Remember that awkward couple years of middle school where the girls loomed over the boys? Not just to evade their pimply, armpit-farting pubescence but because they came back from summer break a few inches taller than their male counterparts, and gracelessly stayed that way for a bit?
Reno, Nevada spent most of the 20th century repeating the sociocultural equivalent of 7th grade. For God’s sake, some of its first white inhabitants meant only to pass through but they couldn’t build a bridge worth a damn to cross the Truckee River. So they settled for a beer break, happened upon some gold and planted the seeds for Reno to become a “livable, I guess” railroad town for dirty-dealing politicians, bankers and gamblers.
Modern day Reno boasts a riverside arts district, dozens of galleries and even more public murals and sculptures, many of the latter comprising the Playa Art Trail. It hosts nearly 500 cultural events in the month of July alone.
Worldliness of this degree calls for pregaming, which is precisely why we swung by a little event called Reno Sculpture Fest.
“Little” may be the wrong descriptor…
The festival takes over twelve city blocks. Don’t be fooled by the lofty casinos and neon lights – Reno’s downtown is as compact as Boise’s. Imagine if the total surface area of Treefort Music Festival’s functions were moved outside and our streets were peppered with vast, otherwordly sculptures. Append a handful of street vendors, two roaming art cars and a silent disco to this dreamscape, and you’ve got yourself a very unique festival stew.
Nearly 30 artists were invited to use downtown Reno as their visionary playground so us kids could take a glorious recess. Rather than burdening our readers with a poor attempt to describe the visual masterpieces, we direct you to our video recap above.
Instead, let’s talk tunes.
Though sculptures were the focus, the music was sure a draw. We were especially privy to the late night segments curated by local talent buyers, bloggers and podcasters (or less formally, “purveyors of good times”) Fresh Bakin. This included our energetic headliner Big Wild, whose hair seems to be growing as divinely as his music. Both his discography and live setup have inflated over the years with his “Invincible” EP enjoying nearly 3 million plays on Soundcloud alone and the confusingly sexy addition of a cajón on stage. The venue, a concert hall bound by the world’s tallest outdoor climbing wall, lent itself well to a packed all-ages crowd.
We faced the wind chill to migrate to 1Up, a dark nightclub adorned with trippy murals and an all-too-friendly bar. The contrast was stark. Suddenly, we had space to dance! Harem pants! Age 21+ wristbands! More importantly than finding “our people” was becoming enveloped by the deep and dirty basslines frontiered by CharlesTheFirst and, later, The Librarian, whose flow and music selection don’t require a peer review.
The eclectic lineup shone exceptionally bright before sundown. An outdoor stage hosted the likes of Vokab Kompany and The Novelists while shuffling crowds took to the silent disco. Saturday evening we explored the final frontiers of venue space, the first being a long ballroom outlined by bartenders and truncated only by a small corner stage called The Trocadero. All too fittingly, punk duo The Garden rocked a stage at the totally inconspicuous ThirdStreet Blues Bar, where our only complaint was the limited room to mosh without breaking fire code.
If entire cities had a presence on Yelp, we’d gift Reno with 5 out of 5 stars and not make mention of a single casino bar, the visually stale drive down I-80, nor the propensity to develop lung cancer from a weekend visit. The cultural swagger of this Big Little City is developing into the catwalk it was meant to be, and Reno Sculpture Fest is jumping in with both feet.