Austin's Psych Fest is now Levitation. Partially due to a new partnership between Psych Fest (which began as a single-day, underground music festival in 2008) and promotion company Transmission Events, and inspired by the 13th Floor Elevators' track of the same name, the festival has been rebranded. Over the past eight years the fest has grown tremendously, sprouting from a small, localized concert fronted by Austin psych outfit Black Angels, into an internationally renowned three-day happening. Each year, the lineup gets better, the patrons more fun and the memories more weird. So if you're thinking of abstaining this year, think again. Here are five reasons why Levitation remains a must-attend event.
5. Even the Second Tier Acts are Fantastic.
While there's many a name you might not recognize, Levitation's lineup is stacked from top to bottom. There's very little filler, apart from the occasional local neo-psych garage band here and there, but even those tend to please more often than not. Noiseniks like Lighting Bolt and Health, the streamy dream-pop of Tamaryn, the beachy fuzz of Thee Oh Sees and DIIV, the brooding shadow play of Chelsea Wolfe and the Soft Moon, and the scorch-the-earth freak rock of the Fat White Family only scratch the surface of the musics that flesh out Levitation's full bill. From small to large, obscure to cultish, accessible to gratingly challenging, there's no lack of talent in Levitation's roster, regardless of popularity.
4. There Will Be Giants
The lineup this year is mottled with a vast assortment of eye-catching headliners: Spiritualized, the 13th Floor Elevators, the Jesus and Mary Chain (performing Psychocandy!), Primal Scream, Earth, Tame Impala and the Flaming Lips among others. For fans of left-field rock, canonized psych aesthetes and kaleidoscopic textures, this is a loaded offering, likely the richest such collection of artists among Texas music events this year. Whether your tastes reside with doleful space-rock (Spiritualized), symphonic drone-scapes (Earth), crunchy shoegaze (Jesus and Mary Chain), golden era psych (13th Floor) or campy acid-pop (Flaming Lips), there's a big performance waiting for you at Levitation 2015.
3.There's a Little Bit of Everything
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While attending Psych Fest last year, I found that some of my favorite moments came by way of unexpected performances: acts I'd never heard of beforehand and artists whose names had never graced a major publication or well-circulated press release. In many ways, this is where Levitation excels, in showcasing bands across the full spectrum of the psychedelic music tag. Of course, as expected, Levitation will offer plenty instances of drone, classic psychedelia, neo-psych, shoegaze, noise rock, garage rock, acid-rock, beach-pop, singer-songwriter, dark-wave and freak-folk, along with whatever experimental rock subgenre is trending currently.
But even amongst Levitation's deep list of unusual flavors, two acts stand out as especially fascinating this year. First, Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback, and second, Gourisankar and Indrajit Banarjee. The former, an Inuk singer-songwriter (coupled with partner Linda Saddleback), plays a delicate yet poignant shade of rock that's informed by genuine aboriginal folk music as much as a personal, lived experience with cultural displacement. And the latter, a seasoned tabla/sitar duo, boasts two individual talents whose technical sophistication is surpassed only by their studious dedication to their instruments.
2. The 13th Floor Elevators
In 1966, with the release of their debut The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, this Austin band quite literally changed music forever. It was the first instance where a band used the term "psychedelic" to describe their music, a singular sound where garage rock met with the first stirrings of pop music's strange, new future. For all intents and purposes, the 13th Floor Elevators invented psychedelic rock. It's been 50 years since the band formed, and 45 since they last played live (at least in part due to frontman Roky Erickson's longterm battle with paranoid schizophrenia).
So, to call this one-off reunion at Levitation a big deal would be a healthy understatement (Erickson, original drummer John Ike Walton, and original lyricist/electric jug player Tommy Hall are all on board). In fact, I imagine quite a few concertgoers bought tickets solely on account of this performance, and, truthfully, it'd be well worth the investment. If you're on the fence about going to Levitation this year, let this headliner pull you over the edge; this performance alone is worth the price of admission. In no uncertain terms, this is a shot at experiencing an important moment in rock history, a rare shot at redemption for a legendary band that faced a sad and premature end.
1. The Festival Experience
Above and beyond the specifics of things like headliners, stage effects and camping options, what matters most is the synergy of how all the components of a festival blur into one singular, overarching experience. In this regard, Levitation is all but peerless. No, really. Not too big, not too small, masterfully managed, and with audiences as relaxed and respectful (though, certainly not mild or vanilla) as you'll likely ever see, Levitation fosters a near flawless festival experience. Painterly landscapes and a dreamy mood dominate the grounds. Adjacent to the lush greenery and snaking blues of Austin's Carson Creek, Levitation's backdrop is an idyll of pastoral scenes steeped in a surreal, late '60s filter: Patrons hang from hammocks in stooped, inviting trees or swim in blankets sprawled across open fields; tails of smoke writhe in the air; sunbeams, split by the fingers of plant-life, color everything a crisp, mellowing gold.
No one seems rushed, upset or annoyingly excited, and there's plenty of space to alleviate pushy crowds. The stages are all positioned in spot-on locations, and the unnecessary irritation of commerce so endemic to contemporary music festivals is only faintly noticeable, marginalized in tents pushed to the corners and outer rim of the Carson Creek Ranch. All in all, the atmosphere of Levitation is spectacularly halcyon. Whether you chalk it up to the measured curation, the time of the year, the management's hands-off approach or the soothing balm of a weekend in nature, Levitation delivers in a most memorable way. Which is to say, if this year's event is anything remotely like last year's, you're in for one hell of a good time.
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