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A reporter digs into summer festival culture at Sonic Bloom

Fest Quest

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The sun smiled on Sunday afternoon as Drumspyder played the first set of the night at the Bloom stage. The day before, high winds had almost forced some acts to shut down, and strewn many campers’ tents across the grass. (Not ours — my friends, one of whom was a physics major, built a pretty sturdy setup.) - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • The sun smiled on Sunday afternoon as Drumspyder played the first set of the night at the Bloom stage. The day before, high winds had almost forced some acts to shut down, and strewn many campers’ tents across the grass. (Not ours — my friends, one of whom was a physics major, built a pretty sturdy setup.)

To Sonic Bloom’s creators, contributors and participants, the 14-year-old festival is more than just a weekend escape to the beautiful Spanish Peaks to be immersed in electronic and live music, visual art, yoga, dance and workshops. It represents a way of life.

Personally, I feel pretty blessed that Sonic Bloom has transformed my own life for the past two summers. It’s not easy — four nights of camping, no running water, freak weather, dust, wind, hail, blazing sun and overflowing portable toilets. You know the drill.

At the Hummingbird Stage, surrounded by huge trees hung with hammocks, dancers practiced flow arts (like hooping and spinning poi) while enjoying a set by Comisar. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • At the Hummingbird Stage, surrounded by huge trees hung with hammocks, dancers practiced flow arts (like hooping and spinning poi) while enjoying a set by Comisar.

But for me, the festival is more than worth braving all that. For some, it’s even a spiritual experience.

“This collective consciousness of creating, and musical environments uplifting humanity, you know — that’s I think the whole reason why we’re doing this,” says Katie Bhairavi Marshall, director of operations at Darshan Dance Tribe, a company of belly dancers who incorporate divine imagery into their performances at Sonic Bloom.

Past the main stage and near Colorado businesses selling scarves, tie-dye pants and CBD products, attendees kept up the dancing. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Past the main stage and near Colorado businesses selling scarves, tie-dye pants and CBD products, attendees kept up the dancing.

Specifically, Bhairavi Marshall is referring to the “Unified Field Theory,” a philosophy espoused by Sonic Bloom founder Jamie Janover.

The theory, from physicist Nassim Haramein, “brings together the many disciplines and teachings of spiritual masters throughout history in one elegant theory of an infinite fractal geometric universe,” according to Sonic Bloom’s website.

Sound a little far-fetched? Sure. (But you might look into it.)

What’s undeniable, though, is that people keep coming to Sonic Bloom because they feel a sense of belonging here at Hummingbird Ranch, off Interstate 25 north of Walsenburg, and that they have an important part to play — whether that’s to express themselves fearlessly, try new forms of musical expression or teach others about their place in the universe.

As the world embraces dance music and entrenches itself in festival culture, with huge commercial endeavors like Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival populating Instagram feeds, it’s refreshing to feel like being at a festival means more than a few days to dance and get weird (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Instructors demonstrated a yoga position during a class titled “Partner Yoga Thru the Chakras.” The “Yoga D’om,” which featured DJs accompanying instructors and pop-up sets throughout the festival, was usually packed. Despite my best efforts, I did not actually join in any yoga sessions. I blame the camp neighbors selling $5 Bloody Marys from a cooler. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Instructors demonstrated a yoga position during a class titled “Partner Yoga Thru the Chakras.” The “Yoga D’om,” which featured DJs accompanying instructors and pop-up sets throughout the festival, was usually packed. Despite my best efforts, I did not actually join in any yoga sessions. I blame the camp neighbors selling $5 Bloody Marys from a cooler.

“When I’m in Colorado and at Sonic Bloom, one of the things I love about being here is that the people here, they like, really want to know what it is you have to share,” says Adam Apollo, a physicist and DJ who led a workshop titled “Unified Harmonic Matrix.”  

“They want to receive what you have to give. And the same thing with music... It’s a liveliness and a willingness to just feel it as if it’s the first time you ever heard anything like that, that I think makes this music scene different.”

An artist paints in the wooded area of the festival. Sonic Bloom featured more than 20 live painters this year and 10 muralists, and a tent where attendees could purchase paintings and carvings. Expert tip: It’s also a good place to hide from the rain. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • An artist paints in the wooded area of the festival. Sonic Bloom featured more than 20 live painters this year and 10 muralists, and a tent where attendees could purchase paintings and carvings. Expert tip: It’s also a good place to hide from the rain.

Sonic Bloom also sets itself apart by aiming to be a zero-waste event, with receptacles for compost and recycling. This year, pocket-size “butt packs” were distributed to festival-goers so smokers could keep cigarette waste off the land, and recycle the butts later. Non-biodegradable glitter was prohibited. And people with comped tickets were asked to donate $25 to help offset carbon emissions.

