Dexfest: A cosmic failure

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If there really is such a thing as a festival for every taste, Dexfest (June 17-20 in Dandridge, TN) seals the deal, as it serves as an outlet for lovers of all that is electronica. In only its second year, Dexfest touted an impressive lineup of both regional and nationally-acclaimed electronic act, all for a hundred bucks.

It was definitely a sight to behold in its own right; people watching during this summer solstice gala became a sport in a setting where a guy sporting a Grateful Dead shirt could have been standing next to a gal sporting self-coined “disco titties,” a bra that is made out of the same material as a disco ball.

As a member of the “try anything once” club, it was a natural response to oblige when I was given the last minute beck and call from the bullpen to cover Dexfest: A Cosmic Convergence. Little did I know that I would be stepping into a situation with the bases loaded, no outs, and a glow stick-wielding Babe Ruth on ketamine would be at the plate calling his shot.

P1010769-copy.jpgUpon arrival, it was clear that what I was about to endure was going to be something that I will never forget.

Calling the check in process a cluster fuck would be an understatement, like saying “Hunter S. Thompson liked to occasionally dabble in hallucinogens and other psycho-actives.” It was a pure chaotic mess. People were arriving to a “camping festival” and being told that there was no room left to pitch a tent or even car camp.

Then, while the turned away disheveled patron pondered his next move, the over-zealous gate guard would berate him into moving his car away from the check-in gate. Granted, this was not the first frenzied gate experience, nor will it be the last. However, the initial impression would unfortunately prove to endure throughout the weekend’s festivities.

For now though, there were musicians that I had never even heard of to observe, hear, and experience in spite of many factors including the dreadfully hot Tennessee summer day.

As per usual, meandering through the festival grounds is a must. Unfortunately the vibe that immediately consumed was not one of positivity. Smiles were not plentiful. This was not the scene that I have grown to love. The Marley mantra of “one good thing about music- when it hits you feel no pain” fleeted through my tired and muddled mind and the quest for the stages ensued.

P1010370-copy.jpgIn a very sizeable field equipped with a fairly large stage, I heard sound. There was a band on stage, but there was one chick hula hooping and a handful of folks sitting on the ground.  This struck me as peculiar, but the music was good and I was still willing to give a pass, at least until I could see what this whole Cosmic Convergence think was all about – the assumption was easily made that an activity with a name such as that certainly happens at night.

As the evening progressed and the heat of the day began to dwindle, the Fraggles did eventually come out from under their proverbial rocks in small increments. Headliner, EOTO, would be up soon, but first it was time for Telepath and Oxford, Mississippi-based band Zoogma.

Telepath took the stage at around 11:15 PM and from start to finish, their melodic and easily danceable instrumentation seemed to carry the still few in attendance on a journey that had a multi-cultural appeal, but I had been anxious to catch Zoogma for quite some time, so it was off to the smaller stage.

The buzz that has been circulating about Zoogma, a relatively new to the scene band had my interest perked. Upon arrival in the pavilion-esque environ that was aptly called The Pavilion Stage, the five pieces of the band were already on stage. But there was no sound.

Could it be? Another Dexfest SNAFU?

Yes – this time it came in the form of technical difficulties with the sound: when they strummed, nothing came out of the monitors, subs, or even their personal amps.

As guitarist and tabler Brock Bowling cordially interacted with those that had gathered, a Dexfest staff runner scuttled beer and water to and fro, hoping to keep the band on ice. One thing was as clear as the Aquafina he was peddling – the folks who organized this fest were in way over their head.

P1010492-copy.jpgOddly enough, the crowd that lingered did not seem to be all that troubled. But by the time that Zoogma began their set about an hour after their scheduled start time, many from the pavilion throng had metabolized into the EOTO system. It was a shame because Zoogma put on a dazzling set for its entirety.  The energy was sky-scraping and the zeal and glimmer that was in each Zoogma components’ eyes was like a breath of fresh air. If one has a to be watching out for list, these guys should certainly be on it.

Finally it was time to head to EOTO and by this time I was certain that nothing else would go awry. Once again, Dexfest proved me mistaken. As EOTO did what they do best – perform a fully improvised set of sheer electronic bliss and splendor – the frenzied crowd which had now grown in exponents was apparently trying their best to take the brilliance to an even further place through the use of enhancers.

Obviously this is nothing new. Festivals are places where many indulge and some do occasionally overindulge. Dexfest was no different. But when a couple of kids took it too far this was where Dexfest differed and their perpetual ineptness shone once again.

The response from the skeleton crew of a staff was abysmal. Had it not been for festival attendees, these kids fate may have resulted in something that was untimely. In the end, they were loaded onto pallets, tossed onto a four wheeler pull behind, and carted to the front gate where an ambulance was called. Then the cops arrived.

