Solasta Festival never really begins the day it’s advertised to begin. It’s the day prior during early arrival; the last moments of sound-checking speakers, fastening stage decorations, preparing water stations and late-night light sources, and prepping the camping grounds for the impending revelry. It’s the calm before the storm, when the air is still and the hum of organizers cruising about like worker ants becomes a part of the landscape.
In 2017 and 2018, this vibrant image of organization and preparation took place at Spirit Crossing, Tennessee, nestled high in the peaks of the Appalachians. Home to a pristine stretch of the Clinch River, and the site for like-minded burns and music events in years prior, it was a place that resonated with potent undercurrents. For 2019, Solasta moved east to the equally auspicious grounds of Deerfields, North Carolina.
Sequestered in the eastern reaches of Nantahala National Forest, Deerfields is a rustic retreat carved into “The Green Place”, a slice of property purchased by Monroe M. Redden in 1927. Over the course of the next eight decades, the property was gradually transformed into a sprawling network of forest alcoves surrounding two freshwater lakes. By midday, the sun illuminated every vector of the forest floor. By nightfall, the air cooled to a pleasant chill, drawing a dewy blanket across the length of the property. Despite being barely an hour’s drive out of Asheville, there isn’t a lick of cell service or wifi available on the property save for the bit of bandwidth utilized by the production team.
Once again event producers Envisioned Arts and Harmonia displayed the confidence and swift problem-management skills befitting veteran production teams. As we elaborated on last year during an interview with Solasta’s organizers, their operational efficiency has been sharpened by years of experience outside of Solasta. Placing physical and mental well-being above all else, this team never missed its mark, with fans and friends keeping each other in check throughout the duration of the weekend festivities.
Making community the focal point of the festival, Solasta is one of a growing number of events, gatherings, burns, and massives that exist to cultivate interconnectedness with one another and with our own sense of health and wellbeing. The Asheville-based harm reduction and education company Harmonia, that doubles as event production entity, focused as always on providing safe spaces throughout the festival grounds. They’ve been the face of Solasta’s community operations from day one and are beginning to make an impact across the US festival circuit.
So far, Solasta has benefitted from its slim profile. The festival is intimate and there are few lines between artist, assistant, volunteer, and attendee. This interwoven social fabric is the strength of Solasta, wherein producers, engineers, audiophiles, and casual fans mingle in total cohesion, forging creative connections and friendships in a melting pot of talent and intrigue. One way Solasta achieves this dynamic by concentrating the music to a central location. As in years prior, there was again just a single main stage from midday until the following sunrise.
Hasan Zaidi, the co-founder of Envisioned Arts, paints a picture of Solasta’s strategy for success. “From the very first day of the first Solasta, the single stage dynamic has given all of our musicians and visual performers the most attentive platform we can achieve.” Solasta’s lineup has traditionally been a handpicked collection of incoming and veteran producers and DJs. Having a single focal point and an expertly-tuned sound system helps to level the playing field among the performers. Everyone gets their fair shot to make a potent impression on a captive audience.
Soundsystem Cultures, LLC (SSC) ran sound for the third year in a row, bringing along as always a potent set of Funktion One speakers featuring F218 and Infrabass 218 subwoofers and Resolution 2 tops. Sebastian Torsion, a member of Onesource Audio and a frequent attaché of Tipper’s audio crew, teamed up with SSC for the weekend. The audio team combined textbook knowledge with hands-on experience to curate an aural experience that was physically powerful yet totally comfortable. On Saturday afternoon, Sebastian joined Bill Weir, an expert audio engineer and co-owner of the international IDM label Outside Recordings, and taught attendees about the physics and technicalities of live audio production during an engineering workshop.
“Crafting an audio experience that produces immersion and comfortability at the same time is entirely a balancing act” Weir said. He explained the science behind proper concert audio, cutting zero corners as he dove into the fine details and objectivity behind specific engineering decisions. The crowd was sizable, with about 100 people in attendance despite the rising mid-morning heat. “Pushing decibels is the opposite of the operative goal. The goal is to achieve a totally balanced spread across the dance floor. We don’t want your ears to hurt, we want your ears to be immersed.”
That immersion is one of the key platforms that all successful music events rest on. Solasta has always preferred to achieve that immersion not just through a custom fit audio experience, but through a combination of sound and decoration. The eminent beauty of Deerfields was more than enough to propel attendees into a relaxed state of body and mind, but the stage design was also key to maintaining a constant feeling of immersion.
