Mayan Holidaze 2011 | Review | Pics

Words by: Bryan Tobian | Images by: Dave Vann

Mayan Holidaze :: 01.20.11-01.23.2011 :: Now Sapphire:: Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Mayan Holidaze 2011 by Dave Vann
Puerto Morelos is a stunning beachfront resort village located 15 miles south of Cancun on the Mayan Riviera. Offering glistening, white sand beaches with swaying, coconut-laden palm trees overlooking the iridescent Caribbean Sea, it is a stereotypical postcard paradise. The Now Sapphire resort, located on the picturesque coast, with its massive campus-wide swimming pools, vaulted open-air lobbies and impeccably attentive wait staff, is a most stunning locale for an unforgettable Mexican vacation. Realizing this, the masterminds at Cloud 9 Adventures, the same people who have brought us 8 years of the Jam Cruise floating festival, decided it would be a fine place to host four glorious nights of rock and roll debauchery for a thousand of the luckiest fans in the jam music scene. It should come as no surprise to anyone that this idea was right on the dinero.

Mayan Holidaze is the fourth annual incarnation of Caribbean Holidaze; an idea born on the beaches of Ocho Rio, Jamaica. It is every festival lover’s fantasy. As with years prior, there were no issues of camping or fighting tens of thousands of people for a space to dance and see the musicians. There was no running frantically from stage to stage to make each band’s relatively short one-set show. With the small crowd, witnessing or being victim to the devices of neglectful or inexperienced festival-goers is unlikely. There is never any standing in line to buy expensive food and drinks. Instead, the small attendance capacity allows for each person to wake up ervery day in a bed and walk less than a minute to one main stage, where each primary act plays a total of five sets. There is always an easy sight line and plenty of space to move as the sandy oceanfront dance floor is far bigger than the crowd. Also, since everything is included in the price of the ticket, there is little need to ever carry cash. Because it is relatively expensive and exclusive, it also brings a more mature, advanced crowd of amazing, friendly people, many of whom already know each other from years past and all of whom will leave having made connections with new incredible people. Inevitably, this hot ticket sold out very quickly.

Mayan Holidaze 2011 by Dave Vann
For what was basically a single 96 hour day (with a few naps sprinkled in), some of the scene’s all star players - Sound Tribe Sector 9, The Disco Biscuits and Umphrey's McGee - gathered their rock and roll circuses to give a thousand lucky fans and professional partiers one of the most amazing weekends of their lives. Daytime held opportunities to truly relax at pool or beach side with a tropical drink (perhaps even one every hour) or to seek adventure a la Mayan ruins tours and cave diving excursions. As night fell upon the resort, the main course of live music was served every night from Technicolor sunset straight through to irradiant sunrise. There was certainly never a dull moment. Restaurants, buffets and cantinas were open at all hours, giving the hungry and thirsty dance-crazed masses a chance to dine on everything from pizza and tacos to sushi and steak. A fleet of bars allowed vacationers to quench their thirst and feed their heads with endless tropical cocktails and bottomless cervezas to their heart’s delight. To top it all off, in the restaurants, bars, dance floors, tennis courts, cabanas, swimming pools, special events or just walking to and fro, there were many chances for jam music aficionados to mingle with their favorite musicians in a more intimate way than anyone could reasonably expect to in an average concert setting.

The bands took turns for the first three nights, rotating between early and late night sets; each delivering continually more captivating shows as the weekend progressed. The conveniently placed main stage was decked out with a state of the art light show that painted kaleidoscopic prisms in the sky and on a small grove of palm trees that served as the stage’s backdrop. Seated on the beach, it was less than 100 yards from the endless sea that stretched vastly into the horizon. In the wee hours, after the main stage had closed, the indoor club raged on with DJ sets from a variety of acts. The entrancing house music of Chicago’s own Orchard Lounge and a downright nasty dub-step show from Disco Biscuits guitarist Jon “Barber” Gutwillig were among the most notable. In the .morning, the select few who had made it through the night gathered on the beach to celebrate the beginning of a new day before the rising orb of Mexican Sun.

