Whatever Thursday’s peak overload in music was, Friday’s line-up was not. If you weren’t into dirty dub or bright and chippy electronic jam bands, there wasn’t a whole lot for you. The Line was still around for most of the day, at times appearing to stand completely still.
At first, I was a little raw about the schedule’s disparity, but I hadn’t yet recognized all the opportunities this opened up for us by removing the need to trudge back and forth through the Forest every hour and a half.
Opportunities like participating in the attempt to beat the Guinness record for the World’s Largest Group Hug. The festival organizers carved out a two-hour block of time in Sherwood Court, and set up an intricate maze with stanchions and rope to keep everything organized and accurate. Participants were funnelled in through the entrance from Jubilee and into groups of 50, then shuffled off to sit in the grass and wait. It looked a lot like summer camp, but on steroids.
About a half hour until go time, the emcee of the group hug, Lafa Taylor announced the running total was in the neighborhood of three thousand, well short of the existing record of 10,554. There was a group moan of disappointment and a minor exodus. In the loving spirit of the Forest, Taylor asked that everybody hug anyway. I’m not going to lie, it was surprisingly pleasant.
Afterwards, I explored the peculiar, midway carnival-like charm of the other new stage, The Hanger. The sides of the tent were flanked by doors to shops and services, like a barber (real!), a tattoo parlor (not real), a pin-up photo station, and a little Havana-inspired hole in the wall bar called Hemingway’s Hideaway. A modest, low stage sat in the back with an arc of yellow-white string lights above it. Larger red light bulbs and sparse white string lights filled out the remainder of the ceiling, and a small bar sat with ping pong tables sat just inside the entrance. It all had a very Captain America dance kind of feel, and it was charming as all get out. They even had cigarette girls, but with blue wigs, looking like something straight out of California Gurls.
Later in the afternoon, we showed up a few minutes into Teemid’s set, marking the official start to my love affair with The Observatory.
Last year, the Observatory was two wood decks raised to different heights, with wooden bleachers and a stage on one end and a bar at the other. The 2015 version was an L-shaped second-story deck on top of strips of vendors selling clothing, trinkets and art. A second, higher deck was set up behind the short end of the L. On the opposite end was a small stage, which along with a bar formed a kind of courtyard, where the slightly raised dance floor sat. The more open design allowed for easier travel through the mini-complex, and directed everybody’s attention squarely at people. Slowly but surely, the music became secondary to the people-watching.
Teemid didn’t play a lot of his own songs, but he kept a positive, upbeat vibe that was a perfect soundtrack for the hubbub (see: hubbub) we watched unfold below. He dropped Flume, Watermat, and Odesza. His transitions and bridges were well done and fluid, though I wouldn’t have minded hearing a little more original music, or at the very least music I hadn’t just heard played the night before. Still, it was nice.
Part of the reason we showed up early was to secure a decent spot for Autograf. They’ve been having an especially good year, and the Observatory seemed like an undersized stage for them. I was fearing a Kygogate 2014 situation. I wound up standing at the rail, and when i turned towards the stage, I was face to face with a sixty foot pine tree. So, I watched people play games and dance instead of the music being performed. After a while, I started to wonder if there was an issue with Autograf’s equipment or something, because I was sure I was still hearing the in-between acts music. I leaned out past my tree friend and, nope, there was Autograf plugging away at keys and a glockenspiel, the latter of which I could hear the mallets hitting metal better than I could the sound coming out of the speaker stacks. I could hear it if I concentrated hard enough, but mostly I just heard crowd noise.
Eventually, we sacrificed our voyeur perch to join the rambunctious dance floor below, where all the group’s motions and dancing made a lot more sense. The sound level was still low, barely topping the din of crowd and surrounding forest noise. It turned out the organizers knew what they were doing, that the Observatory was the perfect place for Autograf.
