Written By: Alejandro Beach
Photos By: Life Through Lenses Photography
Laniakea, what can I say about you? Transformational? Absolutely. Inspiring? In so many was. Loving, caring, compassionate? All of the above. Tucked away in the southwestern woods of Ohio just north of Cincinnati, you’ll discover Laniakea Transformational Arts Festival. Laniakea, only its second year, is the first festival I’ve been to with the label “transformational arts”.I won’t lie; there was some hesitation on my end about what exactly transformational meant, for myself as an attendee, for the kind of sensory input that I was about to be facing for the entire weekend, and admittedly the kind of crowd it would draw. What I found, was love. In its purest form throughout the weekend, love, growth and community made Laniakea truly one of the most special festival experiences I have taken part in this summer.
Upon arrival to Hannon’s Camp America on Thursday afternoon, we were greeted at the gates by some familiar faces, a definite first sign of a good weekend. Getting settled in was as easy as expected for a festival of this size. Speaking of size, it was one of the smallest festivals I’ve been too, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Over the weekend, I found myself seeing the same people more frequently than any other festival, and by the end of the weekend, I had at least talked to most of those people or pet their dogs, if not made meaningful connections with them. Within moments of exploring the grounds, we were drawn into the Party Barn. If you have any preconceived notions of what the Party Barn is exactly, just know it was as satisfying to me as I could’ve hoped. Housed within the Party Barn was a small sized stage where mostly DJs and producers performed throughout the day and late into the night. What really got me going however was that the Party Barn was home to the art showcases for the weekend, and I couldn’t have been happier with the artists that were brought to Laniakea. Notably, the work of Logan Walden turned my world upside down. His visions of otherworldly landscapes, gorgeously crafted extra-terrestrial-esque beings, and playful yet thoughtful and skillful takes on the natural world brought me back to my imaginings of what the universe of the Dune series would look like when I read them years ago. I was locked to his showcase for well over an hour throughout the weekend. And the best part; Logan was just one part of the many that made up a group of incredibly talented visual artists. It took every ounce of effort to not throw all of my money down on the table and spend it on prints like a raging art junky. If I could’ve spent every moment getting lost in the worlds created by this gifted group people, I would have, but I had more to see than just the artwork so there were a few times that I would have to pull myself away from the Party Barn, if only for a few hours.
Thursday night had a very pre-party feeling to the festival, and it was easy to tell by the crowd-size that this festival was just getting warmed up. What was, however, in full throttle was the music. From the moment Conscious Pilot took the stage at 6pm, I knew the night would be full of top-notch music, no matter where I was. Later in the night I caught one of my favorite jamtronica acts, Electric Love Machine (ELM), for what was one of my favorite sets of the night. Featuring a deep and intense take on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ (which I had previously seen during their Led Zeppelin tribute earlier this summer at The Mad Tea Party Jam), and one of my favorite originals by the group, ‘Binary Soul’, I was already on cloud 9. Their energy and presence set the tone for an incredible weekend of sonic bliss. Indiana-based jam-prog group, Earphorik followed ELM for what was an incredibly memorable set that had me asking myself “How have I never seen a full set of these guys before and where the hell are they playing next?” The main and side stage music came to a close on Thursday night with a fun set from the ever-lively Exmagg. Around this time was the beginning of my partners’ first performance shift in the Party Barn and though I did enjoy spending some time watching her melt some faces with her LED hoop, it also afforded me the opportunity to run around and meet some strangers. This was around the time I had met Logan Walden (before mentioned artist), and happened across Brandi Wynne of Ozric Tentacles and had a short, yet insightful conversation about playing bass and using certain DAW’s before parting ways.
Friday, we awoke to festival grounds that were quickly filling in, and I couldn’t have been happier to see the new faces. Throughout the day we explored, tried to learn to slackline from a world-class slackliner, got coffee from a friendly woman named Grandma at the structure housing a convenience store/restaurant near the front gate, checked out some more art, and eventually climbed aboard the IncrediBus to meet its charismatic captain, KnoBody. KnoBody’s warmth, wisdom, hospitality (the bus after all, is his home), was unlike anybody I’ve met in years. KnoBody’s bus quickly became one of our favorite spots for the weekend, and if you ever happen across a full sized school bus at a festival with a flashing neon open sign that you’d expect to see in a diner window, hop on. You’ll leave that bus a smiling person.
