Words by Brian Bavosa
The Echo Project :: 10.12.07 – 10.14.07 :: Bouckaert Farms :: Fairburn, GA
This, my friends, is not your granddaddy's music festival. In fact, it's not our parent's fest, and in some ways, it's not even the same kind of festival we went to two, five or 15 years ago. Sure, the surroundings look the same, the music is still at the forefront, but the first ever Echo Project, held on Bouckaert Farms just outside of Atlanta, was either the first environmentally conscious event of its kind or at least the biggest effort by our generation to date. An ambitious project, Echo brought in some heavy hitters to headline - festival staples The Flaming Lips, MTV phenoms The Killers and the ever-present force that is Phil Lesh and Friends.
| The Echo Project by Dave Vann|
One key player in the conscious effort was the company Sustainable Waves. Even though they have been around for a decade, many fans got their first taste of what they were all about at Echo. Their website reads:
Sustainable Waves specializes in sustainable solutions for the entertainment industry. We provide solar powered stages & sound systems and a variety of conscious products and services. From pollution free concerts to innovative products, Sustainable Waves is a logical approach to creating value. With artistic inspiration, we integrate with existing business models. Taking one step at a time, we strive to inspire the currents of the global economy.
On top of the environmental agenda, there were social ones as well. Taking place in the Echo System, a strategically placed tent at the center of the concert grounds where organizations such as HeadCount and Rock the Earth which held panels and meetings to help raise awareness about topics like "Social Change Through Music," "Clean Vibes Recycle Olympics" and "Greening the Music Industry," amongst many others.
And, of course, there was some music, too.
FRIDAY – "RENEW"
Upon arriving at the picturesque farm, a few things were readily apparent from the jump. One, there would definitely be some schedule conflicts. With five stages, this place had ample space for everyone and a smaller crowd than expected - approximately 10,000 fans showed up. Things kicked off with local favorites Dubconscious, followed an hour later by international star Stephen Marley satisfying reggae lovers. Marley was tough to pass up, but I settled into the Eclipse Stage, which was a covered white tent, where The Duo played a very strong set.
| GZA :: The Echo Project by J. Jones|
The schedule on Friday boasted tastes ranging from the southern pickings of Col. Bruce & The Quark Alliance to the almost spiritual party known as The Polyphonic Spree (who covered Nirvana's "Lithium") to the raw freestylings of GZA (Genius) and Slick Rick featuring The Fyre Department. The weather switched from one extreme to the other. Reaching the low 90's during the day but dipping into the 50's at night, there was no middle ground. Also of note was the dust, which seemed to multiply as the weekend wore on, mainly due to the well-documented drought that has been plaguing the South in recent months.
One Friday highlight was The Egg, who've been around for a while but with a certain level of anonymity. Hailing from the U.K., they are a live band that produces trancey electronic sounds. They were the first band that I saw over the weekend that I was somewhat unfamiliar with. That will change from here on out. It was a high-octane dance party and light show with a few guest DJs.
The Flaming Lips hit the Echo Stage around 9:00 p.m. and proceeded to do what they do best - entertain. Their live show is as much a circus as anything else, with the music sometimes seeming to take a backseat to frontman Wayne Coyne's antics. Confetti, giant balloon balls and one hell of an LCD screen helped keep the crowd feeling warm and fuzzy during sing-a-longs like "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots."
The late night boasted The Disco Biscuits playing two sets accompanied by Bassnectar spinning at set break. Meatcamp Productions, which had a hand in putting on Echo, also plans Camp Bisco, making this a very natural decision. The Biscuits' sets were well received, simply due to the patient, relaxed jamming. They even encored with their first attempt at Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Bassnectar was also a crowd favorite with infectious smash-ups of The Beatles and head-bangers Metallica, leaving many amped for Saturday.
