BELDEN TOWN, CALIFORNIA – Belden is a minuscule town just off I-70, about two and a half hours north of Sacramento, tucked in the beautiful NorCal mountains beside Yellow Creek. Between Stilldream and the other festivals that call the town home, the year-round population of Belden is a whopping eight people. I asked a local what he does the rest of the year when they aren’t hosting a gathering of hippies and music. “When I ain’t working these concerts,” he told me, “I just mine for gold and look for women; there are only three girls five miles north and five miles south!”
So, just to give you an idea, if you head to the middle of nowhere, go due north for a few hours, drive through a canyon, over a few more mountains and glorious rivers, you should find yourself in the general vicinity of Belden. The festival grounds are the entire town. On site, there’s a bar/restaurant, a couple porta-potties, a lazy river, a mini-vendor shakedown street, and three stages.
Upon arrival Wednesday evening, the production crew was hard at work building the stages. Main stage was right in the center of everything, complete with a handmade wooden pyramid structure to be projected on all weekend by visual projectionist mastermind, Jonathan Singer. It was surrounded by a massive Funktion One sound system that would be loud enough for a 10,000-person main stage, let alone a 1,500-person gathering. Stage number two, the Forest Stage, had some huge custom-designed speakers and beautifully handcrafted stage design made by the homies at Audiowaska. The last stage, the Beach Stage, was right off the creek (which was a perfect place to chill in your floaty on the water and crack off a day party). Each stage was different, sure, but each also boasted massive sound and sometimes (dare I say) overwhelming bass.
Although the festival is called Stilldream, there was very, VERY little dreaming that actually happened after the music kicked off Thursday afternoon, continuing pretty much nonstop 24 hours from there on out. In The Loop Productions helped to curate a very special Thursday night pre-party to kick off a long weekend of truly spiritual Rey Jing.
As the venue/town began to fill out with festy-goers and wookies it became clear that people were not attending Stilldream to see a headliner; in all likelihood they probably didn’t know more than one or two of the acts actually performing. People came to Stilldream for no other reason than the fact that it’s Stilldream. The abbreviated attendance gave the festival a very communal and familial vibe that I wasn’t used to after years of trekking packed festival grounds to see the next big act. It also hit me pretty early on Thursday that Stilldream was not just another small festival. This was a gathering, a sacred and spiritual assemblance of family and friends coming together for nothing other than to share in an experience.
For that reason alone, I’m not going to review the music. I won’t discuss how Flamingosis threw down those soul vibes and beatboxed the funk out of people, or how Great Dane spit a killer freestyle flow, or even how Mr.Bill slayed in front of a full crowd on some of the most bangin’ Funktion Ones I’ve ever heard. I’m not going to talk about seeing Manic Focus play a ridiculously intimate set for just a couple hundred people when he sells out 1,000-cap venues in Chicago. I’m not going to cover COFRESI and how he manifested an empty, dusty Forest Stage into a dance party, and how he turned a 45-minute set into a 90-minute showcase of raw talent. I won’t analyze Odesza, Joker, Scumfrog, Quanta, and their collective crushing of main stage, all enhanced with the most psychedelic visuals in the game projected into the sea of spunions. I could easily talk about the epic performances and review all of the music, but I would feel it an injustice to the people behind the Dream if I did that. Stilldream was about the full experience, the music was just another perk.
This year marked the 14th of Stilldream’s existence. The fest has hosted a plethora of talent over the years, but never with the intention (to my knowledge) of turning it into a massive 25,000 cap crusher with the biggest names in the scene bringing in the smallest kids in the rave. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big festivals ( North Coast, Summer Camp, Wakarusa, Electric Forest, the list keeps growing every year). There is just something about the over-packed crowds, the disregard for littering/cleanliness of the grounds, and the blatant aim to herd in as many people into a given area as humanly possible that has left a sour taste on my festy palate. I needed something to reinvigorate my passion and love for the music culture and this particular weekend did the trick.
Stilldream seemed to radiate a heightened level of consciousness (or maybe I was just really high), which encouraged an elevated level of respect for everyone and everything around. There was little to no trash on the grounds, and I even found myself throwing away my individual cigarette butts, a move totally foreign to the Midwest. It’s interesting how a communal vibe can change one’s mindset or perception of even the simplest things (e.g. walking 10 feet to the nearest garbage can).
There were no schedules printed at the fest, which I’m not sure was an intentional move or not, but it was kind of refreshing change of psychological festival pace, never having to rush to the next stage to see the next act. We would occasionally ask around to see who was playing where, but for the most we just followed the crowd to the dance floor. There was no agenda, just a big party.
Four days of intense raging generally takes it out of you, mentally and physically, but it feels like Stilldream shed some light and energy into my thirsty soul. I left with a feeling of accomplished enlightenment, the feeling of graduating from some type of initiation. It was different than any other festival I had ever been to, and I get the feeling that’s how Stilldream is every year. I went in with no expectations and came out inspired. This is how festivals should be. Stilldream was fucking awesome.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” – John Lennon