BENTONVILLE– You can hear the pounding beats of the music long before you arrive at the Sugar Creek Airstrip, no matter how you get there — by shuttle, bike, or foot.
Last night marked the opening of FORMAT Festival, the brand new 3-day experience of music, arts and technology, featuring around 80 musical performances and 20 art installations, and people from all over the world turned out to see Nile Rodgers & Chic’s performances on Friday night . The War on Drugs, Phoenix, Fatboy Slim and many others.
The inability to drive to the location automatically makes it a more communal experience. Sitting next to others, the 10-minute shuttle from David Glass Technology Center makes it easy to meet people you don’t know or have lighthearted conversations as you and a group of friends step your way.
Once inside, you’ll be struck by a zoo of light, sound, and color. Festival-goers are dressed in all sorts of colorful and patterned things: shiny materials, neon swimsuits, a light-up rainbow cape, a cab driver’s hat. Others have intricately painted faces, glowstick-wrapped arms or cart sticks, rockets, and other kitschy accessories.
As visitors enter the festival grounds, they are faced with a mystery. What should they take with them and how will they carry it around? Similar to attending a Razorback game, there are restrictions on bags – only clear or very small bags with no pouches or fanny packs – and there are restrictions on the items inside.
Artist Kat Wilson found the solution when she made wearable “titty bags” in what she called a “ridiculous non-binary art project” she did with friend and local crochet artist Tina Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer, she remarked after a few occasions, had a habit of exposing a breast at key photographic moments, so they worked together to pattern and create a wearable pair of breasts as a fun expression of Party Art, Wilson’s term for participatory art.
“Everyone who wears them is part of the project,” Wilson said over the phone on Friday, comparing it to an NFT, a unique token one can take away from the event. The bags also have an art price of $125. The pair made about 50 and will be selling them throughout the three-day festival. As an added benefit, Wilson says, it makes it harder to pickpocket.
There are six stages on the festival site. North of Oz and South of Oz are the largest and most storied of all, where the biggest names play their sets. DJ sets, local musicians and others took up smaller stages and unconventional spaces at Drag Me To the Disco, The Cube, Smokey’s – located further in the woods – and Next Door.
The options are plentiful. If you stay to the end of a set, you have two ways of looking at it: you’re either there later for something else you want to see, or you’re never without seeing a performance.
The War on Drugs played on the South of Oz stage on FORMAT Friday to a packed crowd that stretched well beyond the general audience area. In the center of the site is a wide open space marked by a row of poles with lighted signs reading “We rise by lifting others” and “Dance first, think later”. Similar to the old AMP location, spectators can take their blankets onto the field and settle in to listen to the music. You can hear it quite well out there behind the big crowd, even if you can’t see very clearly. Large screens on either side of the main stages stream the bands live as they play.
Standing in the center of the site you can see the edges of so many of the unique things that make up FORMAT – lights emanating from the signature reflective hot air balloon; giant rainbow-colored columns covered in hair, part of Icelandic artist Shoplifter’s installation ‘Xanadu’; and the great fiber work of Pia Camil.
Dutch artist Boris Acket’s ‘Waaiweken’ (which translates to windworks), measuring 50m by 7m – his largest windwork to date – is located on the far edge of the festival site, just before the hot air balloon.
French indie pop band Phoenix took to the stage in north Oz with an ASL performer just after 9pm last night, performing many of their well-known hits – Girlfriend, Lisztomania, Armistice – as well as tracks from their forthcoming album Alpha Zulu.
“We’ve never been to Arkansas, not even close,” lead singer Thomas Pablo Croquet said between songs. Croquet expressed his awe that Phoenix was asked to follow well-known acts he respects, like Nile Rodgers and Chic, and thanked everyone who welcomed him here.
Visual aspects played a strong role in Phoenix’s set, with a series of frame-like screens surrounding the band. From the audience’s central point of view, the combination was a virtual backdrop that switched from pastoral with columns to patterns such as polka dots and stripes and finally a video clip of the burning of a leotard-like garment with “PHOENIX” written on the back.
During an instrumental track by the band, a pack of drones blew up next to the stage in North Oz. Pioneering drone artist Studio Drift’s autonomously flying swarm of hundreds of drones was based on a biological algorithm derived from more than 10 years of research into starling flight behavior.