Upon arriving at the gates in Downtown Texas, a surge of excited energy erupted through my body when all the smiling faces presented themselves. Along with the smiles, were the seemingly beautiful and grand structures that stood tall and glorious from a distance. The day was a bit overcast and the air had a slight crisp that gave comfort to anyone that chose a sweatshirt. The first stop was the kittie space station, a dome that was appropriately themed with pictures of cats hung internally throughout the structure. A shrine of crystals and knick knacks such as Captain Crunch and Casper stood at the entryway – much effort put into the aesthetics gave me and whomever else that would walk into the kittie space station a sense of nostalgia and a bright near-future ahead. The weekend spent at Art Outside was destined to become a memorable one, and it was only just an hour in.
After a glass of pinot noir, several new friendly faces met, Bridget and I went to meet with Marcus Swagger, a crew member of Art Seen Alliance. A promised tour guide was in store for us and an unexpected humor projected from Swagger would come along with it. Swagger, a tall blonde haired man with pointy eyebrows, had an extroverted and comedic quality that I found attractive and yet felt envious of. Both Bridget and I, along with another journalist from Dallas hopped onto Swagger’s golf cart for what felt like five minutes. Driving us on the rocky dirt trail, we swayed back and forth holding onto dear weekend as he pointed out all of the art structures, laughing and making jokes that caused us to laugh harder. The installation that stood out like a diamond was the Cathedral of Celestial Mathgic, a structure that was also at Burning Man just a few weeks earlier. The center piece is a replica of George W. Hart’s, Frabjous, beautifully constructed by a team of eight people. I sat in the back of that golf cart with my jaw so far to the ground that I nearly drooled over this installation. Swagger explained how Mathgic functioned and at which point, drool actually did start slowly seeping from the corner of my mouth. We experienced a few introductions, a couple moments of incredible laughter, and one last stop: the backstage bar… Pineapple juice and Tito’s vodka filled my clear biodegradable cup.
After mingling with others from press and the bartenders, I assumed my position and headed straight towards the main stage to see the performance art group, whose name had been built up to me weeks before.
Crash Alchemy approached the stage with an ability to attract the crowd that was irrevocable. The costumes were elaborate, the movement and dancing was incredibly graceful, the storyline was creative, and the crowd was completely entertained. So much so that when the performance was over, it felt like the whole thing had only lasted for just a few minutes. The group intertwines theatre, music, visual art, and dancing. The visual art was projected onto a video mapping portal designed by Topher Sipes. Crash Alchemy consists of over twenty five members including dancers, aerialists, technologists, artists, and musicians. Their wonderful performance felt like a massage of the brain, a perfect sensation to prepare us for what would come next.
When Crash Alchemy took their bow and skipped pixie-like off the stage, the tesla coils displayed electrical currents that sparked your eardrums and caught your eye. The volts of electricity were synchronized with the tempo of the music. The crowd, much like moths, would flock to the sounds and bright flashes of light, penetrating from the tesla coils. The coils generated between every set after sunset for the rest of the weekend. It would eventually become such an excitement that some people would actually sprint towards the electricity, including myself.
The rest of the dark hours would be spent in the dome experiencing the wonderful world of electronic music. There a group of clowns would catch my attention with their eccentric movements and melodramatic facial expressions. They call themselves L’Unkles Boink. The group would be seen clowning around in their fabulous home-made costumes for the rest of the weekend. Jesselynn Desmond, a member of L’Uncle, described the purpose of the group.
“Our intention for when we are performing at festivals is to get people aligned with their “clown” chakra. Getting you out of your head and into your heart with a little pizazz and play. We try to get people into their higher self with a little playful modality. We play the fool so they don’t have to.”
