"Mysteryland is coming to the States?! It's coming to Bethel Woods... Mysteryland USA is to be held at Woodstock. I must get there..."
The inner-workings of my brain went spinning into an unstoppable flurry when ID&T made their Mysteryland USA announcement mid-2013. I didn't know how I was going to get to Bethel, and I had no idea what to expect. But I was going. Woodstock is no stranger to my family, the gypsy blood runs far & deep.
Tales of mud-dancing, free love and unity created a vision in my wild imagination, a bucket list item. I wanted to dance in the fields that Jimi, Janice and The Stones performed on. I wanted my spirit to wander freely among the trees, the open skies and among the magic of those historical grounds. An experience I have been craving since childhood, and now it was finally my time. I waited anxiously on my laptop at the crack of dawn on pre-sale day to acquire the coveted tickets... The virtual lines were long and confusing. My bank didn't want to allow overseas transactions. Spot was lost. Page timeouts... It seemed like a waste of a morning.
Three and a half hours later, I got through. I got my tickets. No turning back now! We were officially going, but how? Then it dawned on me; We had to do this trip properly. We had to drive. The planning commenced, maps were drawn out and budgets were created. From San Diego, California to Bethel Woods, New York -- this was our adventure. This is how we were getting to Woodstock. On May 19, 2014 - we shoved our camping gear, our festival goodies, our friends and our excitement into my Mazda3 hatchback and set off on our craziest adventure yet.
43 Hours, 12 States, 4 Friends, 2 Unicorns & 1 Amazing Experience.
Everywhere we stopped and everyone we talked to became part of our experience. Whether it was for gas, for food or to stretch our cramped limbs - our cross country gypsy adventure was known. It wasn't until we hit Chicago, 36 hours past San Diego that we finally rested. A Bloody Mary (or three), a home-cooked meal and much needed sleep was in order. Our festival family runs deep - international in fact, and we were fortunate enough to be housed by our rave-brother for the night.
The love lasted for only a moment it felt, and we were back on the road again. Four states and fourteen hours remained, and by this time the adrenaline, excitement and delusional tiredness finally set in. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio... the drive of darkness, deep house and red bull. We talked about our expectations, the festival history, how the hell we were going to make it back home, and how ill prepared we were for the weather (we really had no idea.) A lifetime later, the sun began to rise and we passed a historic "Welcome to Pennsylvania" sign, surrounded by lush green trees, tall dewey grass and a miraculous layer of morning fog. The sights, smells and sunrise were foreign to us, goosebumps crept up my entire body thinking about how beautiful this weekend was truly about to be... Or so I thought. That Friday morning was hazy, Tuesday (my magical unicorn) and I crawled into the backseat for a powernap - and when we woke, we said Hello to New York.
It was very wet, very cold, and very old looking. We made our way past Bethel into the quaint city of Monticello, where we ate the most amazing breakfast I've ever had. Ever. The Miss Monticello Diner was classic, and our waitress an original Woodstockee. Her stories of Hendrix, nakedness and meeting her husband in the muddy fields enhanced our excitement, and when we opened the newspaper- there was Mysteryland in all its glory. It was finally real! The man behind the culinary madness, George, came out to greet us. He too was going to the festival, we talked and laughed like old friends, instead of strangers. The magic of the festival had begun. It seemed that this town had nothing but positive things to say about Mysteryland and those who came to be apart of it. There was no negativity, no preconceived idea that a bunch of hooligans were going to party, raise hell and disrupt the peaceful town all weekend. It was all love. After our Mysteryland breakfast, exchange of numbers and quick goodbyes, we were back in the car and a faded sign read "7 miles to Bethel Woods."
FRIDAY: CAMPING, A LOT OF MUD, NICKY ROMERO, MORE MUD & DIRTY BATHROOMS.
Pulling into Bethel Woods was legendary. Call me crazy, but something changed when we made that left-hand turn into history. Rolling hills, endless grassy fields, towering trees and barns loaded with character lined the dirt road I've seen in so many Polaroids before. A cluster of cops were awaiting us at the top of the hill, as expected. When we rolled down the window to confirm our destination - we received the unexpected. "You guys ready to party this weekend?!" The officer asked us with a genuine smile. "Umm.. YEAH!!!" we hesitantly replied. He chuckled, and bid us safe travels as he waved us through. Toto, this 'aint LAPD anymore... is all I could think of as we drove through the lot. Cheerful security officers took one look at my hatchback and determined it would be more work than what it was worth to open my car up and cavity search it for goodies, so they ushered us past the K9 units who sniffed briefly before giving a wag of approval to their lead officers.
