"Be the counterpoint." The phrase displayed throughout the grounds of the 3-day music festival perfectly described the environment it created for positive growth and change. The artists, the incredible stage production, and most importantly, the people, made CounterPoint 2014 an extraordinary experience.
CounterPoint 2014 took place in Rome, Ga. from April 25-27, a full 18 months after the first CounterPoint. This year's festival was held on the grounds of Kingston Downs, home of the Atlanta Steeplechase, where there were plenty of shade trees, grassy hills and sprawling green lawns that held up even after a brief thunderstorm came through on the third day of the festival. Hammocks were set up along various parts of the grounds, and there were also plenty of picnic areas, bars and food vendors. There was even a free water station managed by friendly volunteers! This element such a great addition that helped festival goers to stay hydrated and safe.
The lineup over the course of the weekend was heavily focused on EDM, with the likes of trance superstars Above & Beyond playing alongside trap artists Flosstradamus, but it also featured alternative acts such as Foster the People and Thievery Corporation, and hip hop royalty, OutKast. With four stages and such a great variety in the lineup, CounterPoint Music Festival truly had something for everyone, and it also created the opportunity to discover new artists and styles of music of which they might not normally be exposed.
Speaking of the stages, both the sound and lighting design were top-notch throughout the festival's four stages: Blu Freedom (main), Hillside, Steeplechase, and The Underground. Even though they were relatively close together and within easy walking distance from each other, once you arrived at your stage of choice, you were completely immersed in the experience: the sights, the sounds, the energy of the artist on stage and the crowd. The sound quality was some of the best that this reporter has ever heard anywhere, and the lights were equally amazing. At the end of each night, the main stage displayed a fireworks show that was visible in the night sky from anywhere on the festival grounds.
Throughout the weekend, it was evident that CounterPoint is a music festival run by people who love music festivals and live by the principles. From their website in the CounterPoint Cares section: "We want to see each of you leaving CounterPoint with positive memories that last a lifetime. We also want to leave Kingston Downs in the same shape that we found it in, if not better." The same page on their website introduces a type of volunteer called a "Point Guard," one of which I was unwittingly introduced to when I first arrived at the festival on Friday. I was dancing, and she walked over wearing a volunteer shirt and offered me a brand new bottle of water. "Have a good time!" she smiled and waved. What a great concept!
To write a review of every act at Counterpoint would be infeasible. Instead, I will lead you on the same journey we took and share the highlights from each day.
Due to less-than-flexible work schedules, my group didn't arrive to the festival until Mat Zo's set had already begun. But as we walked in, we heard his hit track "Easy" carrying over the festival grounds, and we smiled with gratitude; we had made it on time. We followed the sound of the music over to the Steeplechase Stage and walked right into the party. Zo's set was much like his recent album, the genre-busting "Damage Control." Somehow, Zo is able to spin a variety of music across multiple genres, but it still works. And his CounterPoint set more than worked; it killed. "Mat Zo's mastery of the decks was highly impressive," said Adam M., a CounterPoint attendee. "There wasn't a single person in the audience that wasn't moving." After Mat Zo, we caught the better half of Pretty Lights' set over at the main stage. As part of CounterPoint's inaugural lineup in 2012, Pretty Lights made a glorious return to the festival, and the stage lights truly did their name justice. Krewella wrapped up the first night of the festival for us back over at the Steeplechase Stage with their high energy set. They performed to a very enthusiastic crowd full of die-hard Krewella fans, and the vibes were amazing. After the show was over, we didn't want to leave, but we knew we had to get some rest. This was only day one!
Saturday we got to experience more of the festival. There were vendors tables, games and activity booths. Right in the middle of the festival was a neon green pyramid which housed a bar and was decorated with large art installations created by talented artists in front of a live audience throughout the course of the festival. There was also a ferris wheel which provided some great views of the entire festival, especially at night.
There was a great block of artists at the Hillside Stage on Saturday afternoon that was perfect for some downtime. While the stage had a constant crowd in front of it, the majority chose to do the same as we--lie out on the lawn or the hill on blankets and soak in all of the sights and sounds of both the festival and Mother Nature. To me, that is one of the most magical experiences: to lie on the ground and look up at the setting sun while listening to music and enjoying the company of other like-minded individuals at a music festival. After watching a beautiful sunset, the lights started to come out: hoopers, poi, glow bracelets and costumes with LED lights. Seeing the transformation of the festival and the energy of the crowd change from laid-back and chill to "OMG party time!" was awesome. Night was now upon us, and that meant that in a few short hours, Above & Beyond, the artists we most wanted to see, would soon be taking the stage.
We made our way over to the Steeplechase Stage (are we sensing a theme here?) for Wolfgang Gartner's set. He played a ton of hits that really got the crowd pumped, touching on trap, dubstep, and trance genres. Gartner brought the crowd up and got everyone moving, and then handed us over to Above & Beyond--as if we needed any priming for them.
Above & Beyond, wow. Their set was so euphoric, that this writer is actually at a loss for words. Transcendence. That is what happened to the crowd during Above & Beyond's set. It was great to hear some of their new releases mixed in with old classics, and the audience was full of fans that were singing and dancing along. But the highlight of their set, without a doubt, was the encore when they played the acoustic version of "Sun and Moon" which united the crowd in song.
Since we weren't camping this time, we drove to and from the festival each day. We arrived on Sunday right as a thunderstorm was passing through. The parking attendants, who had been on-point all weekend, let us know that the festival was being temporarily postponed until conditions were safe again. While we missed checking out the Scratch DJ Academy workshop due to the delay, we were delighted to find that acts had not been bumped due to time constraints--they just pushed back the sets. Because of this, we were able to see Thievery Corporation, which made my day. They were one of the first acts to start after the festival resumed, and their music had everyone grooving and back in the spirit of the weekend.
Sunday was by far the biggest day of attendance at CounterPoint, as several people bought day passes to see OutKast headline that evening. It was great to see a mingling of the hip hop crowd with the EDM scene. Everyone had a great vibe to them because we were all there for the music.
After a while, the energy of the festival shifted from being spread out across four stages and the campgrounds to all being focused on the Blu Freedom Main Stage. Everywhere you looked, people were making their way toward the stage in anticipation of OutKast's performance. Once the music started, thousands of fans all erupted at once. André 3000 and Big Boi know how to work the crowd, and their years of experience really showed. They opened with "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)," as I somehow knew they would. Though their set didn't begin until around 11:30 p.m. due to the delay, and we had to drive an hour home and go to work Monday morning, we decided to stay for five songs. I turned to Adam as the fourth song was ending and said, "The next song is our last song. It would be awesome if they played 'Rosa Parks' now, but if not, that's okay." No sooner than the words had come out of my mouth did I hear "Ah ha, ah ha, baby, yeah, yeah" and recognize the start of "Rosa Parks." It was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend.
Overall, CounterPoint 2014 was a huge success. Everything came together to pull off one incredible experience: the artists, the stage production, the venue, the volunteers and the crowd. Although CounterPoint 2015 has not yet been announced, if it does return to the Atlanta area next year, I can safely say, "We'll be there."
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