Zen Awakening Festival 2017 was a three-day transformational, music and arts festival held in Wildwood, FL from November 17th through 19th. Set in 100 acres of nature, the camping event featured three music stages with a variety of jam bands and electronic DJs, as well as the Bhakti House stage which hosted yoga, meditation, spiritual and holistic teachers and more. [View photo gallery here.]
Zen Awakening is a grassroots event comprised of authentic people bringing together an eclectic mix of talent for friends to enjoy. One of these people is Demarr Brown (a.k.a. Exit 9), music curator at Zen Awakening. A couple of months ago we interviewed Demarr and asked, “Do you work well under pressure?” He replied, “I love working under pressure…I’m used to things happening on-the-fly and doing things the best I can with little information, making things sound good and legit.”
Ironically, this weekend would put Demarr’s statement to the test. With the festival’s headliner, Ott., cancelling at the last minute due to illness, an air of disappointment and uncertainty hung over the event. Could they get a fill-in this soon? Would the replacement live up to the anticipation?
I’ve learned that life is a continuous series of “what nows?” – moments that challenge our critical thinking skills and determination. It is in these times we discover what we’re made of and if we’re capable of overcoming adversity. That’s exactly what Demarr and the Zen Awakening staff achieved when they made Yheti the honorary replacement.
I know what you might be thinking if you weren’t at the festival – Yheti isn’t exactly an equal trade for Ott. But in this case you’d be very wrong.
Read our full festival recap below to find out why:
Zen Awakening Festival 2017 Review
The Galactic Guru Stage (Incendia)
The Galactic Guru stage provided by Incendia was my favorite setting throughout the weekend – especially with temperatures dipping into the 40’s at night. Those flame bursts were everything. Day one at the GG stage I saw several DJs/producers for the first time. The Galactic Effect and Otto von Schirach laid down an hour of extreme glitch, future and experimental bass. Fun fact: Otto bought his first drum machine from a crackhead in Lil Havana, Miami. I’d like to thank said crackhead for his contribution to the bass music society.
The Galactic Effect & Otto von Schirach
After Otto and Galactic Effect I stuck around for a few minutes of west coast trip hop DJ PartyWave before heading to the main stage for most of the night. For an idea of what he played you can listen to his popular new EP “Indian Summer”:
I returned to Galactic Guru for Friday night’s headliner, Brooklyn-based producer Esseks. Esseks’ 10-track LP titled “Broken Bones” is out now via the free-form electronic label Wakaan. Get the “Broken Bones” premiere on NestHQ. Experimental bass with light and dark synths coupled with heavy melodic tones made for a trippy close to day one.
Day two I had Exit 9 on my must-see list. He put down a brief set for us during Imagine Festival and I’ve been waiting to hear more ever since. Exit 9 combines his massive hip hop catalog with experimental bass in a way that breathes new life to the the classics. It’s weird and it made sense all at the same time. Genius. I was thoroughly satisfied. (Read our interview with Exit 9 / Demarr Brown.)
After Exit 9 I caught some of Ohio bass music producer/DJ Toadface. Toadface just wrapped up a fall tour as featured support for Yheti and his name is buzzing around the net with his recent remix of “Alaea” on PartyWave’s “Indian Summer” EP.
Psy-bass musician Spundose came across my radar last year and I haven’t seen him scheduled for a southeast show yet so he was also on my must-see list. Spundose gained notoriety after opening for some impressive Tipper shows and we wanted to find out what he’s been working on lately. We did an interview prior to his Saturday night show so check back for that soon. He has a new EP coming out early 2018 and we got a sneak preview of the new sounds during his set. Slow-downed, vibey and strange. I’m looking forward to the full project release.
I returned to this stage just as Levitation Jones was wrapping up. It was time for Saturday night’s headliner, Canadian future bass artist ill-ēsha. ill-ēsha is scheduled to appear in my hometown, Jacksonville, on New Year’s Day so I wanted to make sure I familiarized myself with her sound. When she stepped down from the decks and began to sing, I was all ears. It’s not often we see a DJ / producer take on a singing role mid-set. Before the show she gave me her business card which listed several additional titles such as Film Composer, Sound Designer and VO Actor. Busy woman!
Fire, sunset and bass with @ploydgrimes Cant ask for a better way to ring in the last night of @zenawakeningfestival #zenawakening2017 #zenawakeningfestival #zenawakening #musicfestival #floridafestival #musicblog #musicblogger #bassmusic #floridamusicblog #ployd
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Sunday featured a sunset dubstep rager with “Bass Jesus” Ployd providing the musical entertainment. Flow artists and animal costumes were plentiful as things were starting to get wild in the woods. The set was a good omen of what was to come with the night’s new headliner being revealed.
I’ll get to the Yheti show soon but first…
My weekend plans had originally called for getting to know more of the up-and-coming DJs/producers at the Heady.Made.Weird. Stage but our other journalist had car trouble and couldn’t make it. I was disappointed not to hang more at Heady.Made.Weird. but we did get to cover an afternoon set by Nappy Dread (a.k.a. Tango) on Saturday.
