“I’ve never heard so many notes playing at once!” exclaimed a lanky festivarian draped in a tie-dye T-shirt, following the terrific main stage show of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at the recent Arise Festival in Loveland, Colorado. Certainly, the hippie’s exclamation served as an apt description of the world’s best Dead cover band. However, the statement served as even more appropriate description of the hybrid event set the picturesque mountain setting. Arise is constructed as a “co-creator” event that offers a spicy jumbalaya of multi-cultural live music, electronic performances, art presentations, along with numerous workshops centered around eco-activism, social justice, and spirituality practice.
For those busy facilitating the weekend workshops, the 100 musical acts may have been mere distant echoes, but the results, at times, gave heartrending results. One such workshop led with a descendent of a man who once led a massacre against a Lakota tribe. The harrowing account was immediately followed by another presenter who is a current Lakota tribe member who offered words of healing regarding the violent past, and finished with a blessing of earth healing. That’s powerful stuff to be sharing at a music festival for sure.
As for the music scene, Arise boasts an advantage of what many are calling “next generation” festivals. Unlike similar events like Costa Rica’s Envision festival, the folks of Arise largely rely on the presence of live music acts. Not that Arise didn’t give electronic bassheads enough whomp. The Polish Ambassador headlined the main stage on Friday and a revamped Area 51 stage featured a full schedule of spin meisters through the weekend.
For me, the joy of the music scene was the live music. And there was plenty of joy in the concert bowl. Friday highlights included an emotional set of bluegrass folk from Rising Appalachia and the rousing rockabilly of Sister Sparrow and Dirty Birds. Arleigh Kincheloe, the band’s lead singer belted out tunes with pipes powerful enough to put plumbers out of business. And these acts were just warming up the crowd. Lukas Nelson, who spent the summer touring with Neil Young, shimmied, jumped, and rocked his way in the free world with a series of serrated guitar solos that Young would admire. And even though funk bands seem to grow these days thicker than mountain thistle, Turkuaz finished with a reasonably fresh and energetic take on the newly popular genre. Interspersed between the live sets were a dizzying array of acrobatic and fire performances from the likes of Lunar Fire and Fractal Tribe.
The 90 degree daytime temps didn’t slow down the Saturday line-up either. Western New York’s favorites Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad have become Colorado’s adopted sons for roots reggae, and their upbeat, jaunty rhythms dropped happily between two festival favorites, Ozomatli and the afore-mentioned Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. The crowd danced so hard, even Dirty Santa and sequined red suit was “almost dead” before midnight.
Still, the peak acoustic show the weekend didn’t arrive till Sunday’s offering of Larry Keel’s Bluegrass Tribute to the Grateful Dead. Edward Sharpe of the Magnetic Zeroes, at times, seemed restless and distracted, but the top-notch band behind him remained strong. Rounding out the main stage show, Trevor Hall’s easy going folk sound glided the crowd safely down to the festival weekend landing strip. Like many of the performers featured during the weekend, the Arise festival, only in its third year, is already hitting all the right notes.