Levitation Festival With Flaming Lips, Jesus and Mary Chain, 13th Floor Elevators and more Carson Creek Ranch, Austin Friday to Sunday, May 8 to 10, 2015
While Homegrown Festival managed to evade the nasty weather forecast for Dallas over the weekend, thanks in part to the slick idea of taking everything inside to The Bomb Factory, Levitation Festival down in Austin left its attendees to rough it in the great outdoors. The combination music and camping festival, previously known as Psych Fest before being taken over by Transmission Events and rebranded for 2015, wound up lucking out on the weather for the most part, but in more ways than one it felt a bit like a survival of the fittest for music fans. With all the craziness now behind us, here's a look back at how we made it through the weekend in Austin.
A Weather Radio
The forecast a week ahead of Levitation guaranteed rain throughout the entire event. As the week progressed, however, that guarantee softened to a promise. By the time Friday rolled around things were looking much better overall, but the forecast for Saturday evening and Sunday still looked pretty grim, with an 80 percent chance of significant downpour listed for both days. Save for Friday and a light drizzle here and there, that rain never came. Like many concertgoers, I spent many an idle moment refreshing online weather outlets in hopes of either A) Justifying the decision to leave my rain gear back at the car, or B) Making myself feel better about carrying a month's worth of water-proof knick-knacks, because...yeah, I'm really, really going to need these things. There were two big problems with this strategy, though. Firstly, I looked like a dick having my cell phone out every few minutes during the festival, not to mention it ate my battery life. And secondly, there was no wifi at Levitation, and, at times, any internet access at all for that matter (cell towers overworked?). A small, handheld weather radio would have been a much easier, cheaper, and safer (apparently there was a tornado watch I missed!) solution to the problem.
A Hotspot for Your Hotspot
Like I said, there was sometimes no way whatsoever to gain access to the Internet during the festival; even attempting simple tasks like text messaging often led to error messages. Which obviously meant that using your cell phone as a hotspot was a non-option, too. So, there was a serious need for some kind of backup hotspot. I'm not sure how that works, or if such a thing is possible (an ethernet cable trailing all the way from Starbucks?). Either way, the people of Levitation desperately needed such a thing to exist. Just think of how many Twitter, Facebook and Instagram users were presumed dead over Levitation weekend.
A Full-Body Rubber Suit
There might not have been much rain after all, but that didn't stop the mother of all mud pits from actualizing on the Levitation grounds. Do you remember that scene in Jurassic Park when Newman from Seinfeld keeps slipping around in the mud and then he gets eaten by that rad spitting dinosaur? That's exactly what people looked like on the first two days of Levitation. Arms were flailing, bodies were sliding, asses were muddy, people's faces were covered in what looked like dark-colored dinosaur spit. There were some smart people who wore large rubber rain boots. But what patrons really needed was some sort of full-body rubber suit, because boots don't do shit once you're chest deep in a pool of mud that smells like fresh cow manure.
There were ominous signs posted throughout the festival grounds warning of venomous snakes. I never saw one. My friends didn't see one. And I'm pretty sure the security guard who kept bragging about seeing a 10-foot water moccasin didn't see one. ("It's right there," he said; "but it's like invisible.") Regardless, with Levitation sitting adjacent to a large, meandering creek, there's good reason to be cautious I suppose. Don't want to be this guy, after all.
A Time Machine
In light of this being the first year of Psych Fest's partnership with promotion company Transmission Events -- and its subsequent rebranding as Levitation Festival -- there were some bugs to work out. Scheduling mishaps, delays and miscommunication were chief amongst these issues. Perhaps worst of all was how on more than one occasion all ticket holders were delayed from entering the grounds, with the festival doors opening anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes late. Only, the bands weren't always informed on when this was happening, so there were instances of acts playing to empty crowds. Word has it that the Heaters (set time 2:15 on Saturday) played to a crowd-less mud pit for 30 minutes before any bodies showed up. The campers experienced a similar situation on Friday, wherein all camp pass holders were detained from entering the festival grounds for over an hour. Sadly, the only way certain set times were going to be heard this year was via the miracle of time travel.
The curious case of inflation at Levitation 2015. I haven't the slightest clue what was going on with this one. Things that were free to certain pass holders on Friday (showers and bathrooms in the camping grounds) cost five dollars the next two days. And food prices tended to climb as the weekend progressed. It wasn't unheard of to see a menu item's price scratched out and replaced by a higher designation, seemingly for no reason at all.
The Phone Number of the Guy Who was Really in Charge
Like the random price alterations, the rules at Levitation this year were subject to fluctuation, too. One moment you were allowed this or that on the grounds, the next you were asked to leave and return the item to your car. What seemed obvious to one security guard was often confusing to the next, and vice-versa. In this regard, there were too many instances to list them all. In response to these contradictions, staff and security would, without fail, cite the name of some faceless manager as the source of their ruling; the name was always different, too. Might have been nice to have known who that last line of defense really was. Would have saved both staff and patrons alike a lot of time in the end.
An Empty Stomach
Music festival food, as with most entertainment venue cuisine, tends to be expensive. Which is why typical rule of thumb dictates that you eat and then pack as many snacks as humanly possible beforehand. Not so with Levitation. Through its various food trucks and local vendors, from wood-fired pizzas to homemade paletas and vegan options, the festival offered some unbelievably impressive choices. The kind of quality stuff you'd expect to have to sit in a restaurant to enjoy.
In terms of both physical size and attendance, Levitation grew considerably this year. The physical side of that growth made for some lengthy walks to and from the grounds, as well as inside. The campers, for example, had a roughly 10-minute walk from their site to the main stages, in what was a rather treacherously steep up-and-down hike over a bedrock of large, loose stones. I was one of those poor bastards who only brought flat-bottomed cheap canvas shoes. What I and my bruised heels would have given for a solid pair of hiking boots.
Water, and a way to store it, is arguably the most important supply to bring to any outdoor music festival. To their credit, Levitation's organizers did a great job this year helping concertgoers in this regard. They offered water refilling stations free-of-use on the festival grounds, and nearly every food vendor onsite offered bottled waters at somewhat reasonable prices. However, there was confusion among the staff as to whether bottled water was even allowed on the grounds. Some security allowed factory sealed containers to enter, while others required that you actually open the container and pour the contents onto the ground before passing through the gates. All non-sealed containers (such as jugs or canteens) were also to be emptied before entering. I understand the worry of non-sealed liquids at large public events and festivals, but when it comes to pointlessly wasting water on such a large scale, I think it's worth asking: Why?
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