After the seemingly library-quiet show in the forest, we trudged through the sea of beautiful lights and dilated pupils to the gorgeous Jubilee tent for Charles Bradley and the Extraoridinaires, which turned out to be my favorite worst show of all time. Bradley was killing it, and kept a running dialogue between (and sometimes during) songs, telling his story to bridge the songs and tell of an entire lifetime of trials and tribulations. I think. He could have been selling used cars and I wouldn’t have known. The volume was roughly on par with that of a fleet of jumbo jets in a concrete closet. On the more raucous songs, the added noise bouncing around the tent fed into a kind of frenzy, and imparted a genuine sense of lack of control, and of despair. It was still too loud with earplugs, and I sat in the grass wondering what the hell happened to the guys in the sound booth. If the tent was full of people to absorb some of the sound…no, it still would have been way too loud. As it was, there were 3-400 people at most, all under the constant and real threat of tinnitus. It’s really too bad for Bradley, because he was killing it on stage.
After all the tragically loud music and trying to shove earplugs all the way into my brain, the group was a little winded and frazzled, and decided to dip out. jackLNDN’s name was already on the schedule four times, but when I saw his name on the Silent Disco lineup, I knew that he would be our medicine.
DISCLAIMER: When I first learned about silent disco’s, I thought they sounded dumb and sad, and wanted nothing to do with them. There, I said it. Some years later, at a Coachella I refused to let die, I finally tried it out and quickly found out how much fun I’d been actively avoiding.
Part II: The Disco is Silent
It’s a little like suspended disbelief when you’re watching a movie. If you want to enjoy it, you have believe impossible things are, in fact, possible. It’s easy, because everything else about the movie reality is the same. They all still drive cars, wear shoes, and speak your language. It’s just one person doesn’t have to abide by things like gravity, and neither does his car. A silent disco is similar, except you’re in the movie, actively sharing the reality that you have to find a way to release your grip on. In life, you have this definition of reality that serves as your baseline, that you gauge all your experiences against, all your lessons and assumptions, and answers you’ve been cataloging all along, and you need to let that go.
(Don’t take them off.)
Two key changes take effect simultaneously that you’ll have to ride out while your internal logic bucks like a drunken, angry pig. Your mind will attempt to cope and assign this new sound something, but it’s trying to assign it to everything and failing, so it can be a little disorienting. As you get cut off from the world, you’re also introduced to a new one, with slight but noticeable differences.
You realize some of the lights that were in a seemingly random frenzy are now in sync with the new music you’re hearing. Same with the people around you, though you notice bunches here and there aren’t quite to the beat. That’s because there are (usually) two audio streams, and the slightly off lights and slightly off people are perfectly on according to the second stream.
Sure, it uses the same equipment as regular headphones, but it goes from a private experience by you for you, to a shared experience by somebody else(s) and for everybody around you.
Once you get a hold of the new rules, you also quickly figure out who you’re sharing worlds with. Eye contact goes from a manic (“WHAT’S GOING ON?!”) to furtive (“Are you blue? Yeah? Blue?”) to sly (“Aww, yeah, you’re blue motherfucker!”) as you establish your new tribe on the fly.
As you accept the new rules, it all clicks into place, and you can more comfortably release your grip on the “regular rules,” and you feel this new experience and how well it fits. Not so much a body glove as a life glove.
(It’s fucking lovely.)
It’s such a fun new world that you can get wrapped up enough to forget you’re in it. When you want to talk to your friend, you’ll shout over the music, which is fine because your friend will indeed hear you over the music, but to anybody without headphones on, you’ll just be shouting. I’d take mine off from time to time to adjust them, or because I forgot the orientation of the buttons, and I’d hear people shouting at each other, “WHAT CHANNEL ARE YOU GUYS ON? GREEN? OH I LIKE THIS!” or “GUYS GO TO BLUE! BLUE NOW!!!” All while bounding up and down like some kind of demented Tigger.
We had such a good time with jackLNDN, who provided the perfect soundtrack for a late Friday night getting down in a magical Forest. Later, we struggled greatly in an attempt to put words to the experience of a silent disco. My favorite analogies were:
“It’s like trying to describe a color, but you can’t use any other colors, and you can’t use the word for that color.” and
“It’s like trying to explain pants to a pocket.”
I did what I could to do just that, and I hope at the very least I convinced you to go out and join a silent disco. Just make sure you enter into the experience with a limber mind, and whatever you do, don’t take the headphones off.
After your first time, you might find a preference for a life with two audio channels. Throughout the weekend, we kept asking aloud, “I wonder what’s on the other channel?” and “What channel are you guys on?”