Spotlight | The Redemption of Levitation Austin 2016

Review: Elyse Mathes

Review: Elyse Mathes

Some people have the audacity to laugh at the power of human energy. “Oh, good vibes?” they say, “Sure, let’s all smile in a room together and feel each other’s positive vibrations.” Those people (haters) may have a small point, but it’s unlikely they have been in the heart of Austin the day before Levitation Music Festival only to find out it has been cancelled. I’ve been there, and let me tell you, when nearly six thousand people end up in the same city with similar intentions and nothing to do, there is a buzz of energy in the air.

Levitation Austin was cancelled less than 24 hours before the festival due to severe weather conditions. How does a music festival recover on such short notice? Is it even possible?

My answer is yes, the festival lived on in the heart of Austin. There were obvious disappointments following the bad news, mostly pertaining to acts that would no longer be performing like Nicolas Jaar (whom I would commit endless acts of criminal brutality to see perform), Ty Segall, Melody’s Echo Chamber, to name a few. There is also the panic associated with having to now sort out your living situation for the next three days (but the relief that you at least have a tent and sleeping bag - and alcohol) and the insanity that culminates when thousands of festivalgoers realize they have to buy tickets for independent shows throughout Austin.

But enough complaining! What makes a cancelled festival a success? For me, it’s the small things. There is no beauty quite as rare as the cult-like family acquired by day four. I need shit stories and a constantly rotating cigarette while enjoying music collectively with new found friends. But what about the people who are affected the most: the musicians? How do they fare when a festival falls through? The lead singer and guitarist from Magic Wands, Dexy Valentine, saw the festival’s falling through as a blessing in disguise: “All these musicians and festival planners rallied together and gave bands like Magic Wands the opportunity to play three shows instead of one.” Other bands like Cellar Doors and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard also had the opportunity to play multiple shows over the weekend.

Photo: Elyse Mathes | Dexy Valentine from Magic Wands performing on Barracuda’s indoor stage

Photo: Elyse Mathes | Dexy Valentine from Magic Wands performing on Barracuda’s indoor stage

Spencer Stephenson, who works under the moniker Botany, had a positive response when I asked him if the festival redeemed itself: “Absolutely. It was supposed to be - to me - the best line up of any festival I’ve ever heard of, and even though it didn’t happen, those bands were still in town and these people (Levitation organizers) were still responsible for having brought all of these disparate bands to one place so props to them.” I mean, if the festival had persisted, would I have been able to add a hand written song request to Botany’s set list and have him play it? Who knows! But let’s just say probably not, no way.

Photo: Elyse Mathes | Botany performing at Mohawk following Caribou’s set Sunday evening

Photo: Elyse Mathes Botany performing at Mohawk following Caribou’s set Sunday evening

I can’t speak for everyone, but the redeeming performances over the weekend for me were such:

Caribou. I have never been a part of a more engaged audience. There is an unquestionable professionalism about Caribou that reads as perfection on the stage. At the end of their set, the audience was crying ‘encore’ like a drug torn DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries (you know the scene where he’s outside his mother’s door). Another force to reckon with over the weekend was Australian band The Murlocs, who threw down an unreal psych-rock show which included crowd surfers and a perfectly sweaty mosh pit. The Allah-Las hit the hammer on the nail with their outdoor set – fully encapsulating their dreamy beach-pysch sound as fans watched from the rooftops of cars and sleeping construction equipment.

Photo: Elyse Mathes

Photo: Elyse Mathes

Crowd at Baracuda during Murloc's outdoor set

Crowd at Baracuda during Murloc's outdoor set

The final redeeming factor for Levitation was the atmosphere. I like cities. I like slicking. Me and my gaggle of weirdos had no problem transforming into urban pirates over the weekend in search of good shows. Locals had the heart to host events in their own homes, turning their garages and backyards into stages. Other shows were held on acreage’s in the corners of the city where noise was not an issue. Barracuda and Empire, amongst other bars,  hosted amazing indoor and outdoor shows all weekend long.

Photo: Elyse Mathes | Sean Fitzsimmons from Cellar Doors performing otuside at Barracuda.

Photo: Elyse Mathes | Sean Fitzsimmons from Cellar Doors performing otuside at Barracuda.

For my companions and I, the weekend was a huge success, but the next question is, does a cancelled Levitation Austin outdo Levitation Vancouver next month? To be continued…