Photo: Erin Simmons via Sonic Bloom Facebook
One of the longest running independent music festivals of its kind, Sonic Bloom was again held at Hummingbird Ranch in Rye Colorado from June 16th–19th, 2022. Sonic Bloom hosted numerous potent performances from a smattering of musicians, producers, DJs, VJs, painters, poets, dancers, and educators throughout an ever-chaotic but ultimately rewarding weekend.
The festival was highlighted by several monumental musical exhibitions from a diverse collection of artists that split the difference between electronic and live band. Some of the more exhilarating sets included Lettuce, Tipper, Cualli, VEIL, A Hundred Drums, lespecial, Lab Group, Of the Trees, MZG, Kyral & Banko, Moontricks, Michal Menert, Dela Moon, Shuj Roswell Live, Zilla, Ghost-Note, and NoTLo, among others.
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Sonic Bloom strives to create a sacred, safe, and inspired space for the festival denizens to connect and evolve, congregating as one Unified Field, as envisioned by the event’s founder, musician Jamie Janover.
Once a street musician busking about the country, and a veteran of numerous Burning Man gatherings over the past two decades, Janover is an ambitious proponent of Unified Field Theory. Sometimes called the Theory of Everything, this is a long-studied topic that attempts to tie together all known phenomena, wishing to explain the nature and behavior of all matter and energy in existence.
Conceptually-speaking, “Sonic Bloom” is a patented horticulture system that was developed by an agro-sonic researcher named Dan Carlson. It uses specific sound wave frequencies mixed with music and foliar spraying to emulate nature’s frequency vibrations. This system is intended to accelerate plant, tree, fruit, and vegetable growth exponentially.
One can draw a philosophical connection between Janover’s vision and Carlson’s system, and how those ideas inform what we experience as Sonic Bloom, the music and arts festival.
Dating back to Sonic Bloom’s nascent 2006 incarnation at the famed Mishawaka Amphitheatre, this electronic/psychedelic/transformational music festival has evolved considerably in scope, breadth of performers, attendance, lineup offerings, educational/elevational workshops, and collective celebration over the years.
Due to the global pandemic, Sonic Bloom had not taken place since 2019. As far as my personal tastes are concerned, with the previously-announced 2020 music lineup, talent buyer Scott Morrill (Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom) had curated one of the finest festival lineups I’d ever laid eyes on. Though there were some major changes to what was presented in 2022, the schedule still maintained a majority of the intrigue that first drew me in, before the big pause for the cause put the brakes on things everywhere.
2022’s iteration of this beloved, pioneering annual gathering would rank among its most challenging, with gale-force winds and sporadic thunderstorms juxtaposed with a seeming unpreparedness on the festival’s behalf with regard to infrastructure and organization.
Yet in spite of some chaos and a seat-of-pants type of flow, Sonic Bloom 2022 still provided an empowering experience to most who attended, so long as they could adapt on the fly and stay centered in the moment.
I traveled from the Bay Area to Sonic Bloom by myself, returning to the fest for the first time since 2014, when it was held in Georgetown, Colorado. I flew to Denver, borrowed a car from a benevolent friend, a tent, chair, and cooler from another, and set off on my first solo fest mission in many moons.
Good thing I am somewhat resourceful and a cagey festy veteran, because my wily survival skills and intestinal fortitude would be tested in ways not felt since legendary ratchet ragers of yesteryear like Symbiosis or Oregon Eclipse.
For the past six Sonic Bloom festivals, they’ve partnered with the Permaculture Action Network for a series of Permaculture Action Days, held as the festival traditionally gets underway on a Thursday. Permaculture Action Days are one-day events in which the network mobilizes people from a music festival to a day of direct action, creating regenerative systems and building/rehabilitating common spaces on or near the land/community impacted by the festival or event.
This year’s Permaculture Action Day took place at Aztlan Cultural Center, on the other side of the mountain from the Hummingbird Ranch. Sonic Bloom’s neighbor is an indigenous cultural center, site of weekly free ceremonies and the Sun Dance. Aztlan is Apache and Aztec, indigenous held land, and welcomes all people to its ceremony.
