There’s nothing like the feeling of reflection after a once in a lifetime, unforgettable event like Wakarusa 2009. Parts of you (knees, feet, back) couldn’t feel more elated about returning home to a warm shower (minus the $5 usage charge), a cozy Tempur-Pedic bed, and the air conditioner you conveniently forget to shut off during these summer months. But such post-festival physical desires take a back seat as your heart grasps hold of the wheel to navigate your thoughts through clouds of foggy, yet beautiful memories of incendiary sets of live music, sporadic social encounters, and blooming personal and spiritual connections.
After a close to flawless and eye opening Wakarusa trip, the Eyes on the Back Door film/rage crew had their camera lenses and third eyes set on the Summer Solstice Projekt in Myersville, Maryland. Music at the festival was scheduled to ensue from Thursday at 4pm through sunrise on Sunday(personally my new favorite time to awake at a festival). There was clearly no doubt in our heady minds that our campsite and crew would be well prepared for a weekend of unforgettable live band and DJ sets, including Skream and Benga, Conspirator, The Egg, Brothers Past, KJ Swaka, Psycho Killers (our chance to channel David Byrne at Red Rocks Saturday night), and an always worthy DJ set by Simon “Shpongle” Posford paired with a highly anticipated live painting exhibition by Alex Grey. Little did we know that Thursday night would be the one and only night of the music promised to us and other ticket holders.
We arrived around 7 pm on Thursday evening from our respective home bases (Florida, Boston, Long Island, Virginia, New York City). Many of us showed up having no clue as to when each act was going to play–no schedule was posted prior to the event. However, I had received a last minute email from a fellow Boston University student, Marni Levy, with the set times. Once I saw that Conspirator, Skream and Benga, Orchard Lounge, Joe Nice, and Push were all going to play that Thursday night, I knew swift and instant raging was in order for Eyes on the Back Door.
Push provided us with a fire set at 8 pm- an amazing way to set up camp and allow new friends to meet behind the main stage. Mike Kappeli and the Eyes on the Back Door film crew clearly had too much time off between Waka and Solstice, because as the sun began going down they were already running a mile a minute working to get everyone settled in real proper like. New additions to my Boston/NY festival rage crew seemed to be feeling right at home- packing up their fanny packs with eye catching party materials, water to fight off the humidity, and piles of fresh Use Your Head pins to promote responsible raging as well as our new 2009 festival Flickr page. There were a few initial complaints from the pistachio gallery. “They could have mowed the grass for us here at least!” Dizzy Gillespie said, kicking at the tall and irritating blades of what looked like weedy Zoysia grass. I felt a little suspicious about how the people at the front gate (in their regular civilian clothes, not security) didn’t even seem to check our cars at all- surely allowing nitrous tanks and glass bottles to enter the campsite freely. But as we prepared to enter the main stage area to rage, the wise words of Kappeli at Wakarusa came to mind: “That’s exactly why we don’t give a shit about little setbacks, because good things happen at these places!”
So we pressed on. Much of the crew met up with our friends from around the Northeast in front of the main stage, while others went backstage to say hello to the likes of Bethany and Ben from Orchard Lounge and Charlie Brick (Higher Nebulae). Joe Nice’s set was very encouraging. The sound levels were not bad, the womp was alive, and smiles began to spring up on faces in the crowd. But no smile was as wide as Joe Nice’s, as his set really gave the crowd a jolt and got my portable black light swinging. The highlight of his set was the noticeable and perspired “stink face” he had on half way through, where his sense of hearing knew how dirty the beat had dropped, and his sense of smell caught a wiff of the familar rank and disgusting scent coming from some idiot in the crowd. Also, I thought it was very Nice of Joe to point out fans in the crowd and let them know this next track would be exclusively for them. “This next one’s for you, Pepper!,” Nice bellowed at Hardy Winburn, who was rocking a Dr. Pepper (best soda in the South) T-shirt.
