Brace yourself for a whole lot of FOMO: True to it’s namesake, the first annual(?) Vertex Festival epitomized the term’s definition of “a coming together” by melding a unique community of people with music and camping – a true celebration of all the things we love most about summer. Hosted at the Meadows Farm located within the awe-inspiring Arkansas River Valley, the Vertex website shares the story of former professional kayaker and developer Jed Selby, who bought the 274-acre Cottonwood Meadows Ranch in foreclosure in 2014 with aspirations of developing an annual festival in the open meadow. With major names like Madison House Presents and AEG Live Rocky Mountains on board as co-producers, that dream became a reality this past weekend.
After a stunning 3hr drive southwest from the metro Denver area, we were warmly welcomed by the striking panoramic views of Buena Vista. Although car searches for glass, knives, explosives, and Indian headdresses (luckily we left ours at home) did cause a little bit of a wait, it was nothing absurd, and we were the very first ones in line to enter the festival grounds on Friday morning. Finding our campsite was easy, and the lot sizes gave us plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the scenery.
There were plenty of bathrooms, water stations, showers, and a general store inside the campground that provided all the comforts of home. The festival even had a fully equipped beach known as the BeeVee Beach Club. It had chairs and umbrellas to sun-bathe in, funky on-duty life guards, and hosted a “beach party” every day from 11am-4pm.
Once we got settled and celebrated our arrival with a few libations, it was time to explore the festival grounds. We quickly spotted a favorite local vendor, Shakedown Street, was selling everything from Disco Biscuits dog tags to “Dope on a Rope” Soap amongst others selling their wares within the festival. We grabbed some fried avocado and pork nachos from Nacho Tacos and headed inside.
Immediately inside the gate was the “Creekside Bazaar,” which was bizarre indeed. There was a balloon house, chill zones, and cool little art installations including gnome homes and little keep sakes to take with you throughout the festival weekend. The smaller side stage, La Hacienda, was housed here and provided repose from the heavy bass and large crowds that were to come. To reach the two main stages, Cottonwood Parlor and Princeton Garden, we crossed “over the river and through the woods” to Long Meadow. In the middle of the meadow sat a giant shade tent that was serving local brews from Colorado’s own Oskar Blues amidst the scenic views and soaring tunes.
Perhaps our favorite part of this setting was “Robot Resurrection.” Created by artist Shane Evans, it was a 28ft tall, human-controlled, fire-shooting sculpture made from 95% airplane parts. Robot Resurrection symbolized what humans have become: lifeless metal robots. The artist’s hope was that the installation would inspire reflection upon oneself and be a reminder of the power we hold. Artist Evans statement about the piece was “we need to be reborn to resurrect and create our own system.” A very appropriate for all that Vertex is aiming to represent with their dynamic new take on festival scene.
Rather than boring you with a vague or overly extensive review of all the performances from Vertex, we’ve chosen to highlight our top 6 sets from the weekend. The festival’s lineup was as eclectic and diverse as the fans in attendance, something that we greatly appreciated. While smaller sets from artists like local Jaden Carlson, Houndmouth, Trout Steak Revival, and Ultra5280 friend Robert Delong were certainly impressive, these top 6 (in no particular order) still take the cake.
Top Performances from Vertex Festival 2016
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
Anderson .Paak has been taking over the music scene by force! His latest album Malibu was released in January and shortly afterwards he was signed to Dr. Dre’s record label, Aftermath Entertainment. He was also featured not once, not twice, but eight times on Dr. Dre’s critically acclaimed album Compton. The Paak-man took us away on a journey with straight-from-the-street intellectual poetry then pounded his way through our souls courtesy of his skills behind the drumkit.
Brittany Howard is one of those people who radiates passion as soon as she steps on stage. Her songs include stories of love, struggle, wonder and bliss paired with her soulful guitar riffs that shake your bones to the core. The groups latest album, Sound In Color, is an album we feel will surely will go down in history. When Howard gets to singing “Give Me All Your Love," you really feel the hunger and desires in the lyrics.
As the only Funk band gracing the Vertex lineup, we had to include Lettuce. We’ve loved this band for a few years now, and for good reason: their sound mixes the essence of funk with psychedelic, bass heavy hip-hop thats sure to get your hips moving. Their stage posse during the festival included Nigel Hall, adding keyboards southern funky vocals to the mix as they played crowd favorites like “Phyllis” and “Do It Like You do”.
Electronic music duo Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight sure have come a long way since we last saw them at SXSW in 2014. Two years ago they had fold out tables with black linens, and a minimal, lacking production when they crushed the IFC stage following Robert Delong. These days its a completely different story! They straight up stole the show with their elevated live beat performance paired with members of the Colorado Symphony and the University of Colorado Drumline energetically bouncing around on stage during songs like “Say My Name” and “IPlayYouListen."
Trey Anastasio Band
Phish frontman Trey Anastasio brought out his band for two unforgettable sets on the last night of the festival. A highlight was father-daughter duo Jeff and Natalie Cressman's performance. Jeff, a longstanding member of Santana’s horn section, alongside daughter Natalie, dominated a cover of Ana Tijoux’s “1977” known best from the TV series Breaking Bad. Cyro Baptista kept the beat via washboard as multitalented Jen Hartswick’s powerful voice echoed throughout the meadow during “Clint Eastwood” and “Dazed and Confused”.
The Show-Stopper: The Claypool Lennon Delirium
This duo put on a mind-bending performance. If Primus hadn’t gone on hiatus in 2016, or if Oysterhead had toured we may have never seen these two dynamic artists come together. This set was easily our favorite of the entire festival. After Lennon's band, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger opened up for Primus, Claypool approached Lennon about doing a recording project and “next thing I know, he’s staying in my guesthouse, drinking my vino and banging on my drums." Their ‘shroom and wine fueled time together produced the new psychedelic space-rock album Monolith of Phobos. Sean’s melodic/heavy mind-expanding style and Les’ distinctive punk-progressive/hard hitting funky bass is certainly a peculiar and other worldly collaboration; we love it. Our favorite songs from the set were “Cricket and the Genie”, “Mr. Wright”, and an absolutely magnificent cover of “In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson. These two have a celestial existence on stage that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. We even spotted Trey Anastasio watching respectfully side stage.
We feel that Vertex was a huge success considering this was their first go here in the Rockies. They may not have received the turn out they were hoping for, but we're certain we're not the only ones raving after our weekend on Cottonwood Meadows Ranch. We've seen some amazing festivals come and go over the years here in Colorado, but we genuinely hope to see Vertex continue to generate the organic growth they’re looking for to keep this unique festival alive. We see big things in Vertex’s future, and we're beyond thankful to have been a part of (hopefully) many more festivals to come in the beautiful meadows of Buena Vista. Cheers, Vertex! We cannot wait for next year!