Colorado Music Festival, Sonic Bloom’s Explosive Growth

Tucked away in the scenic mountains of Colorado about an hour from Denver sits a little ranch that has become the home of Colorado’s premiere electronic music festival, Sonic Bloom. Colorado has long been a major proponent of the growing electronic music scene in the United States. This scene has spawned some of America’s best electronic musicians, including two of my favorites Pretty Lights and Big Gigantic. The success of these artists can be largely attributed to very active EDM fans from Colorado who routinely sell out 3-night runs at Red Rocks headlined by homegrown electronic artists. With an electronic music pedigree such as this the promoters of Sonic Bloom undertook a huge task when they decided to use the word “premiere.”

However grand the expectations they set for themselves, they definitely met if not exceeded them all when the line up announcement was made. For all of its other shortcomings (we will get to those later) the line up at Sonic Bloom was pretty bananas. Tipper, Bonobo, Papadosio, Random Rab, Eskmo, Welder, Emancipator, PANTyRAiD, the list of fantastic producers/DJs went on and on. With a line up such as this it seemed like Sonic Bloom was going to be a pretty large-scale production, but as I soon learned nothing is what it seems at Colorado’s biggest little music festival.

In the time leading up to the festival I attempted to do some research about the origins of Sonic Bloom with little success. Though the current website is well designed and filled with useful advice I could not find any reliable information about past Blooms (someone make these guys a wiki page). However, after going to the festival and cobbling together first hand accounts from attendees and staff I was able to learn a few things:

  1. Sonic Bloom is in it’s sixth or seventh year depending on who you ask. Real veterans insist that it started seven years ago but had a different name.
  2. The festival was founded by a messianic character named Jamie Janover, who is admired and revered by all of the festivalgoers.
  3. This is Sonic Bloom’s second year at it’s new home on Shadows Ranch in Georgetown Colorado.
  4. Up until this year the line-ups have consisted mostly of local electronic acts from Colorado. This is the first year they spent the money to bring real big name headliners in.

When I think of a little music festival it conjures up the idea of what some people call an “experience” festival. These events usually have less than 5000 people (and sometimes much fewer) and are not completely music centric. Instead these festivals focus on bringing together a community of people around a set of ideals and celebrating them in all of their forms. Sonic Bloom had all of the makings of such a festival—from the central theme of the unified field (?) and the rural locale to the emphasis on experiential facets of festival enjoyment such as art, workshops, yoga, education and community. The only confounding factor was Sonic Bloom’s brand new line up of world-class heavy hitting electronic music producers. Is Sonic Bloom a small music festival deep in the hills of Colorado or the premiere electronic music festival just outside of Denver? I had no idea what the answer was going into the festival, and judging by how it all went down I don’t think the festival promoters knew either.

The Good

The Music at Sonic Bloom was pretty phenomenal. Starting from around noon and going until sunrise each day you could hear many different genres of electronic music being played across the three stages. The line up was stacked with some of my favorite producers such as Tipper, Bonobo, Eskmo, Welder, Emancipator and Ott. Below them was a fantastic undercard filled with high profile up and comers like Minnesota, Russ Liquid, Griz, Ill-Esha and many more. Then to round it all out the line up was peppered with a bunch of amazing local artists eager to prove themselves. Highlights include:

Tipper. This alien born from transformers and synthesizers absolutely destroyed during both of his two-hour sets. His first night time set was slippery and dubbed out while his second evening set was more dance friendly. He is the only performer who brought his own light show, which really augmented his already crowd-pleasing performances.

Eskmo and Welder. As producer Brendan Angelides took the stage Friday night for his Eskmo set he asked that we bear with him because he was sick and that he was going to give it his best. He then proceeded to go onstage and kill it for his full set and then do it again on Saturday. Many EDM shows are filled with lazy DJs who just go onstage and press play, so it was a breath of fresh air to see Angelides get up on stage while sick and still do 2 amazing sets of live production.

• Russ Liquid, Paul Basic, Michael Menert, Griz, Ill-Esha, Supervision, Gladkill. Space concerns prevent me from going into each individual performance but all of these guys threw down insanely danceable sets of bass heavy glitch hop.

• Bedrockk. These Colorado natives brought their own brand of live electronica and an unparalleled energy to the main stage. They actually might have been my favorite show of the weekend. Do yourself a favor and check these guys out!!

• The Fungineers. I somehow missed these guys at Lightning in a Bottle and now regret it terribly. The Fungineers are a group of puppeteer/producers/MC/DJ/instrumentalists who play crazy electronica through the personas of children’s puppets. I know it sounds crazy but look them up on YouTube because they are phenomenal.

The stages at Sonic Bloom were small but the production value was nothing but. There were actually 3 or 4 places at the festival where you could go listen to music, but the Bloom Stage and the Rocky Mountain Hydroponics Dome was where all the magic happened. It was kind of nice that they were able to house the majority of such a large line up on just two stages. This eliminated a lot of confusion, simplified your choices, and if you ever got sick of what was playing at one stage you could simply mosey on over to the other one. Best of all the promoters spared no expense on the visual production at these stages. Both were outfitted with insane LED light walls manned by veteran technicians that choreographed mind-blowing light shows perfectly synced to the music.

