Sunday, August 01, 2004

return of the rave festival

by BPositive ~ Photos by Kourtney Anderson ~ Since time immemorial, high summer has been the time when the tribe gathers, usually at a different cave every year. We hunt and store up extra supplies throughout the spring so that we can afford the long trip to the gathering and all the time missed from providing for our food and shelter for the next winter. This year’s gathering is only seven hours journey from our cave in an area that is full of forests, bountiful wildlife and is near the mighty Mother of all rivers. Many of our tribe are making the journey. There should be a large turnout and many new faces. First, however, we must assemble our supplies, cross the wide prairie and somehow cross the Mother river.

When we get there, our tribe will participate in the many dances celebrating the great Earth Mother. Many great musicians will come from far-flung places playing strange and scintillating music that will hypnotize and enrapture the dancers. We will wander among the campsites and exchange news with people from other tribes and other places. It will be a gathering to remember. . . .

I shake my head to clear this vision of our prehistoric past from my mind as my SUV turns into the gravel drive in front of the Shawnee Cave Amphitheater, the setting of this year’s Caveman Experience outdoor rave festival. Our group from Kansas City has arrived. It has been a long drive spanning the “great prairies” of Missouri, passing through St. Louis and crossing the mighty Mississippi. We endured unquenchable sun and heat, hunger and an unrelenting rainstorm to get here. Our provisions would barely fit inside the rented SUV. The list of items we forgot is weighing heavily on us. But, we are here and eager to meet the other members of our tribe . . . errr, long lost friends and people from other cities.

Outdoor rave festivals used to be a popular and highly anticipated element of summer. We used to look forward all year to Family Affair over the Fourth of July weekend, Interstellar Outback/Dreamfest over Labor Day (if I remember right), and dozens of other, smaller outdoor camping events all summer long. But, since the collapse of the Midwestern rave scene several years ago, there haven’t been any with a lineup that would attract people from a multi-state area -- until Caveman.

Evidently, Caveman had been held last year, too, but not many people heard of it outside of the St. Louis area. This year, as I understand it, international Techno producer Woody McBride got involved and gathered together what appears to be a consortium of rave promotion crews from across the central Midwest -- listed as Intergrüv Networks, Middle School Productions & The Genius of Fun -- to provide musical talent and manpower enough to pull off a larger event.

These events are usually far away from any single city at some large outdoor venue like a ski resort, or outdoor amphitheater that normally caters to the biker crowd and Blues festivals. Most people come prepared to camp, though you can’t always be assured of any modern camping amenities like running water or electricity. The Caveman event offered no running water for either washing or drinking, and no car camping. But, if you’re an experienced camper, or even a thinking member of society, how hard is it to buy a couple two-gallon jugs of water at the store and come prepared for a safe and fun time?

The beauty of these outdoor festivals is how the experience of getting back to nature creates a completely different experience from the raves and club nights you can go to back at home. By the nature of being so far from home, everyone is from out of town. There are no cliques; everyone is a potential new friend. The spirit of adventure and act of having to live in primitive conditions apparently brings out the best in people. Everyone is generous to a fault in sharing their food, drink and news from their part of the world. With multiple stages and multiple promoters participating, you can expect to be exposed to a lot of really good up-and-coming regional level talent. Not to mention getting to learn other styles of dancing from the many good dancers representing cities as far away as 8-10 hours (sometimes more!). It is all so reminiscent of the tribal gatherings our prehistoric ancestors attended that I have to think there might be something instinctual that compels people to organize and attend these events.

Despite our best efforts to arrive before dark, we did not. It is full dark and the venue is covered in dense trees with little electric light. Woody McBride and a tribe of his co-organizers and staff are manning the entrance. We check in, get our wristbands and marvel at the sight of hundreds of cars and people who are already there. With no official music line-up advertised for Friday night, I expected maybe a couple hundred other people and a few quiet camp sites where we could meet up with our St. Louis friends and have a few drinks before quietly drifting off to a restful night’s sleep.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. There had to be well over 1,000 people on site already. The front parking lot was full and they were already parking people in a further lot that was a much longer walk to the front gate.

When we got inside the venue, we could see that all the good campsites were already taken, too. And, finding our friends was going to be next to impossible. Still, we persevered. In the name of finding a porta-pottie and wanting to see the revered cave after which the event had been named, we headed down the long gravel road towards the main stage. As we got closer, we could hear there was full-on music coming from down there. It sounded really good, but the road got steeper and steeper and pretty soon we were dreading the climb back up!

As we turned one last corner, we could see spread out in front of us a huge seven- or eight-story tall limestone cliff. Underneath it, the gaping mouth of the cave was large enough to fit multiple semi-trucks into it parked end-to-end. Above it was the dark edge of trees and forest clinging to the cliff, and the dark canopy of velvety sky with a thousand glittering stars sparkling like diamonds.

A couple hundred souls were already dancing to the strains of a DJ whose name escapes me. Just then, by some miracle, we spied one of our friends and fellow campers from St. Louis who guided us back up the steep climb to the top and on to where our friends had saved us enough room to pitch our tents.

Fortunately, we had been warned in advance that there would be no driving in to your campsite. We had a cooler with wheels and a luggage dolly with which to haul our gear. Just as the dolly had tipped over for the second time, along came some enterprising soul on a golf cart and for $5, he hauled our stuff right to our “doorstep.”

The camp ground was quieting down by the time we finished setting up, so we decided to make it an easy night and just had a few beers to relax and caught up on the news from St. Louis with our friends. But, all around us were the lights from hundreds of campsites and the rustles and murmurs of many people doing the same.

