We began Saturday on a high note, getting thanked by Cheyne, the volunteer coördinator, and receiving free T-shirts (swag goes a long way). It was the day of animal hats — this growing freak fashion fad was just everywhere, from panda hats and puppy hats to a hat shaped like the actual muppet, Animal. Honey and I followed suit off and on through the day, with a kitty hat and sock monkey hat.
I really couldn’t have asked for a better volunteer position and I hope I can help out at the stage again next year — I was a captive audience to a series of informative and interesting speakers, so captivating in the end that I stayed past my shift was over to listen and help. Despite the technical difficulties of using a projector in bright daylight, I enjoyed a speech by Ken of Design-Build-Live about sustainable building and the ways North American architecture lags behind the rest of the world.
For me a particular highlight was a lecture by Juliana K’abal-Xok, who has worked with both MAPS and Erowid and been a part of Sanctuary at Burning Man. She gave a frank talk about the responsible and respectful use of psychedelic drugs, including how to choose when to take them and how to anchor what you learn. There’s an idea in our culture that any insights gained on drugs are both fleeting and false, which belies the experiences of many more knowledgeable cultures throughout history; the problem, however, is with our attitudes and lack of education. I gave Juliana my card, and I really hope she’ll write a future guest post for this blog.
The rest of Saturday was full of exploration, good company, and wonderful music. Mizz Honey J was off to another shift with the waste team while I watched ‘Who Said Vaudeville Was Dead?‘ on the folk stage. Musicians Bold! Daring! True! performed with comedian Steve Harwood and producer/actress Jessica Ryan as ‘Vaudey’ and ‘Villa.’ Between the setting, costumes, and music it felt like the performers had stepped out of a time machine from the genre’s golden age. I also caught part of Maestro’s amazing set of looped beatboxing and pop-and-lock dancing. Like much of the audience I had to get on my feet myself, moving to the rhythm while awed by a succession of jugglers, breakdancers, and hula hoopers.
I explored the large formal art gallery. The art was beautiful and the experience itself was surreal — the surroundings could have been a formal gallery event, between the free wine and the man playing a Hang Drum, yet here were my tribe in their freakiest costumes exploring the art on display. There was more great art here than I can really mention, but I will touch on a few that were especially memorable. It was great to see more of my friend Thoricatha‘s work in such a central place in the gallery. The digital collage work of Jamie Panzer blew our minds, just getting stranger the more we studied it. Analy Nakat‘s sexy and creepy linework really stuck with me and merited a second look on return visits. I also loved the terrariums by Slavonk and Hortus, built out of bottles or other junk and bristling with greenness.
I continued wandering, taking in the great installations and catching a bit of a belly dance performance by Joined At the Hip. The wind was picking up and I was glad we’d remembered to close our rain fly and window back at camp before leaving that afternoon. I was still unconvinced though — in Texas, we’re coming out of a summer full of close calls and very little real rain. I enjoyed the effect the wind had on an art installation which consisted of a lighted disco ball reflecting onto trees and some large sails tied into the branches. Soon though it really did begin raining, and almost everyone in the festival streamed into the Pavilion where a DJ was already playing. It was a great little party for the 15 minutes that the first storm lasted. When it broke off, I returned to camp to find everything intact, including all my electronics safe and dry under my leopard-print Liberator Throe sex blanket.
Over dinner, I took in a great stand-up comedy show. The comedians knew all the right notes to hit for their audience — mostly jokes about hippies, being broke and the terrible economy, online dating, and smoking pot. Some of my favorite comedians included Kath Barbadoro, Kat Ramzinki and Lashanda Lester. Kath was particularly smart at working the audience. She even knew when not to tell jokes — in this case, when the Austin Bike Zoo‘s Snake drove by leading the Minor Mishap Marching Band playing at full volume. “Is that really a full marching band? There’s no way I can compete with that,” she told us, and led the audience in stopping to just appreciate the weird and wonderful moment.
After, I joined Honey J back at camp and helped her clean up from a grueling shift of dealing with Art Outside’s garbage. Art Outside is definitely not a Leave No Trace event, and while there are cans for garbage, recycling and compost many ticket holders seem to feel free to dump their garbage anywhere. I hope education can improve this and am grateful to the hard work of the trash crew and volunteers for keeping that land so beautiful. After she showered and we reconnected in our tent, we went out to enjoy the night.
We first caught Exploded Drawing, a collective of electronic musicians and producers from Austin. The music was glitchy and catchy and backed with more great visuals. I hope to see them next time they play in town. Next we were off to the main stage where we caught the end of a set by Hobo Tech. Hobo Tech combines electronic and bluegrass music with some very old-fashioned instrumentation: a backup artist joined him playing a washboard style men’s tie and a washtub bass guitar (with electronic pickups). We were actually there to see the next act but found ourselves enthralled.
That next act was Starlynx, a trio created by DJ Bigface. They consisted of two DJs, Tiger Liu (in a tiger suit), and BigFace himself wearing a glowing robot helmet and singing through a vocoder. An MC dressed like Mad Max while wielding a sceptre made of a compact disc and tiny mirrorball completed the ensemble. They rapped, spun huge beats, and filled the stage with ecstatic dancers from the audience. A side stage where a series of fire performers, aerialists, and breakdancers entertained the crowd. The tiger DJ kept on playing until the crew was literally shutting off their lights and disassembling the equipment around him. Even the notoriously shy Mizz Honey J had to dance.
At the end of the set, the crew announced that heavy weather was on its way. We returned to camp and battened down then fell into a happy, tired sleep. We woke up around 6am to the heaviest rain this part of Texas has seen since before summer. Though our bed was merely damp at the edges, our clothing got soaked. The combination of cold and damp is the worst possible weather for my fibromyalgia, and with almost nothing to wear it was obviously time to head home to Austin.
There’s a persistent rumor that Art Outside is facing financial difficulties and might be canceled. At the same time, sources told us that this year’s attendance was its best. I’d be very sad if Art Outside went away, as it is a unique showcase for many artists we already love, and for the unsung creative talents of our tribe. If I can, I’ll be back to volunteer in 2012 and I hope my readers will support this event and others like it.
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Photos by Kit O’Connell and Adam Rice.