SATURDAY – "REUSE"
I awoke Saturday - my 27th Birthday - in extremely high spirits as the day started with another cornucopia of bands including Telepath, Son Volt and rising stars Toubab Krewe. With a focus on African drumming and just enough rock guitars and bass, these boys definitely have an extremely unique sound. Boasting remarkable technical skills and a love for their trade, it's not long till they blow up. From there, I bounced around catching parts of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (my indie fix), a second helping of the Biscuits (who dropped a monster "Magellan") and San Francisco's favorite sons, Tea Leaf Green. TLG has real potential but sometimes I don't see eye-to-eye (or ear-to-ear) with them. Saturday's performance was high-energy rock & roll, and I shook my head at ever doubting them.
| The Killers :: The Echo Project by Kenny Pusey|
Also of note was HeadCount's "town meeting" at the Echo Stage. Not only was it an open discussion hosted by board member, Al Schnier of moe. and co-founders Marc Brownstein and Andy Bernstein but it also kicked off HC's official start towards registering voters and accumulating volunteers for their 2008 presidential campaign. They showed a trailer titled "A Call to Arms" along with video of onsite artist interviews and volunteers in action from last year's Langerado. They also properly introduced their first paid employee, executive director Virginia McEnerney.
As night crept into the fold, Thievery Corporation dropped quite possibly the best performance of the weekend. Featuring no less than nine players at any given time, their live band set was tighter than a ball of rubber bands. Not to be confused with their DJ sets, the full band tore through number after number, even dedicating "The Richest Man in Babylon" to George W. Bush.
With a looming Halloween gig in Atlanta, local heroes Perpetual Groove, from nearby Athens, played what many fans considered to be their best festival set ever. It was not your typical set, opening with the 25-minute "Teakwood Betz" and mixing my name into Brock Butler's freestyle sampling during "Macumba." This song exemplifies Butler's versatility, and he had the Eclipse Stage waving along to his every word.
The Killers, who headlined Saturday, rocked out but also stuck out a bit. Obviously paid handsomely - they came, they played, they got paid and left. Their set wasn't bad but I felt in the spirit of Echo, where many of the artists stuck around to see how this scene ticks, The Killers just didn't seem a good fit. However, the music was solid and they even covered Joy Division.
Late night saw jam band veterans' moe. absolutely shred, with MSTRKRAFT spinning a Daft Punk-esque party with stage dancers, members of the Brazilian Girls and Thievery Corp. until 2:00 a.m.
SUNDAY – "REGENERATE"
I have always found Sundays at festivals to be a "positive" day. Whether a gospel brunch, funk in the morning or reggae in the afternoon, there is something undeniably spiritual about it. This Sunday it was the straightforward, feel good vibes of Michael Franti and Spearhead. Another HeadCount supporter, Franti covered Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up," a fitting anthem for the weekend.
| Umphrey's McGee :: The Echo Project by Kenny Pusey|
Indie rockers Spoon offered a very clean performance that was further evidence of what a spawning ground Austin, Texas is for good music of any genre. Shortly after Spoon, the guitar work of Umphrey's McGee's Jake Cinninger whipped the whirling dust into a frenzy, much to the delight of the patrons' eyes, until the dust flew in them! Sunday's lineup was rounded out by The Roots, ALO, RAQ and the final headliner, Phil Lesh and Friends.
For many, this was their first look at a Jackie Greene, a young singer-songwriter who is the spitting image of a young Bob Dylan. Maybe it was the atmosphere of the weekend, maybe it was a nod to the drought or maybe it was pure coincidence but the encore was none other than Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" sung by Greene.
Overall, The Echo Project was the first of what will hopefully be a continuing trend - a conscious, community effort to change the way we live. As the program guide said, "The Echo Project is committed to changing the way events are powered and creating a sustainable energy experience. This way, we can have a weekend that we'll never forget, and yet it won't be just a memory — we'll be able to do it again and again."
Continue reading for LOTS more pics from The Echo Project...