Sunrise Ranch served as a perfect host for this year’s ARISE Music Festival, where thousands of music lovers from Colorado and beyond gathered to spend three days under the stars, surrounded by all-encompassing views of the Front Range. Eccentric performances by gypsy Afro-beat trio Beats Antique as well as an enigmatic party set by none other than The Polish Ambassador gave Friday night’s kick off the perfect burst of frenetic and loving energy that would set the standard for the rest of our ARISE weekend.
Being an easy drive from Denver, we arrived in the scenic town of Loveland within an hour of leaving home, and had plenty of time to survey the scene and set up camp before the opening ceremony. Sunrise Ranch is indeed a gorgeous plot of land, combining rolling hills and panoramic views of red rocky cliffs, providing the perfect expanse of natural beauty to provide the backdrop to our transcendental musical experience.
About 90% of the time, you could find me glued to what became my favorite stage very quickly: Souls Rising Electronic Stage. Chock full with a motley crew of homegrown favorites, such as Krooked Drivers, Templo, kLL sMTH, and YuYu, the urge to dance was always prevalent at Souls Rising. Though smaller in size compared to the other stages ARISE offered, personality and exuberant charm oozed from Souls Rising, which was complete with paper lanterns, playful string lights, and an array of other backyard decor. The result was a warm and lively ambience that was comfortable and fun, making it no wonder why we spent a majority of our time soaking up the good vibes emanating from the stage.
Given that Souls Rising didn’t begin their performances until later in the evening, I decided to attend my first workshop of ARISE – Laura Chiraya Fox’s ‘Core Star Activation’. This powerfully intuitive workshop was geared towards motivating yourself into realization and fulfillment of your life’s deepest passions. I left feeling confident, awakened and ultimately, refreshed. There couldn’t have been a better way to extend this state of mind and conscious high I had going on than to head over to the B-Well Phoenix stage, where reggae group Tatanka would be playing two one hour long sets before and after Tribal Seeds, the first headliners on the Eagle stage for Friday night. I’ve always been a fan of ska and reggae influenced tunes, so I really appreciated the variety of chilled out bands that were made available at ARISE. When it comes to balancing a music lover’s interest, ARISE most definitely surpassed the standard. Fresh off the road from performing a slew of shows together, the mutual sounds of Tribal Seeds and Tatanka made for a solid two hour block of pure relaxation and hazy, laid-back vibes.
Following a short press conference with reggae/jazz staples Groundation, it was truly amazing to watch them perform on the main Eagle stage a mere hour and a half later. Sherida Sharpe and Kim Pommell’s powerful yet soothing vocals made for a strong stage presence, making it nearly impossible to turn away from the stage. From humbly answering questions in a quiet, and uniformed room to rocking out passionately with wild abandon, Groundation gave a unifying performance full of love and gratitude, and it reverberated throughout the adorning crowd. As 9:30 rolled around, it became high time to return to my favorite little corner of ARISE: Souls Rising. Upon reaching the halfway point between the two stages atop a hill, I could hear the unmistakable funky bass of electronic hip-hop duo Krooked Drivers. These producers are one of the most charismatic and emotional teams I’ve seen in a long time. Each set, each track is selected purely based on the mood and vibes these two want the crowd to feel, and the resulting energy is out of this world. Simply put, Krooked Drivers crush every stage they play, and Souls Rising was no different. You can’t help but vibe out and get down to their infectious sound. Pulling myself from the Krooked Drivers was difficult, but I made it a point to catch Sonic Geometry, who was playing at the Star Water stage nearby. I spent the last chunk of his set grooving and moving to his glitched out and bass rumbling tracks, getting lost within the funky live guitar chords that complete Sonic Geometry’s sound.
