Written by Rachel Bessman
Photos by aLIVE Coverage, courtesy of Euphoria Music Festival
It was a hot, sunny Thursday in Austin, Texas when I arrived at the Carson Creek ranch for this year’s Euphoria Music festival. Returning for its sixth year, I had heard a lot about the festival but had never myself attended. Friends had told me it was one of their favorite festivals, one saying that he’d never been to a music festival where he felt everyone was so in sync and open minded. “Imagine something like Firefly,” he said, “except it’s not all commercial and everyone there is actually really in it for the music.” I have to say that had me intrigued.
The scene upon arrival was a familiar one; crowds of people, all grinning ear-to-ear as they make their way from parking to the festival. I picked up my pass and asked where I should be camping. There seemed to be some confusion among staff in regard to parking and camping assignments, but honestly I expect that at most large festivals. You’re working with volunteers who are trying to assist thousands of people and communication isn’t always one hundred percent. The key is how they try to assist you. I found the admission staff to be incredibly considerate and accommodating, and any confusion was cleared up quickly with a smile and a thank you.
I parked my car and walked immediately from the lot to the campgrounds – an experience you don’t always have the luxury of enjoying at large festivals. I’m used to parking on one side, walking over to the other, expecting to be exhausted by the journey but just accepting it as part of the deal. Not so at Euphoria. It’s not just a VIP perk to have easy access to the grounds from the lot. I was travelling alone and had a moment when I parked my car of realizing that I’d never, actually, been to a camping festival by myself. Immediately in my mind I began to inventory all of the items I had brought with me and how many trips it would take me to carry it all in. The tent will have to be first, maybe I can shove a lot in the cooler and use that? I gathered up as much as I could in one haul, sweating and regretting my plea of independance as I shlepped it to the gates. I laid out my bags and told the four people working that I’d have to run back to my car and make a couple more trips, apologizing for asking them to keep an eye on my belongings for me. “Don’t worry about it!” a volunteer said, “bring your car around and I’ll unload your stuff with you and help you carry it to your tent.” This wasn’t simply a gesture from a nice young man helping a damsel in distress, it was something every gate volunteer offered to do. When I say the staff was helpful, I don’t say it lightly. They truly were.
Excited to see the grounds I’d heard so much about – a large piece of land with a lovely perimeter of tall trees, nestled into the Carson Creek river, I quickly set up my tent and set out for my first day.
I made my way from my campground to the festival grounds by walking through the Art Outside Village. Art Outside is an annual festival in Rockdale, Texas that has thousands of attendees each year, featuring an absorbing array of music, art, circus performers, flow classes, yoga – all the good stuff. It has a unique way of making local art available directly to the community, tying everyone together. This year, Euphoria teamed up with Art Outside, creating a little village just outside of the main grounds. Here, you could browse the large tent enshrined with graphic art of all styles that had artists hanging around in it, coming and going, happily talking to interested people, explaining various pieces and expressions – even if it wasn’t their work. One young man was sitting just outside the tent holding full tea ceremonies, free to anyone who cared to sit. Across from it was a large Eno tent canopy that I napped quite pleasantly in. Next to it sat the Euphoria General Store, where you could get whatever you needed. Bringing alcohol into the camp grounds was not permitted, however, if you wanted some beers back at the tent you could always stop at the Store and grab a six pack. And then on the other side was a Sonic Portal, where you could sit in the middle of a tiny easy up surrounded by large gongs that happy volunteers vibrated in a way that makes voices in your head you’ve never heard before sing opera.
Workshops of all kinds were held in the Village, free to anyone with passing interest. Every morning you could catch yoga, but the workshops had an incredibly wide range. One I attended explained in great detail how you could harvest rainwater. Another was introduction to Ableton (music production software and hardware). And yet another was an intro to Mindful Sexuality, where I learned what I can only summarize as a theory that proposed you could essentially harness the power of the orgasm to “nourish” the body and mind. Oh yeah, they had it all covered – stilt walking, partner hooping, marijuana reform, acro yoga, thai yoga, sanctuary yoga, permaculture, beekeeping, circus training. The works. If you couldn’t find an interesting workshop in the Village, it was probably for reasons similar to “I thought I was going to an immersive mathematics camp but somehow found myself at a music festival”.
