Photos by Clint Bliss
This past weekend I attended AURA music festival with a group of my friends. It was a quick trip north from the Boca Raton area from where many of the festival’s attendees were traveling. After all, the festival was being sponsored in part by Brotherly Love Productions, a company formed around Boca Raton. The portion of the Crescent J Ranch we occupied during the weekend was relatively flat, with some roll to the terrain. There were large saw palmettos and oak trees on the property, and the grass had recently been mowed, leaving behind some hay for us to kick around. Upon entering the festival, we drove down a dirt road and I noticed a horse training pen and some stables. The ranch certainly had the capability of housing many animals, though I did not see any farm animals during the weekend. After a drive of roughly a quarter mile, we parked and I went to the ticket tent. The lines were not long and I received my press pass with no hassle. I was disappointed to learn that there was no schedule printed for the festival. Not that they had given them all away, or they simply did not have band bios, but the festival promoters decided to not print a schedule of events for the press or general public. I am not sure what the reason behind this was, or if there was any reason. It would have been very helpful as a reviewer to know who I was seeing when I was seeing them. I did my research. I listened to the music before the festival. I wrote down who I wanted to see and who appealed to me, but I did not imagine I would not be able to get a schedule at the gates. There’s only so much preparation the press should be expected to do. This was frustrating. Although there was a piece of paper with the times printed at each stage, this was not sufficient for a festival that had an attendance of what was rumored to be around 2,200.
Going into the ranch was light. We were asked if we had weapons, glass or drugs, and since we had none of any, we passed through with no problem. The parking was chaotic. There was one person in the dying daylight to direct us to our parking spot. Initially we drove through the vendor’s section and realized we were in the wrong place, so we turned around and drove down the row of automobiles and parked next to
Sarah who informed us that we could not park there because we she was saving the spot. We made our way down a bit further and found what we thought would be our place. My buddy was a bit agitated at this point and immediately threw his tent up with some curses and grumbles. Shortly thereafter he received a phone call notifying us our friends had saved us a spot near them. We moved for the third and final time.
The festival was set up for car camping. Most campers were situated in a row of automobiles around five hundred yards long. There was no shade located in the camping area and the January heat was nearly unbearable at some points during the day, although the nights were cool. No campfires were allowed this year because of the dry weather, and this was for the best because, as I mentioned earlier, there was hay covering the ground at the festival. There was no electricity at the campsites unless one paid an extra fee for RV hookups. On the way to the stages was the official vending area, with several food, art and clothing vendors. I had a Cheesy Taco Incident that was quite delicious. I also had an Oregon Chai latte that was good, but burned the tip of my tongue. Easy on the boiling water! The stages were roughly a ten minute walk from where my campsite was located, which was a nice stroll. Inside the venue were two stages named (somewhat uninterestingly) stage A and stage B, located side by side. One was larger than the other, though they were adjoining. Musical acts followed each other back to back on this stage. There was a small pond with an isthmus between the main stages and the revival style tent named the Rage Tent. The Rage Tent was home to most of the DJs and a few live music acts.
The first band I saw when I made it down to the music was the Burnin’ Smyrnans, a group from New Smyrna Beach, Florida that I would describe as Space Reggae. They were not full out dub like Groundation, nor were they Roots like Burning Spear. The band was somewhat funky and had a dub sound, but appealed to a festival crowd that was there to see mainly Jamtronica and DJ made electronic music. After this show I made my way to the Rage Tent, a revival style tent set up roughly 300 yards from the main stages. I saw DJ’s Aquarium and Labyrinth in the rage tent. I enjoyed both sets, but was really there to see Nick Noyes, whom I had seen perform once before at the Funky Buddha. Nick’s set in the Rage Tent was fun and exciting. It drew a fairly large crowd (more than one hundred people)and several members of the press were there to cover the event. It was great to see so many familiar faces in the crowd. Nick is a one man act. He performs looping with pedals, simulating a drum kit, horns and other sounds by manipulating his voice, recording it and then looping it, in a style reminiscent of Keller Williams. Nick laid down a groove on guitar and then looped the groove. Next, he laid down a percussion beat, or other such sound, and looped this groove, overlying the various layers. He often plays percussion by tapping and slapping on his guitar. Nick’s set was a mix of covers and originals, for which he has a great talent at composing. I enjoyed dancing with familiar people and getting down to good grooves. At one point, Nick looped everything, jumped off stage and danced with the rail-riders at the front of the crowd. It is great to see an artist mix and mingle with the audience in an era where performer andaudience are so often separated. Nick looked like he was negotiating a ski slope full of moguls. The show was fantastic. It would be great to see Nick playing with a full band as Keller does with the Keels, the WMD’s or the Rhythm Devils.