Alison Grayson carves masterpieces out of animal skulls that look really cool. According to her website: “She works as a medium, releasing trapped trauma and unearthing the design within each skull.” You can follow her on Instagram at - @alison.grayson.art. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Alison Grayson carves masterpieces out of animal skulls that look really cool. According to her website: “She works as a medium, releasing trapped trauma and unearthing the design within each skull.” You can follow her on Instagram at @alison.grayson.art.

At places like this, it’s less about having the most Instagram-able outfit and more about wearing what makes you feel most like yourself. It’s also less about fighting your way to the front of the crowd than about making new friends, sharing food and camping tips, or getting inspired.

Sonic Bloom espouses fearless self-expression, which means people throwing or spinning objects while decked out in the clothes that make them happy, like fractal-patterned T-shirts and butterfly wings. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Sonic Bloom espouses fearless self-expression, which means people throwing or spinning objects while decked out in the clothes that make them happy, like fractal-patterned T-shirts and butterfly wings.

But it’s not easy to keep this kind of thing going, as the big corporations behind major festivals make millions while smaller, grassroots gigs find it increasingly hard to generate a profit while staying true to their original spirit.

At the Permaculture Hub, people packed into a tent for the “Into the Honeycomb: Exploring the World of the Honeybee” workshop. Courtney Cosgriff’s presentation moved some to tears over the plight of pollinators. In a sign from the universe, a bee buzzed into the tent while - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • At the Permaculture Hub, people packed into a tent for the “Into the Honeycomb: Exploring the World of the Honeybee” workshop. Courtney Cosgriff’s presentation moved some to tears over the plight of pollinators. In a sign from the universe, a bee buzzed into the tent while

“I love Sonic Bloom because it’s such a realized dream,” says Michael Travis, the drummer for String Cheese Incident, who played his first all-original DJ set at the festival this year. “And perhaps the thing I love most about Sonic Bloom is Jamie Janover, because of his incredible commitment to keeping this dream alive against all odds... He continues because he knows he’s creating a nest for a family to grow.”

Two women offered to braid tinsel into festival-goers’ hair. Behind them, attendees lounged in hammocks. (Who put the hammocks there? Whose are they? We weren’t sure, but learned there’s nothing better than listening to music on a cold night cocooned in a hammock, gazing at the stars.) - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Two women offered to braid tinsel into festival-goers’ hair. Behind them, attendees lounged in hammocks. (Who put the hammocks there? Whose are they? We weren’t sure, but learned there’s nothing better than listening to music on a cold night cocooned in a hammock, gazing at the stars.)

In other words, Sonic Bloom, like all great festivals, is its own fragile, transcendent reality — a (probably at least partially) drug-fueled, sweaty, beautiful, disgusting musical bonding experience. In honor of this year’s festival season, travel with me on a guided tour of Sonic Bloom, which took place June 20 through 23.

Upcoming summer music festivals

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July 13:Blues Under the Bridge will hold its day-long celebration alongside the railroad tracks, under the canopy of Colorado Avenue’s four-lane bridge. This year’s installment finds Louisiana Music Hall of Famer Tab Benoit headlining. The bill also includes Nikki Hill (see “Showbiz 101,” p. 27) Selwyn Birchwood Band, Hector Anchondo Band and Crystal and the Curious.

July 19 and 20: Global Dance Festival, which takes place in Denver at Broncos Stadium at Mile High, is a true rite of summer, one that’s carried on now for 17 years. This year’s journey into 128 beats-per-minute ecstasy will feature marquee names Diplo and DJ Jazzy Jeff (sans Fresh Prince), a Chase & Status deejay set and several dozen support acts.

July 26 to 28: The Underground Music Showcase bills itself as Denver’s largest and most iconic music festival. The event will feature more than 200 artists on numerous “creatively curated” stages. This year’s lineup is especially noteworthy, ranging from nationally acclaimed acts like Chicano Batman and HONNE to Denver favorites DBUK and Dressy Bessy.

Aug. 2 to Aug. 4: Tipper and Beats Antique top the lineup at ARISE Music Festival, a draw for yogis as well as dance music aficionados. Jam and bluegrass fans can also find love here at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, where headlining bands Railroad Earth and Leftover Salmon will play two sets each.

Aug. 10 and 11: Opening day of the Manitou Mountain Music Festival is at Manitou’s Memorial Park, with dawg-music legend David Grisman headlining. The second day will be a free event in Soda Springs Park, featuring performances by local heroes the Jason Miller Band, High Mountain Duet, Ruxton Railsplitters and Tenderfoot Bluegrass.

Sept. 27 and 28: For those who want to keep their psychedelic summer going an extra weekend, Red Rocks Amphitheatre will play host to Big Gigantic’s 8th Annual Rowdytown Festival. This year’s dance-heavy lineup includes Two Friends, Kasbo, The Funk Hunters, Flamingosis and Birocratic.

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