Madness, music, and a copious amount of substance use … Music Festivals can be a very overwhelming experience. Big Guava Music Festival at Florida State Fairgrounds and Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheatre was no different. Both days were absolutely insane. The lineup contained artists like AWOLNATION, Pretty Lights, Milky Chance, Ryan Adams, Big Data, Passion Pit, Cold War Kids, Zella Day, Death from Above 1979, TV on the Radio, Pixies, Action Bronson, Run the Jewels, Banks, James Blake, and The Strokes. Shows I Go To mission was simple, see as many bands as possible and write our asses off the entire time. If we didn’t leave with aching muscles and sore livers, we did wrong.
Day one of the festival I was doing photography. It was great to focus on photos as the crowd began to grow in exceeding numbers. The first group I took pictures of was Milky Chance. The German folk duo included a few other musicians to round out their numbers and create a musically captivating dynamic. The crowd was a plethora of ages and sexes, the majority of screaming fans happened to be young adult women. They all seemed to learn in towards Milky Chance’s tunes and timbre.
As a photographer, the audience at Big Guava could not have been more excited to see a camera. Everyone absolutely watching me run around and shoot pictures and many of them would pose for me (go find yourself below, there’s a ton of crowd shots). I always like to capture a band when they play their more popular songs because I want to capture the energy on both the stage and in the crowd. That said, the only problem with Big Guava was that the stages were so far apart from each other that it was impractical to attempt to shoot every artists. By the time I made it from one to another, their band’s first three songs were done and I was shit out of luck. I later talked to Christopher Garcia who has told me it takes real planning and preference. Photographers have to pick and choose which artists they wants to shoot. I’ll plan accordingly in the future.
Big Data played inside and the darkness provided a cool oasis from the extreme heat but it wasn’t lax at all. Big Data was both aesthetically pleasing and highly energetic. It felt great to dance during some songs and not sweat my ass off.
Watching AWOLNATION play the amphitheatre was awesome! They have a great energy. Lead singer Aaron Bruno dances around the stage like a vulture circling his prey. In an almost ritualistic fire dance, he created a major swell of heat throughout the sun drained crowd.
I then ran to Passion Pit and caught several pictures of them while some people were screaming for me to take their picture while I was on the other side of the fence. I unfortunately missed “Sleepy Head” live because I ran to the outside stage The Grove to catch Ryan Adams.
Ryan Adams had one of the most unique stage setups I have ever seen with larger than life amps and old arcade games that were resuscitated once again to light up the stage. I became absolutely lost in his lyrics and voice, Ryan Adams is a true poetic performer. Adams brought Jenny Lewis onstage to sing “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” and it was nothing short of magic. They had a great chemistry onstage and they seemed to push each other creatively within the confines of this classic track. Mitch literally shit his pants when he played “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is to Be High),” and he got high.
The first day ended with Pretty Lights playing the amphitheatre and I didn’t know much about him. I took some great shots of Derek Vincent Smith, aka Pretty Lights, and the entire time he was playing I felt like hopping on my skateboard and riding around Florida State Fairgrounds. His lights sent us into a trance-like state and his tunes moved the entire concrete structure. He wore a high and tripping countenance throughout the majority of his mixing.
Mitch, Trevor, and I retreated to the lawn to sit on the perfectly manicured grass and observe the spectacular light show in front of us. I leaned back onto the green and stared up at the stars as I wondered what the rest of the night would bring for us as Pretty Lights songs shot across the amphitheater. Let’s just say, Shit got weird (as it should have).
We ventured into Ybor City for the night and roamed the streets with a demeanor that can only be described as determined to find some weirdness. We found exactly what we in search of. As I sauntered down the bustling street a drifter stop me mid stride and ask to see my boot. This is nothing new for me, I get compliments on my battle buddies constantly and I assumed he was going to ask about the brand and build. All of sudden this young man dropped down to one knee, raised my shit kickers as if to inspect them, grabbed on tightly, then licked the fucking sole. He got up and walked away. I stood in absolute awe. After a moment, I looked at Mitch. “Am I really wasted or did that just fucking happen?” I say. Mitch, trying his hardest to stifle his laugh in order to answer my question, replies “Yes! That guy just licked the bottom of your boot!” I assumed he knew we were disciples on a journey for the odd, and he was cleansing my foot for the adventure that was soon to come.
We walked by several bars but one sign caught our eyes: Jäger shots $1.00, PBR $2.00. We almost completely walked by it. What a mistake that would have been. The three of us journeyed in and began slamming drinks at a phenomenal rate. After conversing with a bartender for quite a while, we wandered off into night back and eventually to our badass hotel suite. The taxi ride back to our home base was filled with rancorous laughs, reminiscent conversations, and the rejuvenating warmth of a spring breeze.
