Photos by: Brooke Jordan (2StarR.com)
Story by: Alexandria Wojcik
When 50,000 neon-hearted ravers descended upon the sacred soil of the original Woodstock over Memorial Day weekend for the second-ever US edition of the world’s longest running electronic dance music and culture festival, Mysteryland, they conjured more than the good vibes of festivals past--they grew a world of their own.
For Nomads (Mysteryland’s term of endearment for its attendees), spending the weekend in the festival’s Holy Grounds campsite, the path to Mysteryland was aptly named “Best Road.” Only two hours outside of New York City, we meandered (albeit at a snail’s pace) through the foothills of New York’s Catskill mountains past farms and summer cabins until we arrived on the historic site of the original Woodstock.
Though we were met with longish lines entering the Holy Grounds, the fact that only a security checkpoint ensuring that our liquor was already transferred to plastic juice containers (and other matters of safety) stood between us and an epic weekend of peace, love, and music kept the spirits high. After pitching our tents and stowing our bundles of warm clothing layers, fluffy spirit hoods, fleece onesies, and way more blankets than most attendees were used to packing for a summer festival, crowds descended upon the festival grounds proper to get a head-start down the rabbit hole before the other tens of thousands would arrive the following morning.
With camping tickets selling-out at 10,000, the Holy Grounds camping experience--which went lightyears beyond showers and port-a-potties--was comparatively intimate, as were Friday’s sets open exclusively to campers. Rather than designating one of the dirt paths within the Holy Grounds the official “Shakedown Street” that too-often resembles a portable mall overrun by neo-hippie culture with deadbeats hocking overpriced headshop wares and grilled cheeses, the Holy Grounds’ Plaza Central boasted an array of 24-hour food options, lockers, spaces to chill in the shade, and non-stop music. Because quiet hours were actually enforced each evening at 2AM (probably to keep the neighbors happy, but the ordinance also benefited travel-weary ravers in need of beauty sleep), BangOn! NYC’s party bus notorious for throwing unofficial campground ragers well past dawn at other festivals was the official host of Mysteryland’s Silent Disco.
Nomads continued to trickle into the Holy Grounds through Friday evening. As the sun set over the sacred berry fields we readily called “home” and the party lights began to strobe, the temperatures dropped to the 30's (yes, that’s fahrenheit). Though we could see our breath, the frost was no deterrent from raging through the night. But then again, we can’t imagine any weather keeping us from getting rowdy with A-Trak’s hype-inducing electro-house, then getting into the groove with Josh Wink. Winter-ready ravers gave out toe warmers and shared scarves, yet hypothermia wasn’t even a threat to the crowds bouncing to Swizzymack’s trap styles protected everyone around The Boat; body heat was more than enough as Richie Hawtin’s techno kept the Beatport Big Top tent toasty. The party continued in the Holy Grounds through the night until the front gates opened and tens of thousands more Nomads poured in mid-Saturday: the festival season had officially begun.
All festival paths connected the Healing Garden and Speaker Stage nestled in the basin of the grassy hills that once hosted the single stage of the historic hippie-fest that started it all to the massive, hand-painted Main Stage which featured a pair of Trojan horses staring at one another from opposite ends of the stage. A large heart hung above the DJ booth in-between the ornate beings that evoked the power of the unknown from the Greek story with which we’re all at least vaguely familiar. Though the horses’ profiles (obviously complete with thousands of LEDs and pyrotechnics) towered sky-high above the artists and the audience, the Main Stage performances from a host of A-list DJs and producers including Madeon and Kygo on Saturday and The M Machine and Dillon Francis on Sunday weren’t dwarfed by the structure’s enormity for a second. In fact, Netsky’s perfectly-MCed drum’n’bass on Sunday night felt at moments larger than the mammoth mythological creatures, as did the feels rising up from the crowd.
Porter Robinson concluded Saturday’s Main Stage festivities with a moving live set--he even took to the mic. Building on the theme of his 2014 full-length Worlds, with album-closer “Goodbye to a World” as leitmotif, Porter Robinson’s heartwrenchingly beautiful set was less about big drops and bangers and more about using EDM to create a world of our own. And that is exactly what we did.
