Snowball is a special time of year; a three-day weekend getaway full of fake fur and real mountain air, the weird sound of snow pants grinding against snow pants and that beautiful moment when an ice patch takes you to the ground but can’t touch your $7 PBR.
UFO returned this year as veteran Snowballers, totally amped to get our festival muscles in shape for the coming season and ready to battle the elements. This time around, we understood the real importance of waterproof boots (whether they were snowboard boots, Moon Boots or just $18 concrete-pouring boots from Home Depot). We knew to get our afterparty tickets early; and after the show, we knew that walking from Vail to Avon takes a long, long, long time. Most importantly, we learned the necessity of water inside the venue; even though moisture is technically all around us, altitude and partying are sworn enemies of hydration.
Though the mistakes we made last year are now far in the past, we must say that so too was a bit of last year’s glimmer. It took but one year to arrive at this prevailing attitude, that a sick festival in the mountains was a right and not a privilege or a novelty — and who can blame us, now that Red Rocks has broken the winter show barrier, and especially now that Snowball’s cousins (SnowGlobe and SnowMont) are looking like big business. SnowGlobe stole much of Snowball’s hype back in December/January, especially because it also stole so many of last year’s Colorado artists — Pretty Lights, Big Gigantic, SAVOY, Paper Diamond, EOTO, and so on.
Giddy energy was replaced by comfort at this year’s Snowball. The frantic nature of the crowd seemed more subdued, after-parties were substantially less crazy, and hotels seemed quiet when they reasonably should not have been. However, just like one of our new friends said over tequila shots and parking lot bratwursts, “Yeah man, I came here for good vibes and good music, which brings good vibes.” Snowball was filled with mellow Colorado attitude, something that every out-of-towner we met was quick to point out. Also, they would say, how can you deny that so many killer artists are here playing together in one place?
Bonnaroo is famous for its mud, Coachella for its heat, Burning Man for its dust storms, and Ultra for its noxious guido vapors. Environmental challenges are a part of every festival, and Snowball’s unique hazard will always be brown ice: a deadly, indistinguishable mix that had you slopping around one second and slipping the very next. Last year, the puddles were lethal — some felt like a half-foot deep, and the crowd for the main stage was forced to huddle on small, slippery ridges like so many desperate polar bears in melting ice fields.
Snowball 2012 began with its most brutal, and not only because it was the most dominated by dubstep. When we arrived to sell a few of our t-shirts, the snow was actually coming in sideways. We felt foolish about ONLY wearing five layers.
Burning Man? Definitely not. It’s Freezing Man.
Possibly the first note we made of the festival was this: “Damn, Flashlights is going HARD right now.” We were pleasantly surprised to learn the Ballroom schedule had moved back and it was actually our boys in Eminence Ensemble on stage, cranked up and grinding away despite a thin crowd and competition with the Main Stage’s sound. And… horizontal snow.
MartyParty set the tone for the weekend with rude bass and reckless energy. He gets a “10” for perfect execution: leaning way over his booth during a drop to mime a sloppy blowjob was the proper way to shock us out of taking anything too seriously; his enthusiasm for being ridiculous was totally infectious (His shirt’s slogan: “Up The Bum, No Babies!”). We promised ourselves to balance the electronic and indie viewership at this festival, and though we didn’t exactly make a diplomatic start toward that, Marty reminded us that dubstep is really the most fun when it’s offensive to sensibility. We owe it to him for getting our asses in gear. His remix of Sister Nancy “Bam Bam” (from Purple Rage 180) was perfect for this crowd to get down.
Then we head over to catch Major Lazer, and the very first thing we hear is “MartyParty just dropped this song.” When it comes down to it, Diplo does have a tendency to lean heavily toward fan favorites, but that’s what makes him the tastemaker he is. “Original Don” was one of the only “originals” we clearly remember from the set, but the performance as a whole went down without a hitch, with plenty of bombast and dancers standing on their head (standing on their dreds?). Does anyone remember last year when Diplo played the Groove Tent? There was so much condensation on the ceiling that it actually started to rain on the crowd. Diplo literally made it rain; a mini Diplo ecosystem. It wasn’t quite like that this year, but Major Lazer definitely was one of the most colorful acts of the day, and the on-stage dancers were rivaled only by Snoop (or Beats Antique, if that counts).
Bag Raiders became the surprise hit of the weekend. Just like Classixx brought a blindsiding performance last year with unexpected funk in their step, the Australian duo went above and beyond with dual-harmony vocals and an all-around live aspect that people talked about all weekend. This was a great bridge between fans who were looking for instrumentation and emotionally-substantive songs and partygoers who were looking for volume. Not going to say that this was the most wholesome Groove Tent set, but it definitely inspired a few smiles. After running straight from Major Lazer, we were pleased to encounter a Brazilian-inspired groove in “Sunlight,” which then wound up into surprisingly hard electro, then rounded off with more classics like “Fun Punch” and “Shooting Stars.” Three sets into Snowball, and I was already calling my favorite.
There isn’t an opportunity for things like “dinner” or “rest” at a festival, so we really saw Big Boi’s performance (which was still pretty thumpin’) to be our chance to recharge. It’s funny to listen to so much electronic music informed by hip-hop, only to be confronted with the real thing; Big Boi was actually the only non-electronic act we attended on Friday, and as such it was a very appropriate stepping stone into MiM0SA and Rusko. The lighting was perfect for photos, check them out!
By the time Rusko took the stage, we were pretty spent. The snow had stopped and the chill subsided, but the toll it took on the crowd’s energy was clear. On top of that, the electronic-heavy Friday lineup had already discouraged much of the hipster-y side of Snowball from sticking around on the festival grounds. Rusko deserved a better hand than he was dealt, but thankfully he battled back against it all and brought as high-energy of a set as one would expect. You can also count on him not to be mic-shy, and we laughed at the fact we couldn’t make out a SINGLE word he was saying; something about it being so cold that his fader actually froze in place?
