Meow Wolf's Taos Vortex Festival Brought Community to the Forefront

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Kate Russell
Taos Vortex festival 

Wherever you were at Taos Vortex, the three-day music festival thrown by New Mexican art collective Meow Wolf, if you saw the 18-foot-tall praying mantis named Barry Roe Mantis, you knew you were at the right set. Whether it was stage left for Flying Lotus' groundbreaking 3D live show (complete with free glasses), in the back of the Glade Tent for Justin Martin, or in the camp grounds during Sunday night's closing renegade set, Barry was there waving his glowing front legs to the funkiest beats – but what made Barry really unique was that, sometimes, there was a five year old at his helm.

The second-annual Taos Vortex festival was all about community. It brought intimacy and imagination to the quaint town of Taos, taking over Kit Carson Park with two full stages, a spattering of interactive art installations, and headline sets from George Clinton's Parliament Funkadelic, Lykke LiZhu and more.

While it was quite literally crawling with small children, the family-friendly atmosphere was never at the cost of any freak-flag-flying freedom. There were just as many ravers in their 40s, 50s and even 60s boogying down in glittering gear. Dancers of all ages flocked from California, Colorado, Arizona and even Florida to see what a Meow Wolf music festival was all about. It turns out warm welcomes, quirky lifestyles and artistic ingenuity is at the heart of New Mexico's way of life. It's a tradition that goes back more than 100 years and begs to be discovered.

The southwestern state's status as an artistic mecca dates back to 1898 when painters Bert Geer Phillips and Ernest L. Blumenschein founded the Taos Art Colony and the Taos Society of Artists. The wealthy patron Mabel Dodge Luhan was instrumental in supporting the community, bringing artists and writers to the area throughout the early 1900s. D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe, Ansel Adams and others famously made New Mexico their home and their muse, and Meow Wolf is at the head of an explosive new generation.

The collective's permanent installation, The House of Eternal Return, is based in Santa Fe and was heavily funded by Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin. It's famous as a world-class immersive experience, a 20,000-square-foot active performance art piece, and visitors are part of the play. Festival ticket holders received complimentary admission to the Meow Wolf headquarters where nothing is hands off and everyone is welcome to dive deep. That ethos of playful abandon extends to everything at the Taos Vortex festival.

Meow Wolf brings its nascent festival to the neighboring town as a sign of goodwill, spreading tourist dollars across the state. Taos is an hour-and-a-half drive northwest of Santa Fe, and whoever said deserts were drab has never taken this ride. Visitors will be stunned by rolling mountains, giant gorges, and deep green brush amid gold and purple landscapes.

Attendees can camp on-site or stay at nearby hotels and airbnbs. Festival passes grant discounts at cultural attractions, including the centuries-old Native community of the Taos Pueblo, where current residents keep Tiwa traditions alive, and the 100-percent sustainable Earthships Bitecture community where ecologists build science fiction-style homes from rubber tires and cement, decorated with discarded bottles and cans.

Back at the fest, music lovers of all ages are invited to touch, sit on, roll over and spread out on playful installations. It's not anything on the level of The House of Eternal Return, but Meow Wolf's art director of events, Sofie Cruse, says if the activations make people giggle, she's gone home a winner.

“If [an artist] is making something that brings them joy, then it's probably exactly what we need for events,” Cruse says. “One thing I was really excited about this year was talking about neighborhoods, and houses and homes. I love this idea of 'come over to my house and play.' I think there's a really beautiful sense of community.”

The 25-acre park came to life with costumed performers. Barry Roe Mantis, of the Idaho-based Colossal Collective, was always roaming the grounds. Three hut-like structures representing different “house parties” gave dancers a shady break. There was a rainbow “slinkytown” that hung from lighted pasta colanders, and vibrating sacred geometry structures in the campgrounds. Bubbly foam bits hung from trees, trampolines woven with yarn and an igloo-esque hangout with airplane seats gave people places to lounge, while kids jumped and rolled around on plastic cushions and rolls.

A black-top space was inhabited by pleasure emporium and female empowerment collective Pussy Power House, whose red tent welcomes festivalgoers to buy CBD joints and enjoy sound baths from topless ladies. Their neighbors were the Fungineers and their pastel-dream ice cream truck, who held daily concerts with costumed and puppet performers, singing songs about sustainable living and handing out purple ice-cream cones.

The musical acts echoed this message of togetherness. George Clinton and his family band represented three generations of weirdos on the rainbow-colored Spire Stage, throwing bare ass and colorful dreads all over the stage while funking the crowd with wild renditions of “We Want The Funk” and “Atomic Dog.”

Across the park, the Glade stage bubbled in touchable reef-like poofs while Dirtybird crew members Justin Martin and Claude VonStroke threw down nasty beats. VonStoke's teenage kids could be seen dancing in the background. A Sunday takeover from California DJ collective Desert Hearts felt like a reunion for many fans who proudly wore DH necklaces all weekend. Other acts including Justin Jay and his Fantastic Voyage, Mija and Medasin were seen hanging out and getting down amongst the crowds all weekend long. By the time Zhu and G Jones closed out the show, it felt like everyone at Taos has become one big family.

“The people [are the best part of this event],” says attendee Uri Morales, who attends festivals across the country with his partner. “The locals have been so sweet, so wonderful and so kind. They really care, and it's not just like, 'Hey, you're bringing money to our town.'”

Taos Vortex isn't the biggest festival in America, and it may not be the wildest, but it sure felt like one of the warmest, safest and freest of judgement that we've yet enjoyed. Whether you want to bring your kids, relive your youth, or just hang out for a topless smoke, New Mexico invites you to be as weird as you wanna be, and that's what makes it and the Taos Vortex festival truly a "Land of Enchantment."

Festivals 2019


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