Mayan Holidaze: Day 1 – “The Happiest Place on Earth”
There’s something undeniably magical about multi-day music festivals. With eclectic mixtures of our favorite bands, pastoral settings, few rules to speak of, and plenty of time to revel with old friends and make new ones, the festie scene takes all the ingredients for a good party and puts them in the same place at the same time, creating an experience that far transcends the traditional “show”…that is until you get a rainy weekend that transforms vulnerable festival grounds into a desolate swamp, covering our bodies and belongings in muck. Or perhaps when we are awoken from our tents by the blazing sun after just a few hours of sleep, preventing adequate rest for the hours of debauchaerous madness the evening hours bring. Or maybe when you tire of the three-day diet of fluffernutters, granola bars, and airborne, or just get pissed off because there’s no reasonable place to take a crap.
But lucky for us, the good folks at Cloud 9 Adventures offered an alternative to the difficulties that often disrupt the splendor of the music by taking some of the heavy weights of live electronic music and bringing them to Mexico for a four night residency in paradise on the spectacular, sun-washed beaches of the Now Sapphire, an all-inclusive resort on the hallowed grounds of the Mayan Riviera that boasts clear blue skies, warm ocean waters, beautiful sunsets, and the softest fuckin’ sand your feet could ever have the pleasure of walking on.
Oh ya…and it all went down in the middle of January when the northeastern United States is being pummeled by snow, ice, and whatever other nasty winter concoctions mother nature decides to pour out, making the event an even more welcome escape from the daily grind.
And indeed as the leagues of LRG and Grassroots California laden guests arrived at check-in on January 20th, you could feel the collective sigh of relief of 1100 gringos escaping the clutches of winter’s most brutal and depressing months to rage with the likes of The Disco Biscuits, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Umphrey’s McGee, Orchard Lounge, Bonobo, Emancipator, and The Album Leaf.
And though we entered the resort with heavy hearts for STS9’s bassist David Murphy who announced on the eve of the event that Holidaze would be Tribe’s last series of shows for the foreseeable future before he begins undergoing treatment for a cancerous tumor in his sinus cavity, I quickly realized while sitting at the poolside bar and listening to Tribe’s sound check that the announcement would do nothing more than elevate the artists’ game and bring this once in a lifetime experience to even more epic heights.
So after giving the guests a few hours to acclimate to their surroundings, Cloud 9’s Annabel Lukins asked that we, now gathered as a family, raise our collective glasses for a welcoming toast before Umphrey’s McGee took the stage for the first two sets of the evening, highlighted by “Higgins,” an “Eye of the Tiger” jam, and “Ringo” in the first set before the second set busted out a cover of the Talking Heads’ “Making Flippy Floppy,” and originals “Glory” and “The Triple Wide.”
And as Umphrey’s set faded into a Bonobo DJ set, I looked around and was temporarily paralyzed by the gravity of what I was taking part in. Here I was listening to one of my favorite artists with my feet lightly dusted by the rippling waves approaching the shoreline as waiters roamed the crowd with trays of complimentary beverages, looking out onto the water illuminated by a gorgeous full moon as the buoys reflected the vivid colors of the stage’s light show. And furthermore, I was able to take it all in without any disturbance from the stereotypical dirty, drug-addled undesirables who often detract from my musical experience. In fact, with the positive vibrations emitted from the loosely spaced crowd, it felt more like I was getting down with a few hundred of my best friends.
But before I had a chance to recover from the majesty of that sight, Sound Tribe had already taken the stage for the late night 12-3AM slot, and settled into “The Rabble,” before pushing into “Tooth” and “Move My Peeps,” and finishing the set with “One a Day” and the new tune “When the Dust Settles” debuted this past New Years Eve.
Then following a short break, Tribe retook the stage and opened with “Evasive Maneuvers,” and shortly after broke into a ferocious four-song combo that plowed through “Circus,” “Instantly,” “Inspire Strikes Back,” and “EHM,” with occasional shouts of “we love you Murph!” echoing in the light ocean breeze, peacefully rippling the Mayan dragon tapestries on the side of the stage giving the appearance that the whole rig was coming to life. It was a most beautiful thing to witness. Move over Disney World…Mayan Holidaze is officially the happiest place on Earth…and The Disco Biscuits haven’t even played a set yet.
Mayan Holidaze – Day 2: “Is Mexico Ready For You?”
Waking up on the morning of January 21st was kind of a mind fuck. Sure my calves were burning from hours of dancing on the sand the previous night, but looking out on the tropical paradise outside my room, I had to pinch myself to make sure my brain wasn’t playing tricks on me. But as I sauntered (why do anything but saunter in a place like this?) over to the oceanfront buffet and saw that Orchard Lounge was spinning a surprise disco-funk gazebo set in the middle of Now Sapphire’s immaculately constructed pool area, I was sure my wildest dreams had indeed manifested in reality.
But what was even more refreshing was how all the boundaries that normally separate the artists from the fans had dissolved completely. Composing my day one coverage, Marc Brownstein (also sauntering) cruised right by and after giving a few high-fives, shucked off his flat brim and lay down to catch some sun amongst the rest of us. Umphrey’s McGee’s keyboardist Joel Cummins sat next to me at the late night buffet the night before, and I waited behind Orchard Lounge’s Bethany Lokken to wash the sand off my feet at the offshore rinser. There was no VIP access because everyone who made it down there was a VIP. It was a beautiful thing.
Then as night fell and a brief afternoon rain spout cleared, a large crowd gathered in front of the main stage in anticipation of The Disco Biscuits’ first Holidaze set. Wasting no time, the Biscuits crushed a quick drop from the opener “Strobelights and Martinis” into “King of the World” with spot on guitar work from Barber and the very welcome agility and finesse of Allen Aucoin, recently returned to his proper spot behind the drum kit after being hospitalized just before the Biscuits’ New Years run. Brownstein then took the mic and asked us if we were ready to party with them for the remainder of the weekend and then asked the more appropriate question of whether Mexico was ready for us. Well…I can’t imagine the Now Sapphire staff could have anticipated quite the caliber of guests they’d be receiving, but watching my favorite bartender, David (pronounced Da-veed) nod his head as the Biscuits fired up “Crickets,” it was clear the staff of the Now Sapphire were getting a hell of a unique cultural experience and loving every second of it.
“Crickets” eventually broke down into a dub jam and then after Allen kicked up the tempo, stormed into an inverted “Portal to an Empty Head,” before closing the set with the “Crickets” peak.
Set two came out with a feel good “Story of the World” that bled into “Voices Insane” before exploding into “Bombs,” a tune that’s become a certifiable banger with special emphasis on Aron Magner’s mad scientist tones. “Bombs” then dropped into a crowd pleasing “House Dog Party Favor” before closing the set with the half serene, half rage-heavy “Shelby Rose…” a perfect set closer for a warm night on the beach.
The Biscuits were followed up by Emancipator (Doug Appling) whose live show impressively combined the production of bright, down-tempo beats with improvisational guitar melodies over the electronics, pulling out beats like “First Snow” and “Greenland” with a genuine live feel.
Umphrey’s then took the stage for the 12-3AM main stage slot, and though they don’t do much for me as a late night act, the “Nothing Too Fancy,” “Hurt Bird Bath,” and especially “In the Kitchen” (sung entirely in Spanish) kept the crowd hooked for the set’s duration.
But with day 3’s lineup featuring the musical series of STS9>Bonobo>Disco Biscuits>Orchard Lounge late night, it seemed like a good night to get some rest.
– Ben Weiss (Benjammin)