I had such a great experience at the first-annual Cosmic Reunion festival! Held by my dear friends – an artist troupe collectively known as the Astral Gypsies – on their beautiful new property in Koester Springs, Missouri, Cosmic Reunion has been a beautiful project to watch unfold.
To tell this story, I have to back up to 2011. That summer was my first experience shooting music festivals as a semi-official photographer. Jimmy Tebeau, musician and entrepreneur of The Schwag and Camp Zoe fame, brought me on as the photographer for his then-new Byrdfest event down at Byrds’s Adventure Center in Ozark, Arkansas.
The first night there, I met a beautiful crew of artists in the main stage area as they were constructing their camp full of giant puppets! They called themselves the Astral Gypsies – a Giant Puppet Crew! After meeting and talking to Sheena, who seemed really charismatic and excited about the puppets, I randomly decided to interview her on video for a little promo video I was going to make about Byrdfest. We chatted for a few minutes and I was so intrigued by these folks. I went home for the night and used that interview to edit a little promo video to promote the festival:
Fast forward to June of 2012…I get a random Facebook message from Sheena asking me if I want to ride with them on the puppet bus to the magical land of Rothbury, Michigan for Electric Forest Festival! It was a life-changing and deeply moving experience that I will never forget and I really got to bond with the Gypsy crew that weekend. We had Artist passes and explored all over that festival from the ICE COLD swimming pool to the lake, backstage to the catwalk and of course all through Sherwood Forest. One of my favorite festival memories ever was of me and my cousin Mikey and his childhood best friend Rookie wandering in Sherwood with mushroom puppet suits on, getting chased and “eaten” by people….standing by the pizza vendor and acting disappointed and hurt when people ordered mushroom pizzas….those suits are so much fun.
Over the next couple of years I ran into the Gypsies often and always had to shoot the puppets in all their splendor. I’m especially attracted to the Electropus octopus with the LED strobe arms…it’s always a party under the octopus! And when it is mounted at the PUppet Tent it makes for a great canopy/shade shelter in the daytime and a trippy environment to chill under at night too:
ANYWAY…back to the main story. As early as 2012, there were plans in the works for the Gypsies to purchase property with the ultimate goal of hosting festivals on their own homeland. I was not surprised when I got word from Sheena in early 2013 that they found the property and were planning a party in March of that year and that I was invited! Me and my buddy Joe made the epic trek up there from Arkansas and the party was incredible. The next morning it began snowing and Mike gave us a tour of the whole place and laid out their vision for the future…”here’s where the main stage will be, we are going to clear this field for campgrounds…here’s where we will dig out a swimming hole in the creek and use that gravel to pave the roads we will build over here…”. I had no doubt that they would do it.
Well, in late 2014 I got another fateful message from Sheena. She told me they were aiming for their first big festival in May of 2015 and had two questions: will my band play at the festival and will I take photos at the festival? Of course, the answer to both was a resounding YES….
Due to another festival gig for the band and an unforeseen vehicle problem, I didn’t get there as early as I would have liked…but from the very first moment I arrived back on the property at Astral Valley I knew I was home. The place was ALIVE…transformed from the sleepy farmland I had previously visited to a vibrant and glowing festival ground full of beautiful people, lights in the trees, and the lovely sounds of Grateful Dead music being played effortlessly by The Schwag on the mainstage, known as the Mothership Stage…I was in love immediately.
We made our way to the main stage field after parking in the campground and was seriously stunned at the beauty and brilliance of what they had done. One of the first features I noticed was a 25 foot tall tree-like structure with a platform at the top, called the Crow’s Nest, that allows for an incredible view of the main stage field and the Mothership. Check it out:
Near the back of the field was an actual PIRATE SHIP, I shit you not. Everywhere I looked, there were art installations, vendors and of course the famous Astral Gypsies puppet collection.
And my god, the stage…the Mothership is aptly named because it is HUGE and looks ready to lift off into legend at any moment. Look at this beautiful creation:
Before I knew it, Saturday night was over and Spiritual Sunday had arrived. My day began with a bit of photography wandering which led me to a lovely yoga session hosted by Sara Catlett. It was my first time actually participating in a group yoga session and it really set a positive tone for the day. I was a bit tense about performing on that massive stage later in the day, and I felt completely calm and rejuvenated after the session. Of course I shot a few photos before I got on the mat:
The music on mainstage started off with an artist I’d never heard of but would soon be entranced by. Her name is Ruth Acuff and I highly encourage you to check her out. Very unique and beautiful stuff:
The band I play in, called National Park Radio, played after Ruth. We had a great time and the crowd was really kind! It was super fun to play on such a huge sound system. Since I play bass, it was extra fun for me to be able to shake the earth with all that power! It was our first big festival gig, and quit an honor to be a part of such an epic festival as Cosmic. Hopefully we get the opportunity to play for that kind of crowd more often!
Later in the day two of my favorite acts were booked to play. That 1 Guy aka Mike Silverman is probably the single most incredible act I have ever witnessed. He plays an instrument he designed and named the Magic Pipe. There’s really no way to describe it so I will just show it to you:
Sadly, That 1 Guy’s set was cut a bit short by some seriously heavy thunderstorms. Rain and lightning took center stage for an hour or two while everyone ran for shelter. A bunch of us wound up on the Mothership under that massive roof, and pretty soon Gypsy Mike V. was at work setting up a secondary P.A. system to entertain all of us, and the first song out of the gate was a perfect call..”Riders on the Storm”…Morrison’s timeless and haunting voice echoed across the Valley as the rain fell and lightning cracked.
Next thing I know, the incredible bassist and homie Supa Man from the Andy Frasco band was standing next to me, which of course meant that the Frasco crew had arrived! Andy Frasco and the U.N. were booked as the closing act of the night, and if you don’t know about these guys all I can say is you better ask somebody! Andy Frasco is quickly becoming the greatest front man of all time and their show is always electric, eclectic and fucking hectic! This set was special though. It was still raining and the main stage field was soaked. What to do?
Well, Andy is a bit of a musical communist in the best possible way. He seems to enjoy bringing everyone together…sometimes his sets wind up with 10 or more musicians on stage. He’s been known to encourage festival crowds to climb the VIP fences and raid the stage. Given all that, it seemed like a perfect solution to the rain problem at Cosmic would be for the band to set up on the drum riser on stage and invite the whole crowd on the Mothership stage for a huge and manic dance party. And my god, what a party it was. I caught the first song on video, check this madness out:
What a festival. If this one was any indication, there are many good things coming for Astral Valley, the Astral Gypsies and the Mothership stage!
I want to give a special thanks and shout out to the Astral Gypsies family for bringing me along for this ride, from Electric Forest to Cosmic Reunion and beyond! I am so proud of you guys and amazed by your creativity, your capabilities and your dedication to this beautiful scene.
I wish I would have gotten all the Gypsies together for a family photo, but here’s a photo of Sheena and Mike, the pair at the heart of the Gypsy family:
A huge and heartfelt thank you and much love to the Gypsy family, all my new and old friends I met and saw there, and to you for reading all this bullshit!
As for me, I can’t wait to go back home….
Until next time!