Middlelands was Magic
The inaugural festival went off, with some saying that it rivaled Electric Forest and EDC.
Editorial Note: I am a journalist for Insomniac.com and attended Middlelands to cover the event for their website.
I’ve never scoffed at the idea of going to a rave alone, and while I’ve heard of people doing the same for festivals, I’ve never been in a situation where I had to make the journey solo. When I found out that I had an opportunity to cover the first ever Middlelands in Todd Mission, Tx as a journalist, I jumped at the idea. I can’t say it was an easy decision to leave my family and my bed behind for 3 nights in a tent being lulled to sleep by the bleeding sounds of the 11 stage mini-massive happening nearby. However, the opportunity to witness the first ever, Renaissance Rave, was too tempting to say no to. And besides, even when I’m working my hardest, it never seems like a job.
When I arrived on site at 2pm on Friday I was greeted by a somewhat lax car search at the entrance to an expansive grass field. As we were guided to our camping spot in the miniscule shade of what would eventually be a mighty tree, I immediately realized the advantage to camping in the shadier parts of the site. Sleep, while necessary, would not be occurring any time past 10am in these parts.
We quickly set up and I struck out across the field to get a first look at the sound camps that were located just 50 yards away. Even in the light of day, I was impressed by the level of detail and heart that the sound camp builders had put into their individual stages. It was already apparent that the after-party was going to be just as crackin’ as the main event. There were no less than 2 geodesic domes, projection screens, lasers and the speaker stacks on some of the stages were enough to rock a crowd of one thousand.
After a quick beer, it was time to go check out the festival. The entrance was slammed to the gills, and when my friend realized that he needed to head back down the road a couple of miles to pick up his guest list ticket, I decided to part ways and go on my own journey. I headed through a side door into an expansive backstage area that was easily just as large as the main festival site. I was struck by the massive potential the site had, even before I had seen the stages. The Texas Renaissance Faire easily has space for up to 100,000 and the potential to rival Electric Forest in term of scope and pure physical beauty of the surroundings. Amongst the many period style buildings were massive shady trees and winding dirt paths, this was a place that it would be fun to get lost in.
After finally figuring out how to escape the backstage area, I ended up at the Middle Lands Arena. My first look at the production features Insomniac had built for Middlelands was impressive. The idea of the Middlelands type face coming to life accentuated by bright lights, lasers and one could only assume full pyro was a stroke of genius. I could only imagine how this grassy knoll was going to come to life once the sunset behind the stage. The amphitheater itself looked like it was ripped from the pages of a medieval tale of knights at the joust. And this was just the first stage.
My journey led me Trinity Vale. Obscured by large trees and almost hidden in a forest alcove, the stage was small but elaborately designed to resemble a small castle. It was comforting to know that when I needed a break from the bass heavy beats, this oasis of house music was there to sooth my soul and get my feet grooving. Not only was I gifted with catching a blistering set from Sage Armstrong but I also ran into an internet friend, who was playing the festival. This was going to be a theme throughout the weekend and helped contribute to the overall healthy vibes that I experienced at the festival. Somehow, I have a gang of friends from Texas, most of whom I’d never met in person, that I was going to become IRL friends with over the next few days. I explored the grounds for a bit with the homies, headed back stage for a drink and eventually made my way to the production office to drop by bag.
By 7pm I was dying to see the rest of the venue and lucky for me, I entered the massive grassy field that spread out in front of Castle Northwoods just as Phantogram was beginning their set. The stage was themed perfectly and was decked in full projection mapping. While not as large as some of the stages, Insomniac uses for other festivals, its size matched the surrounding trees in such a way that it appeared as it if belonged here. And while I watched dancing jellyfish on the castle walls, I knew that the weekend was going to be full of magic.
Each day I attended the festival, I was treated to aural treasures and unexpected beats. Friday night’s closer at the Middle Lands Arena, with Gramatik was a much needed dose of grimy funk, I even spotted Pasquale, Holly and Rainbow in the audience enjoying the show. Saturday started with the second US appearance of Hip-Hop newcomer and You Tube star Rich Chigga. One of the many heads on the lineup who fell outside of the normal EDM only realm, and that helped make Middlelands’ lineup so welcoming and diverse for people from across genres. After conducting some interviews with festivalgoers for Insomniac, I ran into a performance by Goldfish Live. It was my first time hearing them and I was blown away with the energy on the live keyboards and saxophone. Added bonus: the chick I had just interviewed crowd surfing in an inflatable duck in front of me. I’m a huge breaks and UK bass head, so catching Taiki Nulight rip up the Insomniac Records hosted Trinity Vail on Saturday night was a religious experience. And Sunday’s star was Bonobo’s sunset live show. The chill vibes of his music anchored by his incredible lineup of live vocalists provided the magic for me to speak to several amazing people in the space of 30 minutes. It truly exemplified the magic of this event and the thick vibes that everyone felt. For all the spectacle and pageantry that Insomniac adds to its shows, there was something very organic and deeply grounding about being at Middlelands. A sentiment that was shared by so many.
I can’t write this review without paying respect to one of the most vibrant features of Middlelands, and one completely unique to this festival…at least for Insomniac shows. The sound camps popped off each night. The trek to get the 11 stages produced by Middlelands campers was a long one, especially after walking upwards of 10 miles a day. It was well worth it though. The deep underground was represented in spades here, and the parties went off with dancers spreading out well beyond the confines of each stage. It was a place where you were treated to incredible sets by Texas locals, and surprise sets by the likes of 12 Planet, who showed up to several sound camps to rock the decks. This was by far one of the most authentic aspects of the festival. And while it wasn’t necessarily well received by the neighbors, it’s a feature that should be repeated.
Overall, Middlelands was an excellent experience, and for a first time festival, it went off without a hitch. The stages were well filled, the performances were top-notch and the production was exactly what I would expect from Insomniac. There were little to no real logistical issues throughout the weekend, and from what I could glean from festivalgoers, it was a rousing success in their eyes, with some saying that it rivaled EDC. With a five-year lease signed on the land, and several Insomniac built improvements to the land, it’s clear they are in it to build something truly special. A kind of Electric Forest for the southern set. It will be interesting to see how the festival is handled and expanded going forward. I’ll let you know how it goes at Middlelands 2018.