This past weekend, yoga enthusiasts and dance music fans convened in Squaw Valley, in breathtaking North Lake Tahoe, California, to enjoy each other’s company and be at one with nature. It’s called the Wanderlust Festival, a celebration of peace, music, and yoga that is in its second year. My friends and I piled into my car Thursday night and drove 9 or so hours to Tahoe for the weekend, and it was well worth it.
I went to Wanderlust last year as well, as I won free tickets from Consequence of Sound (thanks, dudes) and partied in the mountains alongside artists like Broken Social Scene, Amanda Palmer, Spoon, Common, and Jenny Lewis. This time around, though, the focus shifted from “music and yoga” to “yoga and music”, as there were more yoga-related events and less big-name musical artists at the fest. There were still some notable musical acts, such as Moby, Pretty Lights, Brazilian Girls, Beats Antique, Bassnectar, Yard Dogs Road Show and Rupa & the April Fishes, but the music lineup wasn’t as star-studded as last year’s.
That wasn’t the only change this time around, as the layout of Wanderlust was moved as well. Last year, the main music stage was located up in one of the high camps, requiring an awesome 20-minute gondola ride up into the mountains. That allowed for amazing views and the ability to climb and hike up the ski runs and really experience nature, which was my favorite part about Wanderlust 2009. This year, though, that camp wasn’t used, and the main stage was located in the parking lot, on concrete.
We were pretty bummed about that, but I heard that the staff and people behind the festival received better feedback about the yoga activities than the music, and as a result the focus shifted. That, and the fact that some had to wait a long time for the gondola last year to take them back down to the main level warranted a location change. That makes sense, but it was sad to find out that we couldn’t go hike up the mountain like last year. There were events happening up at the other high camp that had a restaurant, pool, etc but they were charging $24 to ride up, so we didn’t bother. Oh well.
Despite all the changes, this year’s Wanderlust was still great. We were wary that attendance last year was pretty slight for a music festival, so we weren’t sure if there would be a Wanderlust this year. However, there were a lot of people there enjoying the sights this weekend. We also heard that Wanderlust is one of the biggest yoga events in the world, bringing together the top-name yogis (like Shiva Rea, Baron Baptiste, Duncan Wong, Doug Swenson, etc) and many, many attendees that filled the yoga classes and made the event a smash hit.
One of the best aspects of Wanderlust is the atmosphere. You drive a while along the winding Highway 89 alongside amazing views of Lake Tahoe and its vibrant colors, and then arrive in Squaw Valley. Whereas other festivals have annoying security procedures and long lines, everything is so laid back here that you just park your car (hassle free) and then wander (ha) around wherever you like. For non-yoga enthusiasts like me, the only real place you need to show your ticket/wristband is the main music stage, as you are free to walk around the main area and check out all the cool vendors and the smattering of musical acts that play on the main concourse.
It was there that we saw Steve Gold, Kelli Scarr and Danyavaad & the Shimmy Sisters play. Scarr, in particular, was amazing. Her voice was incredible and her tender acoustic songs were really impressive.
Friday night Pretty Lights and Moby performed their respective DJ sets. I don’t normally care much about dance/DJ music, but their shows were great. Pretty Lights’ version of dance music is very original and captivating, as he and the live drummer mash up all sorts of songs and musical elements into a well-crafted, engaging experience. Their set was one of the best moments of the weekend.
Moby was next and closed the night, and he whipped the crowd into a frenzy up at his DJ table as well. We had to leave a few minutes early, but we could hear Moby’s mad skills all the way back to the car.
Saturday, one of the other best moments of the weekend took place. Moby’s acoustic set (yes, ACOUSTIC Moby) was simply amazing. It went down in the Yoga Tree tent, allowing for a great hilly mountainside view behind him. Kelli Scarr was there to sing and play keyboards, as sometimes Moby just manned the acoustic guitar.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this set, but it was really great. I didn’t recognize every song, but here’s a rough set list from the afternoon:
Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash)
We Are All Made of Stars
When it’s Cold I’d Like to Die (Moby on keyboards, Kelli on vocals)
Pale Horses (?)
Porcelain (Kelli on Keyboard)
Gone to Sleep
Helpless (Neil Young)
For the last song, Moby asked Kelli to sing her song to her son Liam. Moby sat out in the crowd with Liam and they both watched Kelli sing the song. It was pretty cute, honestly. After that, the set was done, and I was really glad I made it in time to see it all. It was great.
That night the Yard Dogs Road Show and Bassnectar headlined the main stage. The Road Show was this crazy cabaret-burlesque-stage show kind of thing, with circus-y music and numerous costume changes. It was really off the wall, but totally fit the mood of the festival. Bassnectar did his thing to get the crowd going as well. At this point I noticed that the crowd was decidedly more dance-friendly this year, and a lot of people showed up around the time the DJ’s and musical acts hit the main stage. That means a lot of colorful fur outfits and glow sticks, apparently. People mostly behaved themselves. I’m curious to see how the fest goes down next year musically-speaking. I wonder if they’ll only book DJ’s and dance music, as it seemed to be the crowd favorites this year.
Sunday, things were winding down, and by the time we arrived at Squaw tents were being closed down and it hit us that the weekend was almost over. Rupa & the April Fishes, an eclectic band out of San Francisco, kicked off the main stage with a lively set of trilingual folk/ska/acoustic tunes, including a cover of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton. They reminded me of a less-insane Gogol Bordello with a female lead singer. Most of the crowd was up dancing around to their rhythmic music.
This set and the set by Yard Dogs Road Show made me think that Gogol Bordello would have been a perfect addition to the music lineup. Maybe next year.
Beats Antique also performed Sunday night, and their Oakland-based brand of electro-dance-rock-ambient fusion noise was thrilling. I hadn’t heard of them before, but they put on a great live show, the kind that I wouldn’t mind seeing again sometime. Brazilian Girls closed out the fest, and they were very enthusiastic and engaging as well. The lead singer had a very Karen O. vibe going on, but without all the cat screeching and irritating sequined outfits. Their blend of world dance music and funky jazz stuff was intriguing.
After they were finished, we left, and I was sad.
Wanderlust is a lot of fun, and the location is a main reason. I absolutely love Lake Tahoe, and the concept of a peaceful music festival nestled in the trees sounds like heaven. The entire weekend was blessed with this laid-back atmosphere that makes it almost seem like a dream. I was a bit sad I missed out on some of the speaking events (such as Moby talking about being a vegan or Entourage star Adrian Grenier speaking about new media) but there’s always next year.
But for everything I missed, there was something to enjoy, like the delicious food and all the cute dogs that wandered around with their owners. Wanderlust is truly a great experience, and if this year’s event was any indication, you might want to go ahead and book your time in Tahoe for late July 2011 early, as it only seems to get better and better every time out.
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Here are some of my videos from the weekend for your enjoyment :)