I spent the early part of the morning in the comfort of a beach chair watching the sun rise and enjoying casual conversation with my campmates, reminiscing about other festivals we had attended in years past. The first part of the day I was laying low, helping my friend sell her wraps, trading stickers and looking at jewels and fossils. I saw some cool spray paint art depicting different scenes of space and traded for a Mountains of the Moon scene. Later, we were hula hooping, dancing and listening to the Dead on Shakedown Street. I also met some folks who were selling buttons and picked up a few, one which depicted Jerry playing Rosebud. I met a kind soul painting a beautiful acrylic on canvas portraying the seed of life, then I made my way into the festival to see another Nick Noyes set.
Nick had earned a set on one of the main stages because Fat Mannequin was unable to make an appearance. Nick’s set at the main stage was another fantastic set, with plenty of space to dance and young people blissing out in the warm Florida sunshine. The set featured one of my favorite Nick Noyes songs, Six in the Nineties, and closed with Nick on acoustic guitar and his brother and cousins joining him on stage for vocal harmonies. Thankfully, I believe the tapers were present for this set. Nick’s set served as an opener for Crazy Fingers, a Grateful Dead tribute band from south Florida. Crazy Fingers recently celebrated their 20thanniversary in Delray Beach, and they do a solid job of playing Dead and Jerry Garcia Band songs. Featuring Corey Dwyer on lead guitar, Josh Foster on Keys, Bubba Newton on Bass and current Jerry Garcia Band member Pete Lavezolli on Drums, their set was fire. Bubba’s bass could be felt all the way to the back of the venue. Their set was important to the flow and unity of the festival. This was the only set during the festival where I saw families together on the grass. I saw children in the golden sunshine and the group consciousness was complete and whole for a certain time. It is important the Grateful Dead is represented at festivals, as they are one reason we can celebrate our freedom at free spirited festivals the way we can today. It is great when new unknown bands can get their name out at a festival, or when young musicians get a chance to shine, but without the Dead, no way would these festivals happen, nor would the touring lifestyle exist. This is something the younger musicians often forget or have not been taught yet.
I took a brief nap to rest up for the night and got to the main stage in time to see The Heavy Pets start their set. The Heavy Pets lineup is comprised of Jeff Lloyd on guitar, Mike Garulli on guitar, Justin Carney on bass, Jamie Newitt on drums and Jim Wuest on keys. Mike Garulli could not make the festival because of circumstances outside of his control, thus the Pets were playing without one of their guitar players. This was not the first time I had seen the Pets in a festival setting, but the first time I had seen them in a headliner position. They put on a great show and filled the entire area with sound. Jeff Lloyd’s lead guitar style is reminiscent of Trey Anastasio’s in that he goes on blistering runs with unguarded passion, and is brought back down to earth by Carney on bass, a centering factor. Lloyd was thrilled to be playing a key festival set and it showed.