Day Two was like a breath of fresh air. The weather warmed, and though we were pumped to begin our Friday with MartyParty, getting Saturday moving with Trampled By Turtles wasn’t too bad at all. It was almost as if Snowball was nursing its hangover along with us, content to give us uplifting folk melodies and fill our souls before we went off to sell it later that night. For the first hour or two, it almost seemed like our ears were gonna get a break.
However, it was all just a warm-up for Big Freedia, the champion of a subculture of New Orleans bounce music called “sissy bounce” that we predicted would be one of the rowdiest sets of the festival. Big Freedia is a massive black man with an even bigger ass that he shakes at hypersonic speeds – just imagine Major Lazer, but gay and a foot taller.
One of the biggest disappointments of the weekend was that Big Freedia had to cancel (for medical reasons, we now understand). But one of the biggest surprises came right after as Break Science, who had the previous slot, powered through it with another 45 minutes added to their set. Break Science was the best surprise last summer at Re:Generation, and after seeing hundreds of kids leaving the Groove Tent with that “wow!” look on their face, we know now that wasn’t any kind of fluke. Chali 2na raised it to another level entirely, and though we know Break Science drummer Adam Deitch as a capable session player (who also moonlighted with Pretty Lights for a tour), it’s completely clear that Break Science is far more than you could ever really tell on an album.
For the afternoon, we tried giving it a fair shot between indie and electro. We really did. But as much as we heard about The Kooks being a must-see act, and our high level of respect for TV On The Radio, we just couldn’t pass up the Dillon Francis / Dada Life pairing that the Groove Tent served up next. We walked up to the Groove Tent right when “Masta Blasta” dropped and our pulse quickened — as one of our staple party tracks, we were shocked to learn so many people considered him to be an “unknown” artist. Such it is to live in the blogger bubble! We couldn’t be happier that Dillon killed his set at the fest — if you went to the DF / Dada afterparty at Agave later that night, you already know Dillon had a significantly shorter set.
Follow all that up by a killer set from Ghostland Observatory and we hardly left for anything (except for a couple of sets from Paul Basic house wunderkind Pierce Fulton – definitely worth the trip down!). If SAVOY wasn’t there to bring the lazer cannons, we’re glad Ghostlandwas up to the challenge. Frontman Aaron Kyle Behrens is nothing short of a dynamo onstage, and even if you had 100% noise-cancelling earplugs, this would still be an amazing place to be.
But nothing topped Snoop Dogg – the onstage energy was mind-blowing. Not only was it Snoop holding it down but his whole crew including his uncle, a mascot, and a live band who would keep jamming between songs and after Snoop left the stage. We also gotta shout out to our man Saxton Waller on the lights! We know you were probably focused the never-ending ass parade on stage, but we have a soft spot in our hearts for Saxton’s lights.
It took a pretty serious lot party session to get us back in the spirit for Day Three. Two days of more music than we could handle, literally thousands of photos to sort through, and just a modest dent in our liquor reserves, and it was time to regroup. Fortunately, the weather had continued to warm up until winter jackets became steezy ovens that baked us in the sunlight. Spirits were high, the end was near, the weather was great.
It was somewhere along the way that we discovered “Secret Guest” wasn’t some unknown indie folk band named Secret Guest like we had really hoped. THAT is a marketing strategy right there, folks. As everyone now knows, Leftover Salmon was Snowball’s mystery act, which at the time seemed like one of the most out-of-the-blue choices Snowball could have made. We do love Leftover Salmon, but it unfortunately it was too late: our souls had already been signed away to the devil (who was wearing the most badass fuzzy coat we had ever seen).
We arrived in time to catch just a bit of Two Fresh and hear the buzz going around the crowd. Kendo and Shweez are the heart of Two Fresh, but we never fail to hear praise for drummer Colby Buckler, to the point where we suggest it might have to become Three Fresh. In either case, they superceded their head-nodding studio beats to bring something truly raw to the crowd, almost matching The Motet in Sunday funkiness (almost!).
Boombox was an interesting act to throw in the this mix. They were awesome, definitely grooving the Groove Tent. It wasn’t quite the same crowd as those who came specifically for Minnesota or NiT GriT, or Dada Life for that matter. But they did bring together a large crowd that we could tell weren’t anticipating the chill vibes – some people weren’t blown away BECAUSE it was so chill, but there’s no doubt they brought it. We’ve seen Boombox a handful of times now, and when they aren’t quite on it the groove feels soft – this was an on-point night, and plenty of people ended up calling this one Sunday’s surprise set.
Beats Antique was something else entirely – it’s hard to even compare them to anyone else who doesn’t have a permanent dancer in the group. David Satori simply killed it on his various instruments, and drummer Sidecar Tommy was all-in on this one, but Zoe Jakes never fails to steal the show. Unbelievable dancing painted this spiritual picture around the act to the point where it felt more ceremonial than performance. Zoe had two groupings of giant turquoise feather props on each hand, as if each was a feathered creature itself, animated to the point where you forgot Zoe was even there. The music itself was chiller but with larger implications, extruding passion, power, and full use of creativity.
Then motherfucking Bassnectar took over. It was hard to top his last Red Rocks show, but if we had to choose, last year’s Snowball peformance was right up there: it was a very metal-influenced set that sounded like it would come off the hinges at any second, the line between mechanical failure and intentional glitch blurred with the grace of an old-fashioned magician. Honestly though, after the religious experience that was Beats Antique, we’re so happy that Lorin laid off the throttle (relatively, for Bassnectar) and let the crowd float in the bass ocean rather than get tossed around by it.