Nappy Dread is a bomb soul-house DJ from Orlando we met late night on Friday at the Dragon’s Den late night camp. Dread knows music and we’re looking forward to building with him in the future. Dragon’s Den was going off all weekend.
Speaking of late night party spots, Heady Made held down the entertainment until sunrise each night (maybe later, but I can’t hang like that!). We caught Sunday’s sunrise at Heady Made with Birmingham future bass DJ/producer Party Matrix and ThazDope Records DJ Lodurr.
The guys let us squeeze in our photographer/DJ Charlie Hustle for a hour of house music before their set. The crew is super family-oriented and we were grateful for the opportunity to work with them. Thanks for everything!
Charlie Hustle at the Heady Made Weird stage – Zen Awakening 2017. . ????: Yousef – “Beg” (Hot Since 82 Future remix) @yousefcircus @hotsince82 . . #housemusic #techno #technomusic #techhouse #housedj #danceparty #charliehustle2000 #zenawakening2017 #zenawakeningfestival #zenawakening #musicfestival #floridafestival @zenawakeningfestival #headymadeweird
If you’re in the midwest area this February, ThazDope is hosting a Sacred Wellness Conference along with GW Productions and The UNTZ. The conference will take place in Peoria, IL and is offering workshops in Meditation, Yoga, Energy Conservation, Perma Culture, Music/Sound Therapy and more. Many of the Zen Awakening alumni will be performing during the conference including Yheti, Toadface, Ployd; and Heady Made will have its own block of performers. More info here.
Middle Earth Stage
Middle Earth was the main stage situated between the food and art vendors near the venue entrance. The sound all weekend was top notch. Supersillyus was wrapping up on Middle Earth stage when I arrived for London drum and bass trio Ivy Lab. Ivy Lab’s Zen show in Wildwood, FL was sandwiched in between their appearances in Cambridge, MA and Baltimore, MD so it was a much appreciated treat. I caught a few minutes before heading backstage to interview Broccoli Samurai.
The guys from Broccoli Samurai were a blast! The jamtronica funk band has been touring heavily this year with several stops in Florida and I was looking forward to catching up with them finally. We chatted about the tour and recent band member changes before I headed up front to catch ill.Gates’ show.
Broccoli Samurai and myself
ill.Gates is a master at playing for the audience. I could tell his Zen Awakening set was tailored for this particular festival’s attendees. It was completely different from the Imagine Festival set I saw a couple months ago. And just as entertaining. The Canadian glitch-bass producer has been mentoring upcoming producers and recently launched his label Producer Dojo. It’s an honorable venture to say the least. If you’re interested in the sounds, he has been going live on Facebook lately finishing up his Producer Dojo Mixtape.
After ill.Gates, I got down on the dance floor while Broccoli Samurai closed out night one at the Middle Earth stage. I enjoyed the new guitar arrangement and I’m looking forward to following the band as they evolve during the coming months. Check back soon for our interview.
Saturday the main stage started early with Devi Dance at 9:30 am, followed by Mayapuris and the opening ceremony. I slept through all of this but I did awaken to hear the Cirque U.S.A. Kirtan speaker and aerial drummer from camp. That counts right?
1320 Records’ electronic rock band Higher Learning took stage shortly after sunset on Saturday. The Atlanta-based collective has been featured in several of our reviews over the last couple of years and their shows are always a highlight of any festival. The band released a new album this November, titled “In Anima” which can be heard on Soundcloud here. Fractal Beach just revealed the 2018 lineup and we’re happy to see Higher Learning on the bill, along with many more of the Zen alumni.
Yheti played his first set of the weekend on Saturday night and it seemed like a rather solid performance at the time. I won’t expand too much on Yheti right now seeing as how I’m dedicating an entire section to him in a minute – but it pretty much went like this:
@yhetimusic on main stage at @zenawakeningfestival #zenawakening2017 #zenawakeningfestival #zenawakening #musicfestival #floridafestival #musicblog #musicblogger #bassmusic #floridamusicblog #yhetimusic #yheti @zenawakeningambassador
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I was anxious to see Random Rab almost as much as I wanted to see Ott. I haven’t seen Random Rab since Purple Hatter’s Ball 2015 so I was thoroughly present while listening to his performance. He’s just a feel-good musician all around – each melody he plays is like the audio version of a smile. I leave his sets feeling a little lighter and brighter inside. Rab is currently touring in support of his recent album Formless Edge available on Bandcamp.
Bluetech followed up with a bit darker and abstract performance. The San Diego-based electronic musician is approaching the 15 year anniversary of his debut album and over the years has put out 20+ releases. He recently launched a crowdfunding platform to support the creation of a new album – read more here.