I was immediately blindsided by the energy level of the opening band on Friday. Zoo Trippin’, though not initially my cup of tea musically, won me over with their outrageous stage presence and goofy antics. At a certain point, the front man stripped down to his purple briefs and shin high tube socks whilst brandishing a handle of Jameson and offering shots to the audience. I could only watch in awe at their audacity. Followed by much tamer, yet equally satisfying sets by Hyryder and Electric Orange Peel (another band that had me wondering how I haven’t been to one of their shows yet), the night progressed smoothly into a spellbinding set by Cincinnati natives, Peridoni. Since first seeing them supporting Papadosio at Earth Night in Columbus last December, I’ve been following this group closely, and after their set at Laniakea, I can say with confidence that they are definitely an up and coming band in the prog-jam scene to keep an eye on. The Jauntee followed Peridoni for what was truly an electrifying set. Laniakea’s artist at large, Freekbass, rallied his group to take Wobblesauce’s slot when they weren’t able to make their set, and I can honestly say that I was one hundred percent content with the outcome. As a bass player who had no idea who the hell Freekbass was, I was instantly glued to his technical prowess, soulful grooves, and unstoppable stage presence. To make the unexpected turn of events even better, my partner Kaitlyn was invited to perform on stage during their set, and my heart truly swelled with the levels of talent coming together on that stage for a few blissful (not to mention FUNKY) moments under the most serendipitous circumstances. Still reeling from the Freekbass set, Kaitlyn and I opted to curl up by the fire a short distance away from the stage to watch Ozrics do what they do best- melt faces. Even from afar, I could feel the electric synergy between bass player, Brandi Wynne, and Silas Neptune reverberating throughout the crowd as they delivered a mind-bending, improvised set.
Saturday was a day of workshops and lessons, divisions and reunions, new connections and reconnections, and hard truths faced within myself. I wouldn’t be able to sit here and write that my head was in the music for the entirety of the night, because it wasn’t. However, Laniakea provided me the best possible atmosphere to face my internal struggles, and you best believe that once I had finished dealing with that, I got DOWN to Mister F. Surrounded by strangers, I boogied like I never have to the pioneers of funky jams, and loved every second of it. The set that followed Mister F would be the last time over the weekend that I was caught by surprise by an act I had never heard of. Hailing from Fort Collins, Colorado, Skydyed is a progressive electronic rock trio with expressive, emotional music, and incredibly crafted builds rooted in sections of soothing ambience and euphoric synthesis. It’s safe to say that I will definitely be keeping an eye out for these guys on festival lineups from now on. Unfortunately, I sat out a good portion of the headlining act, EOTO. I was admittedly exhausted and was back up to the stage as soon as I was able to move again to catch what was some of the best EOTO I’ve seen, crushing it in their usual fashion of strangeness. To add to the experience, Ozrics sat in for a bit, and I can only imagine how many attendees were blasted off into space by the pure sensory overload of EOTO and Ozrics in unison.
The hour was nearing 5am. As I sat alongside a trail in my now filthy lemur onesie (the theme of the night was party animal, after all!), listening to Papadosio through a Bluetooth speaker with the faint red light of the headlamp around my neck illuminating the note pad that I was feverishly scrawling notes onto, it finally sank in how special of an event Laniakea was and is to me, and to our community. In only its second year, the organizers of Laniakea have cultivated an incredible joining of minds and art, music and love, and most of all compassion. From learning about KnoBody’s story, to hearing the stories of strangers that brought me to tears on the bridge to the Ewok Village (true story), to strengthening my personal relationships through trials and tribulations presented over the weekend, Laniakea was truly a transformative experience. To the organizers, I thank you. Your passion for making these events possible is shared, and I hope to only see Laniakea grow as the years go on. To everyone that I connected with last weekend, thank you. Thank you for hearing my stories and sharing yours. To the musicians, artists, performers and everyone else. THANK YOU. We all need each other, now more than ever, and Laniakea is proof that we still have what it takes to thrive in this crazy world.