Arise, children!

Arise Festival producer Paul Bassis wants to entertain you, inspire you and surprise you, but he’s not ready to call his event ‘transformational’

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Dylan Langille

“Eh, I’ll ignore that,” says Paul Bassis, casting off a cellphone call halfway through a lengthy conversation about the Arise Festival with Boulder Weekly last week. One of those if-it’s-important-they’ll-call-back moments; whoever it was, we presume they did.

Bassis was eerily relaxed a mere handful of days before his Arise Festival stages its third annual event at the Sunrise Ranch this weekend, just west of Loveland. Bassis is no stranger to this game, having worked for most of three decades in the festival business, notably co-founding the esteemed Reggae on the River festival in California, now in its 31st year.

But Bassis says there’s something a little different about Arise, what he enthusiastically refers to as a hybrid event; part music festival, part co-creative festival, thematically interwoven around conscious action, ecological activism and social justice. The musical component, fulfilled this year by more than 100 bands ranging from electronica (which has its own stage, Area 51) to newgrass, folk to beatbox and Gaia-rock to funk, defiantly challenges the same-fabric-different-uniform model for music festival programming, which for many years was crafted by music labels and radio programming, both unabashedly focused on the bottom line.

In some ways, the music programming for Arise is less about capturing sympathetically aligned musical tastes and more about showcasing bands and artists who reflect and gently humanize the event’s core principles. And if that sounds a little like free-ranging idealism, it worked.

Last year’s festival doubled its attendance over its first year.

“It’s a funny thing,” Bassis says, “before this festival ever happened, it was just words that we made up. Whether we put them on a poster or in a print ad or a radio spot or a Facebook post. And then once it happened, it was a happening. People authentically expressed how they felt about being through the experience. You can’t buy word of mouth; you can’t put words in peoples’ mouths.”

And maybe it was just that — word of mouth — that landed Arise recently in a Buzzfeed listicle titled “7 Next-Gen Festivals You Need To Know,” calling it out for its Colorado-Eden setting and diverse array of artists, workshops and eco-consciousness — not a bad bit of exposure for an event that had only just turned 2 years old.

Does that kind of exposure drop a little extra pressure on Bassis’ shoulders, apart from the usual festival planning onslaught of permit snafus, personnel management and where to locate the porta-potties?

“Not at all,” Bassis says with a grin. “I love this action.

“I think the thing that’s catching everyone’s attention is the little things we do beyond music. We’re planting a tree for every ticket sold (early ticket purchasers got three trees for each ticket last spring). I think to do a piece like that, talking about the next-generation festivals… that they recognize that what we’re doing is somewhat forward-thinking.

“Right from the start, having an eco-consciousness in practice is something that’s been very important to us. It is an authentic expression of who we are and who we believe are interested in this kind of gathering.

“And the thing is, there isn’t another of these hybrid music/co-creative festivals for a thousand miles.”

In addition to the music (marquee toppers include The Polish Ambassador, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Ozomatli, The Magic Beans, Gipsy Moon and Peter Yarrow), Arise hosts a dizzying array of dance and visual artists, holistic and spirituality workshops, as well as a kid’s village and yoga instruction.

Arise isn’t necessarily unique — the multi-city Wanderlust festival series touches on many of the same themes, as does the eco-centered Envision Festival in Costa Rica. And of course, nothing staged these days that can plausibly call itself “next generation” can ignore the ragged shadow of Burning Man, slowly dragging its totem shadow across the sands of postindustrial society, real or imagined.

One of the major Denver media outlets referenced Arise as a progeny of Burning Man on the eve of its second staging last year, but Bassis is a little bit cautious about drawing too fine a comparison.

“It’s interesting that you pose that question,” Bassis says. “I do refer to Arise as a hybrid between a traditional music festival and a co-creative festival. Burning Man is the ultimate co-creative festival. … I have half a sense that there’s something coded in our DNA that calls us to come together, to gather in some sort of tribal way. I see the music as kind of being the fire; we gather around the fire, to tell stories.

“The modern music festival is quite unlike anything else we have in our society that brings us together in some tribal way,” he says.

For a healthy strata of Boulderites at least, the festival may seem like a no-brainer — why hasn’t someone done something like this sooner? But on a practical matter, we wonder if Bassis, somewhere in his obviously deeply considered conceptualization of this event, came to a realization that maybe, in a functional manner, he was making an overt statement of advocacy, or even a political statement by how he programs this event? Maybe somewhere in the back of his mind?

“I would say that you were slightly wrong to question whether it was in the back of our minds,” he says.

“No, just the opposite. It’s something that’s in the forefront of our minds. I would say that movement building is not something that you accidentally stumble upon, but something that you very consciously and very thoughtfully and mindfully are a part of creating. I wouldn’t be so arrogant to suggest that we’re building an ‘Arise movement;’ I think the ‘Arise movement’ is part of a growing, existing global movement that is clearly already in existence. And we’re not only cognizant of it, but that we’re consciously and actively a part of it.”

