Walking into Dreamstate Las Vegas felt like coming home again, as if everything that had happened to me in 2020 (and to all of us) was being made right.
No one came out unscathed from this pandemic. Some lost their lives, others lost loved ones, and countless others struggled with the mental health and substance abuse issues that are inherent to a year of isolation.
For those of us who relied on festivals, clubs, and warehouse parties to keep our inner demons at bay and find inner peace, a year without music was especially trying.
Everyone’s experience has been different and difficult. Trauma impacts people on different levels, so no one’s trauma is worse than anyone else’s, it’s just our ability to deal with the ebbs and flows of hardships that vary. But for me, without the ability to dance out the pain and connect with other people, I lost my way — lost a lot of things actually. Friends moved away, a relationship crumbled, my brother got cancer, and I was left alone in my tiny apartment ruminating on everything that had gone wrong, wishing for an escape that didn’t come from a bottle.
I was slipping. In the beginning, I kept telling myself that the music would return. That there is no way this would last longer than six months. But six months turned into a year, and a year turned into 15 months. And I felt like I had lost my identity. Like I would never be myself again. Like a piece of me had been destroyed.
And then I stepped through the gates of the Las Vegas Events Center as Jerome Isma-Ae was playing his set.
The venue, for those unfamiliar with the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, is an outdoor space with a festival vibe—a vibe I haven’t felt since Imagine Festival 2020.
“I’m home,” I kept thinking to myself, “l’m finally fucking home.” Imagine thinking you’d never see a close friend again and then being reunited after 15 minutes. This is what Dreamstate felt like; I was coming home again.
Venues matter, don’t get me wrong, but the magic a venue holds makes the venue itself almost irrelevant because no matter where you are, grungy basement or big box venue, it’s the music that makes an experience — it’s always been about the music.
That magic is my home.
‘Music Is The Answer’ is one of my all time favorite tracks, especially in Orkidea’s Radio Unity episode from January, 2019.
As my friend and I walked in and got the lay of the land, we sat down to watch the rest of the set. ‘Music Is The Answer’ began to play. I expected to cry at some point, but I imagined it would happen during Gabriel & Dresden’s set, because I’m the ultimate fan girl.
But something about the line “music is the answer to your problems, keep on dancing and you can solve them” made my body erupt in goosebumps and tears involuntarily fell from my eyes — and that was only within thirty minutes of being at Dreamstate.
As Haliene began to sing her collaboration with Seven Lions ‘Rush Over Me’ tears continued to flow as I began to simultaneously dance and cry. This is what I had been waiting for. This was a moment I thought may never come again. And I was here, savoring every second of this moment.
Like many of us, I haven’t talked to strangers in a long time. My friend ran to grab a drink and I was sitting alone. Another group came up to me and asked me to sit with them — my first new friends of the night.
As Paul Oakenfold came on, the old school trance people took to the front of the venue. This might be my favorite part of trance shows. Older ravers who have been doing this since they were kids mix with young kids whose gateway to trance was Anjuna. But generational gaps aside, we were all there together because music unites.
An older gentleman saw me getting excited and we started talking about our love for Oakenfold. After a while, I asked if I could hug him. He got tears in his eyes and said, “I’ve waited 15 months for a stranger at a festival to give me a hug. This is what we lost, this is what we needed. Thank you. Thank you.”
I didn’t expect that answer, but I knew what he meant. I needed it too. I had almost forgotten how to even be human. He wasn’t the first person I hugged that night nor would he be the last.
And then Gabriel & Dresden played. While I was at my darkest points in the beginning of quarantine, Club Quarantine gave me light. Gabriel & Dresden mean more to me than I can put into words. The family that formed around Club Quarantine brought thousands of us together as a family, the “Pinecone Family”. I got to meet some of these people in real life as we waited for our guys to come on stage.
They were the first DJ/producers I discovered on my own without someone I was dating showing them to me. I didn’t get into this scene until 2017, so I had to listen to hours and hours of ABGT to discover new artists. That’s where I found Andrew Bayer, Oliver Smith, Spencer Brown, and my guys, Gabriel & Dresden.
