Photo by Brian Hockensmith, bhockensmith.com
It has been a few weeks since I attended the Rootwire music and arts festival in Ohio and I am still at a loss of words to describe my experience there. Maybe it is due to the crazy circumstances that brought me to Rootwire in the first place, the odd occurrences that I witnessed at Gnarnia the Festival the week before, or the remarkably transcendent nature of this strange little music festival that have made my job so very arduous. Whatever the case may be I can at least say for certain that Rootwire 2K12 was a festival, nay a gathering, unlike any I have ever attended.
My Rootwire saga began months ago when I first heard Papadosio at Colorado’s Sonic Bloom Music Festival. I had always been a fan of livetronica acts like STS9 and Conspirator but being from Los Angeles had not been exposed to many other ambassadors of this up and coming genre of electronic music. Enter Papadosio who at Sonic Bloom really managed to shine amongst a line up composed mostly of solo producers and few live instrumentalists. The way they fused EDM production, jam band improvisation, and conscientious lyricism into a set long dance party really struck me. So when I was able to meet drummer Mike Healy at the press junket, I jumped at the opportunity.
First things first, the guys from Papadosio may be some of the nicest people I have ever met in the music industry. Completely humble and down to Earth, friendly and congenial, basically the exact opposite of what you would imagine from artists who had already achieved a modicum of success in this day and age. During my conversation with Mike it seemed he had one thing on his mind and it wasn’t Papadosio or their upcoming album T.E.T.I.O.S (“To end the illusion of separation” due out this fall), it was Rootwire. Unbeknownst to us on the west coast Papadosio has been throwing a magical little festival in their backyard of Logan Ohio since 2010. Having toured the festival circuit since their inception, the members of Papadosio felt there was something lacking at many of the music festivals they attended. As such they decided that they “wanted to do something different,” to create “a festival for everyone.” Just listening to the way he spoke about it got me completely amped and I vowed that day that I would somehow find my way to Rootwire.
Flash forward a few months to when, through luck and circumstance, I found myself at Gnarnia the Festival, which was only a few hours distance and a week’s time from Rootwire. Some of you may have heard the Festival of Gnarnia was plagued by artist cancellations, bad weather, and worst of all an overzealous police presence. As I fled from these unfortunate circumstances one evening during the festival I unwittingly found myself on a shuttle with none other than the guys from Papadosio. Like I said before these guys are some of the nicest people in the world and within a few minutes of talking to them I had been invited as their guest to Rootwire.
After all the craziness that occurred at Gnarnia I simply could not wait to go to Rootwire, so I hit the road early and arrived onsite the night before the festival officially began. When I got there I was greeted by a bunch of friendly volunteers hard at work setting up. Unlike most festivals where staff coordination and check in are hellish endeavors that often lead to groups being separated as well as feelings of frustration, Rootwire was remarkably well organized. Rather than hassle my friends and I while they were already busy with other things they simply allowed us in to set up camp and asked that we check in the next morning and lend a helping hand when possible. It was at this moment that I knew I was home.
From here on out my memories of Rootwire become a haze of gorgeous scenery, beautiful people, amazing art, and fantastic music. Teasing apart these elements and trying to make sense of them has proven to be a most difficult task as no music festival I have ever been to ever primed my mind for an experience quite like this. I can only hope that mere words and pictures can do justice to what I feel most would agree is an indescribable experience.
Photo by Brian Hockensmith, bhockensmith.com
Rootwire takes place on a gorgeous piece of property just outside of the town of Logan Ohio called Kaeppner’s Woods. After only three iterations of Rootwire this amazing place is beginning to be recognized for its true potential as a festival venue with other events popping up to fill the 2012-2013 calendar. It comes as no surprise to the owner who was delighted that so many “nice young people” were coming together on his land to enjoy an amazing time.
The property itself is filled with tons of amenities like free showers, plenty of parking, acres of grass fields, a pond for swimming, wooded areas for camping, and this is before the Rootwire team even sets foot onsite. After a week of preparation the property is transformed into a full-blown concert venue replete with four musical stages, a huge vending area with many food/craft vending choices, the largest art exhibition of any festival in the United States, plenty of restrooms, numerous art installations, and last but not least a general store that actually sells cases of cold beer as well as anything else you may need. In a post made on Facebook a week before the festival the coordinators bragged, “Rootwire is not going to sell out!!” A fitting double entendre indeed since the authenticity of Rootwire is beyond reproach and because the venue’s capacity is ten thousand people but they would only five thousand tickets in order to “keep the festival small.” As such anyone in attendance, which I estimate at around 3000 people, had plenty of room to do whatever their hearts desired.
Best of all for the many people who were at Gnarnia the week before was that the weather was absolutely perfect and there was hardly a noticeable police presence. I think that I might have seen, possibly hallucinated, one cop during my entire stay at Rootwire. A small crew of capable members of a private security force handled any and all security matters, the way it should be at every festival.