As we unloaded the car, the hard realization that we had grossly over packed set in. Determination was on our side, and we strapped up as if about to hike Mt. Everest - everyone responsible for at least 30 lb. of life. In the end, we were defeated. A man smartly dressed in a beanie baby bodysuit and his mustached friend stepped in to give a hand. Without their charity, we wouldn't have made the mile long walk of knee-deep mud to our final camping site.
We made it through another security point, more dogs, giant manholes, mud and slippery wet grass, only to find that the campers were being let in by tiers. Everyone knows tiered ticket schemes are a pain in the ass, but nothing could have prepared me for tiered camping. Up two more decent hills, more mud, even more manholes, and through the (mud) walkways of comfortably set-up campers chanting "you can do it! almost there!" we successfully trudged all of our useless, unneeded bags of bullshit to rest. If the bar wasn't a mile downhill (in mud), it would have been time to celebrate. Thankfully, the closest thing to our site was a staggered line of porta-potty palaces and there was no booze in sight. Just when I thought our experience couldn't get any brighter, a security guard atop a horse told us to move. Awesome... the lack of communication between security, staff and police was hardly the way to start off our unpacking. The cold, wet wind didn't help; my California toes were miserable. We moved our campsite back 20 ft. and bundled up in preparation for Nicky Romero's pre-party.
Determined to find out who the special mystery guest was, we booked it down the hills, through the sludge and into the big-top to find that the mystery guest was... Nicky Romero? The magic I felt earlier was quickly dissipating. We meandered around the campground, wandering in and out of the Holy Grounds listening to music, witnessing struggles, and assisting late arrivals with their gear- paying it forward as beanie baby man had helped us hours before.
Then something incredible stimulated my senses. Vicetone happened. The dance floor shook with each bassdrop and the lights strobed with every tone shift, my party had started and it was well worth the wait. Vicetone was the surprise of the night, they left me breathless and speechless. John Dahback and Don Diablo followed suite, each bringing their own unique visions to the decks in preparation for Nicky Romero's "surprise" appearance. Progressively trapped house-step flooded the speakers as Romero bounced around the stage, hyping the crowd with his Protocol set. Without a doubt, it was the most appropriate way to set off the Mysteryland weekend.
Tritonal closed the night with their unmistakable sound - a euphoric playlist filled with enticing melodies bidding us goodnight with visions of colors racing through our imaginations. Tent parties with inflatable furniture, solar LED lights and jungle juice filled the grounds from base to top while the orange crescent moon gently rose behind the hill, so close I could nearly touch it. The ground was so wet, my boots were soaked through and my socks were icicles. Cold, tired, carlagged and high on music I finally crawled into my tent and prayed for tomorrow's warmth.
SATURDAY: FLOODS, FOOD LINES, BROKEN PAYMENT SYSTEMS AND THUNDERSTORMS
On Saturday morning, I awoke with the sounds of laughter, chanting and yelling throughout the campground. I later found out that every time the sun came through the clouds, we did a little sun dance with hopes of keeping its warm rays upon us. Down to the Smorgasburg I went, only to find that there were a plethora of problems.
To begin, the birdie-bucks system was not working. This was the USA's first "cashless" festival - meaning that you had to load all of your spending money on a wristband chip, which was scanned for payment. So naturally, nobody brought cash. Credit cards were not an option, vendors only accepted birdie bucks and cash... which nobody had. Special, huh? Those who sold their souls to the ATM machines to withdraw funds created a mosh pit in front of the food booths.
It took nearly two hours to get to the front of a line, and another extended amount of time to wait for food to be served; by the time breakfast was over the festival was about to open. I will say, however, the food was amazingly delicious.
The opening ceremony beckoned the crowds, but the dark cloud cover was more than unwelcoming. Preparing for the festival was unlike any other EDM party- the highlighter bro crew and fluffy wearing basics were few in number, the most popular fashion choices ranging from bohemian/boho chic to retro, comfort and warmth was the platform for most costume selections. 60's inspired accessories, kandi masks & bracelets, and ti-dye everything filled the paths leading to the distant drumbeat. Like a village, we walked towards the ever increasing decibel of the drum. Security guards and staff members asked to trade Kandi as we walked through the gates, cheerful and happy to see us. Dogs were staffed at the entrance to ensure our safety (apparently it's illegal to pet them...) and the officers supervising us were kind, thorough and ready to party with us. Getting in was a breeze, getting UP to the festival was another story. Hello, mile long incline. If you didn't have a great ass and lines in your legs before Mysteryland, you do now. #Cakes
Walking into the festival was like entering another world. An impressive array of flags filled the fields which housed the healing garden, old-school hippies were vending spirit totems, gratitude stones and artsy memorabilia out of a VW bus, and a small blue shed filled from floor to ceiling with mirrors called to me halfway up. I entered the shed of many reflections and met a wise old man, who told me that the mirrors each reflect a true, pure side of oneself. It was a humbling experience and I left feeling brand new.
