Rootwire 2K13: All That I Know

Whether you started out in the crowds at Woodstock or are still counting your coins to make it to your first weekend-long concert, it’s obvious that the music festival paradigm has become a mainstream commercial success for many. While the undertaking of these festivals hasn’t changed much since the early days, there is now a definite paradigm shift occurring. Genesised on the west coast of the US and Canada, a new type of celebration is emerging that not only invites attendees to have a good time but actually asks them to get involved in the weekend as an equal, co-creating participant. These unique and growing festivals, dubbed “transformational festivals”, are rooted in the few key principles of community, co-creation, and celebration. One particular festival is bringing these ideas cross-country and letting them dig their roots on the east coast; Rootwire Music and Arts Festival.

From the time you enter the line, you can tell Rootwire is something unique and special. One lovely girl at the entrance put it well, “There’s so much creativity everywhere, from everyone, that you can’t help but leave this place inspired.” And, holy heck, was she right.

Day 1:

As the opening of the gates neared, you could feel the excitement in the air, everyone waiting patiently by their cars, with no hesitation to get the party going right then and there. As the line starts to move, a boisterous yell from the crowd lets you know that it’s time to get the weekend started. Upon entering you are consistently greeted by strangers who are soon to be your new best friends and family. As the attendees (which I’ll refer to as “participants” from now on) begin to set up camps, the events kick into gear. Something unique to transformational festivals is the focus on growing and learning over the course of the weekend, exemplified by the myriad of workshops available, some even hosted by the musicians and artists themselves. Michael Rempel of Lotus provided the soundtrack to a lovely and balancing yoga workshop by Devon Sweeney. Rempel’s soundscapes provided the perfect flow to a soothing and poignant way to move into the first night’s festivities. Cosby Sweater out of Chicago really brought the energy up with their blend of jazztastic jamtronica. Delhi 2 Dublin took the stage later that night for an unseen blend of music from traditional Indian sitar and percussion to Irish fiddle and bluegrass. Everyone was primed and ready for the first set from our hosts for the weekend, Papadosio.

The quintet from Asheville, NC by way of Ohio, started their weekend out with an original take on their own improvisational style, the live PA set. This unique set gives them the opportunity to explore musically and create in the moment while giving the audience an equally amazing opportunity to witness it and create in that moment as well. All five members improvise live while their signal is fed through guitarist/singer/tech-wizard Anthony Thogmartin’s computer where they get chopped up, effected, modded, and thrown back out to audience as something unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.  The set started out with an ambient, uplifting approach that quickly turned into a funkified dance party, a blend that ‘Dosio fans have come to know and love.

As Papadosio came to a close, the music continued with no slowing down. Late-night standout sets from Evan Marc, The Human Experience, and Futexture carried those willing participants through the early morning until the sun creaked just over the beautiful Hocking Hills, ringing in day 2.

Day 2:

As participants begin to emerge from their tents, there was a buzz stirring around the grounds. Some getting prepared for it, others worried that it may be over, but all in agreement that it’s something not to be missed. The Rootwire Opening Ceremony is something that everyone should experience. Hundreds gather at the main field to participate in an intentional, conscious, multi-cultural opening ceremony that is sure to get the participants going in a positive direction. Songs, chants, and greetings fill the air until the over-powering blow of a conch shell focuses everyone’s attention. Facilitated by a number of the organizers, the opening ceremony is a Rootwire tradition that has grown 10 fold since the festival’s 2010 inception. Meditations and prayers on how we got there, where we’re going, and how to take what we learn into the real world are the focus of many of the ceremonial offerings. Modern, Native American, Meso-american, and Eastern traditions culminate in one arena to offer the same intentions of love, giving, healing, and growth to all who are in attendance. As the crowd dispersed, some were in tears, some were with big smiles ear to ear, but everyone ready to take on the second day.

