Deep Tropics | A Different Kind of Festival for a Different Side of Nashville
Evan Dale // Mitch Dumler // Aug 28, 2019
To outsiders, Nashville is a place bubbling over with misconceptual identity. Images of the Country Music Hall of Fame and outlandish bachelorette extravaganzas are often the first that come to mind. And though they’re undoubtedly rooted in the city’s culture, its lesser-known depths are even more important and far more diverse. Enter Deep Tropics: Nashville’s medium-scale music, style, and art festival that draws nothing but big names of stylistic lanes rarely associated with its identity. Hosted in Nashville’s Bicentennial Park by a large figure with a big hat, a bigger beard, and a long, flowing poncho, Deep Tropics is a different kind of music festival for a different side of Nashville.
In relatively extreme dichotomy to the festival industry’s norm, Deep Tropics is blissfully affordable – especially when considering that the headlining artists are relatably envy-evoking to the world’s big-stage jubilees. Electronic artists spanning the genre’s breadth coalesce with hip-hop stars and local names to form a colorful patchwork true to Nashville’s insider culture and eye-opening to everyone else about the city’s true wave.
A short drive from the airport and a short walk from downtown define Deep Tropics its intimate setting and make Nashville – already a big city with an extremely fast-paced growth rate – feel much smaller than it is. It’s part of the charm of the entire weekend and hand-in-hand with the festival’s price, make it one of the least planning-intensive weekends to attend.
The festival grounds mirror the laid-back energy of its audience’s arrivals. Four stages – three incredibly intimate outdoor showrooms better described as perfectly placed pop-up platforms and one large yet not overbearing amphitheater – work in sonic and cultural balance of one another. Tucked into a grove of young tress in one corner exists the Waveclub Sound System where ambient blue and purple tones set the mood for artists like Sparkle City Disco to create their own take on Electric Forest’s most intimate moments. The geometric Tranquil Temple invites festival-goers to practices in meditation, silent discos, and lectures on hemp sustainability all while sitting on a lawn amidst the hectic surroundings of an electronically-driven party. Surfclub Sound System brings a vibe all its own. Hosted by Case Arnold and his Still Familia team, the scene is one highlighting Nashville’s rich local hip-hop culture. Fit with a red-bull truck turned DJ stage, a fold-out platform for performing lyricists, and a pop-up skatepark, Surfclub Sound System does an incredible job of putting on intimate rap shows and putting into focus Nashville’s underground music culture. Most notably, the Perfect Plant Amphitheater takes advantage of the park’s built-in stage grounds for the weekend’s biggest names and brightest lights. Acrobatic aerialists, pop-art painters, and food trucks round out the rest of the Deep Tropics environment.
Performances start early in the afternoon, and with only two days to work with, the Deep Tropics lineup is stacked with star power from the get-go. On Saturday, we arrive during Amtrac’s set. Still hot and humid in the Summertime South, Amtrac’s ambient house works wonders on a crowd seeking an introduction to the festival without an overly-intensive vibe. Everyone is bouncing and swaying, while exploring their surroundings for the first time. Doing the same, we find ourselves drawn to the Surfclub Sound System where local hip-hop artists take turns lighting up the mic and the pop-up skate park for a setting like no other music festival out there. More of a weekend afternoon spent behind a skate-shop than an expected hip-hop festival stage, the effortlessness with which the team spits and flips is undeniably drawing.
By the time the sun begins to set on Saturday, a fervent lineup of DJ’s and producers pull in a full crowd to the main amphitheater. Vibrant energy spills out over the stage’s reach and encapsulates the entire festival. Keys N Krates bring their signature instrumentally-driven performance, giving electronic fans a very different taste to the grey area of electronic composition. Cashmere Cat’s quirky ego evokes a never-ending good-vibes dance party in the entire crowