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Rootwire Music and Arts Festival 2K13

Review written by Elise Olmstead

& followed by a perspective by Sean Heeter

Photographs credit Appalachian Jamwich photography

and Roger Gupta (watermarked)

Since the first Rootwire Music Festival in 2010, word has spread quickly about the transformative event and I was astounded by all of the positive reviews. The opinions of patrons are so filled with love and positivity for their favorite band, Papadosio, who always headlines and plays multiple sets, but also the inspirational environment and playful interaction that the weekend fosters. I was determined to experience it for myself this year and had my expectations blown out of the water from the very start.  A buzz of energy exists so thickly on that land that you feel overwhelmed almost immediately. Everyone is adorned with the decorations of the tribe, donning feathers in their cap, hand-painted clothing, delicately wrapped jewelry, and gems on their third eye.  We introduce ourselves freely and sigh an exhilarated breath.  We suddenly feel at home and at peace.

The property itself is beautiful and intimate, featuring wooded camping, gravel and dirt trails, a large field bordered by forest for the main stage area, a swimming pond, and a barn with hot showers.  The walk from campsite to main stage was not too long or grueling, but the land was quite crowded this year with the influx of new ticket buyers that had to experience what all of the hype was about.  Car camping was not allowed, and would have crowded the already crammed space that campers situated their tents and hammocks.  We found a great spot after some searching, but quarters were close and neighbors resided inches from each other on all sides. Everyone remained cordial and friendly however, and very little complaints were heard as we positioned snugly together, but there were some resulting rumors floating around that the venue would have to be changed next year.


The most breathtaking portion of the festival grounds was the path trailing behind the main stage area, as you walk past the swimming pond toward staff camping.  Children played in the blue-green waters and people shared a canvas to paint while others sat and watched peacefully.  We watched 2 men praying with their hands against a tree, everywhere love and inspiration from the Earth was flowing.  A dome decorated like a jellyfish, complete with wooden cutouts of colorful coral and huge glowing crystal sculptures, lights up at night with blue mist, making you feel as though you are underwater.  More domes rise to the sky as you walk along, and there are people laying quietly, some being massaged, some chanting.  Transient meditative music greets you as the path approaches a wooden hut engraved with detailed designs, and you can see women hooping and dancing while others close their eyes and straighten their spine, letting the energy flow through them.

As you loop back around, there is the tent stage that hosts speakers and workshops during the day and music through the night.  The Visionary Tent is where the artists reside; I was lucky enough to meet many over the course of the weekend as I browsed the gallery, being reunited with favorite paintings I was familiar with and discover some new works and artists as well.  The colors and dream like visions pulsed with a vitality that brought them to life.  Themes of fantasy landscapes, animals, nature, celestial bodies and beautiful women adorned every corner, and I felt a striking synchronicity in the images.  Even if these pictures only exist in our imagination, if we can all see the same dream, doesn’t that make it real?


I was starting to see the ideals that surround the scene of sharing, loving one another, and expressing yourself freely come to life before my very eyes, and it only got better when the bands on stage brought us to emotional peaks with their music.  Papadosio has fostered an almost revolutionary sense of love and appreciation in their fans that spreads like waves as the beautiful, delicate sounds of their live instrumental and electronic jams rain over you in a swell of joy. The band played the tent stage Thursday night, and returned Saturday night for two long sets separated by a one hour set from rising indie rock and electronic band Jimkata.  Sunday they closed the festival with an intimate acoustic set in the Tent Stage.

Though most of the artists that perform prefer not to label themselves into a genre, the music over the weekend had a common thread of electronic influences combined with soaring, dexterous guitar and throbbing drums.  The electronic influences were not so much the “filthy” bass drops and heavy, reverberating beats, but more soft high-pitched ambient synth noises and trance-inducing rhythms.  Cosby Sweater, who played Thursday, is led by a saxophone player Nicholas Gerlach and produced on-stage by David Embry, who also provides vocals.  Their funky, infectious tunes make you “shake that ass inside those jeans,” as Embry encourages the crowd.  The unique Delhi to Dublin mixes some seemingly mismatched influences such as world, middle-eastern and traditional Irish music for a high energy set.  The performers, including a talented female fiddle player, and Bhangra percussionist jump up and down frantically, bringing the audience to their feet.

Broccoli Samurai continues the psychedelic jamtronica groove on Friday and light up the whole field with a triumphant cover of Lotus’s “Spiritualize.”  Then Craig Broadhead of Turquaz joins them on stage to add his skill to some guitar heavy southern-rock influenced songs.  The Heavy Pets make our knees like jelly as we groove to their velour-smooth dub, the high-pitched drum taps like studs punched into the fabric.  “Thank you music,” we all sing joyfully in unison.  Hundred Waters hypnotizes the crowd with their delicate female vocals reminiscent of Bjork and sophisticated digital elements.  Anthony, the “flower guy,” creates a flower sculpture live on stage while the band plays.  Originally he had gotten on stage with Ott, and received odd looks from the band, but is now regularly integrated into performances.  Don’t try to talk to Anthony about his art, however, because he is a serious and silent soul and is likely to reciprocate your “thank you” with a grunt.


Flower sculpture happened to be only one of the many visual arts taking place around the main stage, and live artists were painting as far as the eye could see.  Besides a huge wall-like painting situated between the two main stages, artists were standing on pedestals in rows, each easel clipped with a lantern and individual colors and styles blossoming like liquid flowers.  Your eyes had too many sights to feast on, and you could choose from delicately detailed works to art featuring thick, dripping paint strokes.  The interaction between the painters and the musicians was more apparent and magical than any festival with live art that I’ve ever been to.