Orchard Lounge, still reeling from the announcement of The Orb’s cancellation of their anticipated summer tour, prepared for what was sure to be a “party on wayne!” raging set like I had experienced many times in Boston and NYC. Sadly, the set was anything but kosher. We were all very perplexed by how low the bass levels (heart and soul of a DJ set) were- weaksauce for sure. The festival “officials” would periodically prod Bethany and Ben, telling them to keep it low. I can only imagine how annoying that was. Despite the fact that the interruptions caused the two artists to have a rough time finding solid non-stop, head-banging unity during their set, both OL and the rage crew displayed our ability to bring it hard anyway. Others in the crowd, some of which may have been slightly more beat than others from their drive, were not so fortunate. “I was running on fumes, considering I didn’t sleep Wednesday night and drove straight through to MD that morning. It was the first time I had been at a festival where I felt I had to will myself through the music, instead of being completely immersed in it. I think this was a testament to how exhausted I was and the lack of momentum on the night’s festivities part,” live music blogger Poor Taste said in an article regarding Solstice’s only night of music.
During the next set break, everyone felt a little disheartened. The festival itself had a strangle hold on it’s own lifeline. Everyone in the crowd who had put on their ragefaces and those who pressed and dipped early were expressing their concerns to the person next to them. Adam “Rage” Cheslow gave me a confused look over the top of his black Orbison Ray-Ban’s, shrugging his shoulders with his hands outstretched. The announcer eventually came out and explained that Conspirator would be going on before Benga and Skream. We knew something was up at that point. What other reason would Conspirator have for going on first, other than to get the hell out of that campground? I’m sure Mike, Alex, Zach, and Mack were not feeling so confident backstage at this point. I convinced myself that the prospect of my first Conspirator plus Lane and Murph set was enough to forget about the night’s initial mishaps. Believe me, during Conspirator’s set the Eyes on the Back Door ragecrew let it all out on the dance-earth. Knee’s knocked and wobbled, stomping ensued, and at every breakdown you could look around and see a few people standing completely still- in awe of the musical genius that filled the stage. Despite the crowd’s enthusiasm, Conspirator still played earlier than expected and didn’t seem to bring it as hard as they may have in NYC, and definitely nowhere near as ill as the set in Philly on Saturday night (more on that later).
The culmination of the evening came with Benga’s late night set. Now, this does not mean that myself or anyone else was anywhere near 100% happy with what was going on. Skream, for whatever reason, did not make it to Solstice. Considering the fact that all my boys and I had been blasting the brand new Skream vs Benga mix from Skream’s 6/7/09 birthday party at Forward in the UK, we were really pretty disappointed that only one half of the duo made it. Additionally, we all knew the womp, the bass that we all felt so privileged to not have to fly to London to hear- wasn’t going to be the same. The festival’s small crowd (“everyone is at Phish tonight”), the extreme lack of festival personnel, and the late night arrival of an ambulance who’s lights obviously seemed like Police lights gave us all that sinking feeling in our stomach- intuition strikes again. As for Benga, we all loved him. He hasn’t been one of the world’s premier Dubstep musicians for the past seven years for nothing. Although Benga’s set may not have exploded as it should have, Benga did. His stage presence rubbed off on all of us raging the crowd. He would duck up and down from behind his mixing table, he would point his records right at us, he would scream with his arms outstretched looking a whole lot like- forgive me Benga- Seal showing off his soulful prowess. Mack Bradley circled around with his EOTBD video camera taking what is sure to be memorable footage of Benga doing his thing, and the rage crew kicking up our heels. At a number of points, Benga would point at the soundboard and cup his ear in frustration. Use Your Head photographer Dizzy Gillespie- one of the biggest Benga fans in the joint-hopped up on stage and made sure the Solstice sound guy knew what was up. “Turn it up!!! Benga needs it turned up!!!,” Dizzy yelled. Myself and others were very taken aback by such a ballsy move, but boy did we like it! Benga played his sunrise set, and after all the horrible production work, things were not so bad for those keeping the Rage alive.