The festival grounds were very rustic but absolutely beautiful. The Shadows Ranch is a scenic piece of land nestled within the Rocky Mountains. Within the ranch there are open grass fields, a creek, two small lakes, and a wooded area where everyone camps. Though there were some issues with the camping situation most of them were negated by the charm of camping within an actual forest. Regardless if the venue will be able to continue to house this growing festival, it was an amazing place to have it this year and afforded revelers many unique opportunities. Throughout my stay I saw people going on guided nature walks, hikes in the mountains, river rafting excursions, and leisurely dips in the lake/river.

The art that was present at Sonic Bloom was some of the best I have seen at a festival, second only to Lightning in a Bottle and Burning Man. As I mentioned earlier this was more of an experience than a music festival. As such the promoters devoted significant resources to nurturing the artistic facets of Sonic Bloom. It seemed that around 10% of attendees had received free tickets to come and practice some method of performance art (jugglers, hoola-hoopers, dancers, etc.) or to simply beautify the festival grounds with their artistic creations. I could try and describe the art in more detail but a picture is worth a thousand words so log onto CrowdsEye.com to see all the cool stuff you missed at Sonic Bloom.

The community of people who attended Sonic Bloom was incredibly supportive, friendly, and amazing overall. This was my first visit to Colorado and coming in I envisioned a state filled with smiling hippies stoned out of their gourds. While I did meet plenty of those folks I also encountered many artists, poets, intellectuals, hippies, hipsters, and ravers. It was a very diverse group of people united by their love for electronic music, nature, and the festie lifestyle. So whether you wanted to go slack lining, do some yoga, listen to music, or blast off through the universe you could always find a group of new friends willing to accompany/help you on your way.

The Bad

I have to preface this by saying that I had an amazing time while at Sonic Bloom. Though it was not what I was expecting its small town charm, beautiful locale, fantastic music, and beautiful people won me over in the end. However, there were a bunch of serious issues that could have very well ruined the festival for some attendees and possibly gotten the whole thing shut down. Here I will touch upon the most egregious errors, not to detract from this year’s festival but to alert the promoters of the problems so that they may fix them for next year.

First and foremost, you have to know your audience. These guys did not seem to have any idea of who was coming and how many people would be there. The venue was perfectly set up for a tiny hippy jam band festival, not for the four-night rave that actually took place. As a result they oversold the place and did not have nearly enough amenities to accommodate everyone there.

The bathroom situation was absolutely horrific. The port-o-potties were poorly placed and there were only 20 of them to accommodate over 2000 people. Needless to say things got pretty gross, so bad that production eventually had to truck in another 10 portos on Saturday in an attempt to alleviate the situation.

There was absolutely no food. My crew and I flew in for this festival and could not bring the appropriate equipment to transfer and prepare food for ourselves so we were forced to rely on the food vendors. This has never been a problem while at other festivals but it was a huge problem at Sonic Bloom. There were only 4 food vendors at the festival and only 2 of them served anything substantive. This translated into us eating a bunch of shitty Thai food and decent Philly cheese steaks while all the vegans were left to chew on bark or whatever they do.

Though the camping area itself was awesome, space there was extremely limited. From early in the festival it was obvious that they oversold so staking out a camping spot became an insane land grab reminiscent of the United States’ westward expansion. If you could find a plot of land and secure its borders you had a slight possibility of maintaining your claim. By Friday, the first official day of the festival, they had shut down the main camping area and turned a parking lot across the street into overflow camping.

There was no alcohol allowed in the camping area, all booze needed to be purchased and consumed at a bar adjacent to the main stage. I honestly don’t even know what to say about this, I am by no means a heavy drinker but this fact alone would prevent me from attending any future Sonic Blooms. I will give them credit that this was prominently displayed on the website, but no one seriously thought that it would ever be enforced. Then low and behold everyone gets thoroughly searched upon entry into the festival and they had security guards by the campgrounds judiciously making people empty their cups. Camping, music festivals, life in general, and booze are inextricably linked in the human consciousness, if you can’t get the appropriate permits then move the festival for god’s sake!!

Last but not least egregious is Sonic Bloom’s ridiculous approach to early entry. Admission for ticketed festivalgoers officially began on Friday morning and allowed you to stay until Monday. However, in an attempt to make more money the promoters offered a $35 ticket that granted early entrance on Thursday afternoon and a concert that evening. Bonobo was set to headline this special Thursday night show, but his name was included in the overall festival line up with prominent placement second only to the true headliner Tipper. I cannot tell you how many people who couldn’t afford to purchase or take the time off work for the early bird option complained about how they did not get to see Bonobo and how all the camping was gone. In my eyes this was a ridiculous misrepresentation on Sonic Bloom’s part that amounted to knowingly taking advantage of their patrons. In the future just make it a four-day festival and charge a little more for the ticket so that people don’t feel gipped.

Conclusion

All in all my opinion of Sonic Bloom remains overwhelmingly positive despite the few issues voiced above. It is a very cool little festival with roots that run deep in the Colorado EDM scene and a very laid back homegrown feel. Most of the people I encountered there had come year after year and only had great things to say about their experiences. I think that I just had unfortunate timing and chose to come to this transitional year.

As electronic music continues to grow in popularity so will little festivals like Sonic Bloom. This can be a problem for the promoters if they are not prepared, but it is a good problem to have. Most of the issues people encountered at this year’s Sonic Bloom were due to the growing pains of a small grass roots festival trying to become Colorado’s premiere electronic music festival. As next year’s Bloom inevitably approaches the promoters will have to decide which type of festival they would like to become. Should Sonic Bloom stay small and local or should they expand into something bigger and better? Only time will tell.

Photographs in gallery below by Shea Jassem