Rootwire Music and Arts Festival
July 17 – 20, 2014
Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park, Terra Alta, WV
written by Elise Olmstead
photos by Roger Gupta
Whether you call us a community, a family, a tribe, or a village, the group of people we identify with are connected by more than blood. As we hug in a full-gripped embrace, we press our heart to heart and hold on to let the love transfer and mingle with our souls, soaking in the energy we crave. The energy we share is an invisible link that will always inexplicably draw us together, and this energy will never be more tangible than when we are at Rootwire.
As an avid festival-goer, I felt myself to be a veteran of hippie-land, no longer fooled by the comments of “You dropped your pocket!” and no stranger to bare feet, bare breasts, and bright faces. I thought that I could not be surprised by a festival, but Rootwire exceeded any possible expectation. The festival carries such intentions from all in attendance: intentions to expand their minds, their hearts, their souls, and their creativity. Rootwire has laid the foundation for the involvement of live art at a festival, bringing artists to the forefront of your attention in the crowd and also in the gallery and the decorated grounds. No matter where you look, there is something beautiful to feast your eyes on, there is someone to learn a lesson from, and there is music to tickle that primal side of you that dances with joy. After our first experience at Rootwire, we declared with no question, that it is everything that we, as festie fans, have ever envisioned a festival to be about.
This year the festival had a change of venue and lineup, but the intentions were the same. Moving from Logan, Ohio, to Terra Alta, WV, many wondered how the infamous Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park would be suited for the typically 5,000 person festival. The land was transformed beautifully in a layout that may have been unexpected for avid visitors of the venue, but completely natural to all those in attendance. A flat but elevated field kept general admission campers out of any flood danger in case of rain, and the rolling, sloped hill for main field served as a natural amphitheater. A small bridge led to the workshop area, and a huge circus-pointed tent served as stage for workshops and late night acts. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and a gigantic night sky, with that slight enchanting scent of sage in the air, you almost felt as if you were amongst faeries. It was the perfect getaway for a transformational weekend.
The lineup this year was more dynamic and up-tempo than previous years and we enjoyed big names such as Beats Antique (for two nights), Tipper, EOTO, and fan favorite Shpongle. Bands like Mojoflo, Pimps of Joytime, Deaf Scene, Cosby Sweater, and Aliver Hall also lended a bit of full band well-roundedness to the music schedule. Wasting no time getting the celebration started, we caught some Cosby Sweater in the tent right away Thursday night and music continued on through the wee morning hours, featuring sets by live-tronica band Dirtwire and house rock stars Manitoa.
Friday we were excited to explore, and couldn’t walk very far without seeing a familiar face and stopping to say hello. Sometimes we would be inexplicably drawn to hug a stranger, and after our introductions would find that we knew mutual friends and saw strange coincidences unravel. It is at Rootwire that I am most constantly reminded that the world is like a web, and we are all woven and connected in its delicate quilt.
We attended a peaceful meditation workshop, as well as an informative class on the Aztec calendar that helped us peek at our true potential in accordance with the date of our birth. Rootwire hosts one of the most extensive schedule of workshops of any festival, allowing patrons to practice hula hooping, do yoga of all types, play with bubbles, paint, and water, and learn to identify wild plants and make their own Kombucha. The classes and discussions constantly taking place help everyone leave a person more confident and enriched.
We enjoyed a nice variety of music including chill reggae band Tropidelic, who delighted me with their dub cover of TLC’s “Waterfalls,” metal shredding jam band Deaf Scene, and smooth & funky Pimps of Joytime, before jam-tronica monsters Conspirator, founded by The Disco Biscuits’ Aron Magner and Marc Brownstein. Rain started to blow in during their set, and they had to stop early, with the promise of a re-schedule. We huddled under our EZ-up and shared Fireball and burgers while we waited for the rain to subside, and emerged in time to catch a blistering Beats Antique set that featured one of their newest tunes that samples Les Claypool “Beezlebub,” and my favorite song “Beauty Beats.” The stand-out set for me, however, was Broccoli Samurai in the tent. After their blistering jams filled with synth-beats and guitar shreds, I had to check my face to see if it was still there, but it was in fact in a puddle on the ground. I gathered it up in time to run over to keyboardist Ryan Bruce Hodson and give him a huge hug.
