MoogFest electrifies The Land of the Sky

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In the midst of natural beauty came synthetic splendor over the course of Halloween weekend with MoogFest 2010. Held in the picturesque and exceptionally unique city of Asheville, NC, this festival that had previously called New York home had a lot of competion. Between The String Cheese Incident’s Hulaween at Hampton Coliseum, Phish’s stint in Atlantic City, and the Widespread Panic and Voodoo combo in New Orleans, music lovers faced tough decisions for this holiday of mayhem. 

While certainly not the biggest turn out, with over 60 bands coming together to celebrate the memory of Bob Moog and his creation of the Moog synthesizers this festival proved a special and intimate time for all that attended. There were city-wide art installations, workshops for the audiotech nerds we all have come to love, Theremin classes, and several other unofficial festivals such as Roguefest and the nightly after parties at The Garage. It was hard to find a single moment not packed with something amusing in which to bask. 

p1014571-copy.jpgThose who traveled may have found the maze-like layout of Asheville difficult to navigate, with a parking nightmare to boot; those who could grasp the various stage locations all across the city were in for treats that expanded beyond music and visual oddities. Not a stranger to the weird, the "Land of the Sky" city that prides itself on being home to artists, beatniks, and outcasts alike found its streets even more packed with freaks and geeks than is standard fare. Coupled with the vastest array of costumes imaginable, adorned people watching was a sport with a personal favorite moment being when I saw a larger than life rendition of a LittleBigPlanet character who found himself being chased around by a totem eagle.

Starting off with a bang with Big Boi, night one had a lineup that put MoogFest on the map for being the place to be.

Devo, the infamous band that owned the 80’s with their red hats and the catchy single "Whip It" was scheduled to be one of the first big acts of night one. However, due to a tragic accident involving guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh’s hand that happened just days before the event, the band was unable to perform as scheduled. Instead, members of The Octopus Project stepped up to the challenge and rocked the stage with the synth-pop legends. While we hope for a speedy recovery to the band’s guitar player, this unique combination proved to be a one of a kind moment in music history. Devo was honored with the coveted first Moog Innovator award which came with a brand new Minimoog Voyager XL synthesizer.

Providing a quite entertaining show, hip-hop dynamic Big Boi bequeathed a bumping start to the festival. Complete with several male step dancers, the show included songs that got the crowd cheering immediately as several Outkast covers were thrown out including the iconic favorite "Ms. Jackson."  The crowd favorite was when a group of ladies was brought on stage to get down and funky to an enjoyable version of "The Way You Move." Closing with the ever-captivating "Kyptonite," Big Boi provided a show that even the most new-fangled hip-hop listener could both understand and appreciate.

p1014697.jpgIndie-rockers, MGMT came on just after the popular Big Boi show and the entrancing quality of their light show left many festival-goers in altered mind states. However, this was not a gig for the sober-minded, and seemed to leave even those listeners that were not tee totaling less than amazed. During their major hits such as "Kids" and "Time to Pretend" the entire crowd chanted along magically to the uplifting lyrics, but soon after the Civic Center started to empty out as techno-lovers escaped to packed RJD2 and local DJ Bowie gigs at Orange Peel and Moogaplex respectfully.

While many found these shows impossible to gain entry into due to the venue capacities, the few who were either lucky or had chosen to wait for extended periods in the cool Asheville air to get inside found themselves packed into a trance-hop escorted journey via the psychedelic sounds of the surprisingly popular RJD2, who could have easily played to a much bulkier horde had they been given a venue that was larger than the mid-sized Orange Peel.

Next up would be perhaps the most memorable moment of all of MoogFest: the interpretive dance performed in the middle of the vast Civic Center floor during Dan Deacon‘s set. Led by a Greg St. Pierre, thousands of people including Santa Clause, Burger King, and several Avatars became one with tribalistic movements to the song "Of the Mountains." This special moment, shared with an entire coliseum of mermaids, zombies, voodoo witchdoctors, and Mario characters, brought many to tears and turned this seemingly typical jam-tron festival into something truly exceptional. And the beat would only roll on further with the next and always effervescent Girl Talk.

