Mountain Oasis 2013 offered a stunning array of acts and I entered the weekend determined to catch as many as possible. The relatively close proximity of all of the venues, coupled with somewhat spotty attendance over the course of the weekend made this an easy goal to achieve. As a result, I saw the fewest complete sets of any music festival I have ever attended. On the flip side I caught TWENTY distinct acts over the course of the weekend. Some were incredible, a few were disappointing and the weekend on the whole was a complete success. Rather than a traditional chronological recap, here are some of the superlatives of the weekend along with some more general thoughts about the festival as a whole.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – The Bug
The. Worst. Sound. I’ve been to lots of concerts, of various kinds over the last decade or so. There is loud, there is distortion and then there is bad sound. This show fell into the third category. Everything in the mid to high range was cranked to oblivion, providing exactly zero clarity at all. I imagine the levels of the sound board looked something like this. The result was a kick drum pattern topped with a bunch of static/white noise. Given that this was one of my most anticipated acts of the weekend, it was kind of a gut punch for me.
SOUND OF THE WEEKEND – Luxury Trap
All three of my nights ended at the Asheville Music Hall with what could loosely be called a “beat musician”. Hip Hop-as-dance-music is a pretty common thing at this point, and “trap” has all kinds of connotations now (most of which have nothing to with selling drugs). I jokingly referred to Saturday’s performer Cashmere Cat as luxury trap, but the term seemed to fit perfectly. High hats and rolling snares were abundant, but overall the number of references to asses and twerking were kept to a minimum. XXYYXX on Friday brought an absolutely captivating laser to the party, while tearing through R&B cuts of all kinds with 808’s to burn. Only 19 years old, I was vaguely familiar with his work prior to the festival, but this became on of the highlights of the weekend.
Cashmere Cat’s set was chock full of popular drops and remixes (I counted at least 3 different Drake samples), all with his unique touch. Shlomo was the final act of the festival, and his set brought a much more psychedelic edge to his beats. Big ups for the Christina Aguilera remix!
BEST PERFORMANCE – Nine Inch Nails
To be fair, no one else really stood a chance. Between the incredible level of stage production (9 piece band, mounds of equipment, strobe lights for days, etc) and the relentless energy that Trent Reznor still brings to the stage, the Nine Inch Nails show met and perhaps exceeded my already high expectations. Opening with “Copy of A” off their latest album and hitting on personal favorites “March of the Pigs” and “Piggy”, this show was the standout of the weekend. Did I mention strobe lights?
And to think, this was the “scaled down” show. Also, points for Reznor’s Kilt/Skirt thing.
BEST CROWD INTERACTION – Jessie Ware
For someone who once aspired to be a sports journalist and confessed to being a less than confident performer in her early years, Jessie Ware took the stage with aplomb. Constantly engaging the audience (she took time in between songs to thank/encourage a couple who were grinding on each other to her songs), she went so far as to suggest what shows she would see if she were a ticket holder that evening (her picks: T Williams, Mount Kimbie, Disclosure). Nervous energy? Perhaps, but if that is the case it came off as exceedingly charming and I enjoyed her set much more than I expected I would.
WORST SCHEDULING DECISION – Claude Von Stroke, Friday 7:15 Asheville Civic Center
Too early in the evening, too big a venue. Make no mistake, I loved this set. CVS’s blend of techno, hip hop and some jungle/drum and bass for good measure was quite delectable. But playing at 7:30 at night to a quarter full Civic Center definitely put a damper on things
TRIPPIEST DANCE PARTY – TIE between Darkside and Animal Collective
I caught only the very end of Animal Collective’s Saturday night set but when I walked into the room, I entered a psychedelic-sun-festival dance party. The stage was essentially a large mouth, containing the band and a spiral of color into oblivion. “Monkey Riches” was quite literally a carnival of color and sound, and costumed concert goers were skipping and jumping everywhere around me. In stark contrast was Darkside’s Sunday evening performance. Using darkness as a visual effect can have mixed results, but for this set it was perfect. Darkside’s high minded, multi textured grooves take a while to get going but once the picture is complete the results are stunning.
FAVORITE BAR – The Emerald Lounge
I ended up spending a fair bit of time here Friday and Saturday, both to catch some of the local showcase acts and to grab some, ahem, cheaper refreshments. Friendly staff, close proximity to the Civic Center/Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, and the aforementioned local acts made it a nice spot for the weekend. On the local acts, The Jellyrox was SUPER 80’s. I caught myself humming “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” along to one of his tracks. Silliness, however, can make for great dance music and I found his set enjoyable. South Carolina’s own We Roll Like Madmen unveiled their new light rig, as well as a number of new tracks. Given their unfortunate time slot vs the Deltron 3030 reunion, they had by far the biggest crowd of all the shows I caught at the Emerald Lounge over the weekend. Finally, Moving Temple on Saturday night brought a nice variety of sounds to the table. (Note: I was scolded by a few friends for not catching Splynter, immediately following Moving Temple).
WEEKENDS MOST SURREAL MOMENT – Gary Numan’s Interview
I ended up missing most of the Gary Numan interview due to waiting OVER AN HOUR for a cab ride, but I did make it in time to catch the last twenty minutes or so. He spoke at length about his struggles with early fame and the aggressive behavior of people who didn’t like his music (he recalled a British newspaper who called for his parents to be sterilized). He had several stories of people heckling him on the street, and about how this negativity forced him into a deep seclusion (“It’s the craziest thing, I haven’t hurt anyone, I didn’t steal anything…well some idea’s maybe” :: everyone laughs :: ). He went on to credit Trent Reznor with his late career revival, and his new interest in music scores.
On the whole I really enjoyed this years festival. As always, Asheville is the most gracious of host cities and save the biting cold Friday night the weather was amazing. I would like to extend thanks to Pitch Perfect PR and AC Entertainment for providing me with my press pass and for putting on a wonderful event.