A Journey Through Vertex, Colorado’s Newest Festival
The incipient festival drew around 8,000 attendees in its first year of existence. Although this is considerably less than expected, the size proved to be one of the most enjoyable distinctions throughout the weekend. Clean bathrooms, virtually no lines at the entrance or the vending booths, and plenty of space with a conscious and considerate crowd during the shows; these simple luxuries created a loyal community that will certainly be returning next year. Vertex checked the three most important boxes in order to cement itself as a top tier festival for years to come: world class musicians, awe inspiring setting, and sound logistics.
With regards to setting and logistics a few highlights stand out. “The Beach” area provided both daytime and late-night dance vibes with soft sand and cool water to enjoy. People were seen floating on tubes, stand up paddling, and slack-lining in true Colorado fashion. “The Beach” also supported an aspen grove that became a hammock mecca for people to relax in throughout the day. The relevance to Suwannee Music Park was startling for music fans fortunate enough to be enlightened.
Another faction of “The Beach” area was the Silent Disco. Usually, this is a rather uneventful scene plagued by strung out hippies looking for something to sustain their high. However, this one was special and warrants a mention. The DJ’s both nights were pumping hip-hop and EDM mash-up tunes that kept patrons dancing until the wee hours. And, no one threw up on my friends, or me, so I consider the Silent Disco a wild success. This area had a separate entrance and was BYOB, which we can appreciate considering the cheapest drinks in the venue were nine dollars.
The area was also home to morning yoga classes for hundreds of festival attendees looking to rejuvenate their bodies and minds each day. Yoga and other meditative experiences always add an intangible to the overall ambiance of a festival, and I hope to see Vertex add more of this over the next few years. The campgrounds were spread out generously leaving plenty of space for campers to get comfortable.
The general store was open 24 hours with provisions for campers, and showers could be had for ten dollars. A young entrepreneur by the name of Josh was selling coffee and bumping deep house out of a wagon from about 7AM-11AM each morning. Well played Josh; my crew certainly appreciated and supported your hustle.
The inside of the main venue was the perfect size. It ran parallel to a beautiful creek and had numerous art installations such as a balloon house and The Bazaar.
Super Heady Tacos being strategically placed as the first stand you saw on the way in and the last one on the way out was a considerably heady move. The La Hacienda stage was the first to be encountered, and it provided an open space filled with bluegrass enthusiasts that maxed out at about one thousand people.
From there you crossed a bridge and walked about another one hundred and fifty yards until you reached the open space that was the main stages. From camp to main stage was about a ten-minute walk, which was wonderfully convenient. Cottonwood Parlor and Princeton Garden faced one another and were about one hundred yards apart with a beautiful craft beer tent splitting the two. No need to worry about sound bleed as the music continually rotated from stage to stage. The total area of the venue from front to back and side to side provided more than enough capacity to find a spacious spot at every show with room to boogie. Vertex provided ample bathrooms to either side, and enough food and drink vendors to avoid long lines. During the day one could view Mt Princeton as the backdrop to the Princeton Garden, which points to the attention to detail that the entire festival embodied.
For most of us, the music offers the most alluring component when considering how enticing a festival is compared to others on a national stage. Vertex delivered with a bill that hit every sweet spot on my musical spectrum. I’ll begin with the band that clearly distanced itself from the others in terms of sound, showmanship, and grace. Alabama Shakes, led by front-woman Brittany Howard, took the crowd to higher places that they could not have reached without her (thanks Jamie XX).
She commanded your ear from start to finish, and she opened by saying, “here’s how this thing is gonna go tonight, first, I’m gonna give you some, and then, you gonna give me some.” Both Brittany and the crowd delivered on that promise. The band put down blistering renditions of “Sound and Color”, “Always Alright”, and my personal favorite “Don’t Wanna Fight.” The performance seemed to transcend the idea of time and place, and when the set closed, fans and artists alike had been treated to one of the best Rock ‘n’ Roll groups currently touring.
Other highlights on Friday included Big Wild, Fruition, and Gramatik. Both Big Wild and Gramatik put together the most intoxicating dance rhythms of the day as the respective opener and closer of the festival on Friday.