Inside the festival guide there is a message from Papadosio that reads, “We urge you to explore this world we are creating for you, and urge you even more to come and help us create it. There is a purpose behind this gathering and it is to inspire everyone in attendance and prove that truly everyone is an artist.” Now I doubt that everyone read the entire festival guide but I can say for certain that everyone in attendance was truly inspired. Whether it was due to the enchanting locale, the mind-expanding music/substances, or a sense of community that permeated each individual is anyone’s guess. All I know is that the sense of closeness I have felt at larger festivals like Electric Forest and Lightning in a Bottle seems weak in comparison to Rootwire. At other festivals everyone is your friend, but at Rootwire everyone is family.
“Holy Shit” is the only response I can muster when I am asked about the art at Rootwire. There was honestly enough art at this festival to fill three different music festivals designed for ten thousand person or more audiences. Not only did they have the largest art gallery of any music festival held in the United States but also a multitude of decorations, a variety of art installations, and tons of performance artists all over the festival. Everywhere you went you would find ornaments adorning the already beautiful landscape, performance artists wielding fire sticks or poi balls, and crazy installations ranging from video projection mapping to intricately designed temples for meditation. Then to top it all off they had artists doing live painting absolutely everywhere with the main stage as the focal point. As music was playing the artists would surround the stage to draw inspiration from the musicians and create some of the most impressive works of art that I have ever seen.
Photo by Brian Hockensmith, bhockensmith.com
The music at Rootwire was completely unlike anything you would hear at your average music festival. As stated in the message from Papadosio “We didn’t choose the lineup based on their marketability, or how many people they can draw. We chose them based on how amazing their craft is.” With this statement in mind it is easy to see why each days schedule overflowed with incredibly talented yet lesser-known musicians whose musical genres actually complemented the time slot they had been chosen for. This also helps keep the price of tickets unbelievably low. I was fortunate enough to go for free, but given all of the amazing music that I got to hear I would have gladly paid double the insanely low ticket price of $85.
During the days you could find upbeat danceable reggae being played by the likes of See-I, who did an uplifting set on Thursday afternoon featuring members of Thievery Corporation. However, if blues is more your thing you could catch bands like Rising Appalachia singing siren songs that drew listeners into hypnotic states of bluesy bliss. At night you could find primarily live jam sounds from amazing bands like The Werks and Dopapod, both of whom closed out the main stage on separate evenings and left slack-jawed stargazers trying to grasp why their music had to end. An impressive nighttime set from English producer OTT brought a psychedelic charge into the reggae-influenced dub-style and let listeners jam out to thumping bass. Random Rab took his usual sunrise set time and from what I hear melted the faces off of everyone in attendance. Then to make sure that energy was running high right up until the end fans were given their rap fix as Chali 2na & The House of Vibe brought the heat on Sunday giving the small crowd that showed a taste of what old school hip hop is all about.
The support musicians all did a fantastic job of setting the stage for the main event, Papadosio. Not only are these guys responsible for this entire wondrous event but also for some of the most unique performances live music can offer. Papadosio gave three marvelous and memorable sets throughout Rootwire, starting with their PA set on night one. The PA set was a live improvised remix session of sorts that showcased the groups’ uncanny ability to create and mix their music seamlessly to produce a musical experience that no one will ever forget. Their second show was an extended two-part livetronica event, totaling almost three hours of perfectly calculated combinations of electronica and live music. Throughout this show they brought out numerous guest artists, showcased elements of their new album T.E.T.I.O.S, and let everyone know exactly why they’re the stars of the show. Then on the last day of the festival Papadosio brought the festival family together at the tent stage and asked for everyone to sit back, relax, and reflect on their time at Rootwire during the closing ceremony. It is at this time that they played a beautiful “acoustic” performance that filled all in attendance with emotions of privileged bliss and utter fulfillment with their festival experience.
When all was said and done at Rootwire I found myself dealing with a sense of loss that was incomparable to any case of “festival depression” I have ever dealt with. Rootwire managed to transcend the mundane reality that music festivals are often just a place for people to do drugs and listen to music. Unlike other music festivals it felt like a family reunion, a gathering of like-minded people celebrating their common love of music and artistic expression. When viewed in this light it finally made sense to me why leaving this paradise and then coming home to revisit it by writing this article was such a harrowing ordeal. I met people who I legitimately cared about on this 4-day journey of inner exploration and came out the other side only to quickly bolt back across the country. Now that it is all over I finally feel an overwhelming sense of catharsis, depression turns into hope as thoughts of next year’s Rootwire begin to form in my mind. I will surely be counting the days until I can return home to my adopted family of Ohioans and their favorite sons Papadosio. I strongly urge that you join me.
Words by Matthew Braun & Gilad Egar. Photos by Alan Harvey & Morgan Mullin.