Take a moment and picture Vail, Colorado. You probably see pearly white ski-slopes, rich people, and mountains cradling the quiet town. Now, picture thousands of brightly-colored, sparkly, fur-coat and onesie wearing party people running rampant through town late into the night. That’s what Powabunga was all about! We hit the legendary slopes and boogied the night away for two days straight. Although I didn’t get to experience the sold-out afterparties (which I heard were awesome), I did get to partake in just about everything else. The first year of this mountain festival was wild, intimate, and nothing short of epic. Here’s what went down.
After driving three hours from Colorado Springs, I checked into The Evergreen Lodge, which was one of the partnering hotels. Determined to be as warm as possible, I dressed myself in two layers of pants, thick wool socks, two sweatshirts, a blue snowboarding jacket, and a black knit hat. There was snow in the forecast for the night! I didn’t know how anyone would wear the fun, exotic outfits usually spotted at festivals with it being so damn cold in the Rocky Mountains at this time of year.
The town of Vail provided bus service between the festival grounds and the center of town. I hopped on the bus with an older couple. The man sported a suit with a top hat and cane; the woman wore a long purple skirt with flowers and lights intertwined in the fabric. My thoughts about not being able to wear fun festival clothes in the mountains had officially been debunked.
As I stepped off the bus and walked through the festival gates, my bones buzzed with excitement. I walked past vendors and looked around at a few of the art installations. There stood a feather mural with bright blues and greens painted in the configuration of a flared peacock tail. Then I saw two girls wearing purple lipstick and glitter on their faces posing for a picture in a giant golden picture frame. There was also a wall of colorful flowers where two flow artists whipped around brightly lit balls getting warmed up for the night. And behind the wall of flowers I could see the main attraction: the stage!
There was only one stage for the whole festival, and it looked beautiful with the glistening mountains surrounding it. The nerdy California boys of De Lux were playing their unique post-punk tunes mixed with disco sounds. I walked to the front to dance with the small but mighty crowd that was there.
Next, Golden came on stage with her pink jacket and a huge smile on her face. She had such great energy and her excitement was contagious! Her funky house beats are impossible not to move to. A group of girls wearing black hats with “GOLDEN” written across them in gold letters danced front and center during her set. They win the prize for Golden’s biggest fans!
Justin Jay’s Fantastic Voyage was next on the billing. He began his set by throwing bananas out into the crowd. Everyone jumped and yelled to catch the bananas like their potassium levels depended on it. Justin mixed some funky disco beats and sang synthesized vocals while his friends jammed out with him on live instruments. They played “Ease Up” and had the whole crowd singing the words “Ease up…Cool down… Be kind…To yourself.” This is the set where the sun started to disappear behind the mountains and the snow started to fall. What I thought was glitter turned out to be snow shining in the blue and purple lasers.
After Justin Jay’s Fantastic Voyage wrapped up, the intermission to get set up for ZHU began. By this time, the crowd filled the whole area between the stage and the sound tent. The snow started falling even harder, and there were green, blue, and red lights coming from the stage with “Powabunga” lit up on the screen. As the lights went down, the sea of people screamed in excitement.
In bright white lights, ZHU’s logo spanned the length of the DJ booth. There stood a guitar player on the left of the stage and a saxophone player to the right. White lights shined up onto the stage creating a silhouette of the musicians. This was my first time seeing ZHU live, but one of my friends saw him in Aspen just a few weeks prior to Powabunga. She said that he plays a completely different set each time and always does a great job.
ZHU played some of his most beloved songs such as “Faded” and “Workin’ For It”. When he played “Blame”, blue lasers moved back and forth to the melodic sounds while the logo on his DJ booth flashed with blue in sync with the lasers. White lights flashed to the beat, washing out the stage with each pulse. To sum up his set simply: ZHU FREAKING KILLED IT.
I spent the day adventuring all over Vail Mountain on my snowboard, and I’m sure many Powabunga attendees spent their Saturday doing the same! Either that, or recovering from the night before. People went hard for night one! Towards the end of the day, I popped into Fall Line in Vail Village for Powabunga’s costume party. The restaurant was nice enough to close down for the day to let us dress-up in whacky clothes and drink copious amounts of alcohol.
As I stepped my bulky black snowboarding boots onto the wood floor, the first thing I saw was a Yeti. Freaking awesome. The bartender shot streams of champagne into the surrounding people’s mouths with a champagne gun. If that doesn’t signal a good party, then I don’t know what does! The creative costumes ran the gamut, from a guy dressed in booty-short overalls to retro ski suits to a dinosaur head. I joined the party just in time to see who won best overall. Jesus won! Jesus carried a large cross with him, and his devotion to carrying that bulky thing around the whole time was enough to win the contest.
The costume party wrapped up and I headed back to my room to get ready to dance the night away again. I bundled up in the exact same plain outfit from the night before.
Heading into the festival, I could hear Ishi finishing up. I was bummed that I missed seeing their set! Beschloo started playing, and I was diggin’ his funky, yet laid-back beats.
About the time Boombox began setting up, loads of people started showing up. Everyone was looking forward to hearing those two dudes bumpin’ on the speakers. And they definitely got the speakers booming. I was up in the pit taking pictures, and right when they started playing I could feel the bass pounding in my chest. One guy on the rail tapped me on the shoulder and said “I’m a huge fan of Boombox! Please take my picture!” Ask and you shall receive, my guy.
Boombox consists of one man behind the turntables and another on the microphone and guitar. The visuals on the screen looked like images under a microscope and they had a whole rainbow of lasers. I could see why so many people were pumped for Boombox!
Next up came Gavlak / Pietrini. My goodness, they were one of my favorite acts in the whole festival! They busted out their remix of “Stayin’ Alive” by Bee Gees and had everyone singing “ah, ha, ha, ha stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”.
To wrap up Powabunga, Bob Moses played “Tearing Me Up” as the last song. Their set felt moody and relaxed, with just enough of a dancefloor beat to keep people moving. A group of people with wide pupils stood behind me. “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” one exclaimed. And he was right, it was a beautiful end to a beautiful festival!
If I were to recap all of the awesomeness that I had the pleasure of experiencing at Powabunga I would have a whole novel typed up. But you know what they say- “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Take a look through my full picture album to see more of the Powabunga magic!