I had awakened early Saturday due to calling it a night fairly early. I had mistakenly left my wallet in my friends locked car so it was safe to assume he would be sleeping over the next few hours. Hungry and suffering from a caffeine withdrawal that disabled any ability to fall back asleep, the moment seemed to be an opportunity to seize a greater knowledge of the grounds… So I did. A tour on foot and alone seemed to allow a different perspective. I walked through the vending while everyone set up for the day. I walked to the main stage and to the pavilion. There at the pavilion, a teaching of Tibetan singing was taking place. Instead of participating, I sat with the wallflowers and joined them in the inhaling of tobacco smoke. We observed the class from a distance. Thinking back in retrospect, we all should have engaged in the teaching.
A couple hours had passed, so I headed back to camp with the hopes that I could grab my wallet. My mind was focused on a growling, angry stomach. Along the way a young man read my damned mind and offered me a banana. The people of Art Outside apparently share a great telepathy with one another. Coffee finally made it’s way to my hands and friends were visible near the pavilion. I met with a few of them; we then swiftly skipped to the “folk it up” stage. There we would see the wonderful performances of bands like the Flying Balalaika Brothers and Mighty Mountain.
Flying Balalaika Brothers put on a phenomenal performance on the folk stage. They had played a nexus of traditional world music with their own unique and quirky flair. Zhenya Kolykhanov (a.k.a. Z-Rock) a native of Russia and Sergey Vashchenko, a native of the Ukraine, are the two lead members. I had the chance to speak with the both of them after the show while they packed up to head back to Austin for a performance scheduled for just a few hours later.
Both men had been introduced to music as young boys. They are both in their latter years of the middle-ages, so their experience in music is absolutely astounding. While watching them perform, the experience they have attained is very obvious. Zhenya is the founder of the band. He played the guitar and the bayan during the show. Zhenya is a focused man with dedication that is trailblazing, and yet he was also a sort of jovial. He was completely open to talking and shared his experience on Jam Cruise 4 with me, there he got to jam out between shows with the likes of Les Claypool and Michael Travis. Sergey was a jolly chap that was full of jokes and laughter. He was so charming that I found myself blushing quite often talking with him. He began his musical training on the balalaika and bayan. Sergey throughout the show played the smaller balalaika, however, they alternate the balalaika with each gig. I hope to catch Sergey playing the large balalaika soon.
Mighty Mountain, made up of seven beautifully attractive members each with a style of their own, performed with an amazing enthusiasm. Their music and physical style was an intregration of several decades before them along with the present. They left me with an incredible energy that resulted in my eyes filling with tears of joy. As I sat there weeping and completely blown away, next to me a couple people over was a young woman in a similar state, but to a degree that left me wondering what relationship she must have had with them.
Later in the evening, a friend and I frolicked to her campsite. I saw the same woman drawing patterns with a royal blue marker. It was a chance to ask her why she was so emotionally moved by Mighty Mountains performance. The conversation lasted for a few minutes. I had left it having a better understanding of what it means to witness the journey of a band and the overwhelming ability to feel so proud of your friends for their success, growth, and unified display of talent on stage. That was the most consistent message that was dealt throughout all of Art Outside. The talent and the audience were so tight-knit and loving, that even coming in as an outsider, the feeling boiled over onto me as well. It felt like home and what many have said a “family reunion.” It feels like home even if it’s something you have never yet experienced!
The sun began to set for the second time. When the the sky gets painted black and the moon shines our party animal within guides us to the dome stage. The area within which electronic music is produced gathers the crowd in a large geodesic dome that produces such a great light. This night was filled with artists such as Rena Jones, Bluetech, Psymbionic, NiT GriT, Happy Happy James, Brede, Somatoast, Bird of Prey, Thriftworks, and Kalya Scintilla.
Happy Happy James began his set with his wife, Ciara Blossom, at the lower portion of the stage hoop dancing. Personally as a hoop dancer myself, it was an amazingly surreal experience to see her perform. The two of them complement each other in their performances. They both had such an involvement in the creation of Art Outside that seeing them both contribute even further through performing was so congratulatory; I even started patting myself on the back. I was so grateful to have been in the dome at that moment and to have witnessed their creations come together at a climatic point.