Led by Ryan Rising and Erin Anderson, the Permaculture Action Day volunteers did creek restoration work, felled dead trees, and prepared wood for ceremony and sweat lodges. They rebuilt a ceremonial arbor for Sun Dance, sprayed compost tea on gardens, built compost systems with food scraps from the festival’s commissary, and inoculated it with oyster mushrooms.
By nightfall on Thursday, it was time to dance. But first we’d have to get inside the event, and then get ourselves settled. Per usual, easier said than done, with some of us a bit out of practice, particularly—and admittedly—the festival itself.
My lived experience for Sonic Bloom 2022 was a whirlwind carnival of music and visual and performance art of all kinds. I saw a binding, bright, and passionate community that enjoyed some good-natured debauchery, though not without some troubling depravity, par for the course in this corner of the festival scene.
In the tailwind of the cancellation of nearby Arise festival, which was also held in Colorado, Sonic Bloom experienced a surge in ticket sales and new faces, but didn’t appear quite so prepared to handle the onslaught of people that showed up.
The beginning of the event could be described as a bit of a clusterf*ck, with disorganized traffic lines, several hours of entry backups, wifi issues, and lane disputes between festival goers trying to get in. Vendors had issues taking payment via RFID bracelets or weak wifi throughout the festival, making for long queues and much frustration. There were issues with the number of bathrooms, servicing of porta-potties, lack of water stations and showers available to fans.
The newly-introduced Relic app was responsible for your ticket, and proved problematic in the run up to the event. Once you arrived, the Relic app was supposed to be the source of the festival schedules and various other onsite applications. Problem is, there was little-to-no wifi onsite for it to operate, so the big switch from Eventbrite to this Amsterdam-based crypto company application was pretty much all for naught.
Apparently, according to Janover there was an NFT created from our digital ticket stub, but I’m not sure that matters to most people quite as much as toilets, showers, food, and commerce. One can only hope that the post-event meeting of the minds starts thinking less about the metaverse, and places a priority back on Be Here Now. Most people I spoke with who were frustrated about the infrastructural shortcomings and lack of preparation would prefer the festival to focus on functioning properly with basic promised amenities. Far less were concerned with whether or not their tokens would be funged once they returned to the default world.
Then there was the wind. And the dust. Individually, they were tough. In tandem, they made for a terrible two-fer—downright oppressive. Sonic Bloom? Sonic Doom. Sonic Dune. Eventually, even Sonic Monsoon.
But once folks finally worked their way through these snafus, people swiftly got acquainted with the reality of their surroundings. On Thursday evening when the festival began in earnest, the vibes lifted off proper and remained pretty damn high for the majority of Sonic Bloom, in spite of the numerous challenges we faced early and often.
When the goin’ got tough, the tough got weird. And then we stayed weird for the next four enrapturing days and disco nights.
Situated by a breathtaking mountain range that gazes into the great-wide open, the people of Sonic Bloom battled dangerous high winds and rain to dive headfirst into an eclectic melange of electric and organic musical styles across several elaborate stages fitted with top-flight Funktion1 sound.
Sonic Bloom’s talent featured some of the finest in West Coast electronic music, global giants, newer faces, and funky bands added into the mix. All the performers were warmly welcomed by the unwaveringly supportive and always rambunctious Colorado music community, plus those of us who trekked to town from out of state, like your humble narrator.
The massive Bloom Stage hosted the bold font names on the digital marquee. Performing after Yheti, the first night’s musical program was highlighted by an ethereal closing set from Of the Trees. A rising star of meditative, experimental downtempo bass with whispering melodies, he’s developed quite a strong fanbase over the past few years, and they turned out en masse. A glowing blood red moon rose symmetrically above the Bloom Stage logo atop the massive structural frame, illuminating the entire environment with a crimson glare that only added to the percolating soundwaves.
Deep into Thursday night, or technically Friday morning, MZG commandeered the Yoga D’om and turned the party out with panache, digging into their ever-swelling sack of turnt-up tricks. The terrific twins, who claim Denver by way of Jacksonville, FL, donned moonshades and wore big smiles, dropping bombastic trap bangers, a dab of dubstep, and some hip-hop remixes, all of it swimming in bubbling positive energy and their innate musicality, delivering one of the strongest sets of the weekend.
