Review: Snowball Music Festival 2013

March 20, 2013 2 comments

Snowball in a nutshell! (Photo Credit: David Rodman)

Held a few weekends ago in Winter Park, CO, the third installment of the Snowball Music Festival can only be described as a raging success – heavy emphasis on the “rage.” Like 2011 and 2012 before it, Snowball 2013 remained heavy on the EDM when putting together its lineup. This year boasted 51 artists in 3 days, featuring local, national, and international names – including some of the biggest names in the electronic music world: Pretty Lights, STS9, Big Gigantic, Porter Robinson, Datsik, Grizmatik, Flying Lotus, Crizzly (w/ Lil Flip), and many, many more!

Despite the lean towards electronic music, there were a number of heavy-hitters from the rap/hip-hop, rock, and indie worlds, as well as a number of up-and-coming artists across genre spectrum: Kendrick Lamar, Portugal. The Man, Japandroids, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Zion I, R.A.C., Bonfire Dub, and plenty more. Check out the full 2013 lineup here.

My personal thought is that the lean towards EDM and hip/hop acts (rather than bands) at Snowball is a direct result of the frigid atmosphere that accompanies a music festival in the Colorado Rockies in March. While this year was warmer than in the past, Friday night’s temperature dropped into the teens. How the hell is a band supposed to play in that? Could you imagine a guitarist trying to shred without any feeling in his hands? The bands that did play (especially at night) braved the cold heroically, and impressed me to no end.

Frontman for the band Ishi, at the Groove Tent on Sunday afternoon (Photo Credit: David Rodman)

Despite the lack of recognizable names on the lineup (Pretty Lights, STS9, and a few others being the exceptions) Snowball 2013 was one of the best festivals I have had the good fortune to attend. This year’s event took place in a new town – after Avon, CO kicked the festival out after a town vote last year, and this year’s line-up just didn’t have the same fire-power as in the past. However, you can’t sleep on the Colorado music scene. One of the best things about Snowball is that it never fails to surprise patrons with unexpected gems in the form of smaller (often local) acts. So while the line up might not have popped on paper, individual artists showcased their incredible talent, stage presence, and energy all weekend long.

Overall, the atmosphere at Snowball was nothing short of magical. This year, the music was split amongst 3 arenas: The Main Stage, The Groove Tent, and the Ball Room Tent. There was also a Silent Disco, on-site artists creating some amazing ice sculptures, a Heat Lounge with artists live-painting new pieces, interactive wall displays, and some cozy seating to warm up and meet your next dancing partner, a Big Air ski and snowboard jump near the Main Stage for extreme athletes to throw down on, and a vendor village featuring food, gear, swag, and arts & crafts. Most of my time was split rolling to and from the Main Stage, or getting rowdy inside the aptly named Groove Tent – a massive circus tent filled with bright lights and loud bass. The music was fantastic all around, though, and with about 14,000 people on hand there was no shortage of people-watching to be had. The production value was as high as any outdoor festival I’ve gone to, and by all accounts, the entire weekend went quite smoothly. I can confidently say that I will be attending Snowball 2014.

This next portion of the article is where I attempt to break down the festival for you day-by-day. I’ll give you the sights and the sounds, pictures, my picks for best show of each day, and the surprise performances of each day… all that good shit that I know you want.

Friday March 8

Friday was the kickoff. Doors opened at 1:00pm, with the first set of artists slated to begin at 2:30, but my crew didn’t get situated in our condo until around 3:15. Fortunately, we were close to the venue and there was still plenty of music to be had even if we didn’t make it inside until 4:30pm. We managed to catch the end of Porter Robinson’s set at the Main Stage, before heading off to the Ball Room Tent to check on a band a friend recommended. Orchard Lounge did not disappoint! “Who is Orchard Lounge?” you might be asking… I would be lying if I told you I had any clue, but after a bit of research I have figured out that Spencer Lokken, Bethany Briscoe Lokken, and Ben Silver comprise this funky Chicago based trio. And they were just what we needed to set ourselves on track for a great festival. Orchard Lounge played a truly inspired set of funk-infused EDM, and we instantly found ourselves dancing along to the beat with them. Their set ranged from rhythmic downtempo, to incredibly funky house. Orchard Lounge was a true joy to check out, and absolutely the surprise set of the night. They completely rocked out the Ball Room Tent. If you can appreciate a live show, you’ll dig the sound of Orchard Lounge. Check out the show they put on in Aspen last November!

From there I caught a minute of Kendrick Lamar at the Main Stage. Call me crazy but I never jumped on the Kendrick Lamar bandwagon. This was the first time I’ve seen him, though. His set was good and his beats were catchy. His flow was tight, too, but I thought it was missing something. I’ll tell you when I figure out what… But I’m just hating right now. I enjoyed it; it was just a different feel than most of the other shows I saw. Chances are I’ll be checking out his next show in my area.

From Kendrick, I bounced over to the Groove Tent to see yet another power trio in the form of heavy hitters: Krewella. The incredibly talented (and beautiful) Yousaf sisters and Rain Man threw down one hard charging, whomp-filled set. They drew what was easily the biggest crowd of the evening to that point and brought the house tent down as their devoted audience gave it their all. Krewella threw down hard on fan favorites like Play Hard, Killin It, and Alive.

However, the best show of the night for me was the headliner, Big Gigantic. I’ve written on Big G in the past (here, and here), and their on-stage prowess was not diminished at all by the chilly air or recently-constructed outdoor venue. Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken played late into the night with a versatile set that showcased not only their incredible range and talent on the ones and twos, the sax, and the drums, but also provided one of the gnarliest light shows I’ve seen since Ghostland Observatory blew my mind one year ago. High energy, a great crowd, and deep bass brought out the smiles in everyone!

