Favorite ThisSmall gets Tall: A gentle evening at Tall Tree Lake Festival

Published: September 29, 2010

By: Anand Harsh

‘Tis the season of the small festival.  Summercamp, North Coast, Forecastle, these are all great bashes with plenty to do, see, eat, and drink.  But this summer is all about keeping it small.  The Werk Out, Summerdance, Wuhnurth, and Knollfest coming up this weekend—these are the real summer festivals.  Parking your car by your tent, taking your pick of the finest port-a-potties available, sampling some local talent, and getting in and out without going nuts; to me, there’s no better way to maximize enjoyment.

The drive to Tall Tree Lake takes you down backcountry roads through little burgs chock full of speed traps and quaint storefronts.  Perched on a shady stretch of IL-37, Tall Tree Lake Road winds over hills and dales on a dusty track, before exploding out into a gorgeous clearing.  Gould Lake is barely big enough to hold a rowboat, but the view is breathtaking.  The Saturday sunset stole all the pink, orange, and blue from the earth and sprayed it across the sky.  If this wasn’t such a small festival, I wouldn’t have been able enjoy the view across the lake from my dusty camping chair with a five-dollar bottle of Livingston Chablis Blanc.  And the trees!  They weren’t lying when they named the place.  These are by no means a clump of sequoias, but they’re pretty damn tall, nevertheless, and more than a thousand years old.  With Fall’s early chill in the air, the leaves of the giant bald cypress were bursting into their own version of a raging light show.

Following the release of her highly-acclaimed EP “International Profile,” I was curious to see what an Ana Sia live performance would be like.  In truth, she’s only been DJ’ing for a handful of years, but her star is certainly on the rise, having shared the stage with huge acts like the Glitch Mob, Kraddy, Alex B, and Eliot Lipp, to name a few.  Holding down the 11:30PM-1:30AM slot between Emmitt-Nershi Band and Emancipator on the second day of the festival became, in essence, the headlining spot for the festival—not a task to be taken lightly by the young DJ from Oakland.

Ana Sia didn’t stop bopping around for a second of her 2-hour set, her orange hi-top skate shoes cutting the same figure 8 pattern around her rig regardless of the bombast she was dropping.  Who knows what she was listening to in her head, I could barely wrap my head around what was busting through the speakers.  The ADHD whiplash of banger after banger was making my head spin: glitch-crunk, electro-house, space it up and make it trippy, then back to a banger, uh oh, here comes the wobble, glitch-step, banger, prog-house.  The dizzying array of styles switched out every 90 seconds kept the growing crowd slamming fists and breaking ankles without a rest.  Each time the new beat would drop, grins would pull back from ear to ear and you’d hear “aww yeah, that’s the one, that’s the one!”  Or maybe that was just me.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for Dizzee Rascal, and Ana Sia sprinkled in a generous dosage.  Even her dubstep had a distinct snap to it.  No track laid back in the cut, it was all pounding with ferocity.  The canopy of trees was peeled back and Sia’s sounds stretch up and out over Southern Illinois.

Emancipator took the stage next, but there was such a drop-off in energy that the crowd started to disperse almost immediately.  There is no doubt that Emancipator is extraordinarily talented.  The mid-tempo grooves show patience and maturity, with a bit of pizzazz here and there.  The major issue was that people were hyped after the Ana Sia set, and left to go expend their energy elsewhere; whether it was Somasphere (who kicked it out as hard as they could), a tank, or bed.

While I was only able to stay for a day, and caught just a sliver of the bands on the bill, I still got what I came for: the small festival experience.  Smaller events allow you to get around without feeling rushed, catch all the acts you want with plenty of breaks for rest and nourishment, and the ability to mingle with the artists.  I got to harass Billy Nershi about EOTO and get snubbed by Drew Emmitt.  Now that’s the festival experience!  John B. and all the folks with Team B Productions really put together a calm, peaceful event.  No patdown at the gates, no exodus from the parking lot to camping; just music and fun with no baggage.  A great bill with great sound is all you needed and all we got.  You have to experience a small festival, don’t let the Bonnaroos and Coachellas ruin the party with their long lines, heat, and headaches.  Go dance in the woods.

Tags: BreaksDubstepDowntempoElectronicaHip HopLivetronica