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Building New Traditions: Cascade Equinox Completes An Epic First Year [Festival Review]

It looks like Oregon officially has a stellar new music festival to call its own – Cascade Equinox. Filling the void left by adored gatherings like What the Festival, Cascade Equinox pulled off a massive weekend in its newfound home of Redmond, Oregon. After taking the time to jump back into the real world, run a laundry list of inevitable errands and organize my thoughts for this review, I couldn’t help but feel the warmth while replaying some of the weekends’ cheek-bursting memories in my mind. Cascade Equinox was truly an epic success. 

Cascades’ exploratory lineup left no musical stone unturned, from alternative rockers Phantogram to electro hip-hop aficionado Pretty Lights and his multi-talented live band, to funk centerpiece The Main Squeeze. Amongst all of these eclectic sounds, top-tier names from Denver’s electronic scene were heavily represented as well, including favorites like Maddy O’Neal, Manic Focus, Thought Process and even a late Sunday night surprise from Since Juleye

Read on for our weekend highlights, including an interview with Maddy O’Neal!

Weekend Performance Highlights

Emancipator at Cascade Equinox 2023. Photo by Taishona Carpenter by Compose Yourself Magazine

Our first performance on Friday saw longtime favorites Emancipator take on the Cascade Equinox main stage against the most idyllic baby blue sky. The evening buzzed with excitement and anticipation from the arrival of attendees, further complemented by the uplifting and tranquil energy from producer Doug Appling and violinist Ilya Goldberg. As the sun set over Redmond, Emancipator’s incredible lightshow and amorphous visuals were a perfect kick off to the Cascade bliss.

Catching the magic of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter of Phantogram was one of the most captivating performances of Friday night. The duo’s iconic tagline ‘Best Friend Shit’ was on full display as they matched one another’s’ energy and passion onstage. Phantogram have honed their rock/pop/electronic stylings to create an infectious sound that is distinctly their own. The band played several hits from 2016’s album, ‘Three’, including ‘Cruel World’, ‘You’re Mine’ and ‘You Don’t Get Me High Anymore’.

Phantogram at Cascade Equinox 2023. Photo by Taishona Carpenter for Compose Yourself Magazine.

Main stage ended on a particularly high note with headliner Big Wild as he serenaded us with fan favorites from his indie-electronica catalogue. His set gave pure nostalgia, especially with his choice of opening with 2017’s ‘When I Get There’ – the entire crowd reacted in unison, dancing in that special mode of joy that comes when living in the moment. In contrast to the pitch black sky, his crystalline voice felt as vibrant and euphonious as his recordings portray, maybe moreso if it were possible. As the late night creeped in we became drawn to the Tilt, an indoor stage where Opiuo was riling up a dense crowd of furry coats and neon lit totem poles. His funky and uptempo disco grooves were perfect for us to warm up to, followed up by a hyphy, drippy bass throwdown from Manic Focus. Producing tweaks to his songs mid-set with the beatpad connected to his wrist, Manic Focus had the entire Tilt stage wobbling until 3am.

Maddy O’Neal at Cascade Equinox 2023. Photo by Carolina Nascimento for Compose Yourself Magazine

Our first major move on Saturday was an on-site interview with Maddy O’Neal, one of our favorite electro soul producers out of Denver, Colorado. As someone who is constantly on the road – she arrived hours before her Cascade set and flew out immediately for Griz’s Ursa Major – we were honored to be graced by her presence ahead of her set at Tilt. You can read our full interview feature with Maddy here!

With an illustrious Camp Questionmark set officially under her belt, it came as no surprise that Maddy would be throwing in all the heavy bass vibes, and she still completely exceeded our expectations. As soon as she stepped on stage, a raucous welcome from the crowd had the Tilt feeling like a total girl power takeover, complete with the walls of the barn shaking in rhythm. A visit from longtime friend and collaborator Manic Focus mid-set saw the two doing a quick B2B and pumping out a rowdy drum n’ bass track. Add in the girlies rocking disco flares and bubble guns riding rail, and you’ve got a perfect visual from the best set of the weekend.

Dirtwire are a duo that have continued to evolve their musical artistry by incorporating more live electronic production while paying homage to the worldly influences that embody their music. During their performance on Cascade Equinox’s main stage, Dirtwire welcomed Indigenous tribal leaders who presented a ceremonial dance, serving as an important call of action to respect and recognize the efforts of the land’s original stewards. This has become a staple at Dirtwire concerts to not only promote cultural appreciation but to foster unity and inclusivity amongst the crowd. 

Pretty Lights at Cascade Equinox 2023. Photo by Carolina Nascimento for Compose Yourself Magazine

A Cascade Equinox recap would not be complete without mentioning easily the most looked forward to headliner of the weekend, Pretty Lights. Joined by a full band that includes keyboardist Borahm Lee, turntablist Chris Karns, producer Michal Menert and drummer Alvin Ford Jr, crowds were scrambling to the rail long before the set began. When the generator tapped out within the first few minutes, the levels of anticipation skyrocketed with what felt like thousands of fans holding their breath. After all, it was a truly momentous occasion as this would be Pretty Lights’ long-awaited return to the festival circuit after nearly five years. Once the set was up and going, everyone was completely locked into the immersive world of Derek and his creative conspirators. With the Lazer Shark commanding the interstellar visuals and a top notch A/V team bringing the otherworldly stream to those eagerly watching at home, it felt like we were all at the center of the world for one night. 

Art by Eric Wixon at Cascade Equinox 2023. Photo by Carolina Nascimento for Compose Yourself Magazine

Cascade Equinox: A New Festival Tradition

With one production team based out of Oregon and heavy representation from Colorado label Mammoth Music Group, Cascade Equinox can easily become the long awaited bridge between the pacific northwest and the midwests’ live music scenes. In addition to its multi-genred lineup, the festivals’ location at Deschutes Campgrounds couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. Surrounded by gorgeous mountainous terrain, there were panoramic views of natural beauty in any direction you turned. Efficient parking made entering and exiting a breeze, while clean restrooms and hot showers made it easy to feel refreshed all weekend. Plenty of paved and well-lit walkways, running water stations, roaming harm reduction specialists and more contributed to an accessible and party safe environment. Despite the smoky skies many experienced heading into Redmond, the weekend remained mostly clear and sunny, save for Sundays’ drop in temperature and rain. Friday and Saturday were perfect for strolling the grounds and soaking up the exceptional variety of vendors, both retail and culinary alike. 

Cascade also did an amazing job of integrating a family friendly environment into its live music atmosphere. I could visualize this festival being high on a list of fun destinations for so many friends I’ve grown up with in the music scene who now have families of their own. As someone who doesn’t have children but spends a lot of time with youth, a festival catering to families in this way can only contribute to its longevity.

We can’t wait to make this a new tradition and build more memories at this promising festival – keep updated on all things Cascade 2024 and consider making plans for Gem and Jam 2024 in the meantime!

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