Saturday was rainy almost all day, but it was never too heavy a downpour to wander around if needed. While the pitter-patter was peaceful on my tent, I could no longer sleep after being shaken awake by an amazing “No Quarter” played by Sassafraz during their Led Zeppelin set. After Sassafraz, Mojoflo had me up-and-at-’em, as Amber Knicole’s triumphant voice flowed over all of us. Their tight beats and funky saxophone put some much needed pep in my step and we all left their set talking about them, especially covers of some favorite songs like Lorde’s “Royals” and MGMT’s “Electric Eel.”
Everyone was buzzing about a rare performance from Zilla, an improvisational band with electronic influence comprised of String Cheese and EOTO drummer Michael Travis, VibeSquaD Aaron Holstein, and acclaimed dulcimer player Jamie Janover. Consider the Source brought the heat as the evening progressed, burning the night with their sci-fi middle eastern rock tinged in the green and blue of the light show. If anyone was hiding in their camps before, they all flooded out for EOTO who had us all weak in the knees with heavy bass and always-spontaneous drops and samples.
Shpongle was the main attraction of the evening, and the buzz was brought to a wild roar as he ascended the lavishly decorated stage. I peered out over the largest crowd I had seen all night, and they peered back, past my shoulder at the mesmerizing light show behind Simon Posford. Everyone was in a psychedelic trance, broken only by bouts of furious joyful dancing and large, passionate brush strokes by the many artists decorating the field. Manitoa stood out for me the most though–their otherworldly rock was like a primal tune from another planet. The beautiful Scarlett Bliss danced her graceful, mesmerizing ballet as Eric Turner and Ed “McGnarls” banged their head behind swaths of hair during the dramatic breakdowns and crescendos. After their electrifying set, we elected to make our way to the tent for Arpetrio, who we had heard good things about, and finished our night with a bang. The spontaneous jams had you constantly guessing what would happen next, and Dustin Klien’s morphing geometric visuals accentuated the mood. They did crazy jam mash-ups of Marylin Manson’s “Beautiful People” and The BeeGee’s “Stayin’ Alive” that were so improvised and unpredictable that they could barely be called “covers.”
Sunday had a full schedule of music and even more workshops and art to experience. We were sad that we had to make our way out early but made sure to stop and say our farewells to all those that we love. I was grateful to see Ed on our way out and give him a heartfelt hug and thank you for all of his hard work, and we enjoyed reading a great article about the event in Rae Vena’s copy of the Charleston newspaper. Through all of the adversity that the festival faced this year, the heart and soul remained as strong as ever, and I felt it was a beacon of truth, love, and unification amidst a sea of gossip, rumors, and division. The truth needs no one to speak it, it stands alone, naked and beautiful for all to see.
The last set of the weekend that we saw was a shining example of this beautiful unification. Heady Ruxpin’s DJ set in the tent was joined by 12 live artists, some sharing a huge canvas, and some painting their own, but all coming together on the stage to dance and create along with Heady’s music. Heady Ruxpin himself is a live artist driven almost obsessively by the need to paint, and we all share a dream that one day the art on this scene will share the spotlight of importance alongside the music. At this moment, our dream had come true, and I was brought to tears with the beauty of the art being created before my eyes. It was truly symbolic of the entire meaning of Rootwire: letting your ego wash away, stepping up to the plate, and coming together to create something beautiful.
The purpose of transformational festivals is to leave more enlightened than you were before. We strive to open our minds to new ideas, new lessons, and new worlds beyond the normal realm of our office cubicle and television set. We transform each other with friendships, with love, with compliments. We transform a blank canvas into a blanket of dreams, a story of our soul, a peek into the eyes of madness. I shared personal stories and heard tales of heartache and triumph, that we would never have the courage to tell in an outside environment. It is a utopian world where we can truly be free without masks of untrue identities, or stifled truths, or gagged creativity. It is the world that we all wish we could live in every day (but then would it be as special?). Though I must go home, I carry the lesson of our inner potential, and the tangibility of our dreams. I have seen the divinity within us all, and practically touched the sky in those beautiful West Virginia mountains. Thank you Rootwire for another beautiful year.