Words by: Bryan Tobian | Images by: Dave Vann
Mayan Holidaze :: 01.20.11-01.23.2011 :: Now Sapphire:: Puerto Morelos,
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.
Holidaze 2011 by Dave Vann|
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.
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.
Holidaze 2011 by Dave Vann|
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.
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.
- Mayan Holidaze '11 by Dave Vann|
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.
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.
Disco Biscuits - Mayan Holidaze '11 by Dave Vann|
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.”
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.
|STS9 - Mayan Holidaze '11 by Dave Vann|
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...