There was a wide variety of educational/nutritional workshops offered during the daytime, from yoga to permaculture and myriad topics between. One could certainly feed their mind and soul by way of Sound Journey Meditations, Tibetan Circle Dance, Emotional Intelligence & Move Med, Storytelling through Movement, Conscious Cats and Dogs, Cervix Galactivation, Wisdom Medicine for Hard Times, Painting Dimensional Portals, and the list went on.
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Friday afternoon saw a swollen mass swarm the once-intimate Hummingbird Stage to represent for the electro-soul movement born here in Colorado. Shuj Roswell Live dropped a midday heater complete with a horn section and funkalicious grooves. A couple of hours later, Superbest was in full-effect when the pioneering Michal Menert took to the decks, blessing up the adoring throngs with classics on classics on classics, peaking with a luminous “Feelin’ Better” that tugged on the heartstrings, as did a set closing “Samso”.
Friday afternoon on the Bloom Stage, I was particularly impressed with the cinematic bass stylings of Khiva, who set it off first with sweet selections that worked in sultry live vocals to her radiant mix. Equally dope was A Hundred Drums’ sunset ride on the Meadow Stage. The latest winner of Excision’s Bass Initiative, A Hundred Drums mixed dubstep, drum and bass, indiginous percussion, elements of hip-hop, and even psy-bass to reveal a thunderous set of dub dynamics.
Robert “Sput” Searight and MonoNeon led the unbelievably funky Ghost-Note through a torrid performance early Friday evening, keeping people’s feet movin’ and asses shakin’ to the hard-driving grooves. The all-star ensemble set the proverbial table for their dear friends and collaborators Lettuce, who like Ghost-Note were making their Sonic Bloom debut in 2022.
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Future-funk cosmonauts Lettuce are really no strangers to the region. The livest of squads onsite came off the top rope from jumpstreet with a diabolical version of their Dilla-fied banger “Purple Cabbage”, the first time they’d ever opened a show with the monster composition found on 2019’s Elevate LP. The sextet sounded absolutely phenomenal on the Bloom Stage’s Funktion1 rig, the titanic bass tones of Jesus Coomes and tectonic drums of Adam Deitch reverberating through the unified field and into the stars. A bubonic combo of “Trapezoid” > “Vamanos” unleashed cacophonic trap thunderclaps into the ether, partnering with sweeping Herculean wind gusts and the gloomy, foreboding night sky to take Bloomers on a psychedelic journey dripping in low-end theory. A final superjam welcomed all of Ghost-Note back onstage for a riotous rage thru “Royal Highness”.
An unfortunate scheduling conflict pitted white-hot headliner Lab Group on the Bloom Stage versus Colorado favorite Cualli on the Hummingbird Stage. I decided to go King Solomon with it and split up the performances so I could soak in a little bit of both.
Cualli is among the most musical electronic producers I’ve ever encountered, a sorcerer who never fails to swoop people on an emotive, kaleidoscopic journey. Ably assisted by Laia Visuals, Aaron Holsapple channeled the alchemetric essence of the natural outdoor environs, unspooling his trademark elastic-bass jungle safari to a modest but totally engaged assembly who reveled in the soundscapes. When my neighbors came home as the sun began to rise, all I could hear through my tent was how Cualli the wizard had stolen their souls.
Beloved electronic producer CharlestheFirst was booked to headline Sonic Bloom in 2020, but the gifted young man tragically passed away last December, leveling the bass music community around the country. Even though he came of age in NorCal’s Sierra Nevadas, he was maybe most celebrated by the Denver bass scene; as such his memorial concert was held at the Mission Ballroom. Charles’s spirit and ghost loomed large at this year’s festival, from his name emblazoned on Black Carl’s shirt onstage, to his music, voice, and energy ringing out into the night.