Euphoria’s integration of one of the most successful art and music festivals in the area into their own was a brilliant idea, executed perfectly. What a fantastic concept! I’d like to see more festivals do the same.
Though the Village could be a welcome way to get a little alone time (or, less people time), there was no shortage of comfort offered inside the gates.The grounds were huge. The sprawling ranch stretched twenty acres across from the pecan trees that lined the creek to the main stage. Few trees stood in between, leaving a large expanse of land. But don’t worry – the tired, the hot, the prone to sunburn people such as myself had any number of canopies and shaded hammocks to relax under.
The three stages were perfectly positioned, and the two smaller stages were set up in such a fashion that you didn’t feel like you were missing out on a better stage no matter where you were. The Dragonfly Stage, where Unlike Pluto and Ganja White Knight packed hundreds of dancing fans, lay on the banks of the creek and was set in a natural ampitheatre. Breeze blew through the trees off the water, 3D mapped laser lights were projected onto the water and trees behind it for a truly profound visual experience, with a beautiful canopy of all shapes and colors hung overhead. The Elements stage was almost as large as the mainstage, topped with a giant cut out fox that had screens in the eyes, so they randomly darted around or followed you or just generally had you awed.
And the music, incredible. The Disco Biscuits did two back to back sets that had me at one point just wide eyed and staring thinking, why haven’t I been to more Biscuits shows? Pretty Light’s played a live set that blew everyone’s mind. Moby as well. It has to be noted that a talented DJ can really be judged by their ability to play a live set. I haven’t had a face-melting experience like the one Moby offered up on the Elements stage in ages, and I expect that was surprising for a lot of the younger audience members (I’m certain many of them didn’t know who he was). Bakermat, Manic Focus, and Chet Porter were a few of my favorites. Chromeo played a set like none other, as much a theatrical production as a musical endeavor. If you haven’t seen them live, it is a must.
But it wasn’t just EDM that raged the stage. Dumpstaphunk, a funk band that I swear is straight out of the 1970s, Turkuaz, a funk fusion band, and Chronixx, a reggae dub band, are just a few examples of the wide variety of music offered up. House, funk, jamtronic and even a little reggae were all to be enjoyed.
The camping was easy, the music was incredible, and the grounds were clean. We’ve all seen the aftermath at big music festivals, and it’s typically not pretty, and almost guaranteed not eco-friendly. This year, the festival had introduced something called Ecophoria – an eco-friendly, going green initiative that aimed to decrease the footprint left behind. Water was everywhere to be refilled, and printed lineups had been scrapped in exchange for an app (that worked surprisingly well). Many workshops were offered, and the “green team” was there, every single night, to clean up. Euphoria brought on Wysidio Studios to assist them on their mission to go green.
Clay Young, Euphoria’s Sustainability Director and partner/creator of Wysidio, made it clear to me that going green isn’t as straightforward as having lots of recycling. A huge part of their campaign was education, and not just for the attendees, but also for the producers, the vendors – everyone involved in running the show. The Ecophoria team partnered up with Austin Permaculture Guild and Keep Austin Beautiful, making a concerted effort to create what I believe will be a lasting connection between the community and the festival, ensuring that local eco-initiatives can be involved. “If they continue this path, [Euphoria] will be one of the flagship sustainable music festivals in a few years,” Clay told me, adding, “Euphoria is my favorite festival to work because these guys are all the way pro. If you need help with something, somebody will do it and it doesn’t matter if it’s in their department or not. If it needs to be done, they will help you do it. That’s really rare – in society, and festivals. And that’s why I like coming here… because I truly enjoy it.”
Any critiques I have I’m sure will be easily fixed. I would propose more signage for Ecophoria and Art Outside, and that the super awesome cooking station they had set up in GA also be in VIP. These critiques however are so overshadowed by the wonderful experience I had that I almost forgot them entirely upon leaving.
I would say that I did, indeed, leave feeling a sense of Euphoria. The community created there in Austin, even if just for those four days, was so welcoming, so warm, so conscious and inclusive that I couldn’t help but feel like I was leaving a little family when I finally got in my car. I understand now why so many are drawn back year after year, and why this festival has expanded and boomed so much. To put it simply, it’s because the festival is aptly named.