Greg Gillis of Girl Talk is known for his outlandish shows of iconic mashups that drive audiences absolutely wild. Although his schtick is one that most have seen and from which is never deviated, oddly it continues to work at festival after festival. Starting the show in rather ghoulish Freddy Krueger attire, he quickly worked the crowd into a full-on frenzy. Pumping up the volume yet another notch, the stage was soon filled with scantily clad costumed ladies and a few lucky guys that danced to mixes of Kylie Minogue, Flo Rida, Ludacris, and other top 40 artists that provided enough familiarity to embrace virtually everyone’s musical tastes. For good measure, John Lennon was even injected into the mix.  The energy in the crowd was nothing short of ecstatic as various members of Gillis’ entourage, adorned in monster creature costumes whilst using leaf blowers to cloak the audience in toilet paper, pulled more lucky Moog-goers on stage and out of the then raging mass. Not a single attendee was left without colossal grins of delight as the party went past its 2:15am scheduled stopping point.

p1014496-copy.jpgWhile I would love to write a lovely review about Bonobo (who I was chomping at the bit to see,) a breakdown in communication happened with the security guards who refused to let this Moog reporter in the building.  Hundreds of kids were literally rushing the building in an attempt to get inside as phenomenal sounds escaped the entrances. The confrontation ended with an argument between the bouncer and me and a few choice words spewed.  While most of the festival went down without a hitch, there were a few other moments like this where I found myself being disrespected by bouncers and security guards who seemed too eager to assume anyone and everyone was an intoxicated idiot and this is truly the chief complaint and is worth noting.

The festival was held completely indoors and at approximately $175.00 per weekend pass, it did not come cheaply for its attendees. Although its lineup was stacked with immense talent, much of it was housed in locations that could hold no more than a few hundred patrons. This obviously was something that organizers must have considered in their preparations. However, they did little in the way of making it known as to how to go about getting into an event that may have been at the top of one’s "list to see" bands. Rather, they left festival goers to fend for themselves against the dreaded "yellow shirts" who, in this case, left room to be desired in terms of overall disposition. By not informing security of the type of patrons they would have on hand, this again was another display of a lack of organization from the helm of the festival, and gave reason to ponder if perhaps organizers had bitten off more than they could chew.   

Feeling sore and tired from the partying of the previous night’s festivities, I was skeptical in regards to how the second night would compare, but was anxious all the same as I departed the abode, destination downtown. While not as many costumed freaks filled the setting as they had on the first night, I was glad to see that the hoards of people seemed to have a slightly better grasp of the city and how to get in and out of venues.

p1015320-copy.jpgHailing from Iceland, Jónsi Birgisson’s prog-rock show proved stunning to all the senses. This falsetto singer who usually performs with Sigur Rós poured through hauntingly immaculate vocals while adorning the stage with whimsical creatures moving across the forested backdrop.  Attendees of this show were bathed in an uplifting and communal show experience. After several encores including "Grow Till Tall", this show quickly became one of the most loved on the second night, sending its patrons into a state of collective consciousness that was both binding with love and separatist with abandoned fear.

D.C.-based Thievery Corporation was a surprising hit of night two.  Typically performing at smaller venues, this usual duo filled the stage with a 15-person band that included horns, sitars, multiple vocalists, and various other elements that came together seamlessly in this third-world slumdog fusion dance party that all walks could enjoy. Fortunately this special moment was not lost on MoogFesters who packed into the Civic Center to groove to such tracks as fan favorite "Lebanese Blonde" and "Assault on Babylon."

Usually a subtle, down tempo trip-hop group, Massive Attack performed a larger than life show that had fans in disbelief and new listeners unable to cope with their lack of history with the band. Possibly the most ornate light show of the fest, audience members were blinded with flashes of colors as hundreds of somber and politically charged quotes and figures scrolled across the screen. While they touched on their newest album, Heligoland, a good portion of their set was from arguably their best album, Mezzanine. In a baby doll dress and a grimly painted face, Tricky singer Topley-Bird and Harace Andy, who served as guest vocalists, belted out spine-tingling versions of "Teardrop" and "Risingson" that had people even in the nose-bleed sections heaving their bodies around to the tracks that were heavily steeped in a inimitable intermingling of soothing yet frustrating ambience. While definitely a crowd pleaser, there were many fans that took this mostly calming music as naptime opportunities in preparation for the late night insanity.

p1015621-copy.jpgProviding a break from the Moogy electronic vibe of the overall fest, The Disco Biscuits packed the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium with hippies and jam band enthusiasts. The band did not disappoint their thousands of fans with neon lights flashing to the beats of such classics as "Orch Theme" and an extended version of "Lunar Persuit" that once again proved that The Disco Biscuits are unbeatable in the electronically slanted portion of the jam world. For a solid three hours, the crowd raged to the one band that can fit into any festival circuit, but held true to the Moog theme by adding some oscillating drops to their set. 

