August 5th-8th, 2016 – Buena Vista, Colorado
Written by Alex Neal
Photos courtesy of Meghan Alexander (NYS Music)
A few Friday mornings ago, I woke up in a field as the sun was peeking over the Collegiate Peaks, surrounding the grounds of the first Vertex Festival that Buena Vista, Colorado would see. I made the most delicious festy breakfast that I could manage and went to explore, getting a handle on the quickest routes to each stage. The first stop on my adventure landed me at a beach party…in the middle of a stream-fed pond…in the middle of a field…surrounded by 14’ers, and all the same, was greeted by an assemblage of 1920’s circus-clad gentlemen, twisted mustaches and all, dancing in synchronized style with black and white umbrellas slung over their shoulders. A Chrome Drones DJ set was pumping through the speakers of a hot air balloon made entirely of gauzy butterflies, and as the afternoon wore on, the inflatable tubes lining the shore were filled with lazy bodies, and the small cluster of woods on the beach became decorated with a rainbow of hammocks.
This was just the edge of the grounds. So, after a solid hoop sesh and a need to hydrate, I walked on to explore more, and naturally came upon a row of houses. Yep. Tiny houses wedged between trees, a washboard house with sultry southern maidens offering to clean and line dry your dirty garments, a pink house lined with sheer scarves ran by the tickle mistress, a white house with a couple of late 19th century ghosts, a balloon-filled house (it was as epic as you could imagine), small houses holding things like toothfairy trinkets and tools for finding the love of your life, Super Tall Paul’s fun house, and more. Naturally. Across the sandy road splitting the whimsy neighborhood from another music stop was La Hacienda stage, adorned with a beautiful rustic wooden facade, and complimented by a tribute to the colorful state of Colorado. This small sanctuary is where the likes of Jaden Carlson Band, Fruition, Trout Steak Revival, The Runnikine, and more would light up the forest throughout the weekend.
After peeking through the eclectic neighborhood and running wall-to-wall in the balloon house a few times, I walked back to my campsite, down the line of food and clothing vendors, basically drooling at the few pop-up oases of vintage clothing and sterling jewelry — shops with quality you could only find at a Colorado festival with plans to go big. Vertex was presented by principal Colorado organizations, Madison House Presents and AEG Live – Rocky Mountains. These brands are responsible for the likes of the Fare The Well 50th Anniversary Celebration, Electric Forest, bookings at 1STBANK Center, Red Rocks Amphitheater, and many more notable ventures.
As someone who has been attending smaller festivals over the past few years, the feel of Vertex was more commercial than I am used to. The music line up hosted an interesting variety of music, from folk-rock and americana acts like Dawes and The Alabama Shakes; to alternative electronica acts like Classixx and Rüfüs du Sol; to classic jam acts like Trey Anastasio Band and Fruition, with the genres being strung together by the likes of Hiatus Kaiyote, Lettuce, Odesza, Graham Nash, and Emancipator Ensemble. Taking Friday’s lineup into consideration, the flow of music didn’t make sense to me. Big Wild kicked off the first of two main stages, followed by Fruition, Anderson .Paak, Dawes, Emancipator Ensemble, The Alabama Shakes, Jai Wolf, and finished with Gramatik. Saturday started with Robert DeLong, going into Houndmouth, The Revivalists, Classixx, Graham Nash, Rüfüs du Sol, Duke Dumont, Lettuce, and finished with Odesza. Looking back, they could have had the loose intention of keeping a theme to each stage, which would have followed the overall themes of each section of the festival grounds. It felt confusing until Sunday morning, when the two-day pass holders began to leave — people mostly in attendance for the electronica acts. Sunday’s line up appropriately had Sunday vibes, being mostly jam-heavy until the late night acts. The main stages kicked off with Hiatus Kaiyote, into Dopapod, The Claypool Lennon Delerium, Ryan Hemsworth, two sets of Trey Anastasio Band, and finished with Seven Lions. Overall, I appreciated the variety, as I was able to knock some highly anticipated acts off of my music bucket list.
A band I was most excited to see was Hiatus Kiayote, but was unfortunately disappointed. Although exhausted, I moseyed over to the main stages a little before 3pm to catch the Australia-based future soul group, expecting to lay down in the sun and relax while I soaked in music from a band I’ve shared with tons of people since discovering them over a year ago. Instead, I found myself dragging my tapestry farther and farther away from the stage. The sound was unbearable. I’m not familiar with technical terms, so bear with me here, but the speakers sounded fuzzy as if there was something wrong. Pair that with the volume being turned up way too high, and I shortly found myself staring longingly from the other side of the field where my ears no longer hurt, but it was too unclear to enjoy before I turned and went back to my campsite. This wasn’t the case for every single set, but over the weekend, our friends noticed issues at various stages on each night.
Upon reflection, another thing hoped to see more of was live art. As a hooper, I thoroughly enjoy seeing flow artists of all variety light up the night with their LED or fire props, but aside from those of us in attendance, it wasn’t clear that there was a performance troupe of any kind. This is something I was very surprised by, as it’s come to be a standard element of every festival. Vertex did have their performance artists in the way of the house characters and the roaming umbrella boys, who all did an excellent job at maintaining their roles throughout the weekend. I was surprised to see the same people at their posts every single day, however I never saw more as the weekend went on, which was unusual. Typically, each night of a festival seems to build on the last. As more patrons fill up the campsites, I would think each night would be bigger and brighter than the last.
An element Vertex had that I’ve yet to see at a festival was Robot Resurrection, looming above the crowd in the main stage area. As the sun fell behind the mountains, the robot’s conductors would climb inside and begin manipulating the license-plate belted creature. They controlled its arms and head, and shot propane-fed flames through its hands and mouth into the night sky as curious spectators gathered below. I liked seeing a little bit of burner culture at the center of this festival. It made me feel at home, and I later bugged creator, Shane Evans, to sit down for an interview to talk more about the project and his role at the festival. Additionally, in the way of interesting components of the festival, sitting on a small hill looking over the main stage area were two wooden geometric structures, built as an observatory to gaze at the stars and meteor shower that lit up the open field. One night they even had telescopes, but it was overcast, so I never went back to check them out.
Overall, there was more “good” than “bad” to this festival. Getting through the gates was a breeze, and our campsite was packed in reasonably. The walk from each end of the festival grounds wasn’t exhausting.There was plenty of space to sit or lay down and enjoy the music at each stage. Although I didn’t stay to see every single act each night, for the most part, I still enjoyed the small portion of each set I did catch. The visual aesthetics throughout the grounds was consistent and unlike anything I have ever seen before. The two smaller stages were beautifully constructed and hosted an awesome variety of music, often drawing me away from the main stage acts I wasn’t familiar with. Both the food and clothing vendors were completely original. Being at a west coast festival for the first time, I didn’t recognize any of them, which was refreshing. The bathrooms were cleaned every morning, so having to use them by the end of the weekend wasn’t a traumatizing experience, as we all know it can be.
Vertex festival is definitely going to be an experience on the rise. Their foundation is solid, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops over the next few years. Personally, I’ll probably wait a couple years to go back, as I have some other west coast festivals to explore, but with a venue like Buena Vista and a production team-up of Madison House Presents and AEG Live – Rocky Mountains, big things are coming!