If there was one thing the organizers of the Snowball Music Festival took into consideration, it was the time management with transitions between artists. Everything on that end ran smooth and record rates. If there was one thing the organizers did not take into consideration, well, that was the weather.
Freezing temperatures in the Vail Valley, however, did not seem to deter festival-goers, but it probably did give a few people a lesson in how to dress for the occasion.
Owing to traffic on I-70, along with a group of mostly disorganized twenty-somethings who think "packing appropriate" is a snowboard bag with some spare socks, I didn't arrive at the festival until late on Friday evening. I walked in just as Zeds Dead was finishing up in the Groove Tent, which could be referred to as the Sweat Lodge (at first, I thought the water that dripped on my camera lens was from the outside, but it was, in fact, the tent sweating profusely from the enormous mass of bodies packed inside.)
At the close of ZD, the tent unpacked relatively easily, revealing the mud pit in which we were all standing that came up to my shoelaces. No, I did not pack a pair of boots. No, I did not bring the right socks. The squish of each step was only complemented by the lining of ice that ran around the tent, giving way to some awkwardly hilarious falls from unsuspecting, careless fans. The lack of heat in the tent allowed for them to cool off rather quickly at the ends of sets, but that temperature would rise the second an artist would take to the tables. 12th Planet brought the mercury up when he stepped out to play his set. With Diplo on-deck, the tent was shoulder-to-shoulder from front to back, with a large group hemorrhaging out of the VIP area. (Is it really VIP if it's packed full of people? If that's the case, then it's just a blocked off general admission section that some people can't go into.)
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12th Planet kept the heat pumping by occasionally instigating some sort of rebellion with comments like, "make some fucking noise if you paid too much money to come to Snowball!" which would set the crowd off before he would drop another robotic, bass-heavy track.
The Heat Hut is the third tent at Snowball, slightly closer to the main stage, but still tucked away behind a large ice sculpture. It's smaller in size, but with some heat lamps nearby, a much more inviting tent, and less sloppy than the Groove Tent. I walked into Lazerdisk Party Sex -- whose name was listed on the flier as "Lazerdisk Sex Party," a grammatically correct statement, but factually inaccurate. Two storm-trooper helmets, one atop a suited body, the other atop a plaid/casual stature, bobbed in sync on the small stage. Fans were allowed to be closer with no "photo pit," which made this tent just seem to smile better than the Groove.
Everyone in for the LDPS set was grooving from the shoulders to the floor, either in arms with someone, or vibing off the person next to them. "Lemonade is Still Popular," happened to be playing when I walked in, distinct in its beat-breaking vocal interruption of "Bruce Willis," right before the track lets loose.
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With Diplo coming on shortly, I made my way back over to the Groove Tent to catch the let out of 12th Planet. Worse on the second visit than the first, the ground at stage right collapsed into a large puddle of stomped-out (or whomped-out, whichever you prefer) slush and mud, making it a sacrifice to cross into the realm of the front row. But, I did, and eventually, it filled up with people who could care less that for one night, their feet were going to be flirting with frostbite.
Diplo, who recently played through with Nike during SIA Week in Denver, had the honor of priming everyone for Pretty Lights. With international fame and recognition from collaborations with the likes of Shakira to Die Antwoord, Diplo's presence on stage is enough to thaw the ground. Diplo's hip-hop style came through gleamingly on a remix of Skrillex's "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites," which goes from an uplifting beat into a dark, twisted hole of distorted bass. Playing a song like this is giving the crowd a cupcake: They are going to eat that shit right up -- and they did, with hands up, pushing off the noise and bouncing along to the beats. The end of Diplo's set fell exactly on the start time for Pretty Lights, so the tent gradually filed out and down into the field at the main stage. A big screen display sat in the middle, but people didn't reach too far back there to really necessitate it. The asymmetrical stage set-up that Pretty Lights has balances perfectly with the whole presence of just a producer and a drummer. Derek Vincent Smith, in my eyes, has really set the standard for production, with simplicity and extra attention to detail. His faultless sets give his music -- which he produces and releases for free anyway -- a studio quality sound, that, when coupled with an impressive, LED-heavy, laser infused, stadium blasted light show, transforms into one big house party. It was the "Best Of" Pretty Lights last night as he twisted and turned through songs from as far as back Filling Up the City Skies, to his most recent Glowing in the Darkest Night. A two-song rager of a sing-along occurred with "Finally Moving" followed by "Hot Like Sauce," which some say he butchered, but I say he improvised, perfectly utilizing syncopation in the beats to throw some off kilter flair. Smith took a risk covering Pink Floyd's "Time," but he chopped the vocals to pieces and inserted his own touch, with some up beat drums to boot, for just the right amount of reverence.
The second night of Snowball will see Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, Local Natives, Onra, Savoy and Lotus, among other talented artists.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Pretty Lights has production down to a fine art. I thoroughly enjoy every one of the albums, and this being my fifth time seeing them, I was just as impressed. It's a house party minus the house, and I love that shit. Random Detail: Smith brought out Adam Deitch, who was recently signed to Pretty Lights Music under the moniker Break Science, and closed out the night with him for the encore. By The Way: It was hard to tell, but some girls must have thought the term "Snowball" meant "heat wave" based on their lack of clothing.