The weather is always a factor in how enjoyable these types of events are. The weather for Caveman was much cooler than could rightly be expected in mid-July. However, Saturday the sun got going early and it felt awfully hot in the humid air. We spent most of our energy moving our chairs every few minutes in order to stay in what little shade our friend’s portable awning provided. The rest of the afternoon was spent napping, mixing vodka/tonics with lime and walking around checking out the music at the various stages. Some progressive trance and house on one of the side stages in the afternoon had me dancing for a couple hours despite the sweat that was running down my back and soaking my hair.

While on one of these walks around the venue, a face materialized in the crowd and proved to be my friend Darian from Iowa whom I hadn’t seen since another camping rave several summers ago and had lost touch with. The look on her face as she recognized me too was priceless! A later reunion with the rest of her Iowa crew was one of the highlights of the whole weekend.

A steady stream of new arrivals was carrying camping gear down the gravel road all afternoon. Lord knows where they found a place to pitch their tents. By morning, there wasn’t a four-foot strip of grass anywhere. People had squeezed tents in every nook and cranny. A great way to make new friends!

It was great to see so many people from Kansas City and parts of western Kansas. I also met people from about six other states. Being only about two hours from St. Louis, there was quite a large turnout from that fine city, as well as a surprising number of locals.

As the sun set, I ran into a chef friend of mine from St. Louis and was treated to a free gourmet dinner cooked on his little portable grill. Everyone else seemed to be cooking and preparing for the night ahead, too. A little nap took me to 10:00 pm and the night had begun! The one cloud on the horizon was the unfortunate placement of the two House headliners, Terry Mullan and Trevor Lamont, at the end of the lineup, well after sunrise. I could pretty much guarantee that even with a nap, I wasn’t going to be awake when those two came on.

We spent most of the early night at the main stage. Words can hardly describe the unearthly vision that was that cave when it was covered with the flickering lights and trippy visuals provided by the Electric Lantern light show. This proved to be the same hippy guy who used to do the visuals for all the raves in Des Moines, Iowa, back in the early ’90s. It was good to see him still doing his thing! And, those were the perfect visuals for projecting onto a rock wall and cave. Nigel Richards came on about this time and played what proved to be the hardest, most banging set I’ve ever heard him play. It wasn’t grabbing us much, so we headed back up the hill to check out the music at the other six stages.

Some good tech house at the stage at the top of the hill caught our attention. It turned out to be a DJ called Nnothing from Iowa. He served up some of the most interesting and slamming house and techno I’ve heard in ages. Definitely book this guy if you are looking for someone with impeccable taste in music and who will challenge your mind as well as your dance moves.

Somehow we ended up at the main stage again for the end of Diesel Boy and the beginning of Grooverider. If you liked Drum and Bass it was your night. Two international DJs playing your music in a spectacular cave setting. Unfortunately, to my uneducated DnB ears, they both seemed to play a very similar style of Drum and Bass. About an hour of that was enough for me. I was wishing that the organizers would have separated the two jungle sets with some other set to give us non-junglists some time entertainment during the main hours of the night

Astroboy played a truly memorable set around midnight and then the tag-team House set by St. Louis DJs Trevor Matthews and Don Tinsley later just blew my mind. Trevor and Don play some sick, deep melodic house that combines the best of Chicago and West Coast House. All three of these guys are easily some of the best House DJs I’ve ever heard in the region, if not nationally. Trevor and Don’s set had me dancing so hard, it almost made the seven-hour drive worth it all by itself.

I will never know whether Terry Mullan showed up or Trevor Lamont played one of his famous morning House sets that used to keep us all jacking until well after sunrise at Midwestern parties in days gone by. Maybe one of you readers can post something in the forums and fill us in. The worst thing was pooping out just as Christopher Lawrence was about to go on. I can imagine how sweet his brand of trance must have sounded coming out of that cave.

The next morning people were packing up pretty early to beat the heat. We pulled out before noon and beat a quick path back to our A/C in KC before the lack of sleep caught up with us and made driving too hard.

Overall, the party was well organized. There were a couple hours of consternation when all of the porta-potties were literally full to overflowing and we pictured what the woods were going to look like in the morning after thousands of raver kids used them for a toilet. But, then, magically, there was the truck to empty them and all was well. More porta-potties would definitely be a must if this event is held again.

The venue was incredible. I would definitely go back. Even the daunting hill to the main stage couldn’t keep me away. The cave does indeed make a natural amphitheater and the sound quality was exceptional. Hard to know whether it was hard for the sound people to EQ, but the sound was some of the best I have heard in years. One suggestion for any future events there, consider renting a large water truck and providing running water to at least wash in even if it‘s not drinkable.

I mightily wished there could have been more House or at least that the lineup could have offered a progression from slower and less hard music to the harder and darker stuff as the night wore on. House is just what I think of when I think of summer camping events. But, I have to remember other people think of hard techno events like Further and Even Further when they think of camping raves. If you are one of those people, you probably loved the music at Caveman.

All in all, a great party! I’m glad I got to dance outdoors under the velvet sky at Caveman and I’m glad I got to see that incredible cave and meet all the cool people I met from all over the Midwest. I’m especially glad that two of my friends from St. Louis who have never been to a rave before could experience a real outdoor rave in all its glory. Hopefully, this is only the start of more outdoor rave festivals to come and not the last gasp of a lost art form and culture!

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