Photos & Words By: Shaun Hollingsworth (http://www.sicimages.com)
My first Bassnectar concert experience took place at The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina. A smaller sized venue, sure, but the concert was nothing short of visually and aurally stunning. The crowd formed an unending sea of hands and heads, rippling and pulsing to the beat. To me, like most of the fans at the show, the artist performing on stage was the show. But, Bassnectar is much more than that. Bassnectar is the artist, Lorin Ashton, and the team that works behind the scenes to breathe life into his legendary shows.
Bassnectar headlined Red Rocks Ampitheatre for the first time on June 18th—a pinnacle of achievement for any live performer. I had the privilege of documenting this event, in addition to observing the crew behind the scenes, as they sweat and cursed, hauled and assembled, and largely went unrecognized for their contribution. Although, I hope to change that, somewhat.
With the first of the team arriving at the venue right as dawn broke, there wasn’t a minute to waste in the day. Lighting, sound, and stage equipment were unloaded from the packed trailers with routinized speed. Skeletons of what was to be the Bassnectar stage were laid upon bare rock in preparation for hanging. One by one, metal frames housing lights and light panels were lifted to the ceiling, as the stage slowly took on its Bassnectar persona. Crews came in and out, adding their various pieces to the puzzle, resulting in one cohesive presence.
Bassnectar had landed at Red Rocks. If there was any doubt, the ensuing sound check solidified the arrival. As production manager Whit Hawkins III and front of house engineer Trevor Bone tested the newly acquired sound system for precise delivery of bass to face, Red Rocks came to life. While the rocks learned the meaning of the word ‘Bassface,’ Lorin sat in all possible locations fans would be that evening, listening to make sure that the sound experience was what he wanted and expected for all of his fans, no matter where they were. At the same time, lighting designer Michael Smalley was in his booth, surrounded by keyboards, control surfaces, and computer monitors. He had prepared a special treat for the evening, planning to paint those rocks with his intricate designs. Suddenly, I was engulfed in sound and light, a preview of what the night held. Then there was sound check. Lorin took the stage in an attempt to push the system to its limits. Thirty rows up, my ribcage vibrated with bass. I’m quite certain the experience was the same for the folks listening at the back of the venue. There wasn’t a sonically bad seat in the house, that’s just how Red Rocks is.
An hour later, the doors opened. Thousands of fans were herded into the sold out show. Ten thousand Bass Heads had congregated for one singular experience. The AmBASSadors (Bassnectar’s welcoming committee) passed out fresh fruit, candy, and party favors to excited concertgoers. ESKMO
ably held the opening slot, amping up the crowd and getting the fans ready for the ensuing auditory stimulation. His mix of beats and live sampled sounds, ranging from snatched up vocals to crumpling plastic bottles and the beating of trashcans, nurtured the growing anticipation. Beats Antique
followed, bringing their blend of Eastern sounds infused with electronic accents courtesy of David Satori and solid drumming by Tommy Cappel. Of course, no Beats Antique show would be complete without the performances of Zoe Jakes and her accomplices. With a wardrobe ranging from the lavish costumes worn in some Eastern traditions to avante garde accents such as horns and feather headdresses, the visual experience was just as engaging as the musical performance. By the end of the set, the crowd was in a frenzy.
And then there was Bassnectar. The crowd screamed as the lights dimmed. Lorin took the stage, and a bass explosion ensued, as he initiated his set with a dynamic, thumping version of “Boombox.” Hundreds of decibels of sound were thrown at thousands of pairs of welcoming ears. Red Rocks projects sound so well, there were fans on the mountain behind the venue joining in on the experience. Various glowing lights could be seen moving in time with the beat, as if floating on top of the mountain held aloft by the sound waves. It was otherworldly, at times, as if alien visitors were dancing in the sky enjoying the tunes of us earthly beings. And that’s the best way I can describe Bassnectar at Red Rocks, out of this world. From AmBASSadors with fresh pizzas handing out slices, through Led Zepplin and Nirvana remixes, to the encore including Lorin’s remix of Blur’s “Song 2” that had the crowd screaming “WOOHOO” in unison with the chorus, this experience was unlike anything most will experience in their lifetime. The artist himself said it best when he welcomed the crowd to this spaceship, as we blasted off and traveled on a musical journey unlike anything on this planet. When we landed some time after midnight, and the crowd filed out, all I could see were miles of sweaty bodies returning to their earthly transport. Masses of fans with smiles on their faces thanks to the Bassnectar crew and the magic they had created that evening.
Note: I made no attempt to describe the visuals that Michael Smalley had created for this event. That was purposeful, as there are no words to describe this experience. I implore you to peruse the gallery of the photographs from the evening, as that’s the best way I know to communicate this to you.