Saturday night's Bassnectar-Pretty Lights electronic-music dance party was powered by astoundingly intense, rafter-rattling low frequencies, high-tech beams of colored light and hordes of smiling, neon-clad young people.
Were chemicals producing those grins? For some, undoubtedly. I saw plenty of droopy eyelids and a few examples of regurgitation -- although I've witnessed more debauchery at Dave Matthews concerts.
Overall, the mood at Hampton Coliseum seemed to have more to do with celebration than overindulgence.
At the second show of the two-night run, the scene was a hybrid of anime festival, mardi gras, jam band concert and adult birthday party. One young dancer was dressed as a banana, others as a panda bear, a tiki statue, a character from the Mario Bros. video game, Santa Claus and a bearded, robed figure who could have been either Moses or God himself.
[See photo gallery of the on- and off-stage action here.]
About 8,000 attended each of the two nights. Based on my random interviews, most of those attending ranged in age from 16 to 25. Most were from out of town. There were some white kids sporting dreadlocks and a smattering of tie-dye. More were brandishing glowsticks and LED hula hoops, though. Furry animal caps -- which reminded me of the gear from the anime convention I'd covered in years past -- were everywhere.
Musically speaking, performances were robotic and computer assisted, but not dispassionate. Opening acts Gramatik and A-Trak weren't as loud as the headliners, but they were still energetic and fun to watch. In other words, they were as entertaining as you could ask from a person pushing buttons and tweaking knobs behind a console of electronic equipment.
Summerae Davidson, 21, of Athens, Ga., was all smiles as she explained that she was having a blast. Not even waiting 90 minutes for her dinner at the nearby Cracker Barrel could sour her mood.
"Can you imagine how much this is contributing to the local economy?" Davidson asked, looking resplendent in neon yellow and pink, with glitter sparkling on her cheeks. "Not just in the hotels, but the food and the alcohol."
She was having fun, but admitted that she wished the event took place in Atlanta instead. "I know Phish played here, but so what? Now, if we had Phish and Pretty Lights together ..."
Luke Dekoomen, 16, came to Hampton from Towson, Md., for the event, one of the largest electronic music parties ever held in Virginia. Wearing a Pretty Lights T-shirt, he said he was turned onto the music through a friend. Later, he cemented his obsession through YouTube.
"It's nice, melodic and soothing," he said of Pretty Lights tracks, "and a mix of certain beats." Before he could elaborate, Bassnectar's set began with a disorienting, brain-vibrating blitzkreig of bass tones.
It was Dekoomen's first Pretty Lights event. Across the Coliseum, Oz McIntire of Richmond was preparing to say goodbye to the electronic dance music scene. The 38-year-old fan was wearing a "Slacker" T-shirt and orange camouflage pants.
"This is my last party," he said. "I'm retiring." McIntire said he still loves the music, but his lifestyle has evolved since he started attending raves back in the 1990s. He now has an 8-year-old daughter and considerably less free time.
"The crowd is changing, getting younger. I've had my fun," he said. "It's time to grow up."
That said, he's not giving up on festivals altogether.
"I'll probably go to Burning Man," he said.
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