Before Odd Future wunderkind Earl Sweatshirt began his set-ending “Orange Juice” on day one of SnowBall 2014, he gave the crowd a piece of his mind. “We gotta go out with a bang on this one,” he said. You couldn’t blame him for trying: except for a contingent of die hard fans who’d been camped up front since The Floozies took their leave of the Snowball stage an hour or so before, the two-hundred-odd person audience huddled in a grassy patch of Mile High stadium’s parking lot had been quiet. Earl, sporting a signature bucket hat and a backpack for portions of the show, left as soon as his time was up.
Earl had said it himself earlier in the show: Snowball isn’t a hip-hop festival—it’s for DJs. Small wonder then that while the rapper was pleading for succor from his crowd, MiMosa’s trap-heavy set had attracted a group some 25 parking spaces deep. When he asked for their hands, they gave them without hesitation. One group of college-aged kids obliged mid-bite, hoisting their $6 turkey legs high in the air.
It was the biggest gathering of the night, save for the dependably chaotic Knife Party, who filled Snowball’s modest headliner plot of land, maybe half the area of last year’s MainStage at Winter Park.
Considering the low turnout for Friday, the smaller space was appropriate. When onlookers were thin for sets, as they were for most before nightfall, no angle could mask the harsh reality. Performing in a parking lot under an interstate exit for 20 people is a cruel gig for any performer outside of a high school battle of the bands. But it didn’t phase HUG Record’s Drew Englander, aka Real Magic, even as the solo performer dealt with bass bleeding in from another set. “I want to thank my backing band: whoever is playing on the main stage right now,” Englander joked between songs.
The biggest takeaway of Friday wasn’t a DJ, though they were no less focused on moving the crowd. With only a portion of their 17-member strong outfit in attendance, disco-funkateers Escort inspired a good-old fashioned dance-off in their evening slot at the Ballroom stage. In a technicolored jumpsuit, front woman and bassist Adeline Michele channeled Chaka Khan while she led songs like “Starlight” and the set-ending favorite, “Cocaine Blues.” “Don’t tell your parent’s about this one,” Michele said to the crowd before the last number. The warning didn’t stop the crowd from capturing it on their phones, anxious to bottle the performance to relive later.
Post-rockers Warpaint didn’t translate to a live setting as well as Escort before them, and were delayed by 10 minutes thanks to some sound difficulties. Still, their fans showed up in relative force, singing along to the semi-incomprehensible lyrics of songs like “Hi” and “Love Is To Die” with massive smiles.
A rough start for Snowball’s first year in Denver proper, but Saturday looks to improve. With solid indie acts like STRFCKR, Yeasayer and Twin Shadow playing along with the usual DJ suspects, topped by a headlining Pretty Lights set, tonight should see the festival at the height of its fever pitch. Whether it’ll be enough to warrant a Snowball 2015 is another question.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.