Review of Counter.Point Music Festival
April 25-27, 2014 in Kingston Downs, GA
Written by: Becca Boo Cranwell
Photographs by: Roger Gupta
I’m not going to lie, when I was asked to cover Counter.Point music festival in Georgia—I was skeptical. The line-up was mainly electronic and hip-hop, which made me a little nervous. Don’t get me wrong: I love my hip-hop and can totally get down with the electric sizzle a good DJ provides. Truth be told, I was more concerned with the ‘scene’ than the music. The prospect of interacting with ‘Kandi-Kids’ and ‘P.L.U.R Phamily’ was a tad intimidating to this tried and true jam-fan. However, I discovered that going into a festival with an apprehensive attitude actually served me very well because I wasn’t disappointed — Counter.Point blew me away!
The production was flawless. Unlike several festivals I’ve attended, the concert areas were extremely clean—hardly any litter—the port-o-potties were consistently tidy, and the people running the festival clearly understood the meaning of southern hospitality. It’s normal to run into an overly stressed festival worker whose frustration is palpable, but not at Counter.Point. Service with a smile and a congenial ‘thank you’ was the name of their game.
Not only did the staff provide superb hospitality—so did the patrons. As I said, litter was essentially non-existent thanks to strategic trashcan placement and conscientious patrons. And something incredible happened to me after being stepped on during a set: I received a genuine apology. What?! As a petite young lady, I’m used to being shoved, stomped on, pushed and pulled, and beer spilt down my back at festivals and venues; it happens. I have accepted it as a fact of festival life. Normally, the persons who do these things to us smaller ladies don’t take much time to acknowledge their rude behavior, so you can imagine my awe as a man stepped on my foot and immediately looked back apologetically and shouted “Oh my god, I’m so sorry” during Pretty Lights’. During this set, our beloved Roger Gupta was lifted into the air—cheerleader style—by a group of enthusiastic ragers who wanted to ensure he got a good shot of the stage. This set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
As the hot Georgia sun beamed down on us, my frigid exterior began to melt and slip away as I accepted that these people are here to have a good time, not to be sketchy ravers. While bare skin, body paint, fluffies, and glow sticks were in abundance, I didn’t get the usual “watch your back” vibe I normally get at electronic shows. However, it was definitely evident that the Counter.Point patrons were there to hear electronic music.
The festival offered 4 stages, which mostly hosted DJs throughout the weekend. Each day only saw about 4 or 5 bands that actually played instruments and those sets rarely had as large an audience as the DJs. However, I was impressed with the sets that did indeed use instruments; like Pretty Lights. I expected him to be behind his table twisting knobs the whole time. While Derek Smith (Pretty Lights) still fiddled with his electronic equipment, he also whipped out a bass guitar and killed it along with drummer Adam Deitch of Lettuce/Break science, keyboardists Borahm Lee of Break Science and Brian Coogan of New Orleans All-Star, trombonist Scott Flyn of John Brown’s Body, and trumpet by Eric Bloom of Lettuce. I noticed that the highs weren’t as high and the lows weren’t as low as Pretty Lights’ DJ sets, but the fact that they were on instruments made that perfectly okay. Not to mention the crowd ate it up; lifting rage sticks and signs in the air that said things like “I AM SO HAPPY”.
Highlights from the weekend include a great performance from Rubblebucket, despite the audience not being as robust as hoped. Lead vocalist Kalmia addressed the crowd: “we’re really thankful you guys came to see us today. We’ve got a really cute crowd down here.” The good thing, though, was that those who did show up during the daytime performance were definitely there to see Rubblebucket, as evidenced by their costumes, enormous grins, and wild dancing. One reason Rubblebucket’s audience was a tad on the sparse side was because they had competition: The Floozies were also playing during that time slot.
Later that evening Janelle Monae ripped the stage apart with her mesmerizing energy, and playful theatrics. The artist was wheeled onto the stage—Hannibal Lector style—in a straight jacket. She seductively peeled off her straight jacket, moonwalked across the stage with her mic stand like pro, and took immediate command of the audience. This lady has authority when it comes to stage presence. I only wish J.Cole had taken a lesson from Ms. Monae.
They say “expectation is the root of disappointment” and whoever ‘they’ is…was right. I had high expectations for J. Cole because I had been listening to his work since college. Unfortunately, the artist was more excited about having fans know his lyrics than he was about pleasing the crowd. Personally, what I love about hip-hop is the fluidity of the lyrics; it puts me in a smooth trance with the occasional “oh, snap! Did he just say that?” jerk back to reality. J. Cole interrupted his own flow by continually calling out “let me hear you Counter.Point” and pointing his mic to the crowd for us to fill in the blanks of his raps. Having high expectations left me disappointed during this set.
The disappointment didn’t last long because STS9 was up next with their new bassist Alana Rocklin. Alana brought us what we all want from a great bassist: she interacted with the crowd, danced, showed us her best bass face, and most importantly—she brought a smooth and funky groove the whole show. The crowd, which hosted a lot of die-hard STS9 fans, was absolutely elated by her performance. My trance was often broken with shouts of “HOLY SHIT THIS IS GOOD!” And those are the interruptions I love to hear.
As Sunday rolled in with a giant thundercloud in her wake, OutKast fans flooded the festival grounds and even camped at the main stage to try and get a front-row spot—despite the fact that their show wasn’t supposed to start until 10 pm. Unfortunately for them, all patrons were instructed to return to their vehicles until the thunderstorm subsided. Two hours later, the storm passed and the fun picked up right where it left off: with Thievery Corporation.
Thievery blessed us with a cornucopia of sounds including a sitar-based song, some funky tunes, and even some hip-hop. Their bassist really got the crowd moving as he leapt from the stage and pranced through the audience in nothing but a Speed-O. As the evening edged closer to the most anticipated show, we ambled from stage to stage looking for anything but EDM. Not to be negative, but by Sunday I was exhausted of EDM. The constant bass dropping and blippity bloops were making me feel anxious, like I’m forgetting something really important that needs to be done. It was becoming difficult to ignore the bass and slow my brain down enough to think straight.
Eventually we sauntered over to a group neither Roger or I had ever seen before: Phantogram. While it was still electronica-ish, they did indeed play instruments. The strong female vocals are what attracted us in their direction. Their sound still offered the grungy “waaa waaa waaa” of electronica, but their beat was mellow and emotional while still offering slick guitar riffs and bumping drums.
Finally, late Sunday night—practically Monday morning—the event we were all waiting for began: OutKast. The field in front of the main stage was teaming with excited ATLiens. As Andre 3000 and Big Boi pimp-stepon stage, the crowd roars with glee. It has been 10 years since these two last performed together for Atlantians. As the pair dives headfirst into ‘B.O.B’ the entire crowd instantly shifts into gangster mode: smirk-ful expressions emblazoned on their faces, pointer fingers chopping the night sky, and familiar lyrics spilling from every mouth within a mile of the stage. While OutKast had fairly negative reviews from their Coachella set, that was not the case at all at Counter.Point. It was obvious the crowd was ecstatic to see the Dungeon Family back in action.
For once in my life, a little skepticism lead me to have one of the best festival experiences I’ve had in a long time. Counter.Point reminded me that southern hospitality goes a long way and judging a festival by its pictures isn’t always an accurate portrayal of the energy within. Counter.Point also reminded me that while the jam scene will always be my home, I can’t discount music just because it’s not a genre I’m fond of—where you find music lovers, you will find friends.