June 19th, 2015. Friday. 6:24 PM It begins with gathering supplies for the next 48 hours at Safeway. I clocked out of real life 1 hour and 53 minutes early to catch the Trimet to the city, where I’ve just met Brenda, The Photographer, for the first time off the world wide web. We’ve been paired up on assignment for a weekend exploration to the woods. I have no idea what to expect from a festival in the middle of the forest, but I was informed there’d be food trucks. I leave with a jumbo bag of pistachios, 2 nectarines, 2 peaches, a water bottle, and a 6 pack of seasonal Blue Moon. The essentials.
6:46 PM On the road. Joint 1’s been sparked. I’m having my own Snakehips set in the car. Theirs was the only name I recognized on Friday’s lineup, and I’m bummed because they just finished playing over yonder beyond the mountain. “I tell Hispanic b*itches dímelooooo,” plays from the aux as we pass Multnomah Falls. “…she says it’s for her and not for me to knooooow…” (https://soundcloud.com/snakehips-1/dimelo)
^ (P.S. Bang bang muthafuffin banger).
The trees keep entrancing me the farther away from the city we get. Pure greens and blues all swirling at ultimate freeway speed / straight up nature versus normal civilization will have ya in the feelz. (https://soundcloud.com/snakehips-1/kehlani-til-the-morning-snakehips-remix) My mind wanders for a minute, questioning if I’ve signed myself up for torture. I’m down with next-level, electronic music… but, what if I’m trapped listening to techno? Yeesh. And I’m diving blind, head first into this one. I triple check my pockets, cupping my headphones for back-up.
Where are we? The trees have turned into rolling hills of golden wheat. I’m certain we’re on another planet. GPS no longer works. We fall behind a white caravan and are now in a line about 5 vehicles deep, following signs that curve us into a shadowed forest. I could lick the top of Mt Hood from here; the sun’s got it looking a yummy lavender and strawberry cream.
8:19 PM Incoming Call from Baby Bro. He’s been there since Wednesday setting up sound. “Good luck finding me!” he says, ready to hang up. Clearly, he’s in the thick of the fun. We’re about to be in the middle of nowhere with thousands of people – in unknown terrain, mind you, and jackshit of a plan. “OK, meet me under the giant disco ball at midnight. I’m trying to find Canada right now!” …Click. Roger that.
It’s right before dark falls as we arrive. At least we can still see what’s in front of us. Our trusty steed of a Honda Accord is intricately searched by a fellow named Mike as I chat with a freckle faced gem in a patterned pantsuit…
9:00 PM No glass allowed upon entry. I just spent hard earned money on a 6 pack on sale; I’m not letting it go to waste. I chug four down. “Please tell me you at least get to enjoy all these leftovers when your shift is over?” I ask security, eyeing the piles of castaway Heinekens & IPA’s. They sure are thorough, but very chill. “Nope,” he replies, and with that, I pour my last 2 beers into a water bottle.
Already, we hear the thud of bass echoing around the towering trees. We’re directed further and further to the back rows to park our car. Not stoked, because this just means a j o u r n e y for when we do decide to finally get some sleep. It’d probably be a good idea to pitch a tent now, but our agenda doesn’t allow for such at the moment. Music and magic awaits. Cue costume change #1.
Tapestries and hammocks hang between cars and tents as we make our way through parking lots of dust. It’s a good walk before we get to the main field where they’ve got 4 different stages sprawled out. Towards the middle sits a huge gazebo structure with a twinkling ball hanging from it. I quickly get a lay of the land so I know which way is up when it gets pitch black out. My brother’s right. Good f*cking luck finding someone in the midst of all these bodies in a people sea of Narnia. We’ve somehow found ourselves in a post-apocalyptic, art-filled pocket of a dimension. No cell service… no electricity… just closely knit camps and the limitless stars above. District WhatTheFest.
We come up to the first stage to find two guys already getting the crowd going. They’re hype. One dude’s high skippin’, bouncin’ around, while the other plays beats laced with heavy bass and familiar hip-hop songs. Brothers, maybe? Their stage presence is on point, and they vibe off each other seamlessly, each taking turns at the mixer. Fan(s) gained. (https://soundcloud.com/twofreshbeats/two-fresh-run-the-trap-mix?in=twofreshbeats/sets/mixes) True to its namesake, everywhere I look, things are wonderfully strange. Girls cloaked in fur with painted faces… playing catch with neon frisbees… a colossal squid on sticks towers over us, lit from the bottom like a lantern, its legs dancing along to their own rhythm.
I recognize a familiar face. In human lands, he’s a bartender at a local favorite on 23rd. Here, his face is covered in glitter and his wrists are wrapped in cloth. He reminds me of a samurai. I ask him where I can find a drink. My beer’s gone — and, is it even possible to have a bar here in the forest? It’s my first time ever in life at a music festival, I share. WTF was his first, too. Taking a water bottle out of his backpack to give me a sip, he imparts to me: “… If you put out a vibe, you’ll find something.”
