Written by Samuel Stratton
Photo credit to Jacob Avanzato
For a long time now, humans have been celebrating the summer solstice by means of festivals, coming together on the longest day of the year to honor the incoming summer season. To commemorate a time of year where life flourishes unwaveringly and growth comes in abundance, and the surrounding world is more awake than during any other cycle of the year. While some may say that our ways of celebrating have changed substantially since the days of communal feasts and tribal headdresses, some modern solstice celebrations still manage to capture the authentic feeling of collective participation, acknowledging transitions of growth in ourselves and the world we live in through music, art, and community. Sonic Bloom, hosted at Hummingbird Ranch in Spanish Peaks Country, Colorado, stepped up to the occasion and cultivated a special experience that can be hard for modern festivals to sustain.
Going into Sonic Bloom, all I knew about it was that it is where the phenomenon of wook hunting began. I tried to imagine all the shenanigans that happen at an average festival simply done in most part by Colorado residents, but what I instead found was a festival filled with compassion and mindfulness that really strived to place itself within a description of its own. Those of us on the east coast that have been to festivals such as The Mad Tea Party Jam know sometimes that a festival can be located deeply away from civilization, down a dirt road in what we often refer to as “the sticks”. With Unified Field, it could be said that we’re dealing with the same concept but different landscape. Driving through the plains of Colorado, the entrance of the venue could only be reached by means of a desolate highway exit that didn’t seem to lead anywhere other than in the direction of the mountains of the continental divide, a few miles away in the distance. A dust road, not a dirt one, welcomed you into the base foothills of the overlooking Rockies. Nuzzled up into and against these hills, campsites overlooked the plains, the vantage point giving the eyes dozens of miles to peer out to. When the conversation of leaving site for supplies came up, a fellow patron shook his head saying “We’re not in Kansas anymore, we’re in West Africa.”
The weather for Thursday was something like a blessed 79 degrees, which made the walk into the venue one that didn’t have to be spent covering my face from dust being kicked up. Those who have been in years past told me that so far we were lucky, as other years had experienced temps in the high 90’s, with a record of 101 degrees. A quick security checkpoint brought you into the mainstage area, with food vendors and merch vendors placed on each side of the field attending different needs. The stage that would host Of The Trees, Vibesquad, and Kalya Scintilla w/ Eve Olution reminded me of the main stage at Legend Valley for whatever reason. The venue expanded vertically (for the most part) up the mountain away from the main stage, laid out a bit like how Electric Forest is. With (the main-) a stage at the beginning of the venue, then a forest jam packed with art installations, and then a third stage on the other side of the forest. And it would be in this interactive forest, on the first night of the festival that I would be introduced to what was my possibly my favorite set of the weekend; Moontricks.
A DJ/guitarist duo from Western Canada, Moontricks starts out as some harmonica fueled southern blues music and merges with heavy chillwave bass, ramping itself up into a party that can only be described as galactic cowboy blues. Another patron described it as a mix of Gramatik and Cotton Eyed Joe, minus the racist undertones. Feeling organic at all times, calling their style a gimmick would be the greatest disservice you could do to the music. And maybe the thought could be warranted, if they just weren’t so good at what they do. What was so impressive about their set, was that they never lost their sound to the beat of the bass, which could easily happen in this type of fusion. Instead, towards the end, the two pulled off the wildest transition of the weekend, dropping REZZ’s song Edge and then seamlessly flowing into a banjo solo like it was the same song. Looking forward to seeing these guys on the East coast.
Vibesquad, the Colorado native producer, showed his love for a festival he’s been apart of since the beginning by dropping some new tracks that had the crowd more than ready for the nights main headliner. Kalya Scintilla with Eve Olution would go onto put on an etheric show with tons of intention. Kalya’s ecstaticly mystic bass along with Eve’s captivating interpretive dance truly played to the welcoming of the first night, setting a tone to the rest of the weekend that would really reflect. Immediately after the set concluded, a member of the production team came out to say some kind words about the performance and the still present crowd, then asking if everyone could pick up whatever trash was in their immediate gaze. And just like that, in 5 minutes time the mainstage field was empty of both people and trash, looking as thought the festival hadn’t even started yet. Some would spend the remaining musical hours sat underneath one of a couple pyromatic installations absorbing the heat while others witnessed Daily Bread close out the night.
