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Underground dance parties celebrate full moon, nature
By Aimee Heckel, Camera Staff Writer August 8, 2004
Somewhere southwest of Boulder, July 31: You have to really want to go to get there.
First, you have to know the right people to get the directions. About an hour and 15 minutes southwest of Boulder, the e-mail says. It takes more like two hours.
The road isn't a road. It's a washboard, tilted 45 degrees to the side, crossing two small creeks. The evergreens leap back from the path, shocked by the headlights creeping through the blackness. You're sure you're lost now.
Ten miles off the highway, you hear it. The air pulsates, like Jurassic Park, growing louder. A red VW bug parked on the right looks hilariously out of place. How did it cross the creeks?
Over the next ridge, an 8-foot-tall bonfire climbs from a clearing. About 250 silhouettes bounce in the glow to electronic music. The fat, full moon is their disco ball. The fire runs the fog machine.
At first glance, it's a rave. There's a DJ, spinning techno by torch light. A few dancers clutch glow sticks and key-chain lasers. A teenage boy rubs Vicks VapoRub on his girlfriend's shoulders, boosting her obvious high.
But look closer. Instead of pigtails and pacifiers, most people are wearing jeans and flannels. Black labs and German shepherds snake through the crowd. The dancers are 10 years older than stereotypical ravers. They're unpacking camping gear and popping up tents, grilling veggie burgers and warming water for hot chocolate.
They say they're here to celebrate Mother Nature. There's something spiritual about watching the full moon waltz across the sky to a tribal beat, they say.
"Dancing with people is the most essential thing about being a human," says Scott Everett, 30, of Boulder. "We're living through something our ancestors hundreds of years ago were doing."
It's techno, Boulder style.
Keeping it clean
Every full moon during the past eight summers, DJs from Boulder-based Mother Earth Sound System have packed speakers, amps, a 150-pound generator and boxes of records into vans and headed west, usually to private Boulder County land nowhere near civilization.
The parties, or "renegades," are always free, underground and run from sunset to sunrise. The original parties drew about 50 people. They now top out at 500. Other DJs across the state also hold invite-only outdoor parties, but full-moon nights belong to Mother Earth.
Unlike a rave ? a word that became passe in the dance community a few years ago ? full-moon parties have no flashy lights or lasers. In a sort of hippie-utopian twist, everyone helps set up and clean up. (Note Mother Earth Sound System's fitting mantra: "Respect your Mama.") All equipment is donated.
"Raves are meant to entertain. You don't participate, like you do here," says Everett, holding ? no joke ? a root beer. He's getting ready to spin. Everett, one of Mother Earth's five core DJs, has the electronic DJ look: super-short hair and small round glasses. He's always grinning.
"We try to take a few other things out of the normal equation," he says ? mainly drugs and alcohol. He says if he sees people openly using or selling drugs, they're out of here.
Of course, it's no church party. The VapoRub kids sit oblivious on a log by the fire. But whatever they took, they did it in private, deep under a cluster of aspen trees or inside a dark tent. No one is openly popping pills. Only a handful of people are drinking wine and beer. Kegs and nitrous oxide tanks aren't allowed.
Everett says organizers want to form a community with "no distractions, only each other and the moon." That's why the location is so remote and stripped of special effects. He considers excessive drugs and booze another distraction.
'It's about the music'
It's obvious that Erik McIntyre, 17, of Boulder feels he's being misunderstood: He keeps repeating, "It's not about the drugs. It's about the music." He keeps dancing and adds, "That's what people need to know so they'll leave us alone."
The Fairview High School student is one of the youngest faces around the bonfire. He, too, has small round glasses and short, spiky hair. His eyebrow and lip are pierced.
Maybe 10 miles down the rocky path toward Bailey and Interstate 70, a patrol car idles. The officer says he noticed an unusual number of cars turning onto the remote road. He hovers near the junction for a few minutes but decides against making the trek himself.
Busting a big party can consume an entire night, says Boulder County sheriff's Deputy Jeffrey Caton. Caton broke up Mother Earth's full moon party in June. The party didn't violate the noise ordinance, which bans amplified music near other camp sites (full-moon parties are isolated enough to avoid that). Caton wrote several underage drinking tickets.
"The problem the sheriff's office has is when that many people get together, usually there's drugs, alcohol and there's a big problem with underage drinking," Caton says. "They say they can control the people up there, but once you get over 75 to 100 people, there's no way you can watch everybody."
Police shut down about 10 percent of full-moon parties, says DJ Trip Coffin, 30, of Denver.
"Unfortunately, we've been lumped in with other people who throw parties in the same spot," he says. And, as in Caton's police report, authorities call any party with techno music a "rave." This comes complete with the negative stereotypes, Coffin says.
Still, "renegaders" say it wouldn't be the same without electronic music. Kate Lesta, 21, of Boulder stands under a white tent warming her hands on a cup of hot chocolate.
"Why techno? It's life; it emulates a heartbeat," she says, her green eyes glowing next to her blue hair. "This music is so raw. It shakes you up. ... It goes beyond our very boring society that is very degrading to the human spirit in a tribal sense."
Lesta says she's not on drugs. And alcohol makes it too hard to stay up until 7:30 a.m. She says she'll rely on herbal tea to take her through the night.