Finally atop the massive hill, I felt a little bit like Alice. Do I go left? Do I go right? If I go straight, where will I find myself? Instinctively, I chose left. I came face to face with the Boat stage - and all the ratchetivities commencing there. Twerk teams, shufflers, stoners and hipsters were moving in a chaotic jumble to the sounds of Lets Be Friends, the bass protruding from the Boat reminded me of a stampede.
Too early to twerk, I made my way to the Q-Dance tent where Kutski was bringing everything he had to the decks. The Q-Dance lineup was spot on, the dancefloor however, was just a spot. The dancefloor itself was not sturdy, and shifted under your feet every time the big dude next to you jumped up and down. The tent was small and closed in, providing hardly enough space to move about, let alone dance. The stage setup was a bit disappointing, considering the epic setup Q-Dance offers at Mysteryland Chile & Netherlands. Props aside, the laser effects sent me into a cross-eyed blindness and the 150 BPM bass nearly gave me a heart attack. I loved every second of it.Keeping the rave alive with Kutski may not have been 100% aesthetically pleasing, but my ears sure enjoyed it. Just down the hill, progressive house was filling the main stage as Sultan & Ned Shepard stepped into the massive House of Cards and sent the festival into a united rain dance, which in turned caused a downpour... And created a muddy mess reminiscent of our Woodstock predecessors. The rain couldn't stop the party, especially as Carl Craig & Dimitri took over the Sunday School mini-fest with a highly anticipated B2B set. From Hardstyle to House, Trap to Funk, everywhere you turned was a new sound and an uncontrollable desire to see it all.
Notable Saturday Mentions:
Vinyl Only: Every single festival needs to incorporate a vinyl only stage for those of us who remember what vinyl is. It was nostalgia at its finest, and current EDM Culture could stand to learn a thing or two about classic four on the floor sounds. Booty moving rhythms, sexy funk filled beats and complete happiness filled the dancefloors.
Zomboy: Every basshead went balls to the wall with Zomboy. Dubstep haters even got in on the action with one of the most versatile sets of the night.
Sunday School: A festival within a festival. House music, underground vibrations, deep soul shaking tunes... Need we say more?
Till Death Do Us Part - There was a wedding. A real life wedding. It was beautiful, memorable, and made you want to tie the knot yourself. Congrats to Jessie & Steve!
Big Gigantic: What's better than dancing in the rain in the middle of the night? Add a saxophone, heavy bass, good vibrations and a massive Ark to the mix and you have a once in a lifetime experience. A little rock, a little EDM, a lot of ass shaking goodness. Thank You, Big G.
This Giant Fluff I don't care how old you are, bro. This bear makes all other arguments invalid. Moving On!
SUNDAY: HERE COMES THE SUN, A SINFUL RENDEZVOUS & THE #1 SET OF THE WEEKEND
Sunny Sunday!! I woke up (early) in an oven upset to be sweating bullets, but upon opening the tent I immediately realized it was going to be a GORGEOUS day. The level of awesomeness escalated in an instant. A quick yoga session in the sunlight, a waterbottle shower and my coveted 30 minutes at the charging station, and I was ready to rock & roll. The energy of the campground was extraordinary. Strangers becoming best friends, people bartering goods, live art, and music for days. This is what Woodstock was about. This is what Mysteryland is about. It took me a moment to take it all in. This was far from a simple music festival in the woods. This was legendary, and it was the only time we would ever have this moment in our life. A beautiful fleeting moment and then it was gone.
Sloshing around in the mud from the night before didn't last too long, the irresistible rays of the sun beaming down on the ground made walking, and dancing enjoyable. Up the hill I went and something new and tantalizing teased my senses. I found myself face to face with some of the most beautiful Día de Muertos chicas dancing robustly to Baile Funk. An array of people from all walks of life gathered at this mysterious stage for some serious tribal-like dancing. You had no choice but to partake if you were a passerby. The music was ancestral and the craving to dance with these masked beauties was carnal.
Somewhere in between the hermosas mujeres locas I heard a trapped out rendition of a classic in the distance. Milo & Otis had boarded their ship and I had to move in. Sin Salida had me jacked up on life but the Boat was calling to me. I danced around like a psychotic butterfly among the crowd, bumping into the Batnation mob and trading Kandi with fellow ragers. Giving my rageface a break, we strolled through backside of the festival - where I met the biggest Teddy Bear of my life. He was 30 feet of snuggles and love and all I wanted to do was climb on his shoulders. This however, was likely frowned upon. I settled for a photo.
Random furniture placements, motivational signs, massage chairs and a tea hut were just some of the perfectly placed pieces to the festival set aside for wanderers. And then I met Hannah. We obviously hit it off right away, but beyond our matching names, we shared a love for tapestries and art. She was creating live art at the event, as well as selling her up-cycled t-shirt and tapestry designs. $5 shirts and $10 tapestries, these are the types of souveniers we cherish. Treasures as unique as we are.