While wandering through the trail past the domes Saturday we come across our friends who are sitting outside the wooden temple-like structure, while Dixon’s Violin plays inside.  People are laying, sitting, dancing and hooping to the lovely music as we wipe away tears brought by the overwhelming beauty of it all.  I wrap my arms around my friend in a greeting and the greeting becomes a union, a link of energy throbbing between us as we are pressed heart to heart.  The experience has brought us to the brink of emotion and we decide to move on before we are reduced to babbling puddles.

Mike Dillon Band brings a new, welcome energy with their punk-rock jazz music.  “They play the only xylophone music I like,” Taco comments.  The vitality bursts from the stage, figuratively and literally as Mike Dillon leaps from the stage into the photo pit, being unable to contain himself to his given space.  There are grown men leaping and playing like children, doing somersaults and cartwheels across the field.  The ambient electronic of Shigeto follows, and we sway and swoon as artists begin preparing their canvases for the much-anticipated double Papadosio set.

The band opens with “Big Smile” and artists on the huge canvas between the stages are brushing paint across the surface with a frenzied passion.  Beautiful projections play and shine behind the band and I’m starting to learn what it really means to be “blissed out.”  They play an emotional new song written by Sam Brouse called “What’s at Stake” followed by “The Lack of Everything” from their album Observations. The rock ‘n’ roll sing-along “Holy Heck” from their By the Light of the Stars is a change of pace in the midst of the more synth heavy songs.” We take an hour break and listen to the dance-y goodness of Jimkata before Papadosio jubilantly takes the stage for their second set.  I love it when I hear the joyful yell of “this is my favorite song!” from the crowd, and this time I turn around to see Dino exclaim as they play “Method of Control.” The elusive “Dream Estate” takes us to a wistful cloud and I can barely come back down even when the air pulsates to the drum heavy beat of “Improbability Blotter.”  My paradise extends beyond the vibrant, dancing projections, the fanciful colors of the art coming to life before us. It stretches infinitely beyond even what my eyes could perceive and through my fingertips outstretched and vibrating with the essence of the air.

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Everyone was buzzing and eager to get to the tent stage later and catch Earthcry, Anthony Thogmartin of Papadosio’s side project.  His synth-heavy music soothes and rocks you while he speaks about love and healing.  His anticipated new album was for sale at the festival and was a great way to take the incredible moments from the weekend home with you.

There was a whole day of music Sunday including Dopapod and an acoustic set from Papadosio.  We had to make the long trek home, but wish we could stay at Rootwire forever.  The experience was a glimpse into the way that we aspire to live our lives every day.  The curtain was pulled back and our ideals were in their naked, vulnerable form.  Did they shy and wither away as we looked, touched and experimented with their notions of community and love?  No, they did not.  They danced, flexed, and smiled before us, victorious in their blinding light, stomping out all dark beneath them.  This enlightened vision is burned into my mind, and I can honestly say it was my favorite festival of the summer, and quite possibly the best festival I have ever been to. Marty Ackermann says of his experience, “Random encounters with people brimming with positivity and generosity completely reinvigorated my faith in humanity, and my certainty in our power to transcend the past and open up to a higher awareness and a more harmonious social landscape, based on love and intimate, deep connection with all that surrounds oneself.”

When I asked Sam of Papadosio why Rootwire is the best festival he replies, “because everyone believes in it…believes that it is the best festival.”  We have collectively manifested a utopia there in Knaepper’s Woods, and I can’t wait until I can go back.



A Perspective on the Impact

By Sean Heeter

 The vision that Papadosio has turned into Rootwire is more of an intentional gathering rather than a music festival.  While there is a main focus on music, the entire weekend also centers around community and personal and communal growth.  There are workshops tailored for every palate and every participant is encouraged to join in learning as well as growing together.  We are encouraged to meet new people, strengthen relationships, and take what we’ve learned and experienced back home with us to share with others.  The focus was not on a weekend long party, rather a sustainable model in which we can grow and strengthen our relationships with ourselves, each other, and the Earth.

The impact that Rootwire makes is not only within the participants, but for our home and planet as well.  This year Rootwire implemented a reusable dishware program, which is the first time any festival has done so on the East coast.  There were reusable bamboo plates, forks, knives, and spoons which were made available to each participant for a $2 deposit, and when the dishware was returned the deposit was as well.  The dish team worked tirelessly to clean and sanitize each piece of dishware to provide clean dishes and minimize waste throughout the festival.  In addition to the reusable dishes, all food vendors were required to use compostable dishware in the event that a participant didn’t want to use the bamboo ware.  The success of the program shows how much we can minimize our waste as well as how much Rootwire cares for the land that we inhabit for the weekend.

The impact made at Rootwire can be shown not only through the success of the gathering, but through the participants as well.  “Rootwire is a transformational festival that promotes learning and growth through music and art,” says Mike Sakell.  “This weekend I learned a valuable, but cliche lesson; things are in working order. Events happen accordingly and for a reason and there are no such things as coincidences. I can’t specifically recall what triggered my discovery, but after hearing and sharing my experiences with others at Rootwire, I know my discovery is more than valid, it is truth! It may be a life lesson overlooked by many, but no matter what we understand about our purpose in our present life one thing is imperative; we are all destined to accomplish great things.  Whether we chose to follow or resist change is our decision, but everything happens for a reason.”  The community resonated with in Mike, and he also shared his beauty, knowledge, and experiences with others, which is what Rootwire is all about.  We help each other learn and grow and share ourselves with others.  This was Mike’s first Rootwire, but he says he is already counting down the days until he returns home.