When Mysteryland USA was announced I was immediately interested in covering the event for . I was excited that a multi-day music and camping festival was going to be held at the site of the original Woodstock festival and the fact that the music at Mysteryland would bear little resemblance to the original festival. ID&T, the company hosting Mysteryland, started as a hardcore record label in the late 1980s as dance music exploded in Amsterdam. By 1993, they had organized the first Mysteryland festival in Holland. In 2002, the festival switched to a day and night format. One of the goals of the festival is to promote friendship and inspiration, and this is accomplished by working with record labels and other artists to curate multiple stages, art installations and food and drink vending.
Mysteryland allows its guests to become part of a truly interactive environment, not knowing what exactly is going to happen next. You can meet people from the same place that you’re from, or from the other side of the globe. You can hear new music from acts you might not have heard of, or you can check out a favorite performer in a unique new setting.
On Friday May 23, 7,500 Holy Ground campers began celebrating Mysteryland USA 2014 at the Camping Circus stage, located within the Holy Ground camping area outside of the main festival venue. The music provided a nice backdrop as people arrived and began setting up their campsites. By the end of the day the camping area was packed out. Navigating through camp to the showers, portos, stage and vendors was tricky during the days as occasional rain contributed to the most traveled pathways between tents becoming extra soggy. During the nights it got even harder as the harsh light from the light towers placed around the campsite forced you to shield your eyes so that you could focus on what was immediately around you; having a small flashlight here was clutch. Although the daytime temperature rose above 70 degrees F, it cooled to near 40 degrees F at night. Dancing under the tent of the Camping Circus stage Friday night provided a small preview of what was to come for the weekend when the festival officially kicked off on Saturday. The featured performance Friday was the official pre-party, Nicky Romero Presents: Protocol NY Reboot. Even in the cooler nighttime air, the dance floor under the tent got hot and sweaty as you moved towards the center of the crowd, and standing at the edge of the tent you could observe a noticeable difference between the ambient temperature and the heat generated by the party inside, moreso when the breeze picked up. The BangOn! NYC Boombox Van was parked not far from the Circus tent and played music into the night after campers had returned from the main stages, adding an extra dimension of sound and activity to the atmosphere in Holy Ground. I enjoyed John Dahlback and Don Diablo before Nicky Romero took the stage for a great high energy set, which turned out to be a good example of how his set would go on the Main Stage the next night. On Saturday, I finally got to see the main festival venue. On the way in I took a small detour to visit the monument commemorating the 1969 festival. It is located past the main gate and looks towards the site of the stage and the field that the fans watched the show from. This field was decorated with many rows of flags and was named the Ceremony Field at Mysteryland. At the front of the field were several teepees, a fire pit, a small stage and a dancing circle. The official opening ceremony was held here, and featured members of the Red Hawk Council, which represents first nations and indigenous people of the Americas. The ceremony began with traditional native drumming and chanting. A speaker from the Red Hawk council welcomed us to Mysteryland and explained how the native focus on the earth, honor, integrity, respect and love was reflected in the crowd and experience of Mysteryland. We were asked to think about what we want in life, and what we need from it. The happiness and peace that comes from the music and the dancing that we were going to participate in, and the friendships that we came with and the new ones that we were going to make, shows us that this is how Mother Earth wants us to be. After the speech, the Red Hawk dancers were introduced and they began to lead the crowd in traditional ceremonial dances. They showed us two different dances before a small rainstorm began and scattered the crowd. And this is how Mysteryland really began for me. There was so much to do and see here that it was truly overwhelming. Once the music starts, one quickly realizes that they can stay at one stage for most of the day and experience the type of music they enjoy most. The tent stages – Big Top, The Sound of Q-Dance, and Spiegeltent were all full of people dancing and enjoying the sounds of pop, electro, hardstyle and experimental house. Like the Camping Circus stage, the Big Top and Q-Dance stages were under large tents. The Spiegeltent was a traditional Dutch portable venue constructed mostly from wood, and being inside it actually felt like being inside an actual building, which was unique here at Mysteryland. The Vinyl Only stage was tucked into a stand of trees, and had an open air DJ booth at one end of a synthetic dance floor surrounded by stage rigging decorated with vinyl records. There was a small pavilion behind it that had many disco balls hanging from its ceiling. I really enjoyed this stage for its steady blend of house music. Big Gigantic closed the Boat stage on Saturday. This was an open air stage in front of a small slope. The whole facade of the stage was fabricated to look like a sailing ship. The DJ booth appeared to be in the cabin in the center of the ship, and there were several pairs of large butterfly styled sails rising above it. Dance platforms were located on both sides of the DJ booth for those with backstage access. Big Gigantic was one of the most unique acts here because they use live instruments – drums and a saxophone – to provide rhythmic and melodic textures over a base of electronic sounds with styles ranging from jazz to hip-hop to dubstep. Kaskade closed the Main Stage on Sunday. This stage was styled as a house of cards in an Alice in Wonderland theme. The DJ booth here was in a ML cutout in the center of the stage, with five towers of cards rising around it. The central tower was the tallest and featured a clock face at its top. All of the hour markers around the face of the clock read ‘NOW’. The finale at the end of Kaskade’s set was fantastic. After more than ninety minutes of driving electro with elements of pop, trance, moombahton and more, all of the lights within the card towers were flashing and pairs of laser lights were tracing multiple layers of colored wedges through the smoke above the crowd. And then the fireworks started. Small rockets were launched from within the crowd on the field in front of the stage, slicing through the layers of smoke and lasers and exploding in the sky above the festival. More fireworks were launched off in the distance to the left of the stage. The launching, whistling, expanding and exploding were all choreographed to the music and a farewell monologue to the guests of Mysteryland, reminding us that yesterday is history, today is a gift, and tomorrow is a mystery. Mysteryland USA 2014 was presented as well as or better than most debut festivals. The rainy weather leading up to the festival contributed to some delays and under-performance of some of the technical and logistic aspects of the event, but on the whole the vibe was fun and positive and the music and art created an environment shared by more than 20,000 people for two days that really took you away from the day-to-day world. ID&T is already planning another Mysteryland festival for Memorial Day weekend in 2015 and is hoping to make it an annual event. I look forward to spending a few short days at Mysteryland in the future and finding it better than when I left it.