Frolicking between the different stages, tents, and dance spaces was like exploring myriad parallel dimensions found within an especially well-curated, totally weird rabbit hole where rave is always king. The kaleidoscope of possibility created by Mysteryland’s diverse arts, music, and culture line-up proves that no two paths through the looking glass are alike. One could go from getting down with their inner om at an early-afternoon Deep House Yoga session at Zeitgeist’s open air stage to raging to hardstyle with Amsterdam-based Q-Dance in the Label Tent on Saturday. Or, one could wander the Crooked Forest amidst the cozy hammocks and living rooms sets, curl up on a giant teddy bear, check for messages in the mailbox tree, and admire the various visual art installations of Burning Man proportions sprinkled throughout the venue in-between grooving to Adam Beyer’s Drumcode techno takeover of the Big Top Tent on Sunday. Whatever makes your heart go untz-untz-untz was possible.
For Nomads like us who believe it’s impossible to go overboard with dirty bass and sick drops, The Boat was yet again the place to anchor one’s crew. Reincarnated as a steamboat carrying precious discoball cargo, and commandeered by the likes of Savoy, Beats Antique, Gramatik, GRiZ, ETC! ETC!, TJR, and Doctor P throughout the weekend, The Boat stage kept crowds twerking, shuffling, flowing with their glowtoys, and getting real low all weekend long. Space Jesus, a local favorite known for keeping it weird, kicked-off Saturday’s Boat party with his rowdy-as-hell future bass. Taking a cue from artists like Dan Deacon, notorious for leading crowds through parachute games and dance-offs reminiscent of elementary school gym class, Space Jesus seasoned his set with imagination-provoking narrative quips--finally, we have an idea of what an alien looks like when she exercises and how to dance to dubstep in space. Space Jesus’ vibes, which permeated The Boat throughout the weekend, are best summed-up by shouts overheard in the crowd: “we’re sweating to the future!”
Mysteryland’s truly PLURry ethos, embodied by its collaborative curations, was best illustrated by the festival’s homage to New York’s perpetually-progressive music scene--the areas hosted by some of NYC’s most forward-thinking clubs, party series, and labels, including Webster Hall and Verboten, set Mysteryland apart from the rest. While dancing through the festival’s various otherworldly spaces, Nomads from all over the world could experience a night out at Brooklyn-based nightclub Verboten just by entering the saloon-like doors of the Spiegeltent (which means “Mirror Tent” in Dutch), where the formerly nomadic party production crew’s tech house lineup kept the carnivalesque wood-and-stained glass structure packed all weekend long.
On Sunday, Nomads who entered the Label Tent were magically transported to Webster Hall’s main ballroom on any given Friday night. Webster Hall has been a cultural focal point for over 128 years and has been home to the city’s longest-running electronic dance party, Girls & Boys, for the past seven years--for one day, tens of thousands of kindred spirits were able to experience what Eugene O’Neil declared the “crown of the East Village,” Prince proclaimed “the best stage in NYC,” and countless others have called “home” at one point or another. Alex English, co-founder of Girls & Boys and long-term resident DJ of NYC’s collective heart, got the future-bass-driven dance party started early Sunday afternoon. Shortly thereafter, while crowds were blissing-out to Nora En Pure’s deep house-infused indie dance, the tent itself was already sweating. Mija, Sweater Beats, Anna Lunoe, and Giraffage, kept the Webster Hall party thumping well into the night’s closing ceremonies at the Main Stage.
Mysteryland’s US debut in 2014 marked the first time the Bethel Woods Center for the Performing Arts hosted a multi-day music, arts, and culture festival since the last hippies left and Woodstock 1969 was history; it is no mystery why the holy grounds were re-opened to 50,000 ravers for the festival’s second US installment, and is likely to do so for years to come. Mysteryland and Woodstock share so much more than bringing several days of peace, love, and music to the same sacred site: both festivals illustrate the common vision of two very different generations searching in the margins--in the clubs, on the dance floors, and under the electric sky--for a world of our own.
When Diplo took to the Main Stage for his first-ever festival-closing set in the US, all one had to do was look around at the crowds that confettied the surrounding hills dancing like it was the end of the world to think that Mysteryland could be our generation’s Woodstock. Yet as Diplo led us through a journey in sound, tilt-a-whirling through the myriad EDM subgenres and styles that brought us all together in the first place, culminating in fireworks above the Trojan horses’ now-opened third eyes, it became clear that we the ravers had already transcended the dreams of Woodstock, and would continue to do so throughout this summer festival season and beyond--yesterday is history, today is a gift, and tomorrow is a mystery.
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