FORM Arosanti is one of those special festivals that many may not know of but is adored and loved by those who do. Just 70 miles north of Phoenix, an experimental living community exists carved alongside a desert canyon and created by the famous Italian architect Paolo Soleri. Thanks to the creative minds of the Florida group Hundred Waters, the FORM festival is an 800 person, application only, festival that's free to those who attend. The festival is unique in the sense that the main focus is to stay true to the raw architecture of nature, music and human interaction. The stages compliment the environment rather than have massive steel frames propped up in the middle of a beautiful landscape. For comparison, imagine taking the stunning backdrop form The Gorge Amphitheater in Washington and combine that with the Red Rock Amphitheater in Colorado, then you would still have only half of the architectural beauty that Arocsanti brings. There is no backstage area, no VIP only viewing but both the artists and the fans are brought together to celebrate a weekend of beautiful music and scenery.
Austin Tuft, drummer from the Canadian band BRAIDS, was a performer at FORM this year and was able to share some further insight on what it was like to experience this rare festival for the first time.
Thursday evening we got picked up at the airport by Pete Dawson. Definitely the most interesting shuttle driver I had ever met. We started the whole weekend adventure with a stop at a bizarre taco spot that was still sporting its full Cinco De Mayo decorations, Taqueria Don Beto. The drive from Phoenix out to Arcosanti takes about an hour and a half and is brought to a close on rugged dirt roads where we saw the first sign of the festival. A huge beam of light erupting into the night sky from a distant point that we all immediately knew was the festival site. It was very disorienting showing up to the desert abode in complete darkness. Not knowing what the space looked like but feeling its immense energy.
The next morning was a rare moment where there were still only a few people on site. Mostly organizers and musicians at that point and we had a chance to explore the commune in its amazing raw beauty. I went for a run in the canyon and swam in the pool and felt truly energized by the desert environment. I have a very strong connection to the Arizona desert. Two years ago when we started writing our most recent full length "Deep in the Iris" we embarked on a 7 week writing retreat at a cabin in the high desert only 45 minutes away from Arcosanti. It felt very special to be able to return to that same desert where we wrote our album and perform it with a full year's worth of touring under our belts, especially to a very very respectful crowd of music lovers.
As Arcosanti filled up with people, food trucks and areostream trailers converted into tequila bars, the whole space transformed into the festival we had all come to be a part of. The daytime performances were bright and exposed and it was so refreshing to watch brilliant artists at work without any smoke and mirrors. For me the daytime was highlighted by Son Lux, Bing and Ruth playing a grand piano on the cliffside, Bill Calahan and Lydia Ainsworth. You could see every single emotion they were feeling in the bright arizona sunlight. As the sun set the programming shifted to decidedly moodier music where the lighting and grandiose amphitheatre could compliment the performances perfectly. Moses Sumney, Thundercat, Perfume Genius, Tyondai Braxton and of course Hundred Waters were all incredible.
As a musician and a spectator I appreciated that the programming only ever featured one artist at a time. That is always one of my least favourite things about festivals is when the two bands you wanted to see are playing at two different stages at the same time and you never truly enjoy either performance because you're bummed about missing the other. Also the curation was so in line with my taste, largely because my very close friends Hundred Waters deere responsible for the booking! Every time I found myself with some down time, I would go sit on the giant sized steps that lined the backside of the amphitheatre and look out over the valley and think about bout how this festival must have been designed just for me.
The community and atmosphere at FORM made a perfect environment for us to try some new songs from the EP that we just put out on Friday. Especially the track "Joni," which was written in Prescott AZ and inspired by a drive we took through the desert back in March 2014. Therbroe was a drunk man driving an old beaten up station wagon with its front window smashed in and we all felt a palpable sympathy for him. If he felt loved, if he felt more at home, less unsure of himself, would he be risking his life driving like that. When you tour as much as we do its easy to feel displaced, lonely and like you have no idea where you are going. Being back at Arcosanti and looking out on those desert landscapes that inspired so much of our music was a deeply enriching experience. We are so proud of our friends for putting on such a wonderful festival.
I bought a Soleri bell so that the music of Arcosanti will keep ringing through my house forever.