[Timelapses by Sean Petykowski]
Nine o clock, on the dot, I sprung awake in a wash of sweat & blazing sun. Unless you’re rolling with baller status you’re camping in the direct sunlight at EFF, no two ways about it. Shockingly devoid of a hangover and light on my feet, I was on a new mission. Exactly 24 hours earlier I woke up saltier than a bag of pretzels, but this day? This day I was reborn. I spent the first hour or so wrangling a couple of friends to head to the water park with me. Not only was the swimming appealing, I hadn’t showered in over two days and really needed an actual toilet to conduct some business. Only three busloads left in front of us, and the fourth brought us up the dirt road to Double JJ’s Indoor Waterpark. Let me tell you: stepping into that shower was glorious. And then clinging to the bottom of a raft, bobbing & rolling along the lazy river like a confused gorilla, did wonders for my soul. I let the waterfall at the pit of the wave pool pound my sore shoulders & neck with a makeshift massage that carried me the rest of the weekend. This little excursion marked the halfway point of the festival, nicely representing a major landmark of the weekend. I cannot recommend the waterpark highly enough; it’s the perfect oasis in the middle of a wooked out, scorching hot weekend. A little twist of vacation in an otherwise exhausting endeavor.
The afternoon melted away and before I knew it, it was 5:00 and time to head over to Sherwood Court to see my boys from Chicago: The Coop. For being so close to Chicago, there was a surprisingly low number of Chicago bands represented at EFF. So it was great to see the familiarity of The Coop out in the forest. When I arrived to the stage there were very few people out, most everyone was chilling somewhere in the shade — it was devastatingly hot, the sun at its peak strength of the day. Nonetheless, The Coop drove through a set that showcased a blossoming force of jamtronica. They hit the material from their latest EP A Fleeting Glimpse hard, demonstrating a comfort with the songs that felt more developed than earlier in the year. It’s always an amazing thing to see a band grow up before your eyes, and that’s exactly how it felt to see The Coop on this huge stage at EFF. They done come up.
Not only was the forest, in all its shaded glory, beckoning to me, Nadis Warriors was in there bringing the weird as the sun began to slip out of the sky. I had listened to their albums on Spotify a few times before this weekend, so I expected a trance-inducing journey through psychedelic electronica. But what actually happened was a much more uptempo, dance-driving sound with a bit of an edge. It felt like they were in a really jamcentric mood, driving fantastic stretches of improv between structured song beginnings & ends. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but it was really, really good in a different way. Then, to end the set, they threw the ultimate curveball: a cover of Beastie Boys’ “Root Down” (my favorite Beasties song). Not only was it a cover, not only was it a hip hop song, it was a completely unexpected way to end what had already been a surprising set. No doubt, I could’ve had a few more servings of that.
There was a lull in the schedule, so I decided to head out to my car for an AC session, to recharge for Cheese Time and the rest of the night’s shenanigans. The nighttime is the righttime… the nighttime is the righttime… But what should have been an hour or so rest, ended up being a few hours, which led to my personal biggest bedshitting of the weekend — maybe ever in my entire festivalling career. I badly misjudged the amount of time it would take to get in the main entrance, so what should have been perfect timing to settle in for Cheese’s second set, ended up setting me back an extra half hour. Or exactly the amount of time to miss ALL OF CHEESE’S THEATRICS. I made it down there during “Naive Melody,” which felt like excellent timing… until I realized what a ridiculous mistake I made. Kicking myself doesn’t even begin to describe it. Especially after learning that they busted out a little Rothbury magic with the gigantic plastic balls bouncing around the crowd as fireworks were blasting overhead. God. Dammit. What a n00b move. An embarrassing blunder that would be summed up perfectly by a snide, “Yeah, I remember my first festival.” But at least I got up close to see the match-made-in-heaven combo of a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” into “Johnny Cash.” The wit of the song selection slapped a shit-grin on my face, and they ripped through these songs with a fury, capping their second night in magnificent fashion.