Day two of Big Guava my duties were no longer photos but words. I passed the press pass off to Brian and broke out my Field Notes. The first act I caught that day was Action Bronson and he did not disappoint. The rapper waltzed on stage in the blunt-smoke filled room with “Terry.” His DJ was mixing beats that became immediately inhaled. My eyes may have been partially closed but I could see Action Bronson’s eyes beneath the brim of his hat. At one point the MC chucked 3 to 5 of his custom G Pens into the audience. At first I thought they were bricks of cash or weed, but shit they could have had all that in the box for all I know. Action Bronson is not as playful as I thought though, he is a serious MC that will not be made into a meme. During “Actin’ Crazy” Brian was screaming out the lyrics and the highlight of the song was definitely “I feel so alive, I think I shit myself!” this will forever be a memory that will remain in the forefront of my mind.
At the end of his set Action Bronson threw his mic up with enough force into the air to cause a tornado. You want the fucking truth dear reader, I got super high from the fumes, blunts, gummies, and the chocolate bar that entered my intestinal tract. Action Bronson was amazing live and the notes I took in my handy dandy field notes book failed me once again because they looked like scribble when I read them later, blame that on the men and women that bashed against me not the ganja. I remember sticking my head up above the crowd at one point to simply catch a breath or real air that wasn’t tainted by THC.
After Action Bronson, I wandered around the venue looking for something more to write about and, material was everywhere. During what seemed like a simple marijuana minute, I encountered Action Bronson outside by back entrance and he was taking pictures and signing autographs. Mitch got a picture with Action and he thanked him. After the picture, Mitch thanked Action again a for coming to Florida, and all that he does, and Action Bronson replied, instead of saying “you’re welcome,” or “thank you for your support,” or any other direct communication of gratitude, Action Bronson simply replied, “My man.” It was fucking perfect.
In my state of bliss I forgot my phone had a privacy screen, only to allow me to text multiple women while on a date, and I couldn’t get my screen lit in the strong sun. I figured my best bet was to retreat once more into the shade before my mind melted. Run the Jewels was up next on the same stage Action Bronson played, and I noticed a peculiar thing about our species…
It was oddly ritualistic, but we, as humans, still huddle around in small circles passing on stories through oral tradition. There were pods of concert goers that sat down in pow wows in preparation of their favorite or most anticipated artists. Men and women truly haven’t changed, we may carry phones that can do better math than us and allow us to send sexy pics halfway across the world but we still love to tell stories, face to face, in a huddle. The only difference is we longer require that fire to sit around, instead the influence has become music. A cacophony of creation and salvation that penetrates our very souls. Run the Jewels was met with many welcoming screams but their energy upon entry into each song would simply become exhausted after the first minute or two of each tune. The crowd at Big Guava blew their loads within the first few moments of each song and the energy ebbed and flowed throughout the remainder of their set.
The biggest musical mindfuck for me was Death From Above 1979. I have never seen anything like that before and I highly doubt I will feel that again. Jesse F. Keeler on bass/guitar–whatever the fuck you would call his weird concoction of chord fucking and amp humping–was/is an amazing musician. Sebastien Grainger on drums and vocals had what I wouldn’t call the a lead, but more of a guidance. They played off each other perfectly, hard to believe they called it quits for a while, even their clothing created a true pair. Black and white in a red hot sun. They are the yin and yang of two piece bands. A perfect harmony between fuck the rest and let’s create something that everyone will remember.
While waiting for TV On The Radio outside I took at knee, something I never do and gained an alternate perspective on this strange festival. Surrounded by so many people I realized the fact that we will all have our own stories from this adventure and I want to know them all. TV On The Radio opened with “Lazerray” from the album Seeds and the harsh guitar progression was necessary to awake all those in the audience that had possibly been done in by sunstroke. When “Wolf Like Me” from Return to Cookie Mountain began playing, every body started moving at an epileptic rate and God I Like It!
James Blake is a musician I have been following since his debut self titled album in 2011. I can’t count on one hand the number of sexual encounters I have used this album to warm up the pipes to. Every person, whether in between my sheets or not, has enjoyed his art. He is lyrical voice and fogginess is foreplay for any vessel. James Blake was live looping his set over audience screams and serenades. The surprisingly shy English man seemed taken aback by the audience’s genuine reaction. The drop from “Limit To Your Love” shook the entire foundation. I couldn’t help but stand in the audience and reminisce on past romantic encounters and wonder if I could have done more or possibly less. His lighting threw a string of self consciousness that illuminated everyone’s true self and character. I can remember looking into long lost eyes as shadows played across widening pupils.
The Strokes opened with “Reptilia,” and Julian Casablancas, whom I read was clean and sober, sauntered onstage with a sense or reckless abandonment. The outside amphitheatre began banging on the plastic backs of the chairs in front of them to let The Strokes the amount of love they felt. “Someday” met the same energetic madness as them walking onstage. Mitch, Trevor, and I rocked danced between the bodies of the pit to each and every song. I can’t fucking believe I just saw The Stokes. “Last Night,” “Hard To Explain,” “Is This It,” were all perfect. A perfect collection before ending loudly with “New York City Cops.”
As we rode home, I began to ponder the reflection the road adds. There is an undeniable quietness between sips of wine and drags of smokes that allow the mind to process the play that has just occurred in our brains. “It’s hard to explain.”
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