10:26 PM Dust. Everywhere. In my mouth, on Brenda’s lenses. We’ve been dancin’ it up. Glad I remembered my scarf, otherwise my lungs would be covered in dirt. I meet 2 gentlemen who refer to themselves as “The Bucket Boys”. They’re sipping vodka lemonade. Young. Jolly and red-cheeked , just lookin’ all-around stoked to be there in their spiffy bucket hats. They offer me some, but no thank you, very much. As innocent as they seem, Mom’s been more than paranoid her whole life and stamped that lesson deep into my brain since I was a young doe. We shimmy onward.
A fellow named Daniel twirls me around at 10:32 PM and kindly, he laughs, as I step on his feet. Everyone here has incredible energy – they’re all unique characters in their own right, and there solely to enjoy the music, the environment, and each other. Brenda and I spend the rest of our time vibing back and forth between stages. I try to strike conversation when our dancing bubbles collide with others. We share a joint with Hank, from Hopworks Urban Brewery. He tells us about what’s in his canteen: organic – somethin’somethin’somethin’ about symbiosis. Then, Max With The Headlight, 10:54 PM. It’s much too bright and shines right into my face. “In case of emergency,” he says as he whirls away.
A lovely couple, Kristi & Jay, jump excitedly at the thought of this being my festival christening. “Follow your impulses,” they stress to me and encourage that I join them by the pool stage tomorrow at 1 PM for a hip-hop class.
… Shit, the time. I forgot that concept even existed in this otherworld I’ve dropped into. It’s been a few hours now and our scheduled Midnight Rendezvous is minutes away. I worry my brother’s forgotten completely and been carried away by the moon. I grab Brenda’s hand and dutifully stride over to the XXL, muscled out disco ball. A line is forming on one side, and each guest is donned with a wireless crown over their ears. As we’re ushered under glistening specks of light, people are g r o o v i n’. The headphones glow a soft blue or green depending on what station you pick. What a curious thing, a silent disco, looking from the outside. You may catch a wave dancing to the same beat with others, while an entirely separate group bumps their own set of music. We are jammin’ aimlessly to those sans headphones and I bet it’s gold to watch. I nod my head and spin along, ever so casually and oh but so awkwardly, attempting to find his face in the crowd. I mistake a few chisel faced chaps, and am about ready to give in to disappointment. As I turn towards the exit, my shoulder brushes against someone.
“K!!!” I scream, clasping my arms around his neck. His hat is knocked to the ground and I give him a once-over. Well done, Baby Brethren. Stylin’ in a swirly, iridescent crewneck number and tie-dye shorts. “Call me George Cooney, aka Dripped Up, Draped Out Goldilocks The Goon,” he grins.
12:37 AM I’m inside of a school bus that’s been gutted out and painted blue. They’ve got a Jacuzzi outside and a rooftop deck. So this is how one festivals. K led us here to meet his fellow comrades and level up before the rest of the night continues. We smoke bowls and laugh as he tells us a story about a beautiful, psychedelic brunette that he saw yesterday. He claims she is undoubtedly there each and every time he’s in this particular dimension. “I have it on film, but I don’t rewind,” he states simply. “The first time I met her… that day, I lived every day that I’ve ever lived.” Quite the poet we have here, I see. More bowls. They’re astonished when I’m not familiar with a Ken Kesey reference. I get an animated lowdown of the history and originators of LSD. What a ball. This kid thinks he’s the new Dr. Kesey. I must admit, he’s got it goin’ on, however he’s got it. “Oh, you can ask me what I’m on,” he jokes. “Let’s take a shot about it.”
1:04 AM Our next mission is the Illuminated Forest. My brother is sure of himself as the tribe leader, and we step off the bus into the night. There’s a spark in his eye with what he whispers next: “Now, you’re hangin’ out with the squadron.” We head towards the depths of the trees, lowering into the banks of the forest, leaving the field behind us. Scarlet spotlights dance up the tree trunks, along with shades of indigo and violet. Overhead, a large canopy of white lanterns flicker to the sound of vibey, Euro-club feels. Each tier of the woods invites a new encounter. Here, quaint loveseats and a tea party sit across an empty, ornate picture frame. Next, I’m sweeping a paint brush through electric stripes of sand. Now, wait – what is this? I find myself gazing down into a transparent tabletop that encases tiny, turning gears reminiscent to the inside of a clock. Their only force seems to be the push & pull of magnets. It seems if you stare long enough you can begin calculating and unlocking the secrets to the world itself.
OK, OK, there truly are delights upon delights. I meet a family of fiber-optic sea anemones at 2:10 AM. “I’ll come back for you,” I promise them with a kiss. Then, there’s the conference we hold inside The Jellyfish, a cascading installation of white ribbons. We continue to meander down the barkchipped paths and overhear talks of the merriment of The Clam. And we MUST go find The Onion, an adventurer urges. Much respect to whoever’s running this show, I’m thinking. It’s teeming with pods of wonder and rich in aesthetic. We venture onward, letting the sounds guide us.
All images by Brenda Vaughn