A popular term these days, one of those fulsome but ultimately meaningless terms, is “transformational.” Bassis all but cringes.

“I think it’s pretentious to refer to yourself as [staging] a ‘transformational’ festival. If people have an experience that they’ll come away somehow ‘transformed,’ then that will speak to itself. … We have thought about this, and we have considered that it is not enough to enlighten people or to entertain people or inspire people or to even inform people. That, if we were able to do those things, our ultimate objective is to empower people. And in some ways, that’s out of our hands.”

Maybe all or some of the trappings of a progressive, New Age eco-warrior should be beyond political score-keeping — a scorned and desiccated planet strafed by vengeful weather won’t spare the ecologist any sooner than it will doom David Koch — but could Bassis do Arise in, say… Dallas?

“I don’t think that the Arise music festival could happen anywhere but this magic, secret valley that we have the great fortune to have as a home. I mean, think it. The Arise festival, at the Sunrise Ranch, in Loveland? I mean, I couldn’t make that up,” he says with a laugh.

“But this particular festival is very grounded in place. Place matters. … I really would not try to pull this off in Dallas. It would be a mistake to try to pull this off somewhere other than a really beautiful place. You could do something else in Dallas, but it wouldn’t be this.”

How about Missouri?

We asked Jordan Linit, one half of the funk duo project Analog Son, whether Arise could work in his hometown of Columbia, Missouri.

Linit laughs.

“I’ll tell you what, if there was any place in Missouri where it was going to work, it would be Columbia. But that’s just because in Columbia… it is a very liberal city in a very conservative state. But even with that, would this festival work there? I don’t think people would get it quite the same way. If you tried it in Fulton, about an hour away, you’d be getting a lot of funny looks.”

For their part, Linit and his musical collaborator Josh Fairman will be taking their greasy-but-airtight, horn-laced funk project up on the Sunday stage, a kind of second birth for the pair after years of local and touring success with the Denver funktronica franchise Kinetix. The two started playing together as kids back in Columbia and expanded their horizons at the Lamont School of Music at DU. They will be joined onstage by one of their instructors, longtime Denver jazz pianist legend Eric Gunnison.

The band is hitting local stages now behind their second release, Stomp and Shout. Fiendishly high calorie horn charts set against razor-sharp funk figures and a freshly waxed chrome production veneer. The project started in 2013 as a throw-together scrum with the Shady Horns and old friend Joe Tatton from The New Mastersounds, but it found traction quickly with clubbers and local press.

“This kind of started as an accidental studio project, but it went so easy and it was something that Josh and I had wanted to do for a long time,” Linit says. “Once it started coming together, we knew this was going to be a fulltime thing that would be happening for many years to come.”

Linit is accustomed to taking a long view on his projects. Kinetix, which is in a low-profile semi retirement these days, lasted for six or seven quality years, but his partnership with Fairman goes back much longer.

“We grew up together in Columbia and used to get dropped off at college bars to play shows when we were 14. So we’ve been at this together, basically touring the country, for 18 years.

“And Kinetix still plays — we’ve kind of stripped it down to a couple of weeks a season.”

Analog Son just did a Fox Theatre opener for Maceo last week, will take the stage Sunday at Arise and has a State Bridge gig later in August, so the wheels are turning. But in some sense, Linit admits that it’s a little bit like starting over.

“I think all you can do is take what you’ve learned in the past, and try to improve upon it. As far as a touring model [for Analog Son], we’re just going to tour when it makes sense to. … But no, not at all discouraged by spreading the word on the new band. There’s definitely a little bit of reclaiming of territories, but there’s no doubt in my mind it’ll happen and continue to grow.”

Linit is no stranger to festivals, and he agrees that the outdoor vibe coaxes a different approach from him and his partner than rocking a Cervantes or Fox gig.

“Absolutely, and this is something I really learned a lot about playing with Kinetix. We played big festivals all over the country — Wakarusa, Summer Camp. People are there to dance and have a good time, and it’s a little more of a high energy sort of affair. So we definitely try to cater the set.”

And that can get a little chaotic — Linit says he’ll be putting together the All Star Jam for the festival-closing Sunday night; given the ridiculously diverse roster, anyone’s guess how the folkies and beatboxers and DJ’s and the funksters are all going to sound together.

By that time, no will be too worried about it. Least of all Bassis.

“Our philosophy is that most people have diverse tastes, but everybody likes good music.”

On the Bill: Arise Festival. All day, Aug. 7-9, Sunrise Ranch, 100 Sunrise Ranch Road, Loveland, 720-608-8830. Tickets at arisefestival.com.

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