Among the many values held at Sonic Bloom, one that shown through nicely was the idea of pacing oneself. With music generally not starting until around 6 o’clock, attendees were able to take their time exploring the land without feeling like they were missing out on anything they paid to see. One popular spot during the daytime was the local creek. Though a little crowded, this shaded stream of icy mountain water gave attendees a great opportunity to escape a beating sun and play around like they were at a friend’s backyard pool party. For those who didn’t need a way to beat the heat, the festival’s workshop schedule was so packed and expansive in nature, a whole standalone article would be needed to thoroughly comb through it all. From a daily yoga practice, to art workshops, to a seminar about how permaculture and polygamy are related, each and every shop took itself seriously enough to give those participating a feeling like they were in a space where they could actually learn something and not have it interrupt the vibe of their weekend.
Though the venue itself wasn’t very big, it was impressive to see how the Sonic Bloom team was able to manage what space they had. Not a single corner of the venue (especially the forest) wasn’t utilized in a creative manner, with installations being not only on every walkway corner, but with some even being hidden behind a bush or a on a path less traveled. It took me until Sunday to discover the Soundscape VR installation. Located in the upper corner of the venue, it not only provided an interesting virtual reality experience, but also had someone mixing specifically for those going through the installation.
The day went on, and the sun began its descent from it’s peak in the sky, and from there on, any normal cycles of weather from there on out. When the sun would approach the peak of the mountain, a cool breeze would blow in as if to remind you that the cold was simply waiting for the day to end, that the drop in temperature would be swift. And at certain times it was, with the elevation of over a mile up forcing some to redress like they had just entered late autumn. But for those acclimated to whether (which most were), that didn’t stop anything. The Emancipator Ensemble rose to the stage in grace, each performer holding themselves with a bonafide esteem that projected they were ready to conjure serenity itself. The ensemble’s set establishing such a sense of being present that, for a moment it didn’t feel like a crowd watching a music festival set, but a community collectively witnessing a beautiful, cosmic performance.
Gramatik’s set would then follow the harmonious build up with a climax. Manifesting the essence of a hero’s victory, listening to the headliner was like wearing out a new suit to club that was hoping you would show up, free bottle of champagne awaiting. And in the moments between ecstatic pride and complete extravagance, (presumed to be) guitarist Adam Stehr would reel you back with a riff or solo that could of assuaged a raging elephant. The kind of tact to calm and gratify the soul by means of bass accompanied rock ballad. Always a favorite.
To start the nights afterparty festivities was Yak Attack at the Hummingbird stage, nestled in a cozy space in the woods. The instrumental trio performed an avant jazz-jam fusion that for me sat contently between 70’s Japanese jazz and Lotus. Heavy on the intricate fast paced keyboard and technical drumming, this set was exactly what many of us needed after the incredibly energetic performance that was the headliners. The Librarian and Living Light would then guide late night partiers into the wee hours of the morning, concluding a roller coaster of a night.
The cold weather from the night before lingered a bit, a chilly breeze switching places with warm sunshine every 20-40 minutes until around 4 O’clock where a stack of dark clouds rolled in force over the mountains. What started off as moderate rain quickly turned into chunks of hail, around a ¼ inch in diameter or so. This went on heavily for around 25 minutes, until it resided, leaving large piles of ice sitting in clumps in the surrounding campgrounds. As an east coast native it was jarring, but Colorado locals told me it wasn’t out of the ordinary. Warm and cold, brisk breezes would come in cycles until a chilly night befell the land, the average temperature sitting around 48 degrees. But before the cold transition into the night could take place, Moonfrog and Godlazer opened, just minutes after the hail stopped. Both artists (though Moonfrog is a trio) played as if nothing had just transpired, fully engaging those watching showing that people can, and will, party through anything. And from there the main stage took of for a schedule of amazing curation, with each act only complimenting the energy of the next. Following Moonfrog was Detox Unit whose set reminded us heavy bass doesn’t only have to be experienced at night time. Then into ZILLA, a livetronica band featuring Micheal Travis from The Stringcheese Incident. Spoonbill and Jade Cicada would go onto marinate the crowd for Opiuo, whose set garnered the most “Did you see that set?” ‘s from the whole weekend.