Sunday favorites at the main stage started with Atlanta electronic instrumental band Space Kadet. Jade Cicada got deep and dark with the bass before Late Night Radio picked things up a bit with a cool Colorado vibe. LNR’s Vinyl Restoration Vol 7 Mix is out now and it’s worth a listen promptly. I’m jamming it now as I write this with all the Zen Awakening feels coming back.
About the time Eprom went on stage I was ready for some grimy, acid-dub beats. It was my first Eprom experience and I had to stop a moment and calmly explain to myself exactly what was going on. I felt like I was being abducted by a spaceship – not a bad thing whatsoever. Our northern neighbors in Atlanta are in for a ride this New Year’s Eve – Eprom will be playing the Metro Fun Center.
Now to the man of the hour…
Yheti Saves the Day
Anyone who left the festival early on Sunday made a big mistake. Yheti is a name my basshead friends rant about (sometimes obnoxiously) and I’ve seen Tyler throw down a couple of impressive sets – but none like this one. I can almost guarantee you missed the best performance Yheti may ever throw down.
He came out to give us a good time in spite of the disappointing Ott. cancellation. He didn’t try to replace Ott., he just poured his best energy into giving us a party. For two hours he pulled rabbits out of a bottomless hat in a seemingless endless magic show of experimental bass, dub and dnb. Mind blown!
Yheti played from the heart for friends that night, and those always make for lasting memories. Zen Awakening 2017 will forever belong to Yheti.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea if he headlined Zen every year as tradition.
I love all electronic music, and last weekend i got the pleasure of shooting @yhetimusic at @zenawakeningfestival. He filled in for @ottsonic (hope you are feeling better ott) Sunday night. Playing multiple genres including dub,dnb,bass,and of course experimental bass what he’s known for. One of my favorite sets of the weekend. If you left earlier you really missed something special. #zenawakening2017 #zenawakeningfestival #zenawakening #musicfestival #floridafestival #musicblog #musicblogger #bassmusic #floridamusicblog #dnb #yheti
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Onto the rest of the festival…
Bhakti House Stage (Area 51)
My whole purpose in attending Zen Awakening was to immerse myself in yoga, meditation and the healing arts. I had it all planned out with journalists covering the music stages and me lying down in Shavasana pose all weekend. It’s been a long year of obstacles and I was ready for a break!
But something in the Universe was disrupting all the plans that weekend. I ended up covering music and conducting interviews most of the time and missing out on the transformational workshops. Oh well, I can’t complain about seeing a bunch of amazing music. And I can always do yoga in my backyard watching Youtube videos.
I did enjoy a few moments of yoga with live music. I also caught some of Anjali Mansa’s performance. Yoga and meditation should be mandatory for anyone in the entertainment business – the stress of deadlines and demanding people can get overwhelming!
Visual artists at Zen Awakening were as much a part of the show as the musicians. Live painters lined the perimeter of stage viewing area giving the audience a chance to browse the artwork while watching the show. Of all the art festivals I’ve attended, this one stood out as having the largest amount of visual creators and artist vending booths. I didn’t even get to explore the entire artist lineup but we did get a close-up look at many.
Zen also featured a good variety of food vendors for the size of the festival. Throughout the weekend I ate a curry bowl from Free Lovin’ Foodery, some delicious fries and a few bites of a gyro. Free Lovin’ is always a given for me – but I had no idea they offered organic coffee. Best $3 I spent all weekend.
On Sunday night one of the vendors offered a home-cooked steak dinner for $12! I don’t eat steak but it looked like it was a good sized piece of meat on our photographer’s plate. He tossed me the leftover baked potato and it was yummy. And of course our staff catering friends at Tre Bien Foods kept our strength up all weekend with my favorite veggies, roasted with love.
Did anyone else notice the eerie amount of synchronicity happening all weekend? It was like the second you thought of someone or mentioned something it appeared. Everything seemed to happen right on time, even when things were late. By the second day I had used up my emergency toilet paper and Charlie said, “I’ll get you more tomorrow.” Seriously, he ground scored a roll of toilet paper for me the next day.
I also manifested us a campsite with electricity. Next time I’m visualizing a spot closer to the stages, and a golf cart.
Zen Awakening has a unique niche in giving attendees an intimate show with their favorite electronic bass music producers/DJs and jam bands in a casual setting. The headliners are big enough to draw a crowd and the remaining lineup features emerging and underground acts soon to be headliners. It’s like a sneak preview of what’s going to be massively popular the near future.
The entire weekend was a reminder to let go and allow the Universe to lead the way. We as humans try so desperately to control what we cannot. When we go with the flow we often learn there is something much better waiting for us if we give up resistance to change.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I can’t express how much appreciation I have for this homegrown event and others like it. Many of these acts I would never get to experience if it weren’t for the sweat and tears of the event coordinators. It takes an unfathomable amount of hard work and perseverance to bring this much talent together in one place. Much gratitude to the Zen visionaries. Can’t wait until next year!
Zen Awakening Festival 2017 Photos
ill-ēsha & friend
Broccoli Samurai posing for the hottest mixtape cover of 2017
Nick, Yheti, Charlie Trester