It was the last morning of the end of the festival and this time that I remembered to keep my wallet. Coffee – check, kombucha – check, and adventurous state – CHECK. First up, Topher Sipes’ Lucid Dream workshop, one problem – his class was scheduled at the same time as Michael Garfield’s set. Luckily the two were not too far away from one another so I would be skipping back and forth between them. Topher began his workshop by asking the class, “What does lucid dreaming mean to you and have you ever experienced lucid dreaming?” A young woman with long dark hair was eager to answer. She spoke of lucid dreaming as if it were an experience she has every night and every morning, just like Topher, writes her experiences down when she rises from bed.
After several minutes engaging in Sipes’ workshop I skipped quickly to the folk stage. Michael, sporting his jurassic park t-shirt was sitting at the center of the stage, exchanging words with the audience, bending over every so often to adjust his pedal board. The melodies were produced from a looping of electronic wonder and the sounds of the acoustic guitar were intermingled into each song. His music takes one into a journey of a relaxing meditation. A mood that appropriately followed a weekend of high energy.
Following Garfield’s set, I went to the picnic area. There, my partner in crime, Bridget was sitting with a fellow with a feathered hat and a quality that resembled a young Bob Dylan. The fellow happened to be Cohen, of Sea at Last. We all conversed and picked his brain. He spoke of a documentary he was working on and another he had finished, the journey of his career in filmmaking, and the development of Sea at Last. After I pointed out the resemblance he shared with Dylan the conversation took a turn to, of course, Bob Dylan and others such as Jimi Hendrix and Edie Sedgwick. Michael Garfield plopped down and at that point, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, also became focal points of our conversation. We all acknowledged the affect they had on us and how much of our aspirations have been inspired by these talented and mostly passed on souls… The heat of the sun became almost too much to bare. We scattered to our own paths. Soon, I would be introduced to Seastars, a band that left me in awe and hopeful for my own magical romance.
Seastars had a dynamic that was both mesmerizing and loving. Katie Gray has a beautiful quality on stage that is comparable to the magic only seen in the golden era of film. When you move your eyes over to Kurt Baumann, you see the admiration and love on his face directed towards her, only for it to be completely reflected back to him from her eyes and smile. The love between them amped up the energy in the crowd and complemented their harmonious voices. After I asked them what their relationship with the audience is like and what they hope to achieve with them, Katie’s response was, “We are all vulnerable, we are all intimate, we all feel pain, we all love, we all fear, anything to just remind the crowd that we are all on the same level.” Kurt followed her response with, “As an artist, in a way, you are trying to command the ship to take everybody on the journey with you.” They were introduced by mutual friends that insisted that they meet. Within just hours of meeting they recognized the chemistry and knew that they could merge into one project together. Their first performance as Seastars was in Austin at a dear friends’ memorial service. One must keep their eyes peeled for Seastars. I see them attaining as much success in their careers as any musician can get. It was truly an honor meeting the two of them.
Ishi was the second to last band to provide us with some final grooves. Ishi is a band based out of Dallas. They are quirky, upbeat, and original. The lead singer rocked a headdress that could be seen from the pavilion. He waved his arms in the air in a way that almost seemed like he was conducting the energy of the audience. It was incredible.
Following Ishi, The Nadis Warriors played the last set to be heard on stage with an incredible encore that left you wanting more and yet satisfied and completely gratified for experiencing such a wonderful weekend. After they left the stage, the crew of Art Seen Alliance took it over. They came out with a few bottles of champagne and smiles on their faces that sparkled with strong feelings of accomplishment. They thanked the crowd and then popped open the bottles, allowing the bubbles to fizz over and hit the stage floor. It was a moment of celebration for everyone: the audience, the performers, and the incredible production team that worked so hard to create the memories we’d all take with us throughout our lives. I look forward to partaking in the family reunion year after year. Art Outside 2013, as fate would have it, was one to remember.