For those of us who get to review live music, every once in a while we get slapped upside our head with a reminder of why we love what we do. For me, the inaugural Hyperion Music and Arts Festival was such an occasion. My initiation into Hyperion began at the Stranger Danger Music Festival where the promoter had the keen insight to employ Bloomington Indiana based Herm Productions to run their lights. The Herm boys do lights as well as anyone in the Midwest and had decided, almost as a lark it would seem, to expand their operations into full blown festival production and had begun the planning of Hyperion. At this point, all they really had was a location and a couple of bands lined up, but my hopes were high: the location was the picturesque Stable Studios (home of the last Wuhnurth festival and their own Stable Studios Festival) and the bands were Future Rock and Papadosio. I did wonder whether Herm had a full festival in them, but it was enough for me to mark off the weekend on my calendar and in retrospect it might have been the best decision I made all year.
When I write reviews, I generally try to stay in as an objective mode as possible. I couch my language in the third person but hope the reader gets a full taste of my festival experience, both the good and the not so good. But Hyperion turned into such an enjoyable personal experience (especially for the photographer in me) that I think I need to personalize my review. First of all, I do need to point out that the weekend was not perfect. The food vendors were good but the variety of choices was very limited, indeed it was the first festival I ever attended where one could not get either pizza or any type of Chinese/Thai food (but the truffle grilled cheese with bacon was really quite good). And for those of us who have forsaken six-pack abs in favor of the full keg, there was not a XXL t-shirt to be found. But it seems to me that if the biggest problems with your festival are food choice and limited size choice for t-shirts then you have definitely done something right.
The promise of Hyperion was a plethora of diverse visual stimuli to accompany the musical entertainment. If you wanted to be a railrat for your favorite band you could do that but if you wanted to wander and let the band be the soundtrack to your own personal experience that was also available. And with the stages in separate locations, but still very close with only a small rise between them to prevent sound travel, the music would be non-stop from morning til dawn. The reality of Hyperion more than delivered on their promise.
I was unable to attend the pre-party but arrived in plenty of time to experience a true smorgasbord of sight and sound. First up was Elephant Quiz, a band I had previously only experienced on a brief stop between stages at another festival. The Bloomington based funk group set the perfect pace for the weekend with a set full of jazzy funk. Their set also signaled that this festival was going to be different, as the early acts had actual light shows and they weren’t being done by the guy who also mans the merch booth. Real light shows for all the bands at a festival, what a concept. But it wasn’t just lights, there were also dancers and hoopers on side stage platforms to give all the bands a main act feel.
The party shifted to the tent stage for Northern Indiana based Fresh Hops, a band that has matured greatly over the last year or so. With a set full of bouncy tunes that featured deft guitar work intertwined with a jazzy fiddle, this band won’t be relegated to second stage status for long. I remained in the tent for Glostik Willy, the Muncie based funk trio (augmented this day by two friends) who brought a funkier feel to the continuing dance party. The set also inspired an impromptu limbo session which marked, at least in my view, the best use of a rage stick ever.
The funk continued on the main stage with a stellar set from Bloomington based The Main Squeeze. The first hint that this was going to be a good set was the appearance of festival producer Alex “Herm” Schneider on the light board. After all, it was unlikely that the boss was going to take time out from an exceptionally busy weekend just to run lights for some friends. The quintet delivered a set full of hot funk mellowed slightly with a dash of soul that left me wanting more. I am looking forward to my next encounter with these funky hoosiers.
The rest of my evening (and early morning) were spent ducking in and out of the mainstage as I was drawn alternately by the pull of the music and that of the accompanying assortment of atmospheric visuals. First it was the hoopers and jugglers battling for my attention with UV Hippo’s psychedelic set. Then it was the aerial circus (which could have been better lit) that accompanied Future Rock’s non-stop dancefest. And finally, there were the fire spinners that raged during Strange Arrangement’s titanic early morning set (that included a guest appearance by Hippo guitarist Russ James for a killer version of Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue”). It all made for a magical night of music and light.
Not quite ready for sleep, I made a trip to the tent stage for a taste of the Hippo side project Psychedelic Elephant Machine Gun, but the tent was packed to the bursting point so my stay was brief. Leaving the tent to those who had the foresight to take a nap and those who were fueled by something stronger than the caffeine that was rapidly dissipating in my body, I made a journey through the forest which, ala Electric Forest, had been turned over to artists of all types to transform into a grand art project. While the scale was dwarfed by its Michigan counterpart, this venue had the advantage of having a small pond which was the locale of a mesmerizing light-scape. Emerging back from the forest to see this light show mirrored by the pond’s reflective effect was a goose-bump inducing experience that was vivid in my mind as I finally drifted to sleep.
For me, music resumed in the early afternoon with a set from Chicago based folk/punk troubadour Jaik Willis. Willis, as usual, delivered a set full of clever tunes that highlighted both his wide-ranging voice and his dexterous guitar work. Next up were festival favorites The Ragbirds, who delivered a hit-and-run set (they had a second gig in Terre Haute later that evening) that was chock full of excellent tunes from their recently released album Travelin’ Machine. As always, Erin Zindle and her “five boys in the band” brought a smile to my face. I returned to the tent for a set by Bad Dagger the side project of Twin Cats bassist Cameron Reel. As much as I have come to love the Twin Cats, this project was a little bit too “wompy” for my taste.
After a brief dinner with friends I was ready for another stretch of music. The festival’s homestretch started when Papadosio took the mainstage. My previous experiences with Papadosio were only fleeting as they seemingly have always been booked opposite some other band to which I am partial. But on this night they commanded my full attention. The Asheville based quintet is busy promoting their new album T.E.T.I.O.S. (To End the Illusion of Separation) with a multi-media live experience that completely immerses the individual in the new material. It was an enchanting experience that made me long for my younger days when I wasn’t responsible for camera equipment and I could take advantage of the band’s eponymous suggestion and pop a dose or two.
Next up were Indianapolis based The Twin Cats a band for which I have developed a true affection. This hoosier quintet keeps delivering sets of sexy funk drizzled jazz that have become a staple of many a late night festival experience. With the foundation of a rhythm section that seems devoted to making women shake their hips this band knows how to build a groove that exudes eroticism. But ultimately it is the layered interplay of saxophonist Nicholas Gerlach, keyboardist Phil Geyer and guitarist Seth Catron (whose twin brother Adam is the drummer) that has made them one of my “go to” bands and their Hyperion set only cemented their status in my book.
I have been trying to see Cosby Sweater, the side project of the Twin Cats’ Nicholas Gerlach, for some time. Stamina, or the lack thereof, got the best of me at Stranger Danger and the call of friends thwarted my Hoxeyville chance. But I was not going to be denied at Hyperion and their hip-hop tinged EDM set certainly kept the party at a fever pitch, right up until the police asked the promoters to pull the plug in deference to the venue’s neighbors. While such a turn of events would often be greeted by attendees with displeasure and defiance, there was none of that at Hyperion. No one was happy to end the party a little early (it was almost 3 in the morning after all) but the collective realization set in that there was no reason to mar an almost perfect weekend over missing a few minutes of music.
As Stable Studios slipped away in my rearview mirror my mood was bittersweet. A little bitter because the weekend had flown by and for many it would mark their last festival of the year, but also so sweet because of the lasting memories that were made. So, I’m going to double down on the best decision I made this year, I already marked my calendar for Hyperion 2013.