The Rocky Mountains in the summertime are teeming with life and beauty. As my companions and I drove towards Loveland, Colorado to the much-anticipated Arise Music Festival, the lush green mountains cradled us from both sides. As we made our way through Loveland and onto the private land of Sunrise Ranch, my mouth was left agape. I was caught in web of giddy astonishment as the beautiful rolling foothills and vast green landscapes dominated my vision. Each new sight on this 200-acre ranch made me very happy to be alive on this planet earth. On the east side of the festival were huge hills covered in pine trees, while on the west side there were red rock cliffs with small cacti and other plants one would find in the desert. The festival grounds were perfectly perched in between two ecosystems.
As we drove up to receive our wristbands I immediately took notice of the level of organization and hard work that was put into this festival. The line of cars waiting to get in was flowing nicely and it was always obvious where one needed to go. The general camping was laid out within a giant grassy meadow that stretched for a couple football fields, and the parking was conveniently placed directly behind the camping. The entire festival was compact enough so that you wouldn’t need a bicycle (although the are allowed), and large enough that it could take hours to explore everything they had to offer. The camping area was separated from the rest of the festival with a small security checkpoint in between. The whole place was ready to breathe and grow like all of its beautiful participants.
On my way to the Opening Ceremony, I decided to check out the various stages and other sacred spaces recently brought to this landing. The rain decided to join in on the journey and blessed us all with a few light showers every other hour with bursts of sunshine in between. I first journeyed pass the Souls Rising EDM Stage, which boasted some amazing sound fully equipped with sub-bass, lights, laser, and projection art. A cool geometric wooden art installation was a few feet from the stage with a squish pad included for relaxation with bass. Heading towards the main stages I passed by the various food and beverage vendors and saw the Starwater stage and espresso bar laid right in between. All weekend this stage offered a creative space for anyone to take advantage of. There were many open mics, poetry readings, acoustic and electronic performances, solo sets, and well known acts such as Dixon’s Violin or Future Simple Project. The Organix Jam was well on its way as I was passing by and allowed for complete strangers to create music and art together within the same space-time. At any point in time during this weekend one could find astonishment within the walls of the Starwater stage.
I hurried over to the main stages so I could catch the end of the opening ceremony on the Eagle stage. Slow drum beats and the swirling energy of everyone’s good intentions filled the air, and the vision that the creators of Arise Music Festival created was coming into view. The rain returned for a quick visit, and left the people cleansed. As soon as the opening ceremony had ended, attention quickly shifted to the B-Well Phoenix stage, where an eclectic traveling group of five musicians called Gipsy Moon took the stage. Interestingly enough, the two main stages were separated by only 60 feet, but were used in a clever way to minimize set up time for all of the live acts while bringing us more hours of music! With roots laid heavily in Bluegrass, the smooth harmonies and energetic solos brought an old time gypsy feel to a new fusion of music created by Gipsy Moon. The endless journey of this band was held within their music, and the raw experiences could easily be felt through it.
I decided to explore a bit while I waited for the arrival of Tribal Seeds and Groundation, two incredible reggae bands with their own distinct styles. Stretching every muscle in my body while consciously breathing in my own awareness seemed like a good idea in preparation of the next few days. So naturally I made my way to the Crown Chakra Yoga Tent, which was perched at the highest point on top of a hill. It was a small pilgrimage to a sacred space seemingly separate from the rest of Arise. I came upon the Sridiva Neuro Flow Yoga with Kiefer Avi, a native of Boulder, Colorado. The main goal of practice in this Neuro Flow Yoga was to visualize and create new neural pathways in the mind and of course condition them into healthier patterns. The soft spoken yet confident Kiefer brought me into a world of relaxation and emptiness, which, when lifted, created a keen sense of perception and focus.
