All words: Richard Benjumea — All photos: Blinkofanaye
The week wasn’t one of the best that I’ve ever had. After finding myself having to crash on a friend’s couch for the time being, getting wasted on Wednesday, puking on aforementioned couch, blacking out and missing my second day of work at my new job, and getting jerked around by WMATA all week long, I was emotionally spent. Barely was I looking forward to attending this fest, but as I would find out, the finely woven web of life had other plans in store for me.
I decided to wear my Bad Brains shirt to rep DC along with my trusty fedora. After getting jerked around by Metro and Co. some more, I finally made it to the Half Street Fairgrounds. Last time I came here was for the Trillectro Music Festival, an event that left me somewhat underwhelmed. With electronic music that sounded more like the soundtrack to some sort of dystopian Blade Runner-esque future than anything else, a feeling not remedied by the Fairgrounds industrial décor…but I digress.
This fest had a neo hippie vibe to it. Walking around the place, one would be forgiven for thinking that the festival might have originally been called “The White Guys With Dreads Fest.” Wandering aimlessly for a bit, I found myself at the main stage listening to The Funk Ark, a DC based Afro-Latin funk band with tight hypnotic grooves.
The bass drum was rattling my ribcage like a heartbeat. It would be seen, heard and felt all throughout the night; I was starting to stir awake. Out of the sea of people feeling the groove, my gaze was preternaturally drawn to a tall, caramel skinned stunner. She stood there, with her hair tied up,wearing a vintage bird print blouse, huge sunglasses and holding a red water pistol. If Godard ever made a blaxploitation film, she would be his Anna Karina. I spent several minutes trying to figure out something to say, to no avail. So, standing there, feeling naked without a drink, I went to go find clothing.
One of the great crimes in this world is an overpriced drink, and this place was no less criminal. Settling for a pub ale, I made my way back to my spot, where, to no surprise, my new found muse had now vanished. Deflated, yet buoyed by the Reggae back beat of The Archives, I carried on. As was to be expected, the sudden smell of a certain substance filled the air, blending in with the dubbed out frequencies of the band. Though vaguely looking for the vanished girl, time was not lost finding another. Through the purple haze, I saw a pair of vivid red lips, weaving through the crowd. Medium length black hair, ivory skin and crimson red lipstick, coyly taking photos of the band and crowd. With the glare of the waning sun, framing her in majestic gold, we made brief eye contact, she smiled, and as soon as she appeared, she was gone.
An apparition it seemed, meant to inspire, intrigue or downright frustrate. What kind of emotional state a man has to be in to find himself smitten by strangers on the street, I do not know. Though it is certain that the eternal rhythms of this sonic celebration were indeed enabling this phenomenon. Such is the natural order of things, that when The Archives left the stage, and the herbal fragrance in the air dissipated, the lines at the food trucks gradually increased. With the between-sets DJ spinning Reggae, Cumbia and everything in between, I closed my eyes and let the global vibe take me wherever it wanted me to go.
Michael Franti and Spearhead were next. Stubbornly clutching my beer, rationing its now stale contents, I decided to stay on the sidelines for this one. Initially finding him a little too poppy, corny and somewhat saccharine for my taste, Franti seemed to beat you into submission with his overall feel-good nature. And when a storm of beach balls suddenly blocked out the sun and descended torrential onto the eager crowd below, the sheer scope of childlike frivolity at that moment would bring a smile to even the most jaded, alcoholiest of freelance writers around. Once that was over, I made my way up to the front in anticipation of Gogol Bordello.
Being the only band that I had seen prior to this, and knowing full well that they never disappoint, I readied myself for a workout. Whilst waiting, I heard a heavily accented voice call out “Bad Brains!” to me in approval. The source? A fellow Latino punk rocker (which if you don’t know, is a surprisingly rare combination to find.) Omar and Emerson, wearing Bad Brains and The Germs shirts, respectively. We struck a conversation on all things punk and Gogol Bordello. After jovially exchanging jokes and stories, they proceeded to hand me a wad of cash, with the strict instructions to bring back as many beers as that would buy. Fully stocked, we proceeded to sing our hearts out to Eugene Hutz’s manic ravings. I joined the mosh pit as it grew into a frenzy, only to find a security guard trying to regulate it; most ludicrous, but it did not deter us.
The set went on and I found myself yet again magnetically pulled to the energetic allure of the stranger next to me. This time actually exchanging words and even names: Anya. Subtle, youthful Ukrainian beauty with doe eyes and a nonchalant cool about her. We traded quips, jokes and ambitions till the very end. Coming all the way from Philly, destiny had brought her here on a whim. As our rib-cages continued to rattle and the simulated life beat pulsed on, we got lost in the music.
As Gogol left the stage, it was time for the main event, Thievery Corporation. The crowd swarmed together as the life beat reached its peak. So high was the bass, that at certain intervals, it would trigger sporadic coughing fits. An inconsequential annoyance however, as one was too busy feeling the groove to even care. Sometime between songs, I felt my hat lift itself from my head, where I saw it be placed on the tall redhead beside me, dancing the night away. My hat would switch owners between her and her friend, yet it was her friend who caught my attention, one last time for the night. Exotic, sensual eyes, olive skinned rhapsody in a blue sun dress.
She was now dancing and jumping next to me with my fedora on. Playfully making silly gestures and throwing carefree smiles my way like it was her job. After a while she would return my hat to me, which I would immediately hand back, stating it looked better on her. We stood there, bass drum in all its glory, Thievery playing to their hometown crowd, the universe in harmony for a brief moment.
Then, she hands me my fedora one last time, thanks me and starts to leave with her friend. I ask if they’re leaving already, she simply caresses my cheek and grasps my hand, then she is gone. I turn back to the show, seemingly on auto pilot. Am I drunk? Did the mosh pit leave me battered and dazed? Why was I not going after her? As I ask myself these questions I turn back to find her, but realize she is
lost among the great living, breathing mass of people. Later in the metro, people would mutter amongst themselves as they see me kicking myself in the head in regret.
Back in the present, the show reaching it’s finale, Anya says goodbye. I instinctively kiss her farewell on the cheek, catching her somewhat off guard, then off she goes, back to her practical married life in Philadelphia. Feeling once more that contradicting feeling of being deflated yet simultaneously high, the show ends and me and my Salvadorean punk brothers stick around, trying to catch a pic with Mr Hutz. Omar, having drunk enough beers to bring down an ox, unsurprisingly has to go to the bathroom. As he does so, Hutz comes around takes a pic with me and Emerson, then promptly leaves. Omar, having missed his chance, comes back with two more beers and simply says, “Ya que mierda.” After trying in vain to sneak into the backstage meet and greet, we finally bid adieu to each other, saying we’ll keep in touch, only realizing later that we never exchanged numbers.
Feeling like I gained so much, yet am bringing home so little, I reflect on the wonderfully surreal nature of events like this. Where the universal tenets of existence: longing, regret, vice, love and life, are expertly mixed and handed down from generation to generation by bands like these, through something as simple as bass drums and sound waves.
The best way to close the summer, Franti, Bordello, and Thievery reminded me of what DC is for me: a dream-like crossroads, where things are and are not, a melting pot of the senses, an imperfect shangrila of the mind. But more importantly, a place to receive, give and spread love, the true message of the night. Also, beer.
- Gogol Bordello:
- Michael Franti: