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"Fear and Loathing" in Taos Vortex

Editor's Note: This column contains explicit language and themes. These are the opinions of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the paper. 

Earthships, communes and now an anti-establishment art collective gone corporate: Meow Wolf hosted the second Taos Vortex music festival in history on Aug. 16 through 18. Vortex was, appropriately, a whirlwind.  With colors and characters everywhere — some the delusions of an inebriated mind and others not — it’s easy to forget why it’s all there. Music.

This year’s line up was admittedly disappointing compared to its predecessor, but that wasn’t going to kill my enthusiastic devotion to the memories of yonder. Iron & Wine, Snail Mail, Too Many Zooz, Wajatta, Empress Of; all honorable mentions, eclipsed by the orphic spectacles of Parliament, Funkadelic and Flying Lotus. 

They had three stages, all of which had setlists scribbled in sharpie by presumably an intern on the map of Kit Carson Park. “Spire,” the main stage was at the front of the park and was surrounded by bougie tents hosting beer taps.

A light-up insect named Barry RoMantis made of steel and poor welding guarded over a field of people. Trampolines labeled “4 People” were set up on the perimeter, and I still haven’t determined if that’s a participant capacity or an invitation. 

Just beyond the den of trampolines was a field of hammocks and the alternate stage, “Glade.” Honestly, it certainly didn’t smell like Glade; it was the rave stage. From dusk to dawn, the windows of Taos vibrated to the healing frequencies of Electronic Dance Music and tantric-house music conveniently pointed directly at Main Street. Tents and painted plywood triangles surrounded it, all filled with people either viciously dancing or slumping into an egoless coma. 

The Fungineers, an icecream truck designed for delivering grimy beats, had a rave on the basketball court in an upsettingly dirty corner of the festival. Across from which, there was a vagina-shaped tent with the words, “Pussy Power” across the top. I decided not to enter.

I was visibly in no state to talk to anyone, and maybe that brought people to me — maybe. I started conversations and have since placed the onus on the victims of my ramblings. Whatever it may be, the people of Taos Vortex are worth talking to. 

A mother with two 6-year-old girls approached me. They were drenched from head-to-toe in glitter, all armed with vintage glitter guns asking for my consent to get glittered. Of course, I agreed.

Later, a man named Flipper turned to me while in a crowd of people to introduce himself, and he showed me his cigarette. He commented on how pretty it was, and then aggressively wiggled his pointer finger as though it were a squirming mustache across his face. The cigarette pointed to the stage Flipper turned away from, upon which George Clinton had begun his symphonic sermon.

George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, DeWayne McKnight and Sly Stone are mythological members of the jazz and funk circuit. P-Funk is genre-defining and made swaths of music what it is today.

I wanted the funk, "The Whole Funk and Nothing but the Funk,” and I got it. If they hadn’t already brought “One Nation Under Groove”, they certainly brought Taos under a groove and me along with it. 

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George Clinton had my unyielding loyalty for those two hours. I clapped when he said clap, I got low when he said get low, and I gave up the funk I didn’t know I had in my white, middle-class art. Bootsy Collins came out on stage dressed in a white fursuit and a penis on his nose, while George Clinton recited the gospel of "Maggot Brain" that is too often skipped on the radio.

DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight launched into a cosmological guitar solo, with tones that shredded away my shortcomings, my insecurities and my sins. A strong duality existed between innocent jubilance and a gogo dancer who spent the entirety of a drum solo hand standing and dancing in a seductive way. There was ceaseless worship of human bodies on stage — I’ve been to some churches before, but now I’d been to church. 

Later on, a taxidermied wolf in a wheelchair repeatedly chanted “fire is coming” at screaming children in bear costumes on-screen. It felt like what must have been days. 

“This is weird, but I trust you!” someone shouted out from the right of me. 

Flying Lotus threw me into an atonal hellscape of flips, drops and upsettingly disorienting noises. My narcotized mind grasped for any sonic asylum it could reach, and for the next two hours, I suffered in ecstasy.

Flying Lotus stole my identity in arrhythmic fractals that pulled out at me from 3D glasses I don’t remember putting on. A man next to me asked me if I was okay, and I told him yes. We jumped together. It was the only thing I could decide for myself anymore. 

I drank too much water, but only because I realized the bass directly in front of was more intense when I could feel the waves across the top of my stomach. I was horrified with both the performance and myself, and that’s delightful.

Taos Vortex is, in some anomalistic way, the most memorable blur I’ve participated in. It’s a family-friendly, drug-fueled expedition through music, humans and art. I can’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t willing to drown in the cacophony of lunacy. I took my friends, I took too much and I left with something I’ll never forget I remembered. 

Luke Standley is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @dailylobo.

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