Partying for three days straight in single digit temperatures? Who wouldn’t be at least a wee bit trepidatious about uncomfortable at best, unbearable at worst, conditions for a music festival? But for thousands of denizens who descend onto South Lake Tahoe during that ecstatic stretch of time around the New Year holiday, wintry weather is part of the allure. For the second year in a row, the AEG produced SnowGlobe Music Festival swept into a local community college campus for a three-day extravaganza, and the kids came out in droves to party it up through New Year’s Eve. I attended last year and had a great time; the weather was mild and the event very well-managed. But this year I was a bit more hesitant when the forecast prophesized what seemed to me an arctic apocalypse with temperatures nearing zero every night. How much fun could I have braving bitter winds and frostbit fingers for three nights in a row? Well, bah! With a wee bit of preparation, a borrowed down coat, and an impulsive, indulgent last minute purchase of insulated waterproof boots, I was ready to bring in the new year with the thousands of mountain folk, snowboarder brahs, teenaged ravers, and urban transplants—in the elements, under the stars. In honor of 2013, here are my 13 highlights of this year’s SnowGlobe Music Festival.
***The Magical Winter Wonderland Setting***
Tahoe was at its most beautiful in the days leading up to the New Year. The silver-blue lake looked even more tranquil against soaring mountains buried in snow. By the time we rolled into South Lake on Thursday evening, the landscape was heavenly. Towering pines bending under heaving white weight, crystal icicles glinting from every hard surface, snow-packed dunes turned to tunnels along roads and parking lots. A white canvas that, due to the freezing temperatures, didn’t turn slushy or dirty, kept pristine with intermittent periods of snowfall throughout the weekend.
***Irish Coffee at the Beer Tents***
Who cares if they were $11 a pop? Well I do, but a hot beverage warmed up your hands and belly, and you obviously can’t argue against caffeine and whiskey. A fabulous treat. I drank many, to my wallet’s chagrin.
***GRiZ in the Techiebeats.com Tent***
GRiZ’s set was a peak moment for a number of reasons. We nailed down a spot right by a secret makeshift side exit where we could get beers or run to the porta-potties without losing our friends or weaving in and out of hundreds of people packed into the tent… packed, which means it was warm! Warm enough to take our coats off! The video projections were a visual feast in their dizzying array of prismatic and psychedelic colors. GRiZ (Grant Kwiecinski) plays a live sax over some of his produced arrangements, which he infuses with funk, soul, jazz, and deep bass, making for an irregular and unpredictable electronic cocktail. The guy’s all over the place. This is the set that set the weekend on fire for me.
***People Playing With Fire***
Speaking of fire, it’s not a proper West Coast music festival without people spinning fire somewhere. Even in the wettest and coldest of conditions, the fire dancers were out, spinning orbs along the same ramps that expert skier and snowboarders used as their side stunt stage. I always appreciate these folks… all the color and light that builds the ambiance of a festival is essential to its magic.
***BoomBox in the Sierra Tent***
BoomBox on New Year’s Eve was my favorite set, my musical highlight, and my favorite surprise! I knew nothing of this DJ/producer and singer/guitarist duo out of Alabama prior to the last day of 2012. A refreshing departure from the heavy bass and dirty dub of so many other DJs these days, they lace vintage soul, funk, and rock n’ roll into their songs, delivering it up live over produced beats. Upon a little digging, I discovered the singing half of the duo is the son of Donna Goldchaux, chanteuse of the Grateful Dead, 70s era.
A Brooklyn based electronic duo, Break Science was one of the acts people seemed most excited to see, no doubt in part due to their Pretty Lights affiliation (drummer Adam Deitch was the old drummer and their music is released on Pretty Lights Music label). There’s a little bit of everything in their tapestries of sounds, which are layered in pieces of soul, glitch, and hip-hop, and are totally easy and fun to dance to, wherever your electronic preferences may lie.
***Tahoe Townie Cabs***
The quaint community college campus where the festival was held was well-removed from the hustle of town and there was no parking, so the only way to get in and out of there was by shuttle, provided for an extra $30. These, unsurprisingly, were less than perfect, with outrageous lines and inexplicable drop-offs in the middle of nowhere. (Another story altogether.) But among the lessons learned over the years is to make friends with cab drivers early on and tip them well. Between my crew of 16 people, I think we collected the names and numbers of at least 20 cab drivers (aka Tahoe townies who drive people around for extra cash) and all weekend were able to get to and from the festival in minutes. Win win for all.
***Sans DJ, Slots at a Casino***
Speaking of winning… the only late-night show I bought a ticket for was the second night, with GRiZ and Flosstradamus, but since the first set was billed for 11pm and there was no music until well past midnight, a lot of people (including my old, ski-weary self) burned out on waiting and left during the bland opener. But in the meantime, when you’re at a casino, there is plenty of other entertainment. Two pals of mine won over $100 each on the slots.
***Beats Antique on the Main Stage***
A mainstay on the electronic circuit, Beats Antique is known for their enticing hybrid of electronica with gypsy samplings, jazzy down-tempos, and lots of percussion. Their shows often rely heavily on a visual component, with belly dancers in beautiful costumes and other choreographed delights. On the first night of the festival though, they strayed a bit from their Eastern influences and produced a harder hitting electronic set that warmed up the bodies outdoors by the main stage—welcomed and embraced under the falling snow.
OK, so Mimosa’s not really my thing generally, but after waiting in line to get through the gates for an hour and a half, and then being told that my wristband didn’t work so I had to wait in another line that wasn’t moving, I was seriously losing my cool. But when I finally got in, Mimosa was hitting the bass hard, and it was the only thing that properly met my rather disgruntled energy and released it, without agitation, back into the crowd. A cathartic reunion when I least expected it and most appreciated it.
Sure there were little brats there, wasted teenage girls in underwear and dumb kids plowing full-force into crowds, toppling drinks and people and never looking back. (Get off my lawn!) But like any festival, it’s the community that makes it really resonate, the likeminded people who come together to celebrate, despite the discomforts, costs, and compromises. The mood was festive and giddy, and the staff was genial as could be: One staff member gave me a pack of hand-warmers from her own personal stash, just because I asked if the merch booth was selling them. Nice gestures make such a difference.
***Big Gigantic on the Main Stage***
I like Big Gigantic enough—I love the live sax and I’ve always had a great time at their shows. But as they played the main stage on the first night of SnowGlobe, one of the first acts of the three-day festival, as the sky grew winter dark and the giant pines on the perimeter were lit up with a rainbow of colors, they evoked from the heavens an incredibly beautiful snowfall, setting a mood that aligned us with mother nature, ridding us (or at least me) of my resistance and fear of her in these wintry circumstances. And suddenly, I swear to god, once that self-imposed wall came down during Big Gigantic, I was completely, perfectly, comfortably warm.
***The SnowGlobe Effect***
This is the icing on what I already mentioned about the setting and the main stage sets. It was during those outdoor performances, under the stars wherever they were up there behind the clouds, in the middle of a white blanketed South Lake Tahoe, that we were treated to the most magical of snowfalls, a flurry of white that seemed to come from beneath our feet as much as it fell from the sky… like we were in a real snowglobe. As the trees ringing the festival grounds were spun in an array of brilliant blues, pinks, and greens and the snow fell intermittently harder, collectively we all knew how very special this was, to be outside, dancing away the night, with people we love, saying goodbye to the past and together ringing in a new dawn. An arctic apocalypse just doesn’t get any better.
Check out a photo gallery from the event. All photos by Shaun Beall.