Year six of the Lake Tahoe tradition was all snowflakes, handwarmers, and bangers.
It was the week after Christmas, and my trip to SnowGlobe Festival was fast approaching. Hosted in Lake Tahoe during the three days leading up to New Year's Eve, the annual winter event was slated to include performances from Jack Ü, Eric Prydz, Alison Wonderland, Cut Copy, Duke Dumont, and Claude VonStroke, among others, making Tahoe an unlikely midnight destination for electronic music fans from all over the country.
I had never been to SnowGlobe before, and while I was stoked at the opportunity to go shoot with some friends and artists I've worked with before, I was not necessarily keen on the idea of traveling to a ski town during the holidays. The weather is unforgiving. Airports are busier. People are angrier and less patient. In my case, what started as a three-hour trip slowly devolved into a 13-hour travel day from LA to the festival gates in Tahoe. While I was doing my best to not become one of those people I mentioned, I spent most of my per diem on a surprisingly great sandwich and several rounds of hot toddies (s/o Big Freedia & Spank Rock).
When I arrived, I discovered that the festival grounds were buried in a forest, by the base of a mountain near Heavenly Ski Resort. For each of its six years, SnowGlobe has been hosted on the campus of the South Lake Tahoe Community College; once you cross the state line back into California, it's about a mile and half up a side street off the main road. The surrounding town was already packed with skiers and snowboarders on holiday ski trips, and the event only added to crowding. While snowboarding and skiing weren't part of the event per se, I spoke to a handful of attendees who managed to get up early to grab a few runs on the mountain. Most however, were inclined to rest up and stay warm at their lodges or hotels before heading to SnowGlobe for the evening. To get there, some people hopped on the festival shuttle, while others made the trek on foot. I managed to hitch a ride from my hotel up the road from a kind gas station attendant, which felt like a perfectly timed gift from the the universe.
Once on foot, I immediately regretted my shoe decision. Everything leading up to the location was covered in white, with the tracks of earlier arrivals having compressed the hard pack. Along the way, you'd see signs for the festival here and there, and scattered groups of people slipping and sliding around. Eventually, faint hits of bass would start to permeate through the pines, and guide you to a clearing and the community college gymnasium.
At this point, I got my first glimpse of what the all-ages festival crowd was going to be like. Most in attendance were dressed in the parkas and waterproof snow gear you'd expect to find in any ski town on a busy weekend. As I got closer to media check-in however, I started to realize that there were a lot of people wearing onesies—the loose, pajama kind with a hood that makes you look kind of like Totoro. It's funny how the winter landscape almost made me forget that people were there for a rave in the forest, but I guess that's besides the point. It was really cold out, and at least it looked like people were dressed warmly enough to enjoy themselves.
It was also interesting to note the ways weather can dictate our experience of a festival. Due to the cold, a lot of the modern "rave" signifiers were strangely absent at SnowGlobe; survival mode was key, and I'd go as far as to say that the lack of outlandish outfits and neon-colored everything put the focus back on the music. People were also quick to help each other, be it by donating a hand warmer or a cigarette. While the PLUR raver stereotype seemed nowhere to be found, the spirit of that scene seemed to shine through as people clung tight to each other and danced close to stay warm.
Ultimately, the whole thing felt more like a big party than a festival. According to SnowGlobe's official website, the event had sold out every tier of ticketing packages available, and considering that no stage was ever really empty, I'd believe it. The main stage was surprisingly large considering the remote location, with Jack Ü, Eric Prydz, and Kaskade bringing big visuals and pyro to the forest floor. The indoor/outdoor Sierra tent was always overflowing with people trying desperately to get closer to the stage, especially for Alison Wonderland, Duke Dumont, and Cashmere Cat. The Igloo stage, however, had its own kind of vibe altogether. Not only was it the warmest of the three stages temperature-wise, but its line-up hewed closer to a late-night warehouse feel, with artists like Claude VonStroke, Justin Martin, and Cut Copy.
After the last set each day, people would rush to the shuttle lines and make their way back into town. It's exhausting hiking and dancing through the snow all day long, so some people would not make it out again. For those that did, the afterparty landscape was a combination of local Tahoe haunts and one-off hotel parties. The Alison Wonderland/ Slumberjack party was in a hookah bar, and I'm pretty sure the Dirtybird party was in the back of an Italian restaurant. No pasta though, which was a missed opportunity considering the only thing open after midnight was a grocery store that really only had a selection of cheap, slightly ok sandwiches.
Unfortunately, I had another long travel day ahead of me on NYE, so I missed the Snowglobe 2015 finale with Dillon Francis and Run The Jewels. Still, between the emotions that come with another year winding down and the fact that I was on a mountain in 20° weather running around with hand warmers stuffed into my shoes, I found myself feeling a subtle sense of accomplishment just for getting there.