What’s in a name? According to Kabalarian Philosophy, names hold a lot of power and influence our character and who we are. In this light, it’s incredible to see how, in three short years, Aura Music and Arts Festival has created such a unique and powerful atmosphere, true to its name. The aura of peace, community, and friendship that emanated over the festival was as powerful and tangible as the fantastic music and art that brought everyone to St. Cloud last weekend. Even hours of thunderstorms couldn’t put a damper on the soggy, but otherwise amazing, event.
Festivities kicked off on Friday afternoon as the landing strip camping area gradually began to fill with cars and people from as far as California, Vermont, and New York. Being from Ohio this author may be a bit biased, but it seemed like there was an abundance of people who made the trek down from O-H; perhaps because of the festival’s timing (during Spring Break) or because of the huge network of loyal fans following headliners Papadosio and fellow Ohio band The Werks. The venue, Forever Florida, is host to a nature reserve that offers eco-tours of the property and we couldn’t help but hum the Jurassic Park theme song as we cruised through, spotting peacocks, alligators, and more.
Music kicked off around 4 pm with Elephantgun and The Fritz. “Vote to Aura 2012” winners The Funky Nuggets took the stage at five, putting on a memorable set that ended with guitarist Frank Sensimilla ditching his clothes. Around the time that Kung Fu’s much anticipated set was about to start, festival production crews began to prepare for a quickly approaching thunderstorm that shut the music down for nearly three hours.
The rain finally subsided, cancelled sets were rescheduled, and the crowd reassembled in time to catch New York experimental funky prog-rockers Dopapod. As though the rain never happened, they had the crowd dancing themselves dry to their in-the-pocket grooves and hard-rocking funk. They played two sets over the weekend, drawing a larger crowd to both than any other non-headlining act. Members of the band also sat in with a few of the other artists, including Papadosio, leaving a serious impression and getting this author’s vote for a headlining slot at next year’s Aura.
The Werks followed, bringing the heat with Chris Houser on guitar and giving drummer Rob Chafin some time to show his chops with a five plus minute drum solo. They added to the weekend trend of awesome covers, playing their staple rendition of Phish’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)”. Florida favorites The Heavy Pets and Greenhouse Lounge played overlapping sets, but fortunately The Heavy Pets had a second set on Saturday. Greenhouse Lounge put on a fun and energetic set- if you’re ever looking for a dance party these are the guys to see. DrFameus, Disco Biscuits drummer Allen Aucoin, closed out the night on the mainstage, bringing some others to the stage to compliment his DJ/drum combo.
Those still awake after DrFameus’s set were in for a real treat as Papadosio’s Anthony Thogmartin set up a table by the “chill dome” and performed one of his rarely-seen solo EarthCry sets. Beautiful vocal samples and a world-music feel carried on into a beautiful Florida sunrise.
The rain held off all day Saturday, but the mud was unavoidable. Fortunately the concert field remained grassy and dancable and people took advantage, playing games, kicking back in the grass, and hula hooping as the music went on through the afternoon. Highlights of Saturday afternoon included a rescheduled set from Kung Fu, a second set from Dopapod (who played a jaw-dropping Led Zeppelin medley) and The Heavy Pets.
The entire Saturday line-up was fantastic, and people posted up all day and night. Headliners Brother’s Past, who have been rebuilding the following that they formed from 2000 until their 2008 hiatus, played two sets. The group was going hard two and a half hours. Slightly more of an alternative rock/pop vibe than most of the other musicians, they managed to fit the bill by playing an slightly more experimental set than this author has seen in the past.
For the third year in a row, Asheville, NC live electronic masters Papadosio returned to headline the fest. This year’s performance featured the addition of two projector screens upon which Jason Takahashi showed a combination of art, psychedelic effects, and video footage (including video from the Chimbre Center in Peru, where the band spent two weeks last winter). The set included some amazing new songs, including an extended Smile and Nod> We Are Water> Oracle, followed by an incredible Unparalyzer featuring Dopapod synth master Eli Winderman.
Papadosio was followed by Zoogma who continued to carry the excitement with their non-stop intensity. Damn Right! closed out the main stage with their exciting DJ-esque live music club hop (how many genres can one band fit in? ).
Also putting on an impressive performance was the array of visual artists set up in front of the stages. At times it was hard to pay attention to what was going on onstage because of the incredible pieces being created right before our eyes. There were over a dozen painters, and all of them had pieces displayed in a packed gallery tent between the stages and the camping area.
The next morning we woke up to a misty sprinkle of rain that continued most of the day but didn’t hold anyone back from checking out the final day of musical acts. To kick-start your morning the festival featured group yoga sessions at noon Saturday and Sunday and sponsor Dunedin Brewery satisfied the masses with their Biere de Caffe, an incredible coffee flavored beer with hints of chocolate and (much-needed) caffeine. The brewery also featured an Aura Gold Pilsner specifically for the fest, and many more of their tasty brews.
Representing Florida on Sunday were goofy jamsters J2K whose upbeat style and silly lyrics (Spaghetti and Meatballs, anyone?) lightened the cloudy concert field. Dopepod had the day off but we got our synth fix from Michigan’s Ultraviolet Hippopotamus.
Papadosio took the stage for the second time around 11 pm, kicking off the set with an early jam, Curve, bringing Rob Compa from Dopapod to the stage for Utopiate, and ending with Improbability Blotter. The Malah followed, wrapping up an amazing weekend of music.
The feeling that was taken away from the festival, at least for this author, was one of love and community. Many of the artists performing throughout the weekend collaborated and sat in together, highlighting the strength of the network of musicians in this particular scene. There were so many familiar faces, from Daniel Huidt on the lights, to Jeremy Sewell on stage filming. There was a similar vibe amongst the crowd as well. Everyone was friendly, calling “I can see your Aura!” and “Happy Aura!” as they walked by. It was an incredibly welcoming atmosphere and one of the things that makes Aura such a awesome and buzzed about event. When given the opportunity go to, the word of Aura’s “vibe”was more than enough to convince many to go before even seeing the line-up (which was phenomenal). It’s something that can’t be replicated by larger festivals, so if you’re a stranger to the small regional fests, take my advice and check one out. You could walk away from it with a whole new aura…
Meghan Bender | Senior Writer