Psych Fest Austin: that time in May when psychedelic rock lovers converge on beautiful Carson Creek Ranch to indulge in seminal music and celebrate the spirit of experience and togetherness. Psych Fest, rebranded in its eighth year as Levitation, is a product of the people behind Fun Fun Fun Fest, another Austin festival staple (QRO recap).
As soon as the rebranded Levitation line-up for May 8th to 10th was released, the annual festival was guaranteed to draw larger crowds than in previous years. The festival’s founders, The Black Angels, joined forces with stellar bands such as Spiritualized, The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. It also saw the golden anniversary and first-ever return of the godfathers of psychedelic rock, The 13th Floor Elevators, featuring the band’s vocalist and guitarist, Austin native Roky Erickson, lyricist and electric jug-player Tommy Hall, bassist Ronnie Leatherman, and original drummer John Ike Walton.
Following record-breaking rainfall at the Carson Creek Ranch two days prior to the event, resulting in stage relocation amid safety considerations, Friday made off to a muggy and soggy start. Undeterred, festivalgoers arrived to homegrown psychedelic drone Sungod at the Reverberation Stage, while Californian White Manna’s space-rock set the scene for a suitably swampy, blissed-out, cosmic mood with heavy riffs and absorbing repetitiveness. Another Austin band, and Psych Fest regulars, Holy Wave, delighted at the Elevation Amphitheatre with thick echo and heavy reverb.
The Levitation Tent saw Mr Elevator & The Brain Hotel conjure up the psychedelic spirit of early Kinks, complete with fiery-fingered church rock organ and lumbering bass. Helmed by Erika Thrasher, Indian Jewelry’s sound, despite it’s numerous incarnations, was still recognizable with its intense, experimental, trancy, tribal thrums. This set up the incredibly intense performance we have come to expect from noise rock duo Lightning Bolt. Typically played on the floor of the venue, close to their crowd, it was nevertheless hard to tear ones eyes away from this blistering band, drawing spectators in with their heavy distortion and frenetic drumming. Headliners Spiritualized and Tame Impala ended a successful first day, drawing large crowds with their soundscapes. “Lord Let It Rain On Me”, “Feel Like We Only Go Backwards”, and “Elephant” were among the crowd-pleasers, mesmerizing the audience with psychedelic stage lighting and lysergic fuzz. Dance-friendly Tame Impala debuted a new track “Eventually”, blending electronica with psych rock,
Unfortunately, the blissed out vibes faded with lengthy delays out of the parking grounds. This was however immediately acknowledged by Levitation organizers in a gracious recap email to ticket holders, who took a proactive approach to handling the situation for the coming days.
Saturday’s Night Beats, a Seattle psychedelic garage group, readied the crowd for a cosmic Thee Oh Sees set. While there were still muddy conditions on the field itself, there were plenty of food trucks and boutiques for some much needed R&R. Fairy lights and tree swings set a relaxing mood for the Mystic Braves and Earth, with its mesmerizing Adrienne Davies conducting drone-heavy, big, floating, repetitive soundscapes. A new generations of listeners was exposed to a Scottish double whammy of 80s rock, Primal Scream and The Jesus & Mary Chain, even while their sound is still fresh and relevant. Psycho Candy’s Just like Honey marks the album’s 30th anniversary, making the set one of the many highlights of Psych Fest 2015.
The Elevation Amphitheatre had by Sunday established a set crowd, ranging from the trippy rhythms of Dallas Acid to Eternal Tapestry’s blissed-out sonic patterns, connecting the audience and its natural environment to panoramic soundscapes. Fat White Family made for a stark contrast, with rhythm-less heavy reverb, crude lyrics and jarring melodies. The Black Angels started Sunday’s succession of strong headlining acts, taking an eclectic audience into a captivating The 13th Floor Elevators’ set. The peaceful nostalgia act joined directly with the succeeding Flaming Lips, who after numerous sound checks sounded familiarly, yet charmingly, off-key. Institutionalized at alternative festivals and idolized as a consciousness-increasing experience, they pander to a certain festival experience with mushroom costumes and audience props, which nevertheless result in a stunning stage display.
All in all, Levitation has again succeeded in giving us the gift of a transcendental music experience, so key to the diverse Austin tapestry of festivals, with visceral sounds set in a gorgeous, peaceful environment. The combination of old and new, established and innovative, is what has made Psych Fest once again a unique festival experience. And even with festivalgoers sinking into the mud, Levitation delivered its promise.