Walking away with a new sense of self I found myself again passing the main stages and was immediately drawn in by the music. I quickly found out that I was hearing the powerful songs of the Earth Guardians, one called “Be The Change” in particular. They are a group led by 14-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, an environmental activist and musician from Boulder, Colorado, who uses their music as a tool for education, activism, spirituality, and giving thanks to the natural world around us. Xiuhtezcatl is the main lyricist of this Hip-Hop group, but unlike most other rappers, you will always find a live band backing up him and his younger brother Itzcuauhtli. The level of intelligence, motivation, passion, and love behind this group still gives me a tight feeling in my chest. But this group not only performs music, they also have taken their words to our government. This 14-year-old prophet of the Earth has recently gotten anti-fracking legislation passed in almost 5 states after winning a law-suit that he started. The Earth Guardians certainly demonstrate the power that an individual still holds in this country. In the words of Xiuhtezcatl, “Be the change, don’t wait, do, live.”
The Earth Guardians left a meteor-sized impact on me, and I couldn’t have been happier. As I tried to process and redirect their energy, I went directly back to the Yoga tent and stumbled upon another breathtaking performance, Alya Nereo.
Alya has the type of voice that can only be attributed to the Divine. Her improvisational performances include the use of a loop pedal, which allow entire songs to be produced vocally and on the spot while being woven with other acoustic instruments. She entrances the mind while freeing it of every fear. She can conjure the most beautiful melodies directly from her soul while projecting every emotion that comes out of her songs. Each performance is a journey where Alya will sing songs dedicated to the human experience, the nature around us, and the universal love that we all hold. Near the end of her time she began to loop a few tones from her voice while doing an improvised spoken word performance. It was focused on the release of anything not serving your highest purpose: fear, jealousy, loneliness, self-doubt, and the past. “Let it go, Let it go, LET IT GO,” she chanted as streams of tears started to run down my face. A wave of emotional release came over my entire body. I failed to form a thought for the next few minutes as I “let it go” and took the medicine that Alya was giving out. We all hold so much power within, and those of us who can tap into it freely have found it within themselves to teach and to share. Alya Nereo is an experience that holds onto your heart and stays with you forever.
With the life changing experiences just stacking by the hour, I ran over to the Eagle stage where I would find myself for the rest of the night. Groundation was currently playing their version of Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” with the entire crowd singing along. The deep and mumbling bass-lines unique to reggae music got me moving and grooving in the perfect way alongside my fellow citizens of the earth. Groundation has mastered roots reggae music and always brings a powerful live performance. Reggae is a genre which comes from the musical connections between humans and the celebration of life; it has a home in any setting within a music festival and always keeps people smiling.
Two of the most anticipated acts of the festival, Beats Antique and The Polish Ambassador, followed shortly after Groundation on the Eagle stage. These two big names in the festival culture were a couple of the only heavily electronic performances on the main stages. Beats antique blends diverse ethnic sounds from all over the world with rich and heavy bass tones that are unique to electronic music. They are a huge presence on the dance floor and offer that big band sort of feel with their use of horns, heavy percussives, strings, and other orchestral sounds. Zoe Jakes, who leads the performance art within the group, blessed the stage with her exotic and electrifying belly dance performance. When Zoe is present the eyes of every onlooker are locked in the same gaze. Beats Antique played many of their “classic” songs, such as “Egyptic” and “Beauty Beats”, which immediately transport you to some far off land in the Arabian Desert. I have never left disappointed after Beats Antique show.
The Aerial silk rope performance by Alexandra Nikolova, which was placed in between the two main stages immediately took my breath away. The prowess and sexual energy of the movement coupled with one of the most emotional songs I have ever heard (still remains nameless) created a moment inside me that still persists. Small solo performances like this just constantly remind me of the beauty which we all hold. I have a theory that if we can think it, we can do it. So set your sights and Do it!
The Polish Ambassador has created quite the reputation for himself as the master of bringing funky-dancy-bliss vibes to any situation. With his new album Ecozoic, and his other project Wildlight (with Alya Nereo) recently coming into fruition, a range of completely organic sounds has found its way out of the mind of David Sugalski. His music always comes stock with a message of self-expression, self-love, and ecological integrity. The first half of the set was the embellishing sounds of Wildlight with Alya Nereo providing vocals. These are the kinds of songs that either make you fall in love or bring tears to your eyes. So much raw emotion is held within both of the individuals who make up Wildlight, and they are both very good at translating the emotions to vibration. The Polish Ambassador’s “No Diggity” remix made an appearance, and thus ensued a giant sing along dance party. Some of the best moments in a show are when everyone knows the lyrics. This set took first place under the category of get your body moving, and second place in the affect me in an emotionally deep way category (First goes to Alya Nereo’s solo set). With a full months worth of life changing experience wrapped up into that one day at Arise, I was ready to see the back of my eyelids. Sleep quickly took over as the temperature began to drop and all of the insects began to sing their own songs.