The workshops got started right away with Anthony Thogmartin’s talk “Highest Common Denominator” focusing on not what all religions are specifically trying to say, but what, in essence, do they all say? Following his expansive discussion, Julie North began her workshop entitled “Universal Heart” where she discussed living from the heart and trusting your intuition which ended in a group hug that was talked about all weekend.

As the workshops began to die down, the music was coming alive. Broccoli Samurai really got the crowd moving to their blend of progressive psychedelic dance music culminating in a spot-on rendition of Lotus’ “Spiritualize” that brought fans running from the hills.

As the sun stared to set and the night started to take flight, Florida’s Heavy Pets and Brooklyn’s Turkuaz brought in the funk and laid it down thick. The back-to-back sets spanning almost 3 hours gave participants the chance to groove, wiggle, stomp and strut the funk out of their system well into the darkness. The night arrived and everyone was stirring, waiting for one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend, Hundred Waters.

When I tell you that Hundred Waters is the best new thing on the block, it almost doesn’t do them justice. They brought such a unique element to their set, most people didn’t know that they were witnessing. Think Radiohead meets Bjork with their own unique “special sauce” that is all original. If you’ve not heard them, do yourself a favor.

The crowds started to move to the late-night stages and the acts really brought their A game. The Malah threw down one of the best sets of the weekend, not stopping until they were out of time, leaving the participants only wanting more. Evan Marc returned, this time with Bluetech, and gave the audience exactly what they were craving. Other highlights from Friday night included a debut performance from Michael Rempel and Soulacybin, a quite experimental set from Welder, and a sunrise performance from Kalapataru Tree.

Day 3:

Saturday started off with a beautiful ceremony that totally exemplified what Rootwire is about…love, co-creation, community, and celebration. Participants Brian Gilbert and Brook Napier shared their wedding ceremony with the whole of the “Kingdom of Rootwire”. Officiated by Rootwire Event Coordinator Edward Quatkemeyer, the ceremony had over a hundred people sharing in the moment with them. As the ceremony concluded, some went off to their workshops of choice, some to prepare for the main event coming later that night, some to simply rest from the past few days. For those with the steam, Mike Dillion Band treated them to a raucous blend of punk, jazz, and funk shenanigans. One of my personal favorites, Shigeto, took over just before “PapaD” returned to the stage for the first of two sets that night.

The guys opened with their sensual, uplifting, nod to the Earth, “Garden”, and worked into the conscious jam of “Ear to Ear” through a special intro that gave drummer Mike Healy a chance to shine as the others added analog sound waves and computer glitches to the intuitively happy chords that carried into the next song, “Right Now”.  The album-less sequel to “Find Your Cloud”, “Cloud Found,” followed and led into a brand new song focusing on equal marriage rights titled, “What’s at Stake”. A nice stretch of old-school favorites came with “The Lack of Everything” into “Holy Heck”. Another live-only favorite “Dream Estate” led into an extremely high energy “Cue” to close out the first set.

Jimkata out of Ithica, NY stepped in to fill perhaps one of the most coveted spots on the schedule and took control of the already incredibly high energy of the night. They didn’t let anything slow down an inch.

The second set started with the brand new instrumental, “Cushion” that moved into the crowd-favorite “Method of Control” where the energy really started to take off. They seamlessly moved into “Oracle Theme” before kicking into what Anthony describes as their “first and only kids song”, “Stick Figure”. They went into an extended version of “If It Wasn’t for You” before bringing in the lyric-driven homage to a special Peruvian adventure, “Madre de Dios”. As the song drew to a close, the unmistakable drumbeat of “Improbability Blotter” cued the audience that it was time to take the set into a creepy, raging direction. As a personal favorite, this song really gave everyone a chance to get a little weird and explore a bit that peaked with an insanely intense, almost heavy metal ending showcasing just how dynamic of a range these guys have. They kicked off another new one, “We Choose” that led into the dancey summer debut, “New Love” that got everyone’s feet moving non-stop until the encore break, coming back out with an amazing version of their classic, and fitting, “Night Colors” that left everybody reeling and a little stunned. Many stuck around afterwards, deciding it was best to sit on the hill and take in the plethora of visual artists (over 50 total) and see where the night might go. For those still by the main stage, UK’s The Egg provided the perfect soundtrack to the blooming antics that were still to come. Karsh Kale closed out the main stage in a rousing performance featuring a full live band and an amazing display from performing artist, Serpent Feathers who donned a remarkable feather costume unlike anything else.

