R.E.M., Beastie Boys, Ghostland Observatory, Matisyahu..and more...
Big Cypress Reservation, Everglades, Fl March 6-9, 2008
by Jen Cray
What began in 2003 as a one day party for jam bands and their fans has expanded into a four day festival with an eclectic lineup on acres of Florida swampland.
While Langerado is still in its infancy, and far from being able to hold its own alongside fests like Bonnaroo and Coachella, the fact that they scored R.E.M. and Beastie Boys for the 2008 bill is a good sign of things to come.
On March 6th, 20,000 festival goers left the dry, warm comforts of home and wove their way down the two lane Snake Road into Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress Reservation for the wet and chilly weekend. The obstacles began with the inevitable traffic jams caused by the single road to seemingly nowhere piled atop of one another as torrential downpours and tornado watches ensued by the second night of the event. Those that managed to stay in good spirits despite the ugly weather and empty gas tanks, had to dodge fire ants, snakes, cow droppings, and alligators as they realized that just because stages had been erected, the ground they stood on was still in the middle of the swamp!
After a day or two of stretching its legs, Langerado reached its stride as I arrived on Saturday. The near tornado winds had wiped out campsites, but cool winds kept the fans happy beneath the cloudless, blistering blue skies. The daylight hours were slow going, and full of mellow, granola bands (State Radio, Ben Folds, Dr. Dog), but it was a perfect day to be out celebrating nature...that is, drinking beer and taking cat naps on the hay covered grounds.
Just before dusk the strangely jazzy, very lounge-like, indian-flavored Thievery Corporation took the stage. With a dozen or so players on-stage including DJs, a dude on the sitar, a belly dancer, and a chanteuse, you'd think that it would be impossible to take your eyes off of this spectacle. After a few sleepy songs I had had my fill.
As the sun fell, so did the temperatures, plummeting to an uncomfortable—and unexpected—40 degrees. With the biggest act of the weekend nearing their set time, fans huddled around spotlights, cuddled up beneath blankets, and lined up 50 people deep at the lone coffee vendor.
The Chasidic Judaism-flavored dancehall reggae of Matisyahu drew the evening's first sizable crowd. What is it about the long bearded, fedora wearing spiritual rapper that gets everyone's panties in a bunch, I cannot say, nor did I stay to sort it out. Instead, after a song or two I trudged through the thick mud and into the back corner of the expansive festival grounds for the weekend's most unique act, Ghostland Observatory.
With a laser light show, smoke machines, and a caped band member, this duo was quite the visual treat for the tripping masses. There music is somewhere between Daft Punk, Erasure, and The White Stripes. Vocalist/guitarist Aaron Behrens has a Robert Plant squeal and he shreds on the guitar, but rather than turning his band into a big rock blowout, he falls back behind producer/drummer/noisemaker Thomas Turner and his myriad of electronic effects. They were by far the most entertaining act I had seen all day.
That was, until R.E.M. came on-stage.
The festival belonged to the men from Athens and even though the cold nip in the air had driven many back to their campsites, thousands still gathered in front of the Everglades Stage to see the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famers (they were inducted last year).
"Hello, we're R.E.M. and this is what we do," the coolest man in the South (Michael Stipe, of course) said to the crowd before bursting into "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" off of 1994's Monster.
Ironically it was this album that lost the then quartet (now a trio, with a few extra musicians added on for touring purposes) a large portion of their fan base. Cries of "sell-outs!" plagued the band after that underrated release, yet you'd never have known it by the reaction of the audience to the opening notes of this career-changing song.
With an upcoming release, Accelerate, that has promised to get back to the old spirit of those early 1980's recordings that we all grew up listening to, the band tossed out plenty of old nuggets dating way back to 1984's Reckoning in between the new songs. The similarities between the then and now compositions sounded beautifully seamless.
Wearing a green shirt with the word "Obama" printed across the chest—a shirt that he ended up stripping off and tossing into the crowd—Stipe straddled the line between politics and light humor. Aside from his unspoken presidential endorsement, he praised Martin Luther King, criticized our current government, and managed to come off as hopeful not preachy. He could charm the pants off the pope, that Michael Stipe.
Standing at the feet of legends, and having the satisfaction of hearing "Begin the Begin", "Fall on Me", and "Losing My Religion" live, was the highlight of Langerado for this little music fan.