The stage was an open-air gazebo standing between both bodies of water on the property, with an alluring view of the lower lake. Dozens of white, silky sheets created a portal through which the crowd viewed the performers. The wonderful garden installation that has been a stage front staple at every Solasta had grown since the previous year. Parallel rows of trees stood in a fixed line behind the performers, seeming to meld into the foliage above and around the gazebo. The dance floor was ringed by draped textiles and bamboo, containing the party to an approachable, open space, and creating a conduit for communal experience.
Every staff member and volunteer said “Drink plenty of water” as many times as they blinked over the course of the weekend. It was an impactful reminder to us all why we were so excited to be here in the first place. That understanding of care and mindfulness between the organizers and the ticket holders creates an environment of trust, making it easier to develop social bonds within the festival.
The Southeastern experiential theatre and art troop GNOSTiK brought talents to Solasta once again. These women create transformative spaces for expression at events across the US, and they exceeded expectations with their Lounge installation at Deerfields. This year, the GNOSTiK Lounge rested in a smaller gazebo atop the upper lake, looking out across the expanse of the festival. The Lounge was a space of constant flux; dancers and acrobats gliding across a visual-mapped stage, surprise DJ sets, couches and benches warm from the entranced viewers wandering in and out of the space. It was full of intrigue and a respite from the dance-centric environment of the main stage, allowing revelers a chance to simultaneously rest and engage with performance art in new ways.
The music at Solasta once again leveled the crowd from start to finish. The lineup was a blend of top tier acts, rising stars, new and collaborative projects, and Solasta fan-favorites from across the electronic music spectrum, including Detox Unit, K.L.O, Ultrasloth, spacegeishA, MALAKAI, and Integrate. The order and pairing of the performers was especially well done. The prime time slots for Friday evening took the crowd on a journey through all things guttural and psybient within bass music. Base 2 brought the gears of the night into full motion, presenting a cultivated blend of original tracks that synced up with each other like a string of skeleton keys. Goopsteppa began the onslaught of surgical, fractalized synthesis that would persist through Charlesthefirst and Attya, charging the dance floor with permeable psychedelic energy.
Saturday afternoon began the festivities down on the shores of the lower lake, with a sultry blend of music to elevate the mood of the sun-soaked revelers. Rezinate co-owner Saltus initiated a serious dance-floor boogie, rinsing out salacious heaters for a specially curated funk set. Easyjack’s beloved side project, Frisk, channeled the echoes of the Chicago’s underground nightlife, with pulsing house and techno giving the festival a rare dose of steady-beat action. During the height of the afternoon sizzle, Nashville-based DJ Doyle reprised his role as the master of all ceremonies, sending the crowd into a glorified nostalgia frenzy with mid-2000’s club rap classics.
Saturday evening saw the energy of Solasta launch straight out of the atmosphere, with a very tangible sense of excitement poking through the onset of a chilled dusk. Coalescing the energy output for Saturday’s prime run of acts, Integrate took the stage for their debut performance. A tag-team between the southeastern heavy hitters VCTRE and Black Carl, Integrate slung a bevy of original tunes and beefy selectors to mark their foray into the public eye. spacegeishA smashed her 11pm slot with a meticulously crafted exodus into the darkest reaches of sound, reverberating every inch of the dance floor. Detox Unit took the crown for crowd engagement, with every soul on the property engaged in an isometric group dance against a broken-beat flurry. K.L.O sliced and diced any remaining intact heads with their famously ferocious vinyl cuts and precision synthesis. Navigatorz claimed the spotlight as the second debut act of the weekend; Vinja and Sortof Vague brought their production and performance mindsets together for this new project, diving into the abyssal depths of synthesis. Bringing the last night to a spectacular close, MALAKAI spared no effort in executing a beautifully tailored sunrise performance. Original tracks and selections from his own archives morphed into an ultraviolet serenade of the senses, bringing the last bits of energy within the crowd to a resounding cadence of body and mind.
Sunday morning was a tired and joyous gathering for one last hurrah. The fabled pancake breakfast returned in it’s brightest form yet. Probe 1, Easyjack, and Detox Unit graced the stage for one last three-way break-beat performance, with organizers literally flipping pancakes into the mouths of their friends from behind the decks. It was an audacious and hysterical ending to a weekend filled with pure intentions and outcomes.
We left the grounds with that same sense of renewal and drive we felt last summer that made returning to Solasta Festival such a natural move. Powerful, communal undercurrents left this gathering through the thoughts and actions of everyone who came together for it, once again manifesting Solasta’s goal for inclusion and awareness. Given Solasta’s size and relative humility, it will undoubtedly continue to grow in the years ahead. We’re eagerly awaiting it’s return in the summer of 2020.