Return To Dark Side of the Moon

It is no accident that a handful of the artists that took the stage of the intimate boutique event Snowmass Mammoth Festival outside of Aspen are among those filling the lineup of the Bonnaroo Music Festival this weekend. Standout power pop-rock duo Twenty One Pilots and animated folk quintet Lord Huron both elevated beyond their studio energy for the unsuspecting Colorado crowd before taking that zeal east to Tennessee. The latter band was among the opening band’s that established a pace for rising kinetic enthusiasm that inevitably hit maximum velocity by the time the sun set over Snowmass Town Park each night. The kicker was that there were less than 2,000 people there to witness it.

The inaugural event was virtually free of the growing pains one might expect from a typical first year event. Crucial presence of amenities from free water to quality vendors to the always elusive clean port-o-potties were just the beginning. Epic scenery and weather, free-to-cheap cheap booze with no lines, and a short stumble to onsite camping furthered the case. Historically a local chili and beer festival that was in need of a facelift, Telluride’s SBG Productions (the masterminds behind Telluride Blues & Brews) stepped in to pull off a full overhaul on the music front. Booking standout acts like Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, JJ Grey & Mofro, Starfucker, and The Joy Formidable provided the soundtrack for imbibing sessions, and what felt like a private dance party all weekend. Denson would even step outside of his Tiny Universe outfit and team up with the likes of Bernie Worrell to take Snowmass on a jazzed up journey through the entire Dark Side of the Moon album on night one, something they had only done one other time in Paris. As the sun set, the sky turned its darkest blue, while the encompassing mountains became a black silhouette just as “Us and Them” hit the lyrical section “black and blue, and who knows which is which, and who is who.” The colors faded together as the album played out and the grounds became illuminated by the stage. A series of unplanned moments where the stars aligned like that benchmarked what made this event different.

Whether it was You Me & Apollo awakening the beer tasting crowd with a chilling rendition of “We Got A Roof,” a track almost none present had ever heard, but will not soon forget. Or seeing the entire pit bouncing as Starfucker laced electronic backbeats with driving rock, only to look over and see the horses on the adjacent hillside connecting to the same primal instinct, losing themselves in the pulsing drums. If it wasn’t Twenty One Pilots pulling acrobatics off their instruments, or literally jumping into the crowd to do a choreographed drum solo, then it was The Joy Formidable pushing more sound than should be possible for a trio, while going ballistic knocking over drums and running down the front row having the crowd trigger six string distortion.

Snowmass Mammoth Festival offered an eclectic assortment of talent that didn’t truly manifest as a cohesive billing until the music was in full swing. Sonically intimate without lacking aesthetic expansiveness in the Town Park bowl rimmed by beautiful peaks, the standout impression for attendees was being left to concentrate on the stellar showing of high energy music free of logistical distractions. That type of focus in the booming big-box festival era is sometimes lost, even it is has always been the true essence of the music festival to begin with. Given the success of the revamped festival right out of the gate, I can’t promise that they won’t be a victim of perpetual growth, but I have a feeling the end game will be Snowmass Mammoth Festival becoming one of the more important music institutions for facilitating an eclectic lineup and authentic experience in an already saturated Colorado scene.