As I sit pondering this article, torrential rain and tornado winds rip over my dilapidated tent. Fire ants are crawling everywhere, and cow patties litter the camp sites set up for soaked patrons.
This was the setting for the Langerado Music Festival, which ran from March 6-9, and I didn’t care one bit.
Set in the sweltering Alligator Alley Everglades of Big Cypress Indian Reservation in Fla., 50 miles from any form of civilization, some 60,000 people piled into cars to camp and see a truly spectacular lineup of new and old music. The bill included phenomenal performances by R.E.M., the Beastie Boys, 311, Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead, Ben Folds and Matisyahu, just to name a few.
Langerado had some massive superstars as headliners, but R.E.M.’s act was without a doubt one of the highlights of the show. A native Athens band, R.E.M. has been rocking fans since the group’s debut album, Murmur, way back in 1983. Yet the band’s age was just a number as Michael Stipe, donning an Obama ’08 tee and white suit, walked out to eager masses. Playing brilliant renditions of such beloved classics as “Bad Day,” “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and “Man on the Moon,” R.E.M. also dabbled into new songs from their latest album, Accelerate, to be released this April.
Political expression was in full tilt at Langerado. State Radio, whose lead vocalist and guitarist Charlie Stokes was formerly with Dispatch, displayed some political angst in such vibrantly powerful songs as the reggae rock tune “CIA” and its soulful counterpart, “Sudan.” Both served as expressions of how the patrons currently feel about the nation.
When day turned to night and the Beastie Boys mounted the stage, it was a different story. With Mix Master Mike, Mike “Mike D” Diamond, “MCA” Yauch and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz returning as the boys from Brooklyn, their iconic blend of hip hop and alternative rap whirled everyone into a head-bopping frenzy. “Body Movin’,” “Ch-Check It Out” and “Pass the Mike” pumped adrenaline through the crowd, which went into a full-out dance party when they played an encore featuring a stellar “Intergalactic” and a bodacious “Sabotage.”
Held in contrast to Langerado was my only other previous experience at a music festival, which was at the Echo Music Festival in Atlanta in fall of last year.
The comparison between these two mega-music festivals is like car shopping. Langerado Music Festival, with this being its sixth year in existence, has as much horsepower as a robust and powerful Dodge Hemi. Echo Music Festival, just an infant on the scene, is an eco-friendly, progressive but severely underpowered green Toyota Prius.
Both festivals had huge headliner bands: Langerado had incendiary shows by Beastie Boys, 311, R.E.M.; Echo produced prodigious performances by The Killers and The Flaming Lips. Yet the striking similarities in their lineups might be a telltale sign that Echo has the stamina to survive in the frenzied festival world.
No fewer than 13 bands played both locations: Umphrey’s McGee hammered out a jamming three-hour set; Perpetual Groove channeled the hippie crowd’s mojo; Les Claypool dramatized his slapping bass with a monkey mask; and the Disco Biscuits rolled through an epic midnight set at both festivals. At both locations, night was just another part of the day for the driven crowds.
Nevertheless, it is at this point where Echo’s engine stalls abysmally.
Logistically, Langerado Music Festival was both better organized and equipped for all kinds of problems associated with grungy, dirty, smelly camping at festivals. If you had a bad sunburn or reptile bite, you could visit the convenient medical tent. If you were out of deodorant or were in desperate need for a pair of sunglasses after breaking yours head-banging to 311, you’d shop at the well stocked grocery tent. To deal with the sweltering heat, the Langerado personnel provided purified drinking water in enormous tanker-sized rigs.
Echo had none of these luxuries, which is a testament to experience on the part of Langerado and, again, the greenness of Echo’s staff planning. Even though Echo had a myriad of sponsors and vendors selling products ranging from Bob Marley apparel to delicious pork falafels, these necessary luxuries should be provided for the patrons.
On the other hand, what Echo stood for was something that will be paramount in the future, not just for music but for the environment.
This is also something that both festivals share.
The intention of the Echo Project Music Festival was to inform and promote ecologically friendly advice and knowledge about the human footprint that is destroying the environment. Sweetwater Brewing Company, a native brewer from Atlanta, sponsored Take Me To The River, a nonprofit organization whose booth at the festival focused on the preservation of our beloved Chattahoochee River.
In parallel, Langerado diligently promoted what is best for the preservation of the environment through the Greenerado tent, where activists and artists could congregate and exchange information.
With this commonality comes a wonderful benefit to concert-goers as well as the population in general: people talking about the issues of global warming and pollution, and the opening of an avenue through the love of music to make change occur in our society today.
This is the most important aspect of both Echo and Langerado.
Echo Music Festival may have been small this year, but by taking baby steps toward becoming a juggernaut musical experience like the veteran Langerado Music Festival, Echo will one day become a powerhouse festival that Atlanta can be proud to display to the world’s music listeners.