For Snowball, as for a growing number of festivals, the venue shows are only slightly more important than your after party plans. Due to the stringency of local curfews and how small Winter Park is, those that want a traditional late night party are forced to buy tickets for after parties at various local bars which often feature festival performers doing secondary shows in a more intimate setting. This year, MJF chilled at a couple of different venues over the weekend. Friday night’s Winter Park Mountain Lodge party featured Colorado producers Paul Basic and Michal Menert (of Pretty Lights Music). Due to a ridiculously poorly run shuttle system, our crew made it to the show after 1am, and only with enough time to catch Michal Menert crush it solo. Dude can party though. Part of the brains behind the Pretty Lights music label, Menert is a wizard at connecting with his audience. He creates a relationship with the crowd that makes everyone feel as though they are his close friends. Menert is a truly humble man that can perform with the best of them. Check out some dope tracks from the man:

Saturday March 9

Saturday proved to be a difficult day to get a move on… Friday night’s hangover never really subsided, and my crew didn’t make it into the venue until after 5:00pm (poor showing indeed). But I can’t really complain, mostly because it was my own damn fault.

Despite my late entrance, I still managed to catch portions of 7 different shows on Saturday. I saw the end of Run DMT. I caught a bit of Gigamesh, who I had heard some pretty flattering reviews about. Unfortunately, I thought Gigamesh started out hot but couldn’t keep the fire going. Much of the set was repetitive and seemed to lack a basic understanding of music theory. The crowd was pretty into it, though, so maybe I’m just being a douche. Either way, I bailed early.

Next, I caught Shlohmo, followed by Policia. I liked Policia A LOT. They reminded me a bit of Grupo Fantasma with the Latin vibes and big band feel. Check out this video:

Then I caught a bit of Portugal. The Man. at the Main Stage. Now, here’s where my heart breaks a little. I am a huge fan of Portugal. The Man. MJF has been reppin these guys for a while now, and I haven’t missed an album they’ve put out in years. I’m a big big big fan! Their studio albums, specifically Censored Colors and The Satanic Satanist, are some of my favorites. I have been waiting 2 years to see these guys live. I am incredibly disappointed to say that my expectations were not met. Perhaps they were too high to begin with, but Portugal’s set on Saturday left much to be desired. I will have to check them out again in a different setting. Like I said, it was cold out, and maybe the quality of their play was diminished by that fact. Sorry guys… After leaving Portugal, I ran back to the condo to grab a drink and another layer before making my way to the Main Stage for the headliner: Pretty Lights.

I don’t know how much I need to say about Pretty Lights… He is an internationally recognized DJ who sells out every venue he plays and gets paid $250k for a 2 hour event. I had high hopes coming in, especially since he is a CO native and would be performing near his hometown…

Holy amazeballs, Derek out-performed my wildest expectations! He was probably really fucked up on god-knows-what, but he held it together and I could only tell he was trashed when he paused the music to talk to the crowd. His beats and timing were on point, and as should be the case with a name like Pretty Lights, his light show was superb, and ended with a bang (literally, fireworks)! Check out some pics and video:

Sunday March 10

Sunday was quite the day. My group smartened up after last year, but most everyone else failed to book their condo or hotel for a third night. As thousands of people got kicked out of spots by 10am, the venue filled up early with a raucous crowd filing in by 2pm to rage away the final hours of Snowball 2013. My group managed to get VIP all day Sunday. Don’t ask how, I will never reveal my sources! But Sunday was a day full of good tunes, sunny weather, and swag on high. Sunday also happened to showcase some of the best performances of the weekend, with sets from Michal Menert, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Flosstradamus, Grizmatik, Flying Lotus, Crizzly w/ Lil Flip, and perennial powerhouse of the stage, STS9.

We started off at Michal Menert, who I had the privilege of meeting at the after party on Friday. Like I mentioned earlier, Michal is an incredibly talented artist under the Pretty Lights Music label. The fact that his show was slated at 2:30pm is an insult to his talent and hard work, and yet Michal still put on a killer show and remained humble throughout. He even spit a sick freestyle that I wish I had caught on video.

After wandering around for a bit, my group meandered over to VIP for Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I’ve seen RRFB a handful of times, and the band never fails to disappoint. I was also able to see a minute of Crizzly w/ Lil Flip. This duo combines an array of influences and a diverse musical background, built on a foundation of instrumental hip hop. Their music incorporates sampling, a tight low-end and catchy synth lines, with a strong beat always at the cornerstone.

But the surprise show of Sunday was Grizmatik (a lethal combination of Griz and Gramatik). Individually, the artists are fire, but I had never seen the duo together. Their sound meshed seamlessly and would easily have been the best show of the day if Sound Tribe weren’t playing. As it stands, I can’t even tell you who was better!

Grizmatik on Sunday

STS9 on Sunday

This is far too long already, so I’ll wrap up. The rest of Sunday was just as eventful. The crowd didn’t seem to die down at all in numbers or in liveliness, despite the inevitable toll that a weekend festival full of recreational drug abuse and binge drinking are prone to hosting. MJF ended up at yet another after-party, this one showcasing Griz, a Colorado DJ, and then this reporter crashed fucking hard for a much needed 20-hour sleep!

Get the word out, people. Snowball is here to stay. It’s a phenomenal festival, and is truly one-of-a-kind. Make your plans in advance. This is one winter party that should not be missed.