No matter the performer or venue, it is the audience that determines the success of a concert. I've seen entire concerts ruined by a couple of asshats who view it as their divine right to be there. I've seen lackluster performances embraced by audiences who invest themselves in the music and propel it toward something superb. This summer, I was lucky enough to attend two shows that reaffirmed my faith in the joint powers of community and music.
A weekend road-trip to Taos for the Annual Uniting of the Tribes thrust me headfirst into the weirdest, most wondrous experience of my summer. The journey came about spontaneously, as the best things in life do. I arrived at the dusty campground near Taos Mesa Brewing and immediately realized that I was out of my depth. Deeply crusty, grungy people wandered among a hodgepodge of bright tents, managing to look lost despite their perpetual smiles. A tendril of music snaked its way across the campground and wormed itself into my ear, enticing me toward the amphitheater.
DJ Templo stood in an adobe structure, absorbed in his own universe of otherworldly sounds. In the crowd, a feverishly dancing man, seemingly impervious to self-awareness, was in a constant state of motion. His movements at once seemed to predict and react to the twists and turns of the music. The music possessed him, compelling his jerky movements so that they somehow looked smooth, even graceful. He was an inspiration to me. Others clearly felt the same way, and a peculiar gyrating mass of limbs slowly built around him. Before I realized what was happening, I was enveloped.
The energy grew brighter until the music abruptly ended. The crowd became restless, robbed of their sole purpose. Standing still after being surrounded by pure energy felt unnatural; every cell in my body craved movement. Thankfully, the discontent was short-lived when headliner Emancipator emerged from the shadows, two men armed with a violin and a mixing board. Every muscle tensed in anticipation—as the bow first kissed violin strings—a blast of heat shocked my body. I initially thought that, somehow, their music had enchanted my form; as I turned, I saw the billowing flames of a bonfire erupting from the middle of the crowd.
And the crowd instantly ignited too. The peaceful intensity of Emancipator's electronica was simultaneously soothing and invigorating, like a warm fire. We breathed when the music breathed; we danced when the music danced. Swaying as one, the boundaries between individuals drifted away. When the last notes rung out, the crowd embraced one another and lingered, deeply appreciative of their newfound community.
I spent my childhood wishing I was somewhere else. I spent damn near every day after the age of 7 wishing I was at Warped Tour. I would torment myself waiting for band announcements, writing and rewriting mock-ups of my dream lineup, only to have my heart and hopes dashed against the rocks as the big show passed me by.
Finally, the rock gods blessed me with the opportunity to go to the gig; Warped came to Burque, and, damn, was it sweet.
The 2017 Warped Tour was a blur to me, a product of the constant stream of brash, in-your face music filling up and exploding out of Balloon Fiesta Park. I wandered from stage to stage, soaking in the elation that saturated the air. Alongside my motley crew of friends, I thrashed around to the exquisite breakdowns of Dance Gavin Dance, reveling in the pulse of the mosh pit.
The adolescent angst of Hawthorne Heights transported me to a happier time: when I was 12 I jammed to Hawthorne Heights religiously, wishing I could begin to understand the malaise in their music. The melodic melancholy of Being As An Ocean was a welcome refuge from the furious energy of the rest of the festival, their music somehow softening the blistering heat.
Even though this year's billing was far heavier than the Warped Tour fare of years past—including artists like GWAR and The Adolescents—the experience was one of communion. The anarchy of the mosh pits was balanced by the tenderness of the crowd, by the content smiles of audience members as they looked around and realized that they were exactly where they belonged.
There is an incredible amount of comfort to be found in simply existing—content to be where you are and when you are and with who are with—and that's the place live music is capable of creating. It's a sanctuary. It creates a sense of belonging, even if that belonging only remains as a summertime memory.
Editors Note: Adam Wood served as a music intern at Weekly Alibi this summer. Now, he'll be serving as a contributing writer. Keep an eye out for his awesomely acute perspective.