I woke up to the sun almost directly over-head when I realized my rainfly had fallen off of my tent. Luckily the night stayed mostly dry along with my copious amount of bedding. When I wakeup at any festival the first thing I do is chug as much water as I am comfortable fitting in my body at one time. Anytime during the rest of the day I will immediately drink water any time I think of it or seeing someone else do the same. It’s a good practice for everyday life! Feeling good is the name of the game at these transformational gatherings and there are plenty of diverse yoga classes, healing workshops, stimulating educational workshops, organic foods, and human interactions to keep ones body and soul in a state of completeness. After I completely nourish myself, Yoga is usually the next daytime venture. Stretching and activating those muscles prepared me for the long days ahead filled with walking, dancing, and playing hard. The Yoga tent provided this for about 12 hours every day with a large array of yogis and yoginis offering different styles and approaches to practice. I came upon the stunning Beau Campell, a professional dancer and yoga instructor, in the middle of a vinyasa flow. As she was leading the movement she started to compare the similar aspects of dance and yoga. We eventually were given a series of Yoga and Ballet poses to perform on and off the mat. The improvisational aspect of the experience was very fun and playful. The class as a whole was a very intense and refreshing workout. The constant stream of breathe, sweat, and endorphins left me light on my feet and feeling amazing. My body felt hyper aware of every sensation as I crossed the breezy field in search of my next experience.
I hopped, skipped, and jumped my way to the Sunrise dome to see what sort of knowledge was being spread. I appeared in time for their showing of “GMO OMG”, a documentary of how GMOs affect the health of us humans, the planet, as well as our lack of freedom of choice. It was easy to watch and very informative on an important topic which we must all face. GMO foods are created by forcing genes into the DNA of varying species of virus or bacteria. The problem lies with the fact that these species of virus or bacteria have never been a part of the human diet and has been shown to cause damage to virtually every organ through lab experiments. (See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793308/)
“GMO OMG” helped me to remember that we should all be aware of what we are eating and where our food comes from.
I got to the Eagle stage just in time to see The Infamous Stringdusters. I immediately caught the lifted energy they were putting out. The deep connection between all of the members was very apparent as their songs flowed together through some sort of telepathic communication. Complete with banjo, guitar, dobro, fiddle, and an upright bass, it certainly could be called acoustic music with roots in bluegrass. However that draws way to many borders around the sound of The Infamous Stringdusters.
I left the stage out of impulse, almost as if something was calling me but I didn’t yet realize it. I walked directly to the Starwater stage and was brought into another world that had just been created by a single man with a violin. Dixon’s Violin, which I had never before experienced, is a whirlwind of improvisational performance through looping and layering a single violin. Even the percussion and bass tones are produced through the violin, an incredible feat for an instrument whose lowest note is G3, right below middle C. This man was channeling directly from the heavens, and the tones he produced submerged the entire crowd with human emotion. It was a very powerful experience. I felt like I had just experienced a spiritual event where the essence of that which gives consciousness was almost tangible. Incredible.
Upon return I found Galactic producing heavy energetic vibes at the Eagle stage with most of the festival in attendance. Galactic is one of those bands that stand out because of the superior sound quality and musical prowess that they possess. Their funkiness was ever present and tied in perfectly with the lyrical musings of Chali 2na & Lyrics Born once they took the stage. They had a beautiful way of interacting with the crowd in the Hip Hop tradition while Galactic was slowly melting everyone’s faces off. The mood was consistently ecstatic throughout the whole crowd and all the faces of Sunrise ranch had the same expression.
The love, positivity, gratitude, and genuine human connection was ever present in this festival. I never found myself uncomfortable, or feeling out of place. The mornings in Loveland were always sunny and beautiful with the rain clouds never far off. I made a quick trip to the swimming pool, which was available to the artists and other VIP ticket holders. It was beyond refreshing and I almost felt like I was clean again!