As people proceeded to leave the main stage and head to the late-night tent, they were treated to a mind-bending and almost hallucinogenic hike through the art installation area. Featuring a number of uniquely crafted and hand painted domes, teepees, temples, and other dwellings, the area highlighted interaction between participants through music, art, and communion. Drums, singing bowls, a hand-carved canoe, UV reactant trees, and group paintings were available. Even an area called the Sonic Forest where participants could be heard banging on barrels, pipes, and trees, summoning the unmistakable call to co-create and improvise with who ever is in ear shot.

The music continued on with more outstanding performances from LYNX, Erothyme, and Anthony Thogmartin’s  solo project, Earthcry. Over a year in the making, Earthcry’s debut album was released at the start of the festival and this performance gave many people a chance to hear some of these just-released tracks.

As the sun poked itsself through the sky, the incoming blue hue signaled that the festival was entering its last, and perhaps most special, day.

Day 4:

As the day began, many people were packing up, heading on to their drives home. Others planned well and rested before this very special day of music and learning. Workshops carried on throughout the day with topics such as Ecovillages, Perma-Transformational Culture, Light Design, and Tonal Massage.

The Sunday music of some festivals can be a little lackluster but Rootwire knew how to keep the energy high and vibrant well through the last day.

Srikology, Zula, and Deaf Scene all provided outstanding music with uniquely different takes between all of them. As the sun started to set, Asian Teacher Factory took the stage. Bassist for Papadosio, Rob McConnell, takes a different angle on his playing with this four-piece from Asheville with a distinctly darker, heavy, and more analog sound that provides a balancing contrast to his style with Papadosio. Following Asian Teacher Factory, the conscious hip-hop of the Luminaries had the crowd moving and chanting along with them to the likes of, “Change worldwide, starts with inside!”. As the weekend started to come to a close, the progressive funktronic of Dopapod filled the air and gave everyone a chance to rage out and get sweaty before “PapaD” came out to close the weekend with their rarely seen acoustic set.

Traditionally a sit-down event, the acoustic show gives the band and participants a chance to get a little more intimate with each other. The song selection was perfectly geared toward the changes in sound that featured Rob McConnell on stand-up bass, keyboard/synth player Billy Brouse on xylophone and guitar, and the others donning stripped down versions of their set-ups. But don’t be confused, the music was just as, if not more, engulfing. With a set-list superbly picked for the mood, they opened with the always enjoyed “Find your Cloud”, moving into “Monochrome”, into the album-less song, “Elephant, I Presume”. A long stretch of blissful, high-spirited tunes consisting of “Direction Song”, “Planting the Seeds of Life”, “Puddles for Oceans”, “ The Bionic Man Meets His Past”, and “The Sum” carried the participants along a wave of conscious intention that left many in tears. A 16-minute “Unparalyzer” featuring a number of guest performers brought the energy up so far, some couldn’t help but abandon their seated positions. As the song closed, it signaled to all that the end was near. After an ear-numbing standing-ovation, ‘Dosio came back to close out the weekend in a fitting summation of the past days’ events with “All I Knew”.

The song’s lyrics speak of a time before birth and a time before many of the patterns of humankind had led to corruptions of the heart and of the head. Rootwire strives to bring us back to this time, before we knew of the evil of the world, where all walks of life, human and otherwise, can come together to participate in radical self-expression, communal celebration, co-creating love, and then take this with us out into our world. I think the closing chorus does a fitting job of summing up the highest common denominator of the weekend, “all that I knew was love.”