Papadosio had just begun when I laid down in the lush grass with friends and watched an impromptu fire spinningsession. There was staff spinning fire and poi spinning that lasted while my friends and I got to know each other, enjoyed each other’s company, and watched the spinning, all in rhythm to Papadosio. When the fire stopped, a glow stick war broke out and my friends and I joined the crowd. We went up to the front. At this point I discovered the guard rail at the front had been breached and the audience was in the space reserved for press. I am a proponent of blurring the lines between audience and performer, but there are certain privileges that should be reserved for the press. Security should have been here to stop the crowd from moving the guard rail and dancing in the open space between stage and audience. I was annoyed as a member of the press and alarmed when someone entirely too high got on stage not once, but twice during Papadosio’s set and had to be escorted off first by one of the key players, and next by a member of the slacking security force. I was more than just annoyed. All together I enjoyed Papadosio’s set, and would like to see them again.
The Heavy Pet’s set was good, but was unmatched by the more cohesive playing of Lather Up at the Rage Tent later that night. When I approached the Rage Tent, I was not sure who was playing, but I was hearing a thick groove with bass and drums leading the way, keys complimenting and guitar adding licks in just the right places. I was drawn in by the thumping drums and bass groove and melodic keys. I then recognized the lineup on the stage as the Heavy Pets. (Lather Up is THP minus Jeff Lloyd and Mike Garulli. Jeff Lloyd had joined Lather Up for this set. This Lather Up set was the same lineup as THP from earlier on the main stage.) When Lather Up was playing the smaller stage, the jamming was more cohesive and the communication seemed more on point; they were unstoppable. Their jams were thick and tight. Jim Wuest was featured on the vocoder and Jeff Lloyd took a back seat to the rhythm section, allowing the other players to highlight their talents.
Come Sunday I was exhausted. I must have gotten five or six hours sleep all weekend. Most of the day I spent avoiding the sun, and talking with people I had met during the weekend. Everyone agreed they had fun during the weekend. I was lying low and enjoying people watching, eatingsandwiches and cleaning up the campsite. Sometime after midday we packed the car and prepared for the drive home, but wanted to see one more band before parting from the festival. Two of my friends parted ways early, but a few of the other ones stayed and we went to see Third Nature. The lineup featured keys, computer, bass and drums. The songs were driven and people were certainly there to get down. LED hoops were all around, and young people were dancing furiously as if it were a workout. At this point I could not dance any more. My back felt like it was broken. I could barely stretch myself and was too exhausted for a yoga session. I sat on the ground for much of the set, but did enjoy the show. After the show ended we walked to the campsite, I gathered the rest of my belongings, I ate a few pieces of red licorice, hugged my friends’ goodbye, hopped in the car and drove home. Sunday was a day of rest. We had a good time.
Reflecting on the festival it was spatially well organized. The land where the festival was held was indicative of the natural beauty Florida has to offer. I wish there had been a schedule offered at the main gates, especially to the press, who needs to know who they are seeing and when they are seeing them. This would have helped the festival flow, the performers and the press, especially at a blossoming festival where young artists are getting a chance to get their name out. The visual art was interesting. I would have like to have seen more installations. The fire spinning was great. I always
like to see fire at a festival. The sound system at the festival was great and I felt like the volume was appropriate, not unnecessarily loud so that it was bursting my eardrums, and not too quiet or projected in patches (ala 10KLF 2006). At certain times the music from the Rage Tent was flooding into the space at the main stage, but for the most part there was no problem between the two. The music was non-stop. And the festival promoters did a great job of keeping a Grateful Dead band on the lineup. I was impressed by the fact that many of the bands were regional; this kept the attendance at the festival relatively local. Sadly, there was one death at the festival due to over dose, and on Sunday night several cars were set fire. The way I see things, AURA can go two directions; the planners can continue to book smaller regional bands and act as a potential launching platform for these bands, or they can seek out larger, more nationally recognized bands to headline the festival in the future. If the size of the festival increases, the promoters will have to step up security measures and organization. The death and burned cars show that even a gathering of a few thousand people needs some measures of professional security. It has been established that the people in the region will come. Either way, I had a great time at AURA 2011.
Special thanks to Goose