When I got off I-25, I thought I was lost. I had a harrowing journey making my way about 3 hours from north Denver to the town of Rye, Colorado – my car started overheating about 45 minutes out and I had to call a friend to scoop me up and transfer my stuff. While I could have been pissed off, quite frankly, I just couldn't wait to make it to the 14th annual Sonic Bloom festival. No amount of car trouble was going to stop me. But, when we pulled off on exit 64, all I saw was open plain for as far as the eye could see.
“You're POSITIVE this is the right exit?” my friend asked me. “Yeah, Exit 64!” We followed the instructions and kept driving for what seemed like longer than it probably was. “I don't know, I think we're lost,” I remarked. But then, I realized I was so relieved to almost be there, that I was not paying attention to the obvious. The signs were right there – Sonic Bloom This Way. After some time, we made it to the check in line and I got out and looked around. The land stretched for miles in every direction – but I could make out the mountains up ahead. We made it!
Check in was relatively easy, after waiting for some other vehicles to get searched ahead of us, I received my media pass and we kept driving. It took us about another mile and half but after some time we finally made it to the camping area – some land not far from the foothills of the mountains. I loved how removed it all felt. It was truly a sight to see all of these multicolored dotted tents, dwarfed by massive formations of rock and bush. Moments like these remind me why I moved to this state.
We followed the standard protocol – the rush unpacking the car, setting up the tents, “Did you bring the camping chairs?”… “Ah, damn I left them!” I always have a moment where I have to remind myself that I made it, we are here, there is no need to rush anymore. By the time we got everything set up it was getting dark and the night was about to begin. I checked through my camera gear, threw on my pashmina, laced up my shoes, and made my way toward the ornately adorned Sonic Bloom gate.
What opened up before me was an intricate and sprawling layout of art installations, stages, hidden structures, pyro and food stands. I was immediately hit with similar feelings that I had exploring Electric Forest, but yet I felt a more primitive Burning Man type of vibe. There was so much to explore but it felt less planted and more organic. Flames shooting off from a giant metal installation on one side, giant murals in the process of being painted in another – it was overwhelming but captivating.
In terms of staging, the festival is broken down into 3 major parts. The first being the Main Stage – known as the Bloom Stage, where big names like Gramatik, Emancipator, Opiuo, The New Observatory played a variety of sets across multiple days. I found the stage layout to be perfect, it was a very large stage with plenty of wide open space for people to move around and enjoy the show and flanked by two pyro art installations on either back end. Even on the most crowded of the days it was extremely pleasant and I found that I could always get up to the rail if I wanted to.
The other two stages, Meadow and Hummingbird were smaller, but incredibly well put together. Hummingbird turned out to be my favorite by far. It felt like a hidden space deep within a grove, there were hammocks in random places, the whole stage was covered in stretched colorful decorative material that gave it a sense of being enclosed, and I swear they were pumping out incense of some kind throughout the surrounding areas. I could have easily posted up there all weekend and never left – the vibes were unreal.
After having made our way around to all the stages, we decided to grab some coffee at the Bloom bar. The staff were incredibly friendly and there was a variety of different offerings to choose from. I chose to get a mocha, and being able to add CBD to my drink was an awesome touch. We sat down on some chairs made out of old school car seats and took in our surroundings. So far what had really stood out to me was how chill the vibes were. Sonic Bloom didn't have the hype level of an E Forest or some other festivals, but rather, it had a relaxed undercurrent of people that were here to just have a good time and take care of each other. Honestly considering how big this music scene has gotten over the years, it was massively refreshing to be reminded of what can be so special about an event like this, when everyone is here for the right reasons. “This is dope,” I remarked aloud.
After some time taking it all in, we took another deeper look at the things we missed and found ourselves following a hidden path to what was called the Yoga Dome. When I got there we discovered a DJ spinning a set to a couple dozen people spinning flow toys. It was so awesome to continue to be surprised by things like this and it turns out there would be a number of surprise sets here as the weekend went on.
We walked a little further and discovered a bunch of different experiential art installations including a sound deprivation station replete with a variety of gongs in different sizes. I’d seen this before, but it wasn’t until my friend sat in the circle of symbols that I realized how invigorating it was. When nothing but the sound of gongs hitting your ears surrounds you, it takes you to another place. We continued further still and encountered another art installation – a sort of inverted globe with real time projected images of landscapes swathed in trippy colors. After letting me take it all in, the artist himself appeared seemingly out of nowhere to tell me his story. He’d been working on it for years. The love and passion at Sonic Bloom was dripping from the trees.
At this time it was nearing 2:30 AM. There was no doubt about it – we were tired. But we decided to head back to the now familiar stage in the trees for one last set. We made our way past hammocks full of laughing humans and spinning POI. As the now on-the-rise DJ, Daily Bread began his set to a stage full of dancing humans I had a moment of realization. After hearing about Sonic Bloom for so many years but never attending, maybe I was missing what was right in front of me. Sonic Bloom is magic. In a music scene that has gotten so big and so commercial, it is so refreshing to find a hidden gem that reminds me why I got involved in the first place. Sonic Bloom was an experience I had been searching for for a long time. But, just like when I got off exit 64, all of the signs were there – I just wasn’t paying attention.