did an amazing job in it's first year. While the crowds were reasonably small, it was a strong turn out, and those who did come were dedicated to the cause Wanderlust presents. The bands seemed skeptical at first, but by the middle of their sets, all of them gave into the fabulous atmosphere of the crowd.

And really this crowd was fantastic. Ranging from teenagers, to college students, to old hippies, new hippies, young moms, and yuppie yoga fans, the crowd was receptive of each and every music act that came onstage, even if they didn't recognize them at all. I of course knew them all and had come for the sole purpose of hearing some fantastic music; but whether they were there for yoga or music or just the insanely beautiful scenery, all the people danced and cheered and yelled for the band onstage.

And I have to say, this was the most solid festival I have ever been to. The bands all palyed great sets. Amanda Palmer was witty and wry and even did an emotional cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", rendering it ballad style. Mates of State played a dancey and catchy set that got everyone into a good mood despite the 85 degree weather and high altitude. The entire crowd was jumping up and down for all their tunes, including "Get Better" and "Now", off of their new record.

Broken Social Scene might have been the best of the day. I heard from a source that they had been the most skeptical of playing the festival, and who can blame them? It sounds like a nutty idea. But once they were onstage, hitting songs like "Fire Eye'd Boy" and "KC Accidental", they were all into it (all eight of them that were present). They smiled when people cheered and really got into it. They even came back for an encore, exclaiming "I'm loving the vibe here."

Andrew Bird, solo onstage with nothing but a guitar, keyboard, loop pad, and violin, played a gorgeous set, despite the fact that most of his equipment had not arrived and he was borrowing from other bands that played the festival. He covered a few songs, played some of his old favorites, and generally had such a strong presence on stage that the crowd stayed silent and transfixed for the whole hour until between songs when they would scream as loudly as they could for the solo troubadour. Near the middle, Bird looked happily into the crowd of people on top of the mountain and said "This may be one of the best festivals I have ever played."

Lastly, Spoon brought the house down with a set of all their biggest hits and a Paul Simon cover thrown in. The entire crowd was moving the whole time they were playing: I was shocked at how responsive and into it the crowd was. No one was shy to show off their moves or throw their hands in the air with joy. Britt Daniel was really on top of his game as he syncopated some of the lyrics, jumped around, and joked with other band members. All seemed in the highest spirits possible. When they clapped, the whole crowd clapped. When the jumped, everyone jumped. I have never seen a better crowd in my life at a festival. Spoon played two encore songs, thanking everyone profusively and cracking a couple subtle jokes about the yoga part of the festival: "A lot of healthy people out there today!" Britt exclaimed with a great smile. "I'm thinking of changing my lifestyle."

Overall, Wanderlust was a great success. The presenters came out to talk to the crowd just before Spoon and promised to continue doing it if people were supportive. "This festival has no fences around it!" Jeff Krasno, the main presenter, exclaimed. "You can listen to music, do yoga, go hiking, go swimming..." Indeed, looking around from the stage, the landscape continued for miles and miles without any fence. The possibilities felt endless. What an amazing sensation, to be witnessing some of my favorite music in this atmosphere and scenery. Next year, I am totally swimming in the giant pond by the main stage, gazing at the sloping Tahoe mountains, while some up and coming indie band plays in the background.

Where else can you do that?

Other bands that appeared that I did not get the chance to see: Common, Kaki King, Rogue Wave, Girl Talk, Jenny Lewis, Gillian Welch, William Fitzsimmons, Rachel Godrich, Wendy Darling, Big Light, and a plethora of DJs for night sets.

Note: Michael Franti was set to headaline Saturday night, but his appendix exploded (jeez!) the day before and Common replaced him last minute.


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