The end of Cheese signaled the beginning of STS9′s second set of the weekend. I chose to stay at Thievery Corporation on Friday, in the hopes that they would save their best for last on Saturday. And, judging by the setlists, I picked the perfect course of action. This was just a classic STS9 set, delivering on the promise they instilled back in January with two powerful shows in Chicago. This time around, they still billed the shows as The Great Cycle Spectacles, but it was a much more straightforward approach. There were no pre-recorded interludes throughout the set, only a set beginning and ending track. The stage setup was different as well. Now there was this huge wall of LED screens set up at the front of the stage, which made photography really challenging, as well as gave the set an unpleasant, ‘producers at a table’ vibe that STS9 just doesn’t need. They are so good at connecting with the crowd and this new visual element only served to separate the band from the people. It was weird, but the setlist — and show in general — more than made up for it.
One of the major highlights was finally getting to hear a “T.W.E.L.V.E.” live. They had shelved this song for years, only dusting it off recently for a quick spin at another important show. It didn’t have that innocent looseness that it did a decade ago, it felt a little modernized, but it was still a great way to make this show even more special. Then there were the segues. It seemed that they had gotten away from flowing songs together over the years, but in this show there was a couple of masterful segues that made me wish they’d do it all the time. The most beautiful of which was the “When The Dust Settles” > “Arigato” combo. “WTDS” is one of their best newer tracks, with great use of samples and a very dramatic energy. But when the song fell away and they started feeling around in the sonic ether, I was overwhelmed with happiness. I’m a sucker for improv and it has glorious to hear STS9 make it happen once again. Naturally, the perfectly executed merge into “Arigato” made the crowd go apeshit — this has always been a crowd favorite and it was a beast this time around.
They were scheduled to play for two hours, but silly time restraints weren’t gonna get in the way of this show. Much like they did at Rothbury in 2009, STS9 kept playing, and playing, and playing, until it felt like they might just play all night. But they finally left the stage after a brutish “Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature” to set up one hell of an encore. They came back out with an intro piece, a remix-ish version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” that slid with force into the snarling “Tooth.” “F. Word” put the guitar back in the hands of Hunter Brown and he tore open some of his classic, rugged riffs. It boggles my mind that HB has been called a ‘guitarist without a style.’ There’s no one who plays quite like he does and the measured use of his guitar fits in perfectly with what STS9 does. I don’t know man… HB is a beast to me. The guitar stayed in his hands for one more song, but on this one he played a much more graceful role. They saved the best for last indeed as they unwrapped a “Circus” to close the night. If every Tribe fan was polled, I’d bet that “Circus” would wind up being the favorite song. It’s just so damn gorgeous. And I hadn’t heard it since Rothbury ’09, so it’s been a perpetual chase of mine for three years. It was everything I hoped for, the absolute perfect way to end STS9′s run at EFF 2012.
Though the schedule had run out (save for a few minutes of Major Lazer), there was still plenty of fun to be had. A whole night’s worth. And a morning too. After STS9, I eventually found my way to a tent out in GA camping, where Dumptruck Butterlips were throwing down some late nite bluegrass action. Did not see that one coming. It was a nice rest from electronic music and a rare nighttime display of instruments. But when Prophet Massive (Jason Hann) appeared following their set, I knew the relative peace was about to be shattered. The Prophet did what he always does: unleash a skull-shattering set of extreme dubstep bangers. The crowd around the tent grew & grew, stretching across the entire Shakedown road. The party kept going until the sun was finally starting to come back around. But I was still running strong. I met up with some great friends and ended up going on a really special trek around the festival grounds, watching the rest of the sunrise from a really special spot. It was actually cold, I mean I was actually cold for the first time of the weekend. But instead of throwing on extra clothes, I embraced the cold knowing that in a few short hours I’d be cursing at the sky again, trying to avoid that damn sun as much as possible. Finally, somewhere between 10 and 11am, I passed out on a blanket in a nice shady spot… Only to be woken up by a brief flash of rain that was so short nothing in my rainfly-less tent even got wet.