Friday night at ACL Fest 2019 Weekend Two, sandwiched between the warring sets of Guns N’ Roses and Tame Impala, a silent crowd danced together — and apart. One group kicked along to Kenny Logins’ “Footloose” while another dropped low to Cardi B. A group losing itself to Ellie Goulding collided with a line doing the “Cupid Shuffle.”
It's as bizarre and funny a sight to walk by as it is to be a part of. (“Are those people screaming the words to ‘Don't Stop Believin'?” you might ask.) But on the grassy dance floor, it’s an all-ages icebreaker for crowds normally too glued to the stage to interact with each other.
The Silent Disco by Quiet Events offers a refreshing break from the norm and a nice way to recharge the batteries before the long march out of the park. Not feeling the headliners? Need a break from the stand-and-stare monotony of camping out by a stage all day? The Silent Disco is the cure for what A-C-ails you.
The gist is deceptively simple. Three DJs — red, blue and green — are playing three different sets. They battle for listeners in the crowd, who are wearing channel-changing light-up wireless headphones. (You’re handed these as you enter the disco.) The lights on the side of the headphones show everyone which DJ you’re tuned into. You control the channels and the volume on your headphones. When you’re on a DJ’s channel, you’re on their team. It's a merry mix of dancing and friendly DJ competition.
You could read it as some sort of statement about technology and isolation — the modern state of everyone being alone together. Or maybe a conceptual art piece about America: People are right next to each other but can’t hear anything but what they want to hear. But mostly it just feels like a space where no one takes anything too seriously and everyone is on board to have a good time.
Forget noisy neighbors ruining the show. All you hear is the music at the volume of your choosing. That and the occasional shouts and sing-alongs when the crowd goes absolutely wild. The mouthed screams of your dancing neighbors — or sometimes more directly, them pointing at their headphones and pointing to you — invite you to switch over and see what all the fuss is about.
The whole thing could surely provide some valuable data on what people actually want to hear at ACL. The biggest hits Friday night? ACL Fest 2019 acts Lizzo and Cardi B courtesy of DJ Eye Q. She dominated so much of the show with her hip-hop mix, I almost felt bad for the other DJs.
Channel swapping allows each listener to string together the most bizarre DJ set ever. Friday night for some went from Backstreet Boys to Lizzo to Chumbawamba to Chance the Rapper.
The Silent Disco isn’t new to ACL Fest 2019, and you’ll find it at other festivals as well. While it seems like a simple set up, it’s hard to explain the magic of being in the moment.
If you go, expect a long but typically fast-moving line. After a quick check to ensure no beverages get in, the line snakes around barricades and guests are handed their pair of wireless headphones. The Silent Disco runs Saturday and Sunday night at ACL Fest from 8 to 10 p.m. at the Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage, the tented stage by the food court.
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