This summer will mark the inception of locally focused music festival Zapateo, which is set to take place over the first weekend in September at Camp Tall Timbers, a summer campsite nestled in the hollows of West Virginia. The festival nods at other bespoke fests in the United States such as New York City-centered Sustain Release and the upstate Otis Mountain Get Down, as well as festivals further afield such as UK-based cult favourite Field Maneuvers, and Portugal’s esoteric Waking Life, all of which embrace a community-centred format, with keen attention to detail.
Zapateo’s embrace of the form and function of a sleep-away camp enmeshed in the font of a DIY rave-meets-punk-house-show, and tempered by the connections to the idyllic natural setting, is an essential offering to the more commercial festival formats that dominate the US. Coachella, Rolling Loud, or Lollapalooza are put upon the spaces in which they occupy, dominating cities and drawing crowds to see major acts, opposed to embracing and platforming artists from the region, or city.
We speak to Zapateo’s lead organizer, Carlie Webbert about the ethos and style of the festival which has selected artists from across both the spectrum of dance music as well as bands and live performers. The DMV, or the region encompassing Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia, may not be thought of as a musical hub in the ranks of cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, but the scenes that exist within the region have a fiery independent and singular feel which serve to produce varied world class artistry. Webbert acknowledges the region's scene as being distinctive, one that puts emphasis on community, honouring musical traditions and DIY rationality in a way that has allowed groups across the musical spectrum to flourish.
Zapateo is very much the passion project of Webbert, whose experiences clubbing in Prague lent a hand in fostering her appreciation for dance music culture, and for organising and club promotion. Working with a small team, one of whom went to Camp Tall Timbers every summer while growing up, Webbert’s focus has been to put together a festival that represents the DMV area in its full form. Embracing a fresh perspective with a team that is in part new to festival organising, Zapateo offers a chance to celebrate the artists and community who sustain the special scene. By moving between dance music featuring artists such as Baronhawk Poitier, Joyce Lim, Gabberbitch69, and Jia Ling, and live music of the soulful ilk like Dreamcastmoe, or the punkier Truth Cult, Zapateo arrives at the conclusion that a more all-encompassing focus is the most effective.
In a time when “so many cool things are happening,” in DC, Webbert describes the ever-familiar sensation of trying to “go to three things in one night” and eventually finding herself not being “super present at a party.” Zapateo is a chance for the scene to spend time together, getting everybody in the place, with the hope that by setting the scene, everyone will have the chance to be “immersed in each other” enjoying the sun, the music, the camping energy which encapsulates the wonderlike existence and “the spirit of being a child.”
Festivals offer a chance for performers and attendees alike to embrace the whimsy of an alternative reality; becoming immersed in the setting can allow those present to focus on their surroundings and one another. This focus is further amplified when the natural settings are so special, as Webbert recognises, “music makes people whole and reminds them that they are human and so does nature.” Spanning three days, Zapateo has that natural emphasis, and a physical one as well, swims by the pool and in the lake, and a sprawling forested area for attendees to explore. Although initially, there is an appearance of a dichotomy between the dark and cavernous space of the club and that of a forested grove or lakeside dance party, but realistically they both offer moments of escape and the out-of-body experience of being tied to everyone around you. This element of intention is pervasive in everything from the festival’s trippy website design and graphics to the thoughtful artist bios, and the messages over Instagram to potential attendees offering to answer questions via DM, to the intention of hiring a local chef and the inclusion of four meals with the ticket price. Breaking bread is a key emphasis. Knowing each other is a key emphasis.
The scheduling and booking are largely based on Webbert having seen everyone personally perform. The strategy for the ebb and flow an alchemic experiment, a felt-out practice in booking by energy, while aiming to put on as many acts as possible. More techno on Saturday, more soulful on Sunday, it bends by day and moves the audience along in unison. Although it’s a gamble whether the flow will be embraced by everyone, Webbert’s experience seeing the same faces at both punk shows and electronic nights underpins the decision to try something more unconventional.
It’s evident how much personal experience can be traced in the festival's every move, and that’s what makes it such an exciting moment for the DMV. The name itself, Zapateo, was taken from Webbert’s friends in Berlin who would say it before heading into the dance or while they were moving on a crowded floor, as a sort of rallying cry, the energy enticing Webbert, who eventually settled on it as the name for the festival. It's also a frenetic Andalusian dance style with loads of foot movement, but the plucking of it from friends highlights the human emphasis and effort of the festival. Regardless, despite her deep involvement, Webbert notes that really, “Zapateo has come into fruition on its own accord,” with each artist having such a measured impact on their cities and communities, it was clear to Webbert who would comprise the lineup.
Ever looking forward, this is fashioned to be the first of many celebrations of DMV artistry. While there is space to grow towards potentially a more “femme-facing lineup,” the seeds sowed this summer are insight and testament to the power of the community that exists within the DMV. Webbert, who finds the local scene to be both “accessible and supportive,” and the variety of music and creativity to be “energising,” notes that above all Zapateo is meant to be a “ceremony for the scene” and effectively a huge thank you to everyone. In giving everyone their roses, the weekend is the epitome of the world-building potential that comes from performance, a chance to escape as much as an opportunity to be present.
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