The day slowly crept into the final night. Wandering from stage to stage, allowing the music to control our destination was the most simplistic and rewarding choice. I decided to turn my phone off and put my map away for the remainder of the festival. I was going to allow destiny, friends and music take me where I was needed. I found hula hoopers from Florida who were there to relive the 60's. I met a 70 year old woman with dreadlocks in the Q-Dance tent, and I found myself drinking the most delicious cider on earth. (Seriously, that stuff is dangerous.) I found myself dancing with strangers to Flosstradamus, Pete Tong and Dillon Francis... All who have validated their place in this industry.
Instinctively, I wandered back to the main stage. I heard a familiar voice and knew that I was home. Moby had made his way to the platform and my out-of-body experience through the sound-waves began. To me, Moby defined Mysteryland. He brought us up, shook us down and took us on an unpredictable ride through the last 20 years of Electronic Music Culture. I allowed a tear to fall out of respect for a pioneer who helped shape today's industry. Everything after Moby was a haze. For a moment, all you could do was sit on the grassy hill and collect your thoughts. But the night was young and Evil Activities was on our turf. Hardcore and more hardcore, the Q-Dance tent was packed from wall to wall. The beats were so hard, even Sunday School was shaking. Or maybe that was just Victor Calderone, throwing down his infusion of house and deep vibes. Chase & Status gave the dubheads a run for their money with some perfectly pitched drum & bass, shaking the Boat and the minds of fans alike. Finally, the last acts of the night were due. Kaskade and Dillstradamus owned the night- will I ever decide which set was better? Never. I don't discriminate. #FuckGenresLetsDANCE
Notable Sunday Mentions:
Did We Say Moby? We'll Say It Again: More than just an amazing set, Moby sat down for a personal workshop where he spoke on his personal experiences with music, connecting the power of the mind with the power of music. A humbled, talented individual just looking to spread some wisdom.
The Tree of Life: The most emotional art installment I've ever experienced in my thirteen years of festivals. Leave a note, a memory, a dollar, or whatever you feel in that moment. You leave a piece of yourself and allow the universe to take hold.
This Dude: Life is a celebration. Mysteryland housed the safest and most beautiful environment to celebrate our accomplishments and set our hearts free. Whoever this guy is - you are awesome.
More Than A Festival: The music was part of the experience, not the other way around. Our friends and supporters at Mysteryland provided a space to connect with others and reconnect with ourselves. Through the power of love and music, we united under the technicolor sky.
Tribute to The Past Post festival, the groove bus was still going strong. Some partied, some slept. Wherever you were in the camp - you heard the final track of Mysteryland. A tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock of 1969 and all those who became part of history were adorned with an acoustic rock version of The National Anthem. It was the perfect ending to an insane weekend.
The Closing Ritual: I can't even explain what happened here. Take a look...
SOLVING THE MYSTERY: FINAL CLOSING THOUGHTS
As we drove through thunderstorms, mountains and deserts 2,754 miles back home - I had time to put my thoughts into tangible ideas and record them on paper to the best of my ability. A week post-Mysteryland I am still in awe of the magic that took place there. Nearly an incident free event, the final numbers came down to a mere 20 arrests in relation to illegal shenanigans. What an amazing reach for EDM culture - turning our scene back into a respectable destination for free spirits isn't too far behind. ID&T is leading the way for responsible parties, and we are 100% on board for their vision.
Sure, there were imperfections that made life a little more difficult than needed. No, my favorite festival boots will never be worn again and I am still recovering from the mysterious bruises mother nature adorned on me. I'll never un-see the disasters of the porta-palaces and my car is covered in a thousand layers of dirt, bugs and whatever else happened to be on the road. I came down with a cold and threw away all of my socks. I sold my soul to the Heineken tent, the Rekorderlig Cider girls, and the art vendors. I met people who in the moment I didn't think I could live without... and now I can't even remember their names. I hugged strangers, gave away an extra ticket to someone who had theirs stolen; continuously tripped and fell over totems, flags and puddles of mud. I lost my shoes, and I found my soul.
Was it Woodstock? No. Not even close. But at the end of the day, it was never meant to be. The counterculture of 1969 paved a long, dimly lit path down the rabbit hole for the next generation of believers. This was not Woodstock. This was Mysteryland - it was the best weekend of my festival-life, and when next year comes around, I'll remember to bring my rainboots. We'll be coming back for you one day. Until next year, Bethel.
Dennis Bouman, Jackie Lee, Pearcey Proper, Andrew Rauner, Kerry Sullivan, ForeverFlyy Photography, Julian Cassady, Miss Mabee Photography, 110 Photography