After the set I took a stroll around the Main Stage field, talking to friends who had driven down from New Jersey and New York City. I missed out on Benga kicking it at the EOTBD campsite, knocking down a hefty whiskey shot and pinning on his Use Your Head button. Luckily photo evidence is enough for me. Once I got back, burgers and hot dogs were grilled for breakfast, and the finishing touches on the campsite’s decor were being put up by the enthusiastic Charles Mazzola. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits and Mike had some time to spend with his old buddies in Push. I got my ass to bed as soon as possible- after two of Grandon’s juicy Royal’s with cheese of course. We were ready for a brighter tomorrow for Solstice, and talk of Alex Grey/Shpongle swirled around the campground.
I awoke mid-day to the sound of boots rustling through the grass around my tent. I heard men yelling: “Every one’s got to get out by 4 o’clock! Festival is shutting down!” I opened up my tent’s door and watched as local police officers strolled through the EOTBD campsite. I knew they meant business, as there were 5 or 6 groups of police officers announcing the news throughout the site. Devastation, disappointment, and disbelief could be seen on our faces and in our voices as we all spread the word to the rage crew. Mike Kappeli- as you can imagine- was simultaneously speaking to officers, frantically calling Dave Ihnken, and assuring us that we would work something out. No way in hell the rage and the music would stop by Friday morning.
But it did. Summer Solstice 2009 was an immense bust. Vendors packed up, ticket holders groaned, Eyes on the Back Door pondered our next moves, and things looked bleak. The festival’s proprietor had failed to receive the correct permits for the event- what a fucking irresponsible move. “The festival had a permit for entertainment to run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m,” Jenkins said in an article by the Fredrick News Post of Fredrick, MD. “The sheriff’s office received noise complaints from Thursday night to 4 a.m. Friday,” the Post reports. You think?! Its a night of live, heady music at a music festival!
Let me add that my good friend, recent Boston University graduate, and amazing artist Michelle Silver created the illest festival posters for this event. Michelle-one of the people who introduced me to this community, to Shpongle, to Alex Grey- she was not even able to make it out to Solstice. We assured her that we would sell photocopies of her poster for $10 and help her make money so she could make it out to Rothbury this year (a feat we are all scrambling to accomplish). As Solstice shut down at 4pm, we had sold only a couple of posters and the rest are still available. The $300 that Michelle and Dizzy put into these posters was put to waste as well. If you would like to take a look at the final product (extremely heady) and would like to help her out by owning one despite the bust, let her know (http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/photo.php?pid=32800800&id=21806218).
With our cars packed up and the side door to the Eyes’ trailer locked, we moved towards the front entrance to leave for good. A girl on the side of the road handed us paper Solstice posters and mentioned that the rest of the acts at the festival would be rescheduled for Saturday and Sunday night in Baltimore. “If you show your wristbands at the door you will get into the shows for free. Keep them on.” she said. Now that i think about it, there was something fishy about all that. These people just didn’t want us to bust out our tent poles and show them how we felt about wasting our money.
Of course, things didn’t get a lot better soon after that. The Mercedes I drove in on was having some problems. The engine was on the brink of overheating. We made it out of the woods, but had to stop on the side of the main road outside the campgrounds. A caravan of Eyes’ affiliates pulled over, and we all tried our best to help and show concern. Pretty hard after getting kicked out of a music festival, let me tell you. The next 3 hours consisted of back and forth driving from the auto parts store to the old and hurting Benz.
As always, we made the most of it. Some of us were sunburnt already, most were hungry, and all were confused as to what happened next. Kappeli and the rest of the caravan waited up the road at the first diner (full of old bible belt gossipers) as Grandon and Deebs worked their mechanic magic on the sticky situation. We all convened outside the diner after the job was done, and made the collective decision to follow Mike and the Eyes’ trailer to the end of the earth-or at least to Baltimore.