This was maybe most evident during Lab Group’s Friday night-closing set at the Bloom Stage, which drew an enormous crowd. The future-bass supergroup was the brainchild of the late Charles Ingalls, connecting with Supertask and Potions to create a crystallized sonic alchemy that resonated with hordes of fans. Two-thirds of Lab Group, partnering with Infinight Visuals, would step onto the stage and into the moment, taking the kids to class with them. Lab Group worked their way through tracks from individual and collective efforts, mining subsonic basstones and riddims that rumbled into the mountains and up towards Charles in the sky.
Late night on Friday, Wakaan duo Kyral & Banko took over the Yoga D’om. The maestros of “snoitch” delivered a raucous romp through the annals of dubstep, experimental bass, promethazine trap, and beyond, highlighted by a pulverizing edit of Dr. Dre and Eminem’s “Forgot About Dre”. Immediately following, we crossed the path over to the Hummingbird for a Yheti DJ set for the ages.
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Stretching out past four in the morning, the quirky producer eschewed his own material to drop more of a sonic gumbo, incorporating edits that touched Notorious BIG’s “Hypnotize”, Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (flipped against a lonely dog barking), Mark Morrison’s new jack swing classic “Return of the Mack”, and Aaliyah’s intergalactic “One in a Million”, among other typically-demented detours Yheti took deep into the night.
I’d like to take a moment and spotlight The Humming Bar, an elixir bar that serves craft spirits, facilitated by Jill TrAshley and The NOHM Collective out of Asheville, NC. With a grown n’ sexy watering hole aesthetic and uber knowledgeable staff, The NOHM places a focus on partying with plants—and a purpose. The Humming Bar was a classy hub to get a mocktail or a cocktail in style, or treat yourself to four different cacao options, herbal immunity shots, and a wide-ranging menu of creative beverage offerings.
Right next door was the casino circus of Frick Frack Blackjack, a self-styled “janky, gypsy, no cash” barter system doubling as an epic hang. As has grown to be custom at festivals of this kind, Frick Frack was the hot spot all weekend, packed to the gills with gamblers, freaks, and revelers till roughly five in the morning. I’m not much of a card shark, but I found Frick Frack to be a fantastic spot to see old friends, make new ones, and belly laugh my ass off til it was time for some shut-eye.
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This writer’s Saturday’s musical exploits began with the unclassifiable sounds of lespecial, a maniacal trio hailing from the Northeast. The group has the uncanny ability to morph into a dazzling array of styles, criss-crossing the genre superhighway from punishing prog-metal, to lysergic trip-hop, shoegaze indie rock, psychedelic electronic bass, to Primus’s seminal Frizzle Fry, and even some Phil Collins for good measure. The idiosyncratic band of ancient homies somehow managed to coax their pal Yheti to the stage for a freestyle during “Dreams”, this after covering one of his older songs, “A Little Goes A Long Way”, performed nearly to note perfection.
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Street Ritual boss-lady and experimental bass empress VEIL (fka SpacegeishA) took over the Meadow Stage during a treacherous wind storm as the harrowing clouds hovered above the mountains and the moon began to patiently rise. VEIL would drop banger after banger of dubstep, glitch, half-time, drum and bass, and a plethora of points between, navigating the topography with a certain swerve all her own. The Philly native and erstwhile tastemaker kept the people raving and misbehaving, touching on some latest tracks du jour, and debuting a new collaboration with Syrenn, “Bad Habits”.
On the Bloom Stage, Chali 2na and Cut Chemist were flipping bars over breakbeats and mining deep into the classic Jurassic 5 catalog, stopping for a moment of silence for the dearly departed Gift of Gab from alt-rap stalwarts Blackalicious. The baritone emcee and turntable assassin were a stoney side trip, a welcome oasis from the continual gluttonous servings of dubstep, future-bass, and psychedelic jams.
ZILLA, Jamie Janover’s long-running jamband collaboration with String Cheese Incident’s Michael Travis and VIBESQUAD’s Aaron Holstein, rocked the Hummingbird Stage for their annual sojourn, before ceding it to Space Bacon, who brought more jam vibes to the scene. Other live bands on the Hummingbird Stage included Dizgo, Giant Walking Robots, and Banshee Tree. There was even a guerilla barbershop setup on the scene. Holding court at the Hummingbird whilst giving geometric shape ups with scissors and clippers in a legit barber’s chair, these enterprising folks were hookin’ up fades as the bands and selectahs played on.