Like flies on shit, a crew of 14 uniformed police officers began combing through the multitude of attendees. They harassed legitimate vendors. They shook down kids. Then without further ado, they began arresting people for smoking marijuana. Apparently Dandridge, TN police officers have an affinity for warrantless searches and unnecessary pestering.

At this point I had taken in way more than my fill for one day and decided to head to the hotel since there was no room to camp. If the fuzz showing up after two kids fell into a K-Hole was somebody’s idea of a cosmic convergence, then I wanted no part of it.{mospagebreak}

As day two would be my final day since I did not make it for the Thursday celebratory opening, I decided to wipe the slate clean. “Today is a new day” I told myself.

To boot, the Disco Biscuit side project, Conspirator, would be the headliner of the night and this was definitely a raison d’être in regards to trudging through another day.

P1010705-copy.jpgThe day began with a much-needed downpour, which served as a catalyst to a much cooler and overcast day. This in and of itself had more Dexfest inhabitants smiling than there were in the preceding hellishly hot day. Peering from the stage during a collaborative effort involving DJ Kid’s Meal and members of Nashville based band, This is ART, it was obvious that the folks in attendance came to crush for the final day. Dancing was heavy and in synch with the beats. The vibe seemed to have settled into a more comfortable zone. Even The Disco Biscuits’ Marc Brownstein could be seen sharing in the groove as he boogied to the reverberation being provided in the small pavilion.

It seemed that the cosmos had finally converged and maybe they had for some, but a technical foul by yours truly would end up causing my personal cosmos to go slightly off kilter later in the evening. The foul was giving my lighter to The Biscuit’s Aron Magner. He had lost his and as an over-consumer of nicotine, it is my habit to always have two lighters in my pocket at a festival. Apparently I broke my rule and it would cost me dearly later.

As the day progressed, things remained to be much more congruent. We were treated to a ruckus of a treat set from Count Bass D who worked the stage like a madman intent on blowing the minds of all in attendance. He accomplished this mission as evidenced by the sheer delight that could be seen on the faces of the crowd once the set came to a close and the chant “Bass D” ensued. However, we all knew what was drawing nigh. It was time for a little Conspirator, but first, a cigarette.

P1011020-copy.jpgThere would be no lighter in my pockets no matter how many times they were checked. So the trek was made to the vehicle where again, I could find no lighter. Oh well- off to the lighter store. However, the local city, county, and state police had a different plan for me.

As I pulled out of the lot, multiple police cars lined the side of the highway. Of course, one fell in right behind me.

“Do you know why I pulled you over sir?” the slightly overweight cop asked.

“No sir, I do not” was my reply.

“Your headlight is flickering. Do you have any bombs, bazookas, machine guns, or drugs in the vehicle?”

I laughed and simply stated “no I do not.” Before the words even got out of my mouth, he assumed that since there was nothing in the car that I “shouldn’t mind if he had a look.” “Yes I would since you pulled me over for a supposed flickering headlight and I am on my way to the store, I see that you have no reason to search my vehicle.”

At this point I was told to “step out of the car slowly and keep hands in the air.” His condescending tone only added fuel to the fire. Then a K-9 unit showed up who “alerted” on my vehicle. This never ceases to amaze me. My dog is an idiot and yet I can pretty much train him to do anything that I want.

P1011195-copy.jpgTo make a long story short, I have not ingested or possessed any illegal drugs in quite some time. There simply has never been an illegal drug in my vehicle.  They searched high and low, removing everything but the seats from my vehicle and even began pestering me about having Tylenol in a zip lock bag in my shaving kit. I was told that they “had to treat me just like they do everyone else.” To this, I laughed and asked “if everybody they pull over for a (what I now saw was a working) headlight infraction gets met with six police officers, a dog, and a vehicle search.” He did not comment other than to ask that I sign the citation for the headlight that even he agreed was functioning properly.

Once again, Dexfest had been a bust in spite of what looked to be a promising day. They cannot be blamed for the attitudes of the local police but they can be blamed for letting things get so out of hand that such a heavy police presence became inevitable.

Needless to say, by the time I reentered the festival, it was all about getting a few photos and trying to redeem the all but lost personal vibe. Conspirator helped in this effort, but not even their solid effort that came complete with some of the best technical fusion that can be delivered could get my space right. The six hour drive ahead of me seemed more appealing than one more minute in this disaster.

On its whole, the festival has a degree of potential. A more eclectic mix of suitable-for-daylight music would be nice, but overall the music of the entire weekend was top notch. The organizers definitely succeeded in terms of buying and bringing in talent. But even this could not overshadow their epic failure at organization, infrastructure, and technical difficulties.

The ride home was long and perfect for reflection. At the end of it all I will leave with the following:  Word to the wise – if you see blue lights behind you in good ol’ Dandridge, have your lawyer’s number handy.

Oh, and if one wants to camp at a camping festival there, good luck. He will need it. Keep me posted because next year’s Summer Solstice will be observed from the comfort of my couch.

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