One thing that was disheartening was the Biscuits time slot. It begged the question to the powers behind the scheduling, "why would you make us choose between the Biscuits, Massive Attack, and Shpongle?" This was the only major schedule conflict that had me wanting to seriously make inquiry into the sanity of the festival planners.

Shpongle, a DJ set by the talented and rather stylish Simon Posford, was greeted with a disappointing turnout. With a set starting in the middle of the Disco Biscuits, attendance was extremely poor and very apparent in the large room of the Civic Center. While usually accompanied by elaborate stage shows or dancers, lights, and psychedelic visuals, Posford took the stage with a simple and plain white sheet draped behind him.  However, in the typical Shpongle fashion, he soon had the lucky few people there hypnotized by his transient beats.  The crowd took advantage of the more then ample room and began to explore the spaces with a rather exaggerated style of freeform dance. Despite a low turnout and extremely short performance of only one hour, Posford came and met with many of the fans after the show, taking pictures, signing autographs, and making many wide eyed fans glad that they had made the decision to join him in his performance.

Night three, oh Halloween, how I adore thee. While expecting absolute mayhem in the streets, outside was surprisingly tame. The same could not be said once one breached the doors to any venue of the evening.  Speaking to a few police officers, only a handful of arrests had been made up until this point, and they found that while the crowd was filled with complete lunacy, most embraced the family feel of the city and acted within the few boundaries that "AsheVegas" had on the most devilish night of all. Props were definitely due to all the people who braved the brisk fall weather of the mountains in order to wear some radical costumes. I know I personally froze my ass off every night for the benefit of the communal oddity.

Though Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein is usually a part, this night Younger Brother would be made up of Simon Posford (half of Shpongle), Joe Russo of Benevento/Russo Duo and Further, Benji Vaughan from Promethheus, and singer Ru Campbell. They performed a rather awkward set on the last night. With high hopes for this super-group mash-up ensemble, it proved to be a slight let down mainly due to the simplistic music and repetitive vocals.  Hearing that Posford was going to be performing both as a DJ and on a guitar, the anticipatory eagerness to hear soon died in the arms of what turned out to be just another filler until the late night. If this band were to stick around and give due diligence in the practicing realm, they would almost certainly mature into something of massive extraordinaire. 

mooglast.jpgFinishing out the music at the larger Asheville venues, Pretty Lights aka music masterminds Derek Smith and Adam Deitch, prepped the audience for what was sure to be an astounding performance. The stage set was complete with massive screens that both hung in the air and adorned Derek’s mixing table. The visuals that were provided perfect harmonization to the audio. Both the floor and the grandstands were filled with sweaty costumed freaks who took no prisoners in their effort to grind on anyone and everyone that they could reach as this vibrant duo played music that crossed all genre boundaries.  While a lot of controversy has been circling around recent Pretty Lights shows about Derek’s talent as a DJ vs. producer vs. whatever you want to call him, the pair threw down for a sinfully epic show that I would dare anyone not to dance to.  "Fuck it! I didn’t wanna go to heaven anyways!"

Surprisingly, the biggest highlight of Halloween night did not take place at MoogFest itself, but at one of the after parties at a local club, where Schtompta and Agobi Project graced the stage as live painting and impressive poi dancers entertained the crowd until well after sunrise. Multiple artists from MoogFest joined in on this "locals only" party and making this "one off" the hottest get down in Asheville.

This festival came with its flaws, but nothing that would coin it as a failure. Its glitches and hang-ups were no match for what most came for anyway, a colossal electronica and fusion festival that truly is, of yet, been unparalleled. The music was exactly what it was cracked up to be and more. New acts gained exposure as those who have a natural affinity for the genre became acquainted with their sound. Above all though, the thousands who called Asheville home for at least a weekend deserve a significant amount of the credit for how the caper came down, setting a tone that was ripe for kinship on what is always a time of year that brings many great ghoulish joy. As musicians and fans alike paid homage to Bob Moog and his pioneering visions that changed music forever, nothing about the party that ensued was lost on semantics or frothy emotionalism. Rather, what took place was real – real and synthesized.

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