Jack Johnson wanted to crank up the wave pool at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort Casino so he could catch some surf. Dave Matthews joked about checking out Excalibur’s all-male revue, Thunder from Down Under. Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools came to see his buddies get hitched. Underground hip-hop artist Beans hit the strip clubs, while the Digable Planets’ Cee Knowledge lost money on the slots. City of Sin vices aside, all these musicians and more were in Las Vegas this past Halloween weekend for another reason: Vegoose, baby, Vegoose.
A total of 40,000 people turned up each day to see thirty-six acts across four stages on the University of Nevada at Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium grounds — about seven miles from the Vegas strip — for the first annual Vegoose Music Festival this past Halloween weekend. Superfly Entertainment, the promoters of Tennessee’s annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts festival, had been planning Vegoose since 2000. The line-up, like that of Bonnaroo, brought together musical acts across genres, from jam bands to indie rock to hip-hop. In addition to Dave Matthews, Beck, the Flaming Lips and the Shins, the Arcade Fire, Talib Kweli, Ween, North Mississippi Allstars, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, Primus and Gov’t Mule rounded out the bill.
Most revelers came dressed up in costumes: a Napoleon Dynamite look alike here, a guy dressed as a Hooters waitress there. And even musicians got into the holiday spirit: Beck came as a Cub Scout, Jack Johnson channeled Jimi Hendrix and the Shins dressed up as nuns.
The Vegoose experience started with Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds at the Aladdin Hotel and Casino on Friday night, in one of a dozen late-night shows held at various casino venues in addition to the two-day stadium binge. Matthews kept an intimate feeling inside the 7,000-capacity theater, sharing family stories and chatting between songs throughout his set, which included classics like “Satellite,” “Warehouse” and “Two Step.”
On Saturday, not long after a rousing set by Portland indie rockers the Decemberists, who played most of their recent, lyrical album Picaresque, the Shins took the stage in nun cloaks for a set that drew heavily on their 2003 breakthrough album, Chutes Too Narrow. And with Beck and Jack Johnson at side stage, they performed their Garden State soundtrack staple, “New Slang.”
Atmosphere’s set in the hip-hop tent drew masses, causing the LVPD to threaten to shut down the venue. With the air reeking of weed and fists pumping, people spilled out from beneath the tent’s dome. Talib Kweli followed, energizing the crowd with help from Sacramento breakdancers Flexible Flav, who flipped and spun across the stage. Kweli’s DJ Chops delivered a solo with behind-the-back and through-the-leg scratch maneuvers. Announcing “I don’t know if I know all the words yet,” Kweli even treated the fans to a new track, “Off Beat,” from his as-yet-untitled follow-up to 2004’s The Beautiful Struggle.
During the Primus set, bassist Les Claypool — who chose to play in front of two giant, inflated rubber ducks — announced to his audience, “I feel bad for all of you out there, because you’re missing Beck!” Across the grounds, with a tent and deer onstage and his entire band dressed in Cub Scout uniforms, troop leader Beck serenaded the crowd with songs off every one of his albums: “Lost Cause,” “Loser,” “Devil’s Haircut,” “Sexx Laws” and the encores “E-Pro” and “Get Real Paid.”
On Sunday, Vegoose was at its most diverse, with acts ranging from veteran indie trio Sleater-Kinney to jam-rockers Umphrey’s McGee to the original line-up of New Orleans’ funk legends the Meters. Although Ween and moe. drew bigger crowds during Spoon’s set time, the Austin-based indie outfit seemed to win over new fans, as the crowd danced along to songs like “The Way We Get By” from 2002’s Kill the Moonlight and “I Summon You,” off their latest album, Gimme Fiction.
But it was the high energy of both the Flaming Lips and the Arcade Fire sets that topped the evening. Wayne Coyne and Co. threw a party onstage with their usual confetti, balloons and crew of people dressed as furry animals. The band covered Queens’ “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and Coyne lectured the youth on taking a bigger stand against the war before going into Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”
The festival closed with an electrifying three-hour Widespread Panic performance that included long percussion and drum solos, as well as another appearance by Trey Anastasio and eclectic southern rocker Col. Bruce Hampton. The band mixed up the set with old classics and new songs like the encore “None of Us Are Free.”
With the festival over, fans wandered out, looking for another hard-to-find late-night cab and talking about which hotel on the strip they would stay at next year.