Naturally, the sun came out to stay on Sunday, leaving a fine lasting impression for the weekend, and great day to conclude with the likes of Drumsyder, The Russ Liquid Test, The New Observatory, Homemade Spaceship, Kaya Project, Lespecial and a special creation of The Sonic Bloom Orchestra.
While impressive acts still pervaded the last day, the peak of the weekend finale wasn’t a musical one, but one of odds. The most exciting show didn’t take place at a stage, but at a blackjack table, one where you were aloud to bet anything, except cash.
To truly show the meaning of “anything except cash,” let’s hop to the Frickfrack Blackjack table, circa Sunday night. The dealer behind the table had kindly informed me that a jar of honey wouldn’t stack up against a beautiful glass pendant in the ante for the next hand.
“This pendant has been infused with gold and silver dust, it’s worth at least $150-$200. You’re gonna have to come a lot more correct than that.” The dealer said with a half drunk snicker. My eyes ran through the shelf of items behind him when a pointed finger swung past my head at the glass in his hand.
“You said you can bet anything on the line?”
“Anything except cash.”
“Even a soul?” Asked the young man, his red bearded face quietly yet courageously curious.
The dealers eyes widened and his brows raised.
“Even a soul. We take birthdays and faces too.”
A brief pause rolled between the two in front of me, the chatter from the rest of the table continuing on.
“… I’ll do it.”
“Alright, we just need you to sign the paperwork.” He reached into a folder behind him, pulling out a pre-written contract with gothic font on it and eerie margins permeating the borders. The young man leaned over, and with the pen in his hand went into signing the paper.
“YOU HEAR THAT EVERYBODY? WE HAVE A SOUL ON THE LINE!” The dealer swung around with his arms out, holding out the paper for everyone at the table to see, a certain type of awe overcoming everyone’s face.
The game was set, and it was time to draw the next hand.
The young man drew a 17, and decided to stay. The dealer drew a 17. A push. Time to go again.
Another 17 on both ends, another push. Again.
“So you’ve drawn a 15, hit or stay?” The dealer asked, one eyebrow raised. The young man took a breath and gritted his teeth.
“… I’ll stay,” he replied.
The dealer showed his hand, a 12. He pulled another card.
A 7 of spades.
“And the house pulls a 19 and claims this round! Congratulations, you’ve lost your soul! For everyone listening, we have a soul up for trade!”
Man, tough luck. I thought to myself.
I soon left, coming back almost an hour later, wondering if I could win this man’s soul back with my own winnings. When I asked the guy whether he was still soulless he said he had won it back, and more.
“So my girlfriend here, actually bet her soul on the line, and after a push, she won it back!”
“Great!” I was relieved that I didn’t have to risk the old school rotary phone I had won earlier.
“But then we still wanted the pendant, and the house said they wouldn’t make the same bet twice, so they said we had to double down for the pendant. We had to bet both of our souls.”
Oh no. I thought to myself.
“So we antied up, and won it on the first hand!” A big smile stretched across his face as his thumb pulled on the string around his neck, the red and blue beauty of a glass pendant glimmering in the yellow hue of the carnival lights lining the stand.
And this story of victory, of risk, of adversity, of achievement, is the feeling Sonic Bloom left in my heart, and I can’t wait for next year. Thanks to all who had a part in shaping this weekend.