Words + Photos by Alicia Armijo
Levitation Festival was in fine form this year in Austin, Texas’s vibrant Red River Cultural District. Over the course of four outstanding days, festival-goers could find an assortment of special performances at many of Austin’s prized heavy music venues. The festival’s downtown format enabled festival-goers to catch their favorite artists at closely-knit venues with great ease. This revised layout from previous years made for a musical playground for attending adults and children alike. This masterfully curated festival is always striving for more.
Levitation incorporated a new immersive element into this year’s festivities through their collaboration with Waterloo Greenway’s 6th Annual Creek Show. This addition was a lovely invitation for festival-goers and Austinites generally to discover some of the amazing musical acts participating in the festival and to engage with the extraordinary light installations brightening the creek.
For the first of four Levitation nights, fans did not let the shocking cold-front and drizzle stop them from filling the venues to submerge in the musical magic. All layered up, I found my way into an indie-folk-rock heaven at Stubb’s Amphitheater for Vagabon, Devendra Banhart, and Angel Olsen. I followed this rhythm-intensive start with a heavy finish, indulging in High on Fire and Stonefield as they lit up the stages at The Mohawk and Barracuda. It was a radical combination of superb performances, but I cannot think of a better way to experience Levitation’s diverse offerings.
While he was not the headlining act at Stubb’s, Venezuelan-American musician and graphic artist Devendra Banhart made a lasting impression that night. Following Vagabon, many fans near the stage were happily awaiting the folk psychedelic rocker. Along the barrier, fans carried the Venezuela flag and screamed with adoration. Banhart has an undeniable charm and way with his crowd. Seamlessly transitioning from Spanish to English songs and back again, Banhart effectively creates a soft, dreamy feel that infuses his audiences with a spirit of bliss and tranquility. Experiencing Devendra Banhart live could hone the mind to a glorious tabula rasa to build on in any number of spectacular ways for this Levitation weekend.
Of all the days to attend Levitation, Friday was spoilt for choice. That night I reveled in the extraordinary performances of Holy Wave, Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, Russian Circles, Death Valley Girls, and Deafheaven. Truly, each of these bands could be seen at their very best that night. Each band was a unique spectacle of their own to see in their own ways.
A treasure discovery for me that night was the transcendent sound of Mercury Rev. Festivals are a wonderful opportunity to discover bands to spice up our heavy music rotations. This dream-pop band was certainly that for me this year. Cast under vibrant rainbow lighting, this boldly experimental band overwhelmed audiences with their dazzling yet cathartic melodies and Jonathan Donahue’s hypnotizing presence. Basking in complete elation was a universal feel at Stubb’s that night during this epic performance.
I hope my preview for this festival served as a motivating and anticipation-building piece for readers who attended Stubb’s feature performance by The Flaming Lips… I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is nothing like witnessing and indulging in the grandiose and enchanting production that is a live performance by The Flaming Lips. Watching with the utmost fascination at the confetti, streamers, and oversized balloons pummeling towards them, the crowd couldn’t help but return to a child-like state of joy. This sublime play of fan-favorite, “Race for the Prize,” was transformative. Between lyrical verses, Wayne Coyne, the singer, and ringleader of this magnificent circus, cheerfully kicked balloons and blasted yet more confetti to euphoric fans dancing in the crowd. Throughout their riveting ninety-minute set, the band created stunning and memorable moments through unexpected whimsical props, striking visual effects, and penetrating melodies.
The Flaming Lips juxtaposed their surrealism flawlessly with sublimely emotional moments as well. In particular, the band struck the hearts of Austinites with a moving cover of “True Love Will Find You In The End.” This song was noteworthy as they dedicated it to the life and legacy of the late great Austin-legend, Daniel Johnston. This was a lovely and emotional moment for the band as well. These kinds of vulnerable moments are what really transcends the audience-artist division to unify everyone involved. The Flaming Lips’ emotivity, creativity, and bold aesthetics surely brought this festival to a new all-time high for festival-goers. The incredible experience of their brilliant performance is one that fans are sure to reminisce about for years to come.
On that glorious penultimate day of Levitation 2019, there was a new energy in the air as fans came out to delight in all of the Saturday festivities on offer. That day, I explored a unique palette of musical genres spanning psychedelic rock, garage rock, avant-garde, electronic, gothic rock, and doom metal. Among the talented artists to be seen that evening, I reveled in the wondrous sounds of Federale, The Black Angels, John Cale, Chelsea Wolfe, and Windhand across town.
As a long-time fan of The Velvet Underground, it was without question that I would find my way to John Cale. The packed-full Stubb’s Amphitheater proved that this was a shared sentiment. While he is renowned for being a founding member of the infamous sixty’s rock ensemble, Cale’s cutting-edge new music is surely worthy of note in its own right. John Cale has a commanding presence that gripped fans in all corners of this special open-air venue. Cast under a colorful, psychedelic light show, the Welsh musician soothed and electrified this mass of music-enthusiasts with his imaginative multi-instrumental performance.
The final day of the festival really demonstrated the commitment of festival-goers. The average music festival tends to last for three days throughout a weekend. This four-day festival of music only invigorated audiences to make the most of the final day of this unique and innovative music festival. I spent that final day enjoying a phenomenal combination of musical acts, which included Jacuzzi Boys, Dinosaur Jr, Kurt Vile & the Violators, Dallas Acid, Annabelle Chairlegs, and Black Moth Super Rainbow. Each of these shining acts made valuable contributions to the spirit of Levitation.
In my view, Dallas Acid rivaled all others that night in the hypnotic spectacle of cosmic synth-scapes that they created amidst breathtaking visuals. The synth-based trio combined a medley of unconventional instruments to achieve an ambient yet dynamic sound. Their music invites listeners to levitate and venture with them on a melodic journey with no set destination; this is truly what the psychedelic music scene is all about. It was no surprise that the dark aesthetic of The Mohawk would lend itself so well to being the bedrock for some of the most awe-inspiring displays of musicianship during this year’s fest.
This year’s Levitation Festival certainly did not disappoint with their impressive lineup of talented musicians and visual artists. Festival-goers came far and wide to attend this year’s remarkable festivities. I encountered many fans who traveled internationally to revel in the entrancing music and to appreciate the Live Music Capital of the World. I met many Austin-locals who would never dream of missing the festival as it continues to grow and evolve each year. By incorporating both auditory and visual aesthetic stimuli, fans come to experience profound energy shifts and unique perceptions of the verve around them. It is this perspective-transforming dynamism that can be achieved through engagement with the art of Levitation that sets it apart from other festivals of its kind. Until next year, we will look forward to more of the splendor that this festival has to offer!