Later, Atlanta’s king of electro-soul and instrumental hip-hop, Daily Bread packed out the same space with his version of the classic Colorado sound, drawing maybe the largest crowd at the Hummingbird Stage all weekend. The Philos Records general took his adoring fans on a far-reaching stroll through his discography while I laid back in the cut, noddin’ my head while crumblin’ herb. Later, I found myself hanging out in the Yoga D’om, blissing out to the jungle sounds of the divine Dela Moon. Huxley Anne was next, bringing her own frenetic flavors and innovative digital soundwaves, keeping the festivities popping properly on the cutting edge of sound design. So did Seppa, followed by Resonant Language on the Bloom Stage, teeing things up for a terrific Tipper takeover.
It seemed like nearly the entirety Sonic Bloom came to a standstill when Tipper mounted the decks at 1 A.M. on Sunday morning. Food and merch vendors temporarily closed, staff left their posts, and organisms from other galaxies flew in from far and wide. All eyes were on one mortal man, whose two-plus decade perch atop the psychedelic bass music culture stands virtually unparalleled. Almost every last beating heart at Bloom found its way to the big stage under a luminescent moon for the undisputed main event.
With more insurgent winds whistlin’ round the mountains, Fractaled Visuals depicted a sunflower and a hummingbird on the screens above the DJ table, signaling a peaceful transition from Resonant Language. Shortly thereafter, a silhouette selectah emerged upon the decks. In a matter of moments, Dave Tipper showed up, showed out, and began doing Dave Tipper things.
With another alien workshop now in session, Tipper gave new meaning to the term “power hour.” The cat is basically Kelly Slater on toad venom, an ageless wonder and Zen master uncorking phantasmagorical journeys in textural sound design, reinventing each composition on the fly, with stabs, cuts, flips, and inversions that keep even the hardest core heads on their tippiest of toes.
Dave delivered bionic brute physicality that often gave way to brilliant, beautiful nuance, a definitive juxtaposition if there ever was. Yet all the while, Tipper kept it funky and left no doubt that space was indeed the place. For 60 minutes he wove a story, a narrative that knows no other language than the Tipper tongue. When people say this man is father to a thousand styles, they’re spittin’ straight facts. The Jimi Hendrix of psychedelic bass oscillates light years ahead of the pack at nearly twice their age. He’s a turntable gymnast, a surgical ninja, and a mystical voodoo magician. The throne remains his until whenever the hell he chooses to abdicate. In the meantime, it’s Dave Tipper’s world, and the rest of us are just breathing in second-hand deemster smoke.
As the night wore on into the weest of hours, I found myself again back at the Yoga D’om, this time for a Philly-based producer/musician Tiedye Ky. I’d recognized his name from some Lab Group affiliations, but wandered into the dome relatively unaware. I was on my way back to camp to rest my weary bones, but the sounds emanating from the space were too vibey for me to deny. Tiedye Ky appears to have carved his own lane in the game with a hybrid electronic elixir that incorporates folky acoustic guitar love songs, pop punk melody, and sturdy, assertive bass vehicles. The cat concocts something of a unicorn sound—one part Mr. Carmack, one part Timbaland, with a dash of Lil’ Peep—yet another original style hailing from back home in the City of Brotherly Love.
Sunday was a doozy. It would be when some—but not all—wheels would fall off of Sonic Bloom 2022. Early in the day, I was fortunate to enjoy a Reiki-infused meditative sound journey in the Alchemy Lounge and a lunch date with a Philly-based Jam Cruiser I’d not seen in some years. After extreme winds and sporadic rain storms throughout the weekend, a massive wind event and thunderstorm swooped through the Hummingbird Ranch and changed the face of the remainder of the fest within about an hour.
Duplex, MZG’s brand new house music project, was forced to quit playing in the VIP lounge as the wind picked up the pace and darkened skies began to grumble. Minutes later, they opened up with a fury.