UM - Mayan Holidaze '11 by Dave Vann
Chicago’s hometown progressive rock heroes, Umphrey’s McGee, began the weekend in a most phenomenal fashion. The show was a powerful two-setter that included dance-party ditties such as “The Triple Wide” and “Wappy Sprayberry,” both of which showcase the band’s ability to creatively layer the tones of their instruments in a technically demanding fashion. Both songs carve out room for each player to have a space for their instruments that distinctly showcases them separately, while also magically blending together for a thick, driving sum. The night also included rock and roll gospel with the uplifting “Glory” by guitarist Jake Cinninger as he paid tribute to the remarkable setting, the full moon casting itself like a gleaming spotlight over the serene ocean.

It could be argued that the Umphrey’s McGee set that everyone showed up for was played the next night, which was kicked into high gear with the rampaging “Nothing Too Fancy,” demonstrating an unstoppable energy from the rhythm duo of Kris Myers and Andy Farag on the ever-churning drum set and percussion accompanied closely by the thunderous low end of Ryan Stasik’s bass guitar. The energy continued frantically through the second set, starting off with the frenzied “Hurt Bird Bath.” Their elaborate dual guitar opus JaJunk gave guitar riff master-crafters Brendan Bayliss and Cinninger a chance to open up their bag of tricks, effectively flooring the audience as it brought the show to a roaring finish. On the final night, Umphrey’s - who characteristically has shown so much love for their fans - gave a special gift to those attending by allowing them to vote on a list of extremely rare tracks. The results were magical.

The Disco Biscuits - Mayan Holidaze '11 by Dave Vann
Philadelphia’s The Disco Biscuits also gave incredible performances on all three nights. Their party started in the late slot on the first night, whose grand finale ended with a flurry of instrumental songs that built the energy to a nearly continuous peak for the last twenty minutes. A synchronic union between keyboard wizard Aron Magner and the gutsy six-string bandito Gutwillig were well spun over the reeling drum and bass of Allen Aucoin and Marc “Brownie” Brownstein, respectively.

The real surprise came on the final night as the Biscuits, in keeping with their fellow headliners, did something very special. Their take on “special” came in the form of Tractorbeam, a chance to escape the vocals and lyrics and focus intently on the music; telling stories through entrancing melodies and hypnotic synthesizer over and undertones. It started with the reggae-esque “Mirrors” and blazed on without a single pause, segueing fluidly from song to song. The musical barrage sent the audience through a time-warp all the way to the final notes of the manic “Lunar Pursuit” attached to the ending of “Svenghali.”

STS9 - Mayan Holidaze '11 by Dave Vann
Sound Tribe Sector 9 gave heated performances throughout the weekend as well, helping to set the bar high and keeping it floating smoothly with their tight, fluid, sample-drenched electronic grooves. Also bringing something unusual to the table for their Sunday set, the band blew the minds of festival goers with their acoustic incarnation Axe The Cables. The production demonstrated an intensely melodic side of the band that only a handful of people have ever been lucky enough to see. This, like the Tractorbeam set, displayed a technical face of the band that served as a reminder of where they, as musicians, had come from. The groovy set was easily a highlight of an experience that seemed to be one big, unwavering highlight.

Other incredible memories of the trip included transcendentally floating in the ocean during the Album Leaf's atmospheric, down-tempo sunset show as the rain poured from grey obscurity overhead. On the other end of the spectrum, a breathtaking sunrise on the final morning painted the sky with tie-dye clouds, drawing cheers of joy from spectators at the first majestic glimpse of the sun. And, of course, the sensational time spent in paradise with friends who feel like family, joking, laughing, carrying on, cavorting, engaging in harmless mischief and having our minds blown in unison by each respective band was something that will surely bring many of us back for as many years as possible. All of it together will surely leave most with memories that their hearts and minds will cherish forever.

As the weekend drew to its bittersweet end, there was very little left to do except exchange hugs and vows to return next year and to do it even bigger, even better. And, as many of us left the warmth of our Caribbean paradise behind to return North to the cold, harsh winter, our hearts overflowed with positive energy to redistribute into our daily lives - a drive to spread joy to our loved ones and truly earn our next vacation, our next musical fix, and to pass on the uplifting tales that encompassed what many called the best vacation of their lives. Even the day after Mayan Holidaze 2011, January 2012 feels like it could not possibly come soon enough.

Continue reading for pics of Mayan Holidaze 2011 – Day One...

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