by Maisey Cooley – Arts & Features Editor – firstname.lastname@example.org
At 4 o’clock on Friday, I walked to pick up my Moogfest wristband at the U.S. Cellular Center and was approached by a spaceman asking for directions, bumped into a group of pandas and high-fived Beetlejuice. It only took two minutes downtown to realize Moogfest had begun.
“Moogfest is hands-down my favorite festival,” Katherine Star, native of Louisville, Ky. and three-time Moogfest attendee, said. “I live in Jacksonville, Fl. now, and I drove all the way to Asheville by myself because I just do this every October. It’s hard to turn down a festival that brings more of my favorite bands every time they make a lineup.”
An unofficial show kicked off the festival on Thursday at the ExploreAsheville.com arena. Justice, DJ duo from France, enticed the crowds a day early with their signature backdrop of lightbulbs, a moving stage and pulsing beats that turned the room into a dance party lasting three days.
Both Friday and Saturday night featured shows uncommon to Asheville, and in the case of a few sets, uncommon even to the U.S. On Friday night, the crowds in their first costumes of the weekend poured into the U.S. Cellular Center to see late addition to the lineup, Nas. His electric energy and lyrics the whole arena seemed to know set the mood for the rest of the night. The schedule was packed for the next few hours – Primus 3D, El-P, Squarepusher, Black Moth Super Rainbow occupied the U.S. Cellular Center, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and The Orange Peel all at the same time, with other smaller venues attracting crowds at the same time.
The headlining show of the night began at 10 p.m. — Primus’ 3D show. Looking down from the balcony, I saw a sea of people dancing with 3D glasses on, all fixated on the giant inflatable astronauts with faces projected on their helmets, both moving with the funky beats and outlandish lyrics from frontman Les Claypool. Primus kept the crowd rapt with cartoons racing on the screen behind the stage, set to keep in time and theme with their music. They played some of their most well-known songs, “Southbound Pachyderm,” “Tommy the Cat,” and used a lot of their stage time for jamming, making new Primus music the crowd had never heard.
The shows for the next two hours were almost impossible to get into — Squarepusher packed out Thomas Wolfe to a one-in-one-out capacity. His light show was in two places. One screen was behind him, and the other was on a shield covering his eyes. While he kept his costumed crowd in constant, fluid, party mode, a swarm of people headed toward the Orange Peel for two acts — Black Moth Super Rainbow and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. By the time BMSR’s electrifying, wall-to-wall dance party ended, the line for GZA had extended beyond the Aloft Hotel down the street.
While deciding when and where to place the sets for the headlining acts was the responsibility of the festival coordinators, it was up to the crowds to create their own schedule to see some of their favorite acts, which proved for some to be a frustration during the weekend. Robb McAdams, social media administrator for the Orange Peel, has previous experience with fashioning a personal Moogfest lineup.
“The only thing I have to say about line issues is: know the rules of the game. Though many fans, I am sure, would hope that every artist has plenty of room for all the fans, this kind of festival doesn’t always allow for that to happen,” McAdams said. “Some artists prefer a more intimate setting than a 6,000 person room at the U.S. Cellular Center, which means those 3,000 plus people who were at Primus aren’t all getting (to see) Black Moth in a 1,050 person venue.”
GZA, former member of the Wu-Tang Clan, closed out the night on Friday, giving the perfect example of the reason so many people struggled to see their favorite acts.
“As far as the lineup, this year had a nice handful of top notch talent, as well as a large group of artists that are up-and-coming or have a mid-range of popularity. From the hip-hop elements of Killer Mike, Nas, GZA, El-P and Death Grips to the indie-folk weirdness of The Magnetic Fields, it was definitely a more eclectic lineup than in past years, but still kept its roots in the innovative electronic themes with Orbital, Four Tet, Miike Snow (and others),” McAdams said.
With the Asheville Music Hall and The Orange Peel still echoing rhythms and dance beats through downtown Asheville at 1:30 a.m., the festivalgoers were facing the end of the first night of Moogfest. After the venues shut their doors, the streets were full of animals, characters and aliens until everyone found their way home to rest up for day two.
On Saturday, the festival restarted early for some. The Diana Wortham Theatre opened at noon with a series of panels designed to show the public the technology and legacy left behind by the festival’s inspiration, Bob Moog.
“We were at capacity for most of the time during the shows here,” said Tiffany Santiago, operations manager at Diana Wortham Theatre. “We had a great turnout for our second year with Moogfest, though. We were lucky to have the Moog Foundation’s exhibits in our main lobby throughout the weekend, so that people who were kept waiting outside the auditorium during a full show were able to play with theremins and synthesizers as part of their experience during the festival.”
At each of the venues, the festival coordinators kept the crowd entertained and busy even when the music was not playing – with a craft beer garden decorated with fishbowls around the corners of the top concourse and deals on food and drinks at nearby restaurants, festivalgoers were taken care of, whether on the dance floor or looking for something else to do.
Santigold opened the U.S. Cellular Center, headlining acts of the night with an endless dance session including backup dancers and people from the crowd, creating the perfect setup for Orbital, the next big event of the night. Orbital playing at Moogfest is something to pay attention to — they played Coachella and a handful of other shows in other states for their first appearances in the U.S. since 2006. What they brought to Asheville was a set making me feel like it was six years in the making, and just for this crowd. Orbital kept the entire arena moving for an hour and a half until the crowd migrated to Four Tet next door.
From Four Tet’s tribal, bass-filled beats to Shpongle’s downtempo psychedelic vibrations, the night came to a close with rhythms and lights bouncing around the arena floor full of monsters, fairytale creatures, gnomes, zombies and every other type of thing that Asheville attracts. Walking back to my car amidst this crowd of still starry-eyed, costumed Moogers, it was easy to see, once again, that Moogfest had come back.