We hear screaming from the boat in front of us before we see the rapids—they’re Class III, but none of us have been rafting before and we’re tense with anticipation. This is our equivalent of The River Wild. Our guide is likely rolling his eyes, but still, I squeal with glee as our boat drives through the cold, rushing Arkansas River. By the time we’re through the white water and leisurely floating along, my friends and I are soaked but smiling.
I moved to Colorado for two reasons: the outdoors and music. For the most part, they rarely intersect. When Vertex Festival was announced, however, I felt my worlds colliding. The three-day event, which took place this past weekend in Buena Vista (pronounced “Biewna Vista”), Colorado, was envisioned as a combination of all things our fine state embodies. Attendees could listen to world-class music as well as sign-up for rafting trips, guided hikes, and even Frisbee golf.
My crew opted to raft early Friday morning, a surefire way to guarantee we didn’t forfeit our $65 investment to our festival hangovers. After rafting, the festival’s manmade beach, complete with an island bar, proved the best for people watching. Our local guides were classic river rats, but the larger group of festivalgoers turned out to be more diverse: a cross-dressing dude made up like the orphan Annie; a rope shoe-wearing high schooler giddy on Colorado’s legal weed; gorgeous electronic dance music girls with face paint and scant clothing; a classic Colorado family, looking like they’d just climbed a 14er.
Music ramped up each afternoon with a lineup that ranged from Grammy-winning Americana quartet The Alabama Shakes to hip-hop artist Anderson Paak, and electronic outfit Odeza to Australian neo-psychedelic soul act Hiatus Kaiyote. Oregon rock quintet Fruition fell into the role of festival house band, playing a completely different show every night. We camped in a field with 360-degree views of the Collegiate range and the festival wrapped through a decked out forest, with a creek, LED ambiance, life-size toy houses, and pop-up shops slinging hand-carved wooden lamps, intricate tapestries, and Super Heady Tacos. Drinks were $10, but not once did a security guard check my bag upon entry. At night, there were stargazing workshops and a silent disco, where you could dance to hip-hop as your friends swayed to salsa.
Vertex means the highest point, or the apex—and at this festival it’s the top of 14,196-foot Mount Princeton and the highlight of the three-day event, when the right mix of inebriation, rock ‘n’ roll, and good company might give way to complete and utter transcendence.
For me, it came Sunday night, during headliner Trey Anastasio Band’s first set. As I listened to trombonist Natalie Cressman rapping in Spanish (a cover of Ana Tijoux’s “1977″) I found myself mimicking her Latin moves. Someone close to me is yelling “Trey Anastasio is a god,” and as I look up at the Phish guitarist, surrounded by one of the largest, most high-production value stages I’ve ever seen, noodling his new Languedoc guitar, I’m inclined to agree. My friends are equally blissed out, dancing with abandon underneath a star-filled sky. It was my vertex, because it drove home those reasons why I’d moved to Colorado, plus the crucial thing I’d found after moving here: community.
On its own, rafting would have been fun, as would the music or any one of the festival’s other magical details. Combine them though, and you’ve got an iconic festival that might only happen in Colorado. Vertex has tapped into a vibe that’s already got me itching for next year.