I am in the parking lot of the Langerado Music Festival with my younger brother, and my back is killing me. The festival hasn’t even begun and I’m already complaining like a senior citizen waiting by his mailbox for a social security check. Why? Because a few weeks back my brother was evicted from his apartment which in turn placed me on a half-inflated air mattress in his girlfriend’s dormitory closet.
I wanted to treat my brother to his first concert festival as a 20th birthday gift. I figured Langerado would be perfect for both of us—he’s an avid guitar player fond of some of the jam bands on the bill, and I’m an indie enthusiast. Right now though, I’m more concerned with treating a sore sciatica than seeing the bands. For the first time in all my years I have to ask myself: am I getting too old for this shit?
The fourth annual Langerado is small compared to other U.S. festivals, with just a few dozen acts on the bill and only 12,000 tickets sold each day. There’s a nice balance of genres, and plenty of vices to keep a smile permanently plastered on everyone’s face. Of course, unmarked police cars do roam the parking lot, causing the pharmaceutical merchants to be more reticent than usual.
I’m in a hurry: I have a phone interview scheduled with headliner Ben Harper. When I get him on the horn, we can barely hear one another because of the sound coming from a nearby stage. He asks me to call him after his set that evening to schedule an in-person sitdown. Perfect. On my way back through the media area I find a press conference in progress and spot Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. I position myself accordingly to compliment the new album and ask him if all his animals had been cast for the evening. He tilts his head to the side and purses his lips before replying he is unsure and instructs me to find him a few minutes before their set. It’s already a great day, and I haven’t heard one note of music.
The first band we catch is the Drive-By Truckers. A few of my friends from the Northeast are rabid fans of this southern outfit, but as soon as the band kicks into their first number, it becomes clear that nobody appreciates the Truckers as much as those with zip codes below the Mason-Dixon line. These people are getting down: Marlboros hanging from their lips, they sing along like the songs are a series of familiar nursery rhymes being read aloud. Lead singer Patterson Hood and guitarist Jason Isobell stand side by side and do their best to blow out their amps—they seem to be having as much fun as their fans. The band has a gift for blasting out Skynyrd-infused Southern rock, but also draws lovers by playing tender ballads of unemployment and unrequited affection.
Strolling into the comfy shade of the Swamp Tent, we take a seat towards the back of the area and light a joint as RJD2 plays with his mixers and computers. I am somewhat familiar with his catalogue and pleased by his one-man show. He breaks from his set in a moment of sincerity to say, “I don’t have a college degree so if it weren’t for you guys, I would be flipping burgers. So thank you for supporting me and my fellow musicians.”
There isn’t anything we’re itching to see—not until the Lips set a couple hours later—so we take a stroll through the vendor area. There are plenty of reasonably priced crafts for sale. I see a few tables selling quality glass pieces—Michael’s friend takes advantage.
The food. The food at this festival may have been more meticulously planned than the lineup. It’s a stoner’s delight, offering everything from cotton candy to foot-long corn dogs. My favorite culinary delight of the weekend is found in the wrap tent. For $10, every malnutrioned hacky-sack player in the Southeast could be fed from one of these 14-inch wraps filled with veggies, spreads and meats. I lose track of time and hurry over to the Sunset Stage hoping to find Mr. Coyne before he fills all of his bunny suits. As I make my way through security I see a roadie passing out badges to smiling fans - it breaks my heart because I realize that the Lips already have their zoo.
Coyne takes his time, making sure everything is just right. Fans scream his name each time he returns to the stage to examine pedals and mics. “When is the movie coming out?” screams a fan, referring to the long delayed and heavily anticipated Christmas on Mars. “Soon!” Coyne yells back, and I hear him chuckle. When everything seems in order, the rest of the band comes on stage with 20 or so fans dressed as zebras, tigers, and, of course, bunnies. Drummer Steve Drozd is dressed like an astronaut, and bassist Michael Ivins wears a skeleton suit. It’s a Halloween costume party, and somebody just slipped some acid into the punch.
“If anyone asks, tell them that I fell from space in this big bubble,” instructs Coyne as he climbs into a massive inflatable ball that is being pumped with air. He gives the countdown before his pet shop rolls him onto the outstretched hands of his fans. He spins around like a hamster with vertigo before being guided back to the stage. The show can now begin.
Watching the Flaming Lips live is like finally getting that birthday party you begged for as a kid. There are dancing animals. There are countless balloons. There are Nerf-like contraptions that explode confetti with a thunderous kapow! And of course there is great music. I am excited to hear the stellar “Free Radicals” from the upcoming At War With the Mystics, but the crowd gets most involved when the guys cover Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. A phenomenal set.
Ben Harper’s set lacks the intimacy of a small venue, but he does makes due with what he has. He plays an intense cut called “Black Rain” that addresses the Hurricane Katrina disaster and points a finger at the inept authorities of the relief effort. When “Burn One Down” starts up, I hear a symphony of lighters spark to life. We are completely incapacitated and shuffle to get water while Harper whispers through an emotional rendition of “Walk Away.” I am partially relieved when I find Harper’s manager’s phone turned off—I’m fried and would only embarrass myself if forced to conduct an interview.
Heading to the car we find a parking lot full of running vehicles and only one exit point. I predict a three-hour wait, so we pass time supporting the entrepreneurs. We meet a man named Spencer as he strolls up to us in a polo shirt adorned with bass, fishhooks in their mouths. He looks like he is in his late 30s and still very fond of his fraternity days. His warbled speech is a cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Farmer Fran from The Waterboy. He takes a liking to us and comes over with a handful of balloons, suggesting alternate huffing methods to “expand the capillaries.” After a half hour he leaves us with enough withered balloons on the ground to supply a circus, and our ears ringing with those distorted noises Michael and I dub “The Matrix”. We awake three hours later when a security guard taps on the car window and tells us to head home.
Check Back tomorrow for all the dirt on Day two of the Langerado Music Festival