in the company of serpents

High Desert Hit: Monolith on the Mesa Scores with Inaugural Fest

The first annual Monolith on the Mesa was a smash success. I can’t speak to specific details or success in a financial sense, but in terms of brand building, of overall impression left with attendees and bands, the team behind the festival crushed it. Some thoughts below lifted from my fest notes:

Most importantly, in my opinion, in an ever-broadening sea of festivals and various sorts of “live music events,” Monolith on the Mesa offered a unique experience. It’s a loose comparison, but with the camping, the desert setting, the psychedelics and the towering art installations, it had a slight “heavy-metal-burning-man” vibe, a remark I heard numerous people make. For sure, the architecture, the landscape, the arid earth, all felt distinctly Southwest.

(There was a “Bedouin tent” behind us in the band camp built half into the ground that turned into a bar at night, and a brightly outfitted “party bus” next to it, as well as a Geodome. Though these spaces didn’t get all that much use this year - some of that likely due to the colder temps that set in at night - I could see these gaining traction in subsequent years. The atmosphere was right.) 

More exactly, Monolith brought together heavy music fans and festival enthusiasts of all varieties. And there were a lot of people there, certainly a lot for a first year fest. It was an interesting crowd. As Taos is pretty isolated, a majority of attendees had traveled in from the greater region. It was an unpretentious bunch - a bit trippy, a bit crusty, but definitely predominantly metal-oriented.

*It was a unique sight when Black Magic Flower Power brought in the funk to close out the Thursday night pre-party and many of these same metal heads were grooving right up front. And man, people were getting down. The mushrooms may have played a role. Gyrating, grinding, twisting as the band sung “lips, and hips and fingertips”… There were probably about 50 people up front for this, but the energy was through the hangar roof. Out in the middle of the desert, it felt like an sub-city disco. 

The lineup was well-curated and offered up a diverse variety of heavy music. OM, paired with a Mad Alchemy liquid light show on a high desert backdrop was about as transcendental of a live music experience as one could hope to find. The event staff was helpful, friendly and patient - a notable exception at clubs and bars. A ramp was brought in, host to many stage-side skate sessions in the afternoons and early evenings.

For many bands, getting out of the city and into the desert expanse seemed to be a welcome reprieve. The artist hospitality was next level. Crucially, the sound in both venues was incredible, an often thorny point at all-day festivals. In short, it felt like a festival run by artists, who understood what sort of details make bands and attendees comfortable and did all they could to accommodate those desires.

Though the wind whipped during the days, it calmed in the nights, which were beautiful, albeit cold. Such was expected in the high desert. I suppose I’d take those conditions gain over blistering heat. Especially when in a tent for three days. Many attendees opted for a more domestic arrangement, renting rooms in town or shacking up in a trailer in the adjacent Hotel Luna Mystica.

I’d recommend this fest to curious bands and fans alike. No doubt about that. If you’re planning on camping for the entirety of the fest, make sure to come prepared. Our crew camped out for three days in the band camp and it was a blast, but towels, some wipes for the ever-present dirt and other outdoor supplies are a must.

I’d like to extend warm, heartfelt thank you to Dano, Roman, the Taos Brewing staff and the entire festival team. You extended an incredible welcome, and it hit home with so many of us. Here’s to round two. Below is a gallery of shots from the pre-party and both days of the fest. I’ve yet to have a chance to develop the film I shot, but I will get those up here once I get to it. Cheers. - mg