Bass on the Rocks

Red Rocks at sunset

I recently returned from Colorado, where I spent a week staring doe-eyed at the red peaks rising around me, the sun setting fire to the mountains as it drifted below the horizon, the resplendent blue skies that surrounded me day after day. All this natural beauty awed me into a sort of reverence for nature, but this was not what I had come for.

I had come to absorb a different type of beauty altogether. I was there to work two nights at Red Rocks for Lorin Ashton, better know as Bassnectar, a revolutionary electronic bass music artist who effortlessly combines visuals and sounds to create an truly mind-altering experience for his audience.

The paradox of this experience was that such an unnatural sound (growling, gutteral bass and robotic synth) and visual experience (lasers, giant LED video screens, projections) could mesh so well with the natural beauty, and even enhance the natural surroundings of Red Rocks. The combined effect was enough to entrance and unite a crowd of over 12,000 people over two nights.

Bassnectar’s massive setup at the amphitheater

I came as part of the AmBASSador crew, a unique group of individuals hand selected by the Bassnectar team whose purpose is to entertain, hydrate, enhance and educate the crowd at shows. Ultimately, our purpose is to teach the crowd how to take care of themselves, and encourage them to take care of the people around them in return. We dress in all white, in elaborate and fantastical costumes that distinguish us from the rest of the crowd. People have called us “bass angels” before.

The AmBASSador crew getting ready on night one

Despite having to climb a staggering 182 stairs at least ten times each night, on top of suffering from altitude sickness, the AmBASSador crew worked seamlessly to organize fun events and crowd interaction, and to ensure the safety of everyone at the venue. We passed out candygrams with phrases like, “The best way to be happy… is to make another person happy” (from Bassnectar’s song “FSOF”) and “Everybody get down like animals!” A face paint crew turned audience members into weird, beautiful creatures adorned with glitter and Bassnectar designs. On several occasions we had the Red Rocks Amphitheater security and workers shake our hands and thank us for our work.

But the real focus of the evening was not on the venue itself, nor was it the AmBASSadors; it was Bassnectar. You could feel the crowd united by an overwhelming love of music, of life, of being free. People from all walks of life danced, sweated, cried together under the full moon and the glow of the massive lighting system rigged by set designer Michael Smalley. Fans held up signs that said, “Wake and Bass,” “Open Your Eyes,” “Free Your Mind,” all echoing Lorin’s revolutionary spirit.

play above clip as you read the next paragraph

The most profound moment for me came on night two of the show. I was exhausted from working, from dancing my heart out, from exalting the music and the experience. I stood on one of the top steps, looking down over the entire crowd in awe, and suddenly the bass quieted and the lights dimmed. A familiar, low, sweet instrumental noise replaced the chest rattling bass and the crowd mirrored the hush. He was playing “Butterfly,” a downtempo song off his new album that he had been teasing us with the entire fall tour – slipping a sound clip into a song, but never giving us the full piece. As he dipped into the highs and lows of the song, with Mimi Page’s ephemeral vocals haunting us in the background, you could feel the emotions of the crowd rise and fall as well. There were people standing still and crying in the audience, eyes fixated on the image of a butterfly floating across the giant screen behind the stage.

And then, smoothly, Lorin transitioned into my favorite song off one of his older albums, another one that he rarely plays, entitled “Laughter Crescendo.” The song features his characteristically shimmering, bubbly synth and steady bass beat, but beneath all of that is a vocal clip of a woman laughing. You can’t help but smile and laugh too when you hear this song. At the first moment I realized what he was playing, I looked up towards the sky and it started to rain. A collective sigh of reverence echoed from the crowd, we were all laughing and feeling the sky laugh tears of joy along with us. Later, Lorin would go on to tell me that he felt the rain too, and in that instant he got chills feeling the simultaneous reaction of the earth and the crowd.

But just as quickly as it all began, in a whirlwind of sound and light, it ended. Two nights of bliss came and went, and now we were left in an empty amphitheater, looking at a dark stage. There’s something eerie about the silence that follows a concert of that proportion. There is a loneliness in the silence, in your ears ringing when they were once so full of sound, in the sudden transition from being hip to hip with thousands of other people to standing there alone, scrambling to collect your belongings and shuffling towards the exit.

Now, our Bassnectar Family has scattered back to their corners of the country, adjusting back to normal life, preparing for upcoming festivals. But we’re all still dwelling on that unshakable, almost haunting experience of hearing Lorin pour his heart and soul out into the music, and into the crowd. In the most perfect setting, at the most perfect time, surrounded by the most perfect people, Bassnectar’s lyrics resounded truth: “Life is so impossible and overwhelming… ENJOY IT.” And so we did.

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