Alibi V.27 No.32 • Aug 9-15, 2018

Music Feature

The Sunsets of Taos’ Vortex

Gathering transcended normative music festivals

Expectation is a grand enigma. Sometimes it seems doomed to disappoint, faced with the impossible task of living up to the wild nexus of possibilities that bounce around our imaginations like supercharged electrons.

At other times, expectation in fact defines our experiences, confining us to the narrow realm of reality defined by the familiar. We pursue that safety; we are comforted by it. We know what we want (or at least think we do), and refuse to consider the possibility of beauty, of life, shrouded in the unknown.

But it is in the unknown and the unfamiliar that we grow; it is there that we can begin to experience our world in all its vast mystery and abstract allure. It is there that the imagination nourishes, thrives and blooms; a dream of the mundane is no dream at all, but a regurgitation of the reality stuffed down our throats.

When you choose to embrace and cherish and bask in the unknown, you reject the notion of expectation entirely. Instead, you live in the realm of excitement—a purer place that nurtures questions, not answers; that pursues creativity, not comfort; that constantly looks for the parts of life to love.

It is expectation which makes us content to glance out our windows and note the nice sunset. It is excitement that holds us rapt in dumb marvel as we revel in the inexplicable majesty of the New Mexico sky.

Taos Vortex Music Festival deserves to exist in that realm of excitement, relieved from the impossibility of satisfying individual expectation, and to be celebrated for its tremendous successes.

I arrived at Taos Vortex without presumption, unburdened by the corrosion of expectation. Fully prepared to plunge into the unknown, I absorbed the breathless, bewildered excitement that saturated Kit Carson Park.

Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

It soared from the awestruck maws of children finding adventure at every turn in this dazzling new dimension. It sprung forth from the ground with each euphoric step of exploration, with each delirious dance move. It erupted into being from performers galvanized by the sight of their own tunes electrifying the audience and setting this world alight.

As festival-goers streamed into the park—the excitement of anticipation visibly transforming into the excitement of experience, of wonder—the ambiance grew brighter and brighter in perfect parallel to the, becoming more vibrant as individuals immersed themselves in the experience and became one with this curious, colorful world.

Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

And what an experience it was. An immense gorilla-yeti macro puppet named Jungo Blizzard greeted newcomers at the front gates, his foreboding frame more welcoming than intimidating. He seemed to promise spiritual protection to all that passed beneath his 45-foot frame, and even joined in the rapture of movement during the apex of The Flaming Lips’ set.

The masterminds behind Jungo and the majestic Penelopeacock—the Boise-based Colossal Collective—breathed magic and mystery into the air alongside a series of art installations from Dicapria, including a stunning light-up, geometric pyramid made entirely of 200,000 painstakingly-casted gummy bears. Words do these opuses no justice; pictures cannot suffice to relay the creative power they emanated, nor the joy they evoked.

Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

This absurd, fantastical atmosphere was steeped in a profound sense of surrealism, the sort that can only prosper where the weird hugs the familiar. It was surprisingly and overwhelmingly wholesome—and maybe that was the most magical thing of all.

Kate Russell Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Kate Russell Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Cosmic wanderers young and old lost themselves in sublime mazes of music as teetering children puttered their way through a beamingly mellow crowd. Wigs and crop-topped bodysuits cavorted alongside cargo pants and snapbacks. Full families loitered in lawn-chairs as acrobats, trapeze artists, contortionists and more wooed and wowed flabbergasted audiences behind them. The Pussy Power House preached lessons on how to love yourself (and one another), while a DanceSafe tent provided water and earplugs and sunscreen.

Captain Cosmic
Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Above it all wafted the divine comfort of music, which proved itself once and for all to be the great equalizer, the great communicator. A tremendous and eclectic array of artists blessed the main stage, with the first night catering to a slightly younger crowd.

The glittering tropical bounce of Poolside offered the perfect soundtrack to exploration, their strutting bass lines urging restless legs ever forward, towards adventure.

Emancipator Ensemble held the audience in rapture, entranced by ornate patterns of swirling concentric sounds. Their music was at once natural and supernatural, wildly real and exquisitely mystical—a sonic reciprocal to the stunning New Mexico sunset.

Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Thievery Corporation exalted in the sounds of triumph. Their deep reggae grooves spoke with guttural, reverberating power as exultant melodies spun visions of freedom and celebration. We drifted through the clouds together to explore the sultry nirvana of “Lebanese Blonde.” It truly felt as if I’d been there before, “somewhere in another time.”

Thievery Corporation
Thievery Corporation
Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

The second day started (officially, after a day of great performances on a breezy side stage) on a mellow note, with the blurrily mellifluous bedroom pop of Washed Out caressing campers out of their midday slumbers in delicate spots of shade throughout the park.

Kate Russell Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Dr. Dog propelled the audience into more psychedelic proceedings, layering their superb Beach Boy-esque harmonies against a hazy textural reimagining of indie rock. Their experimentation worked strikingly well alongside vocals that oscillate between lilting buoyancy and a grittier folk-rock twang.

Kate Russell Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Finally, and with Kit Carson Park bursting at the seams, The Flaming Lips treated us all to what might truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Wayne Coyne and Meow Wolf were made for each other, and the creative, effective execution of the collective empowered Coyne to play at his zany, idiosyncratic best.

Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

There were explosions of chromatic confetti that rained down onto a twirling audience. There was a gigantic blow-up pink robot that dwarfed half the band during “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.” A winged Coyne gallivanted atop a pink unicorn, and then crowd-surfed from inside a hamster ball. It was absurd and majestic and extravagant and beautiful.

Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Sanda M. Pećina
Kate Russell Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

A lesser band might have collapsed under the weight of so much spectacle, but the Lips are extraordinary, perhaps even otherworldly. They were the perfect headliner to what was a perfect lineup of artists, utterly unique but threaded together by a common strand that tied the whole immersive experience together: pure, uplifting expression. Love.

Kate Russell Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

It is a testament to AMP Concerts that I cannot envision a Taos Vortex without the artists from this first iteration; together, they embody the ethos and experience organically and immaculately.

But the beauty of Taos Vortex, above all else, was the willingness to be Taos Vortex, not some trippy effigy of Coachella. It existed, proud and independent, as the radiant brainchild of New Mexico’s brightest and most innovative visionaries.

It showcased New Mexico and New Mexicans at our distinctive, extraordinary best. And it did it all by putting the people first, by building a sanctuary for energy, eccentricity and excitement to reign supreme.

Sanda M. Pećina
Noah Pettus of Shrub Life Foods
Jess Bernstein Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

This intensely surreal experience—this cosmic, interdimensional fantasy inhabited by a divergent and melodious audience—felt like home. For a sweet, fleeting weekend, we all stood as equals in blissful harmony: united by a love for music, but unified in the sheer, joyous absurdity of it all.

Kate Russell Photography

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

No two sunsets are exactly alike. They can’t be; predictability would rob them of their unfathomable, immense power.

The next Taos Vortex will never be just like this one, and if you missed out I’m sorry for that. But the minds behind the Vortex brim with the same tremendous, transcendent potential that lights our skies on lucky evenings, and I have full confidence that their sun will rise (and set) even more dramatically than before.

So long as Taos Vortex stay true to its vision and to the New Mexican people, I’ll be going every year. I will go without expectation, but with the clean and clear excitement that swells inside your belly as you see the sky ripen before bursting into a brilliant New Mexico sunset.