I ran over to the workshop dome in hopes of doing some learning and growing. As I was arriving, Michael Garfield was starting his talk on transformation sobriety. He promoted an open discussion of experiences, successes, and struggles. He also explored the psychology behind sobriety and his own personal philosophies. These ideas are inherently welcome in a culture that is known to use mind-altering substances. The human mind is a powerful thing and can reach far off internal places through practice and dedication. Michael Garfield is a very intelligent and articulate speaker but also makes amazing illustrations and diverse music. This multitalented individual is a prime example of someone who has harnessed his creative energy in such a way to make the world a better place. I stayed for the beginning of his next workshop “Natural First Aid”. I picked up a few good tips and then ran over to the phoenix stage to see Dixon’s Violin in a larger crowd setting.
The same feelings washed over me immediately and I knew the entire crowd was reflecting and projecting what Dixon was putting off. I became entranced once again but this time decided to close my eyes and absorb more of the sound. My movements and thoughts (or lack thereof) became one with his frequencies. The ultimate feeling of peace stayed with me for the rest of the night. Thank you Dixon, you don’t know how much you do for so many!
I went to for a quick meal and was able to catch the end of The Magic Beans, another local band from Boulder. They can be described as a space-funk-bluegrass-rock band that carries a high-energy sound through their technical instrumentation.
The entire crowd did not stop moving for the their whole performance.
Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary made his second appearance on stage with his daughter Bethany Yarrow and her husband Rufus Cappadocia, a cello virtuoso. They brought everyone together in a giant sing along with some of Peter’s timeless songs such as “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. A large effort was also put into raising awareness for anti-fracking. I liked the Earth Guardians approach to anti-fracking a bit more as it seemed more proactive (suing the government). However, I did appreciate the gesture because any attention to a problem is a good thing.
Nahko Bear and Medicine for the People were a highly anticipated experience for me, especially after hearing just one song called “Aloha ke Akua”. Their music goes directly for the heart and opens it wide up. It uplifts the soul and reminds us of the unique and special connection that all humans share. Nahko is one of the most powerful wordsmiths of our time and is able to relay a message of caring for each other, caring for the earth, and staying true to who we are as human beings, creatures of love. They stole me heart and filled me with bliss. The music ran deep into me and a feeling of hope and unity took over. I stayed until the very end of their set but then left to process everything I had just felt.
I took myself far out from the stage where there were less people but I could still hear the music. Nahko and Medicine for the People had reawakened a feeling, which is hard for many to reach and takes much practice. All of my fears and thoughts of the future immediately vanished. I had a feeling of complete confidence in myself and in the world around me. I was able to let go. To back that feeling up was the sight of the entire festival in front of me; a space of co-creation where every person creates and participates in the experience. The power we have together has no limit.
Grateful Grass was skillfully plucking out their unique Bluegrass versions of Grateful Dead songs as I was lying there on the grass. I watched as everyone sang their heart out and danced like the ground was on fire. The Grateful Dead are responsible for connecting thousands of people through their music and stories; The Grateful Grass were flawlessly synchronized the entire time. The love was thick in the air and hugs were being exchanged rapidly. Sleep took over as the sounds drifted further behind me. My last night at Arise had come to an end.
It is so very hard to put such powerful experiences into words, so I beckon you all to explore the music and art of others, and explore yourself. This ARISE experience brought good intentions and manifestations into the eyes of many and created a fire of inspiration within everyone who experienced it. It succeeded in its goal of bringing people together through music, and turning inspiration into action. The level of diversity in musical performances allowed for all audiences to relate to each other and connect. The yoga tent, documentaries, workshops, healers, art galleries, uplifting speeches, and art installations culminated into the perfect experience. Arise proved themselves in their second year and stayed true to their vision. I was really impressed with level of respect everyone had for each other and the space we were all sharing. The ground was kept free of trash the entire time and I never saw a conflict that wasn’t quickly resolved. The campers were all helpful and hospitable to their each other. There is no better feeling when you can fall asleep and feel comfortable within your surroundings. It is so beautiful that thousands of strangers can come together and form such a tight knit community within days. We are bearing witness to a conscious awakening and it is powerful. Thank you to everyone who made this event happen and thank you to Paul Bassis, Producer of ARISE, for your vision!
This review was lovingly written by Matt Cook.
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