EZ ups and tents began flying through the sky along with other lightweight inanimate objects not staked down or secured. Bloomers took cover in their tents, cars, in various vendor spaces or festival structures to effectively wait out the storm. Eventually, after a couple of hours, the weather abated, but sadly enough damage was done. In addition to the camp gear carnage, there would be no Bloom Stage performances on Sunday evening, effectively canceling the debut of Andreilien’s new project Iterate, as well as the night’s headliner, Detox Unit. Both of these bookings were big motivators in getting me out to Sonic Bloom, so I must acknowledge a tinge of disappointment, and I learned I was not alone.
In a bit of quick thinking came a small silver lining: Desert Dwellers would indeed be able to play, the festival’s last set at the Yoga D’om. These Bloom veterans were only main stage performer able to find themselves a new home in such short order. While people were certainly pissed how things panned out, I prefer to be grateful that even one set was somewhat salvaged. More than anything, these artists want to play for us, and the festival would like to facilitate that, however they can. I have no doubt that were they not hamstrung by both curfew and stage capacity, the festival would have rebooked even more Bloom Stage casualties well past midnight.
Even though a sizable portion of the festival had departed with—or right after—the storm, as soon as the coast was clear and the subwoofers started woofin’ again, I got back at it with a heavy-duty bass set from NoTLo on the Meadow Stage. After nightfall, a huge crowd congregated at the Hummingbird Stage, this time for the wildly-popular BC duo Moontricks. After some post-storm tech issues that threatened the performance, finally things got underway and soon people were swaying, sashaying, and moving to music once again.
Blending funky electronic beats with folky guitars, banjos, and heart-warming vocal harmonies straight from the Kootenay mountains, Moontricks has slid into a niche lane, straddling a couple of music scenes that they can call their own. Conveniently, Sonic Bloom does the basically same. This booking—and moment—was a match made in heaven. The dudes did not disappoint, delivering some of their most treasured tunes, plus new joints like “Embers” and “Forest of My Soul” alongside collaborations with Dirtwire (“The Edge”) and Gone Gone Beyond (“Coast”).
Crossed the dirt path one last time to see Ethno for the first time, and yet again, a Colorado-based beatsmith upped the proverbial ante with an electrifying set of original music. Ethno is the latest endeavor from Jeff Franca, drummer of Thievery Corporation and member of Congo Sanchez. Ethno employs various drum machines, samples, and electronic percussion for an intoxicating concoction that hit just right on this weathered Sunday night. Naturally, the globalized rhythms were deep and profound; the sounds were musical, textural, and undeniably danceable.
The Yoga D’om was absolutely teeming with humans when Desert Dwellers took the decks for what would be most people’s final set of Sonic Bloom 2022. Somehow, within the cramped confines we managed to make room for a concubine of belly dancers to sashay their way into the cipher and perform a truncated procession in front of Amani Friend and Trevor Moontribe while we collectively did our best to enjoy this final salvo with hearts full, eyes glazed, and most definitely heavily fatigued.
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My own Sonic Bloom solo mission was a lot of different things: beautiful, challenging, heart-filling, frustrating, euphoric, troubling, sometimes terrifying, and occasionally kinda gross, but ultimately a deeply rewarding experience.
For nearly a decade, I’d dreamt of Lettuce and Tipper co-headlining an event, cross-pollinating these two music communities. So when Jamie Janover (and Scott Morrill) finally built it, indeed I did come. The rest of the lineup card was as dynamic and diverse as one could hope for, a healthy mix of tradition and evolution. Caught a gang of longtime faves, and got hipped to some new heat too.
Usually, the most profound festival adventures require some sort of struggle along the way. This one was no different, as crowd volume, lack of infrastructure, and the intensity of high winds and rain made for some formidable festival snafu situations. Some were entirely preventable, others completely beyond anyone’s control, and a couple were unfortunately insurmountable.
Nonetheless, I recognize the courageous and laborious efforts of Sonic Bloom organizers, staff, and volunteers to make the most inspiring and enjoyable festival experience they possibly could. No doubt, we should all commend them for their exemplary efforts, and let them know how they can improve their operations moving onward and upward. This is a special event, truly a unicorn of sorts; I bet that Sonic Bloom can circle the mechanical wagons in the wake of 2022’s challenges, rise up to the next level in 2023 and for many more years to come.
Thank you Sonic Bloom.