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Do You Realize?

Bigger, better, longer, louder: From the opening fiddle flourish of Theresa Andersson on Friday afternoon to the Black Crowes' final guitar wail Sunday night, this year's Langerado Music Festival offered more of everything music fans could ask for. With more than 40 bands filling five stages, savvy Langeradans could concoct the exact musical experience they desired, from red-hot dance party to shady blanket chillout, roots rock to Latin funk to reggae to hip-hop. And more than anything — maybe even more than the music — it's that full sensory experience that makes Langerado the truly beautiful event it is. Wrangle 12,000 revelers into a grassy field under endless South Florida sunshine, mix in a few high-octane mood enhancers, and you're sure to provide more than a few of those all-too-rare, life-affirming, nowhere-I'd-rather-be moments.

In its fourth year, Langerado stepped up to the major leagues, its roster of talent and level of production easily on par with world-class blowouts like Coachella in Southern California and Bonnaroo in rural Tennessee. Those festivals boast bigger numbers, but neither retains the element of homegrown intimacy that Langerado does. Though it has vastly expanded since its first go-round outside Fort Lauderdale Stadium, here's hoping festival founders Ethan Schwartz and Mark Brown are satisfied with the near-perfect ratio of scope to execution they've achieved. Like Baby Bear's porridge, this one's just right.

Oklahoma freak-rockers the Flaming Lips, who've embraced — and been embraced by — music festival culture, brought a new form of full-blown spectacle-tainment to the affair. During an afternoon news conference, lead Lip Wayne Coyne put his art into perspective: "People are gonna enjoy themselves almost regardless of the bands. They're here with their friends, it's their weekend, it's an experience in life. I mean, driving here, what they eat, the hotel, all of that is almost more important than the songs we play."

A few hours later, cravat tucked neatly under his gray silk vest, Coyne literally bowled over the couple of thousand who gathered for his band's Saturday sunset performance. "When people ask, I want you to lie," he told the expectant crowd. "Tell them Wayne descended from the space just above Langerado in a plastic bubble and walked with grace and dignity on top of the crowd and onto the stage." It wasn't much of a stretch — Coyne slithered inside his "space bubble," the crowd roaring as he rolled out from the stage over a sea of outstretched arms. Among the confetti cannons, colored smoke, giant balloons, and 30 or so people dressed as pigs and bunnies and giant butterflies frolicking onstage ("Oh my God," someone beside me squealed, "the zebra is totally hooking up with the banana!"), the Lips even threw in some of their multidimensional symphonic pop.

Perhaps the musical yin to the Flaming Lips' yang, Wilco unleashed the weekend's most bracing performance on Sunday evening. Here's a band that shows its age far better than other rock veterans, still experimenting in real time while on stage, led by reluctant ringleader Jeff Tweedy and his bittersweet, just-recovering-from-a-cold vocals. Where Coyne's voice was swallowed up in the sound mix, Tweedy's was front and center, crystal-clear as he belted out consistently powerful and occasionally profound lyrics. And while Coyne was happy to let his band be, as he put it, "a giant karaoke machine," leading the crowd in freewheeling covers of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "War Pigs," Tweedy had everyone singing his own words. The Lips' uncanny pop sounds like it's from beyond the stars; Wilco's denim-and-transistor rock is, at its heart, all-American music.

Like many festivalgoers from out of state, San Diegan Jeff Powelachuck has family in South Florida; he and his brother-in-law from Miami were doing some family bonding over microbrews, watching Brooklyn Afrobeat ensemble Antibalas on Sunday. "Since we came in, each stage has been better than the next," Powelachuck said. "It's the overall feel, all the little touches that add up. It's just really easy to enjoy." Both have been attending Milwaukee's massive, long-running Summerfest for years and found Langerado of equal caliber and more manageable.

In addition to monumental talent, there were a few other threads that wrapped up Langerado as a true, proud present from South Florida with love. Southern and Latin music were well-represented, embodying our indigenous mashup of cracker culture and Latin sensuality. The Drive-by Truckers, the Crowes, and especially native sons the Lee Boys and Mofro kept the festival's feet planted firmly south of the Mason-Dixon. Mexican outfit Kinky and Venezuelan sixpiece Los Amigos Invisibles went all the way south of the border, with both bands unleashing smoking sets of electro-tinged, dance-mad funk. These international touring acts were more than matched in sophistication by Miami's own Suenalo Sound System and Spam All-Stars on the Florida Native Stage. "These kind of festivals are amazing because people are here for the music, not for the trendiness," Amigos singer Julio Briceno said. "We look out at the crowd and see them loving it."

That Florida Native stage was an excellent addition this year, maintaining a vital local connection most major festivals don't prioritize. Lauderdalers the Heavy Pets and Jupiter's Boxelder were clearly impressing their small but stoked audiences.

Another defining feature was the expanded presence of Hollywood artist Dave "Lebo" LeBatard and his six-man production team. LeBatard's slick, vivid, cartoony images were ubiquitous around the festival grounds. Four 40-foot-tall murals of hepcat musicians hung on either side of the main stages; stage names, beer booths, bathrooms, the VIP area, and random decorative pieces of ambience were all decked out with his work.

"The promoters really care about artwork; they care about visuals," explained painter Dave Guy, who was lounging with LeBatard and his mom in his gallery tent. "We've been working on it for five weeks, so they come over to our warehouse, and they've seen what we've been doing. They know the work it takes, and they've made it a priority in the budget."

Consensus was that details like that — the artwork, the atmosphere, the spirit of eclectic collectivism — elevate Langerado from a fun weekend festival to the cultural cornerstone for an entire region. Like a rite of spring, it heralds all the other musical gatherings that take advantage of our ideal outdoor backdrop. It's time to realize that these festivals — Ultra, Winter Music Conference, Langerado, and this year's Global Gathering and Spring Bling — are events we can and should be proud to have in our community, beacons for a new kind of experience, one you can get only in South Florida.

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Jonathan Zwickel