Wow! What a weekend… Sonic Bloom returned to Hummingbird Ranch for yet another year of absolutely fantastic music, beautiful art installations, and probably one of the kindest groups of festival-goers I have ever witnessed. From start to finish, the entire event ran like a well-oiled machine, utilizing all 300 staff leaders who have been meeting for months to make sure Sonic Bloom maintained the standard of excellence they have achieved year after year.
Driving up to the event, about three hours south of Denver, CO, I realized that Bloom, while absolutely a staple in the underground music scene, was kept a hidden gem from the outside world. There weren’t any massive signs pointing us towards the event, there weren’t speed traps and police officers crowding the surrounding area, there wasn’t even traffic. The only hint that we were getting close was the familiar sight of the Spanish Peaks and the beautiful grassy hills surrounding them.
Looking at the absolutely stacked lineup featuring Gramatik, Opiuo, Emancipator Ensemble, Russ Liquid Test, Yheti, Jade Cicada, Detox Unit, The Widdler, The Librarian, and Funkstatik (just to name a few), it completely shocked me to find out that final attendance for this festival was about 5,000 people. For me, getting the chance to see Gramatik with only a few thousand people was a memory I’ll never forget.
Not included in that number are the performance artists, yoga instructors, VJs, workshop leaders, stage managers and artists who made Sonic Bloom a true gallery of art in all mediums. It seemed as though each person there, whether staff or attendee, had something special to bring to the table. The food vendors carried a wide variety of different flavors from all over the world (I personally enjoyed ‘Umami Mobile Eatery,’ where I ordered a pork and rice bowl filled with veggies and covered in a Thai-inspired peanut sauce). The painters set up shop right next to a stage so people could enjoy live-painting while listening to their favorite artists. The dancers, hoopers, aerial artists, and flow artists were absolutely everywhere all weekend, creating a circus-like feel to the event. And most importantly, the musicians each had something truly wonderful to say about Sonic Bloom, claiming it to be one of their favorite events to play music for.
While all the acts were fantastic, one really surprised me.
Aaron Holstein, of VibeSquad (typically of the new age electronic dance music), got up on stage during the afternoon sunshine and played a stunning set comprised of classical piano music. Besides a few flow artists dancing gracefully to the sound, the entire crowd was sitting down silently or laying quietly in the surrounding hammocks completely in awe at the sounds they were hearing. The set became even more special when Holstein got on the mic towards the end of his set and announced happily and teary-eyed that it was his birthday. After his set ended with a large cake, party hats and a beautiful group photo, I had a moment to greet Holstein, wish him a ‘happy birthday’ and thank him for his set. He revealed to me that while he had been making music like that at home for years, he had never gotten a chance to perform it for anyone live, and that he thought Sonic Bloom was the absolute perfect place to debut this music that he has held so closely to his heart.
It wouldn’t be a Colorado music festival without a completely random and unpredictable change in weather. Throughout most of the weekend, it was sunny, windy, and (be warned) very, very dusty, but come Saturday afternoon, nothing surprised us more than a massive 30-minute hail storm overthrowing the entire festival and covering camps and cars with ice the size of golf balls. After the storm, I emerged from my car expecting to see people packing up and leaving but was surprised to enter the festival grounds to a nearly full event of festival-goers wearing ponchos and dancing like nothing could stop them.
My favorite art installation from the weekend was ‘The Complimentary Bar,’ which was a small booth set up between stages where patrons would “friendly heckle” people walking by. I met one of the owners of The Complimentary Bar, Heather Stiver, and stood with her for a half an hour shouting things like, “I love your outfit!”, “Your smile is contagious!”, and “I’m so happy you’re at Sonic Bloom!” The reactions from the people that passed us made my entire weekend. It reminded me that sometimes going out of your way to tell someone something positive can turn the entire day around (for you and for them!). It’s one memory from the festival I have packed in my suitcase and taken home with me.
Overall, Sonic Bloom reminded me of the feeling I got from my first music festival; it reminded me that there’s no such thing as a stranger, that sometimes the best part of your weekend will be someone else’s smile, and the importance of being kind to our planet as well as being kind to ourselves. Sonic Bloom will certainly be a festival that I return to for years to come.