Big Wild is a one-man show that blends percussion, bass, and feel-good samples in an effortless courtship between man and (many) machines. Jackson Stell remains on tour in the U.S through November, and we highly recommend you catch him on an undercard while you still can. Gramatik absolutely owned the energy of Friday night. At no point during his hour and a half set did the break beat virtuoso allow the crowd a chance to catch their breath. He had the Shady Horns from Lettuce join him on stage at one point, along with a live guitarist that cried out over his coveted bass grooves throughout the set. No artist the entire weekend demanded as much energy as the Slovenian-American producer. Last but certainly not least of the Friday highlights, was Portland based bluegrass-rock group Fruition.
The band played two sets Friday; one on the main Princeton Garden stage during the day and another on the smaller La Hacienda bluegrass stage under the canopy covers of night. Both sets highlighted the many talents of the band as they smoothly bent both genres and tempo. “The Meaning” is one of those songs that will remain relevant for generations, because of the goose bumps it yields when the band sings and passionately embraces the lyrics in the live setting. The “Under the Covers” set provided real insight into which musicians have inspired the band over the years. And, as a relatively big fan of the band and great covers in general, I was beaming and singing along throughout the set. “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest and David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” were particularly moving.
Saturday was the most demanding day of music, and it started off with a surprisingly noteworthy set by Robert Delong. Like Big Wild, Delong is a one-man show, but unlike Big Wild, he brings stellar vocals into the mix. I should note that he used both an N64 controller for bass samples and a Wii remote that created an effect on his vocals depending on the direction he waved it. Quite frankly, this was impressive shit considering he also played drums and keys throughout the set.
Houndmouth was up next, and they all proved their chops while collectively smiling the most of any band throughout the weekend. The Revivalists then ripped through their critically acclaimed “Men Amongst Mountains” album showing Vertex why the New Orleans based band has attracted so much buzz over the past few years. The next three shows I attended collectively built upon one another in terms of energy, production, and sound.
Classixx got us started with synth grooves and pop samples that started stirring up the dust beneath our feet. Then Rufus Du Sol blazed through hit after hit including “Say A Prayer for Me”, “You Were Right”, and “Desert Night.” As someone who has been interested in the Australian trio for a few years, this set provided all the evidence I needed to recognize them as a force in both the studio and the stage.
I should note that none of these sets conflicted with one another, and each of the two main stages went back and forth with only a few minutes break in between beginning with Delong’s 3:30 start. By 9:30 PM, Duke Dumont’s start time, most fans had expended a fair amount of energy over the course of the day. However, Duke reminded everyone why Vertex booked him for a Saturday night set. The dance grooves were the day’s best, and both “Need U 100%” and “I Got U” were true anthems for EDM fans in attendance. I wish I could say more for Lettuce, but this set was not one of their best performances. The band lacked inspiration and energy throughout the set, and they were crunched between the pulsating energy of Duke Dumont and Odesza. The most intriguing facilitators of today’s funk scene were easily overlooked and forgettable.
Odesza closed out Saturday night with a production that left my eyes and ears stimulated to the point of their carrying capacity. It was one of the most impressive light shows I have ever witnessed, and this outshined their relatively slow but beautiful grooves in a way that really captivated our attention.
The boys from Seattle charged through the hits in a way that we have come to expect; the set was clean, crisp, and full of passion with regards to live drums and live keys. At separate points during the set the CU drum-line and Colorado Symphony took the stage to pump through the instant classics “Bloom” and “All We Need.”
Unfortunately, I was unable to stick around for Sunday, but the word from friends that did was that Fruition, Trey Anastasio Band, and even Seven Lions were highlights that made the final day special. A few unforgettable moments came from within the crowd walking from the main stage to the festival exit both Friday and Saturday nights once the shows had finished. The collective “woos” that fans felt as necessary releases to commemorate each day only happen when the collective energy has reached a climactic apex. The sound traveled high and far, and friends and strangers shared smiles that described the feeling more aesthetically than words ever will. Vertex is etched in our memories for life, and we cannot wait to experience the wave of collective creativity, inspiring performances and the one-of-a-kind Colorado atmosphere, next year and for years to come.
P.S. This chick had a beard!