I had purchased tickets to the Remedy Tour, the album I had previously written a review for, and that cancellation hit me hard. Club Quarantine got me through quarantine. And for a long time, I thought I’d never see them perform again.
As they took the stage, starting with my favorite track, ‘Tracking Treasure Down’. I was surprised to find myself composed. There is a lot of pain wrapped up in Gabriel & Dresden’s music for me; I associate it with a relationship which, on paper should have worked, but just never really did in practice, no matter how much we tried. But we always had music. Music is what kept that relationship alive, and Gabriel & Dresden were the glue that held us together for so long.
But I wasn’t sad, because within the first few bars of the song I realized this music wasn’t about him, or anyone else. My journey and my love for these incredible musicians was about my own personal journey. A flood of happiness washed over me.
I never feel like I’m going to be okay after breakups, but when you couple that with an absence of clubs and music, things seemed so bleak and hopeless. But there I was, listening to ‘As The Rush Comes’ — a song I haven’t been able to listen to for six months because of the grief and memories I attribute to it. But I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t even sad. I was liberated. I danced, I belted the words with strangers, I separated men from the music and I made it my own. I let go.
After they played, I asked Josh for a picture. His response, “Of course, but I’ll do you one better than a photo, give me a hug.” Tears again. I just hugged my favorite musician. I talked with Dave and Sub Teal and I had to pinch myself to make sure this was real.
I focus on Gabriel & Dresden, but Cosmic Gate killed it, hearing the Tinlicker remix of ‘Children’ was mind blowing. And, of course, even without the lasers Gareth Emery put on a good show, and belting out the lyrics to ‘Sanctuary’ was a highlight for me.
These experiences used to happen to me all the time. Every weekend I let past trauma go with every step I took on the dance floor. But I couldn’t do that for 15 months. But it’s back now, and I’m back now.
We had to endure a pandemic of unprecedented proportions this last year, and for many of us all hope was drained from the world. But hope can be found in even the darkest times if we remember to look for it.
Dreamstate gave me my life back. The looks reflected in everyone’s faces was something I can’t do justice with words alone. We had done it. We had survived. We made it. We were here together once again — dancing harder than we had in months, connecting with people we may never see again.
In the outside world, we are vastly different. Our jobs are different, our values may be different, our dreams and aspirations may be different, our political views may be different — but not here. At Dreamstate, we were all just dancers trying to make it through. Life is hard, happiness sometimes feels too distant to grasp. But for six hours, we were free, we were back where we belonged. We were a family of misfits again.
I wish I could bottle up the magic that hung in the air that night. I wish I could capture the energy and save it for a day when I’m struggling again. The only bad side to Dreamstate is that it had to end, and I had to go back to the real world. But this time, I knew I had reached the light at the end of the tunnel — there would be more festivals and shows.
Covid took so much from us. Dreamstate gave us some of that back. As festivals and shows come back, and we all quickly reacquaint ourselves to our old live styles of dancing, We world be wise to not forget what we lost. Don’t forget the darkness that loomed while the music was gone, because it is through trials that we learn to cherish the good times.
If we learned anything from 2020, it’s that life as we know it can change in the blink of an eye. The things and people we love can be taken from us, we may be driven to the brink of madness or emotional instability — I can attest to having endured both during the pandemic.
But we got the music back. And we should treasure every single second of this reignition of life. As Above & Beyond says “life is made of small moments like these.”
Opportunities to be a part of the music have been returned to us, we have been given a gift. It is my sincerest wish that we never take these moments for granted again.
Get ready to hug a stranger again, to help a girl in the bathroom fix her hair, and to dance like it may be your last day on earth… because it might be.
There will be other festivals soon, but Dreamstate gave me back what I lost. It healed my heart, it reminded me that music truly is the answer to our problems.
Thank you for the best night I’ve had in 15 months, Dreamstate. I won’t soon forget it.
I needed the music back. I needed to feel that feeling that comes from going to a club alone and dancing with hundreds or thousands of strangers and leaving at the end of the night with new friends. Friends you shared an evening with, and may never see again.
*Featured image via Dreamstate*