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By David Rolland
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Cowabunga, dude: Spring Break has returned to Broward County -- Sunrise, to be specific. Thankfully, the latest incarnation is a wee bit more cultured than the decades-ago golden age, replacing the cheap beer, wet T-shirts, and mindless party music with microbrews, hula-hoops, and heady party music. This past weekend's Langerado Music Festival coaxed almost 10,000 music fans to West Broward's Markham Park, a quintessential slice of South Florida outdoors. Among the sea of tie-dye and patchwork that swarmed the park's wide fields and tranquil ponds, the next generation of college-going snowbirds was the strongest presence, with out-of-state tickets making up over 40 percent of the two-day event's sales.
Reminded of Fort Lauderdale's lewd and legendary Spring Break status, Wayne Todd, a 21-year-old student from Richmond, Virginia, ventured, "It's like that, only a whole lot better." Todd and three friends had made the 15-hour drive in his Volkswagen Jetta, which they lounged beside early Sunday afternoon in the grassy parking lot amid drum circles and barbecues.
Darren Shearer, drummer for Toronto trio the New Deal, had similar sentiments. "Any place south of West Virginia is awesome right now," he said after the band's electrifying Sunday evening set. "We've been to a lot of festivals with a sketchy vibe, and this is far more conscious."
And though "conscious" is a word rarely associated with Spring Break, it was certainly applicable to Langerado. At the festival entrance, the national non-profit Conscious Alliance collected a huge stockpile of canned food donations. California art collective dalabill and the Visual Consciousness collaborated with local painter Dave LeBatard's Lebo Studios to design several giant, totem-like art installations that brightened the park. Stalls within the bustling Vending Village sold handmade clothing, gemstones, and original artwork.
"I'm always traveling, doing different festivals," a 40-year-old artist named Phil explained as passers-by admired his oil-on-wood portraits of iconic rockers like Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix. "I've been doing it for years, and it's a great scene." And Phil's not alone in making a living on the national festival circuit. From the 100-person-plus production team to the 25 bands and their crews to the dreadlocked entrepreneurs selling ganja brownies in the parking lot, Langerado imported a workforce from all over the country. There are enough people involved here and in the myriad similar festivals across the country that they form a cottage industry. Just look at Bonnaroo, the three-day jam-friendly bonanza that attracts 100,000 people -- paying $175 per ticket -- to the Tennessee hills. There's a huge, hungry audience for this kind of festival, and it's about time Florida, with its pristine spring weather, plentiful outdoor assets, and well-established tourism trade, staged an event the caliber of Langerado.
In just three years Langerado has ballooned from 1000 attendees to this year's massive blowout, and given its rapid maturity, things ran remarkably smoothly. "It's far more organized than you'd expect for it being so young," volunteer Brendan Wheeler said. "Along with the regular festival folks, you meet a lot of people that are Dilberts here, working types who come in and let it all hang out."
And hang out they did. Langerado featured a remarkably diverse lineup; wandering between the festival's three stages made for some fun, interesting transitions. Under the powerful Saturday sun, New York City's the Duo unleashed an organ and drums version of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android," which, on the fadeout, bled into the opening notes of Toots and the Maytals' 30-year-old island anthem "Reggae Got Soul" coming from the larger Sunset Stage. Back at the far stage, Antibalas began a horn-heavy assault on the audience as tenor sax man Stuart Bogie raged the Brooklyn band's hard-swinging "Indictment" against George, Jeb, and Condi. "She's not part of the String Cheese Incident!"
Sunday saw some great musical comminglings: On the smaller Sunrise Stage, Spearhead vocalist Michael Franti rapped a number over the New Deal's bubbling electro-funk in one of the weekend's hottest sets. Across the field, Miami's DJ Le Spam sat in with Manhattan jazzbos Medeski Martin and Wood, injecting vocal samples and scratch flourishes into a Cuban montuno-flavored number. Later on, as the sky faded from bruised purple to deep blue, saxaphonist Karl Denson stepped up for a tune with festival headliners String Cheese Incident. As they began a smooth, funked-up jam, hundreds of glow sticks arced over the crowd, streaming through the cool night air like a neon meteor shower.
Given Langerado's rapid growth and overwhelming success, a fourth installment seems inevitable and would definitely be welcome. Over the past 20-some years, Fort Lauderdale has done a monstrously good job of squashing the rowdy Spring Break spirit the beach used to attract. Looks like Langerado will be bringing it back, with a far more musical -- and even conscious -- spin.