Though I am used to being blown away by the performances Beats Antique have become loved and respected for, their set on Friday evening was different from the usual nonstop onstage party the band is known for. Many of their songs were played in at much more mellow pace, bringing to mind Beats’ earlier roots. A highlight of their performance was when they played their sensual 2007 hit, ‘The Lantern’, an absolute gem of a song that has rarely seen the light during their shows in recent months. Having been awake since 8 am that morning, I began winding down for the night by heading to Souls Rising. The Polish Ambassador would begin on the Eagle stage shortly but I just didn’t have the energy to hang with TPA’s raging crowd. I opted instead to experience the bone chilling and soul-soothing productions of Templo, a Denver, CO native whose all original downtempo tracks are as enlightening as they are mesmerizing. Following Templo’s set were YuYu, an eclectic and harmonic fusion of live instrumentals paired with skilled electronic production. As my first taste of YuYu, this group is a force to be reckoned with – they harness a truly unique sound that refuses to sit comfortably in any one genre.
Keeping in line with the ARISE Colorado bluegrass feel, I made my way over to the B-Well stage early Saturday to catch Kitchen Dwellers around noon. Their upbeat, twangy, summertime folk was perfect for starting out the day, and I could see that those in the crowd would completely agree. Shortly after, The Drunken Hearts hit the main stage. The Boulder based Americana jam-band had no problems in getting the early festie heads shaking their hips and grooving to their set, a difficult feat when you have renegade sound camps to distract you from sleep. This group thoroughly impressed me, and I can’t wait to follow up after the festival and catch these guys somewhere around Denver soon!
Giving loud, healthy and confident blows of trumpet, The Untz favorite Ryan Viser was on fire as he started out on the Souls Rising stage. After seeing Ryan Viser grace a handful of festivals this summer, I am always in awe of his effortless yet powerful trumpet playing, which is seamlessly layered with infectious electronic mashes. Because of sound difficulties during his set, this budding producer didn’t have nearly the crowd he rightfully deserved, though one couldn’t tell by Ryan’s ardent playing. Apparently, there had been noise complaints (in the middle of the day, during a music festival) once Viser had started, and in response the system had been turned down. Albeit this could have been too hasty of a move, as the speakers were so low you could have a crystal clear phone conversation a mere ten feet away. Although he had a key element working against him, Ryan Viser still gave an exultant performance, reminding us all of the extreme dedication he puts into his craft. – Tai Carpenter, Compose Yourself Mag
We kicked off our night at Souls Rising with Proper Motion, an electronic duo who are carving out their own unique niche in the rapidly exploding genre of neo-soul, becoming more and more apparent with each set they play, all executed with a keen sense of flow and groove. These guys are also some relentlessly fun homies, whom I never fail to see at the wee hours of 4-6 AM at festivals. Following their set, we opted for a change of pace and headed to the main Eagle stage for the folky good vibes of the Infamous Stringdusters, who, aptly named, are infamous around Colorado and beyond for their moving vocal harmonies and creative spin on a very classic musical style. After Stringdusters, we returned to Souls Rising to check out the homies Sunsquabi, one of Colorado’s biggest hydro-funk groups, who continue to evolve into uncharted territory, laying down the funk like it’s never going out of style (which it isn’t). After the Squabi dudes, we got a dose of another Colorado favorite, O-Neb. Having recently introduced a new roster, O-Neb has developed a fresh and innovative sound that greatly surpasses their old jams. Moving from a 4 piece to a trio with a new guitarist, I was unsure about how their direction would go when I heard they were making such an abrupt change, but I couldn’t have been happier and more impressed with their new sound and can’t wait to see where they go with it in the future.
As O-Neb came to a close, we headed back to the main stages to check out the end of Yamn’s set. Beers in hand, we secured our spot within the crowd and prepared to be face melted by Galactic with Chali Tuna and Lyrics Born. I’ve seen Galactic a number of times and have always had a great time, but the addition of two hip hop all stars to the mix gave their set a fresh, fiery spin that took their funky sound to the next level, allowing them to take their superb musicianship even higher into the stratosphere.
Back at the Souls Rising Stage, we were stoked to see the beginning of Unlimited Aspect, the appropriately named brainchild of producers Project Aspect and Unlimited Gravity, who were accompanied by Steve Kuzma of Lost Optical on the drums. At the beginning of their set, the stage was fully packed with musicians, from guitarists, horn players and violinists, creating what was probably the biggest super jam of the weekend. After a few songs, the extra musicians cleared out, and Unlimited Aspect finished out their set with bass heavy fury that woke me right up from an impending drowsiness that had begun to overtake me over the previous hours.
I really wanted to stay for the rest of their set, but also couldn’t in good conscience miss the performance based world-beats of Quixotic, who sometimes make me think I’m at Cirque Du Soleil more than a music festival. With top notch eclectic production, an enthralling light show and a host of talented and elegantly clad dancers who, for much of the set, were nothing but silhouettes dancing behind a screen of transcendental visuals, gave the music even more of an extra dimensional vibe than it already possessed.
After the main stages shut down, I spent the rest of the night (and some of the morning) walking around the ad-hoc after-party stages, connecting with beautiful people and having incredibly powerful and inspiring conversations with friends, old and new. The night transitioned nicely into morning, and I was lucky enough to hit a Vinyasa yoga class at 10, before finally retiring and sleeping next to 2 giant teddy bears for a few hours before arising again (pun intended).
Sunday at ARISE was my favorite day, much like many other festivals I go to. Not because of the music specifically, but by Sunday it seems everyone at the festival is so open from the previous two days that the experience always gels together nicely. Because even perfect strangers often feel like people you’ve known for years. Most of the afternoon was spent connecting with people, checking out art, and getting immersed in the aspects of festivals that aren’t necessarily featured on the official schedule, such as passing out bananas, inventing words in hopes that they become widely used colloquial terms, and playing slap the watermelon (it’s awesome, trust me).
The music really got started for me in late afternoon when I saw Skydyed at the Souls Rising Stage, a funky electronic trio that, despite their mature and creative sound, are relatively new on the scene. These guys are a prime example of the great live electronica coming out of Colorado these days, and are a band you should all keep on your radar.
After Skydyed, one of my favorite things happened, I witnessed a mind-blowing set from an act I had never heard of before, which actually turned out to be my favorite set of the weekend. Patrick Lee, Denver based jazz pianist, showcased his new electronic trio (listed under “Patrick Lee”) which completely blew me out of the water in terms of musicianship, sound design, and an incredibly unique sound that contained so much emotion that when I closed my eyes, it at times felt as if I were leading an army into a battle in which everyone in the crowd would emerge victorious in the end. I talked to Patrick after their set, and he alluded to me it was only their 3rd show ever. With such a tight sound form, they are obviously very seasoned and creative musicians, making the future bright for these guys. I can’t wait to see where their incredibly emotive and powerful music carries them to in the future.
Later in the night I was again pleasantly surprised by Nahko and Medicine For the People, who, while I had heard of before, I never had the pleasure of seeing live until this festival. Led by the in-the-pocket guitar playing of Nahko Bear and a full band of incredibly talented and collectively complimentary musicians, they executed a mind-blowing set of inspiring and uplifting music that truly felt like medicine. The lyrics are constant onslaught of ingenious rhymes and uplifting imagery, and the music had a pulsating, tribal rhythm that at times reminded me of the now defunct Afro Celt Sound System, an incredibly talented European group I will probably never have the pleasure of seeing live. The vibes reached an all time high during this set as I walked around giving high fives and gazing in awe at the visionary art that, after being worked on painstakingly all weekend, was now largely complete, containing the collective experience and beauty of the entire festival, expressed uniquely and viscerally by each of the individual artists doing their work by the main stage.
ARISE is only at it’s second year, and from what I heard from festival coordinators this weekend, they have no intentions of stopping. This festival now has a monopoly on the month of August which was so previously underutilized by Colorado festival culture. From its overwhelming success the first two years, you can expect this festival to only grow and offer more with each passing year. I’ve been both years, and have had an amazing experience each time. ARISE is here, so get in while its hot! Festivals like this don’t hold such a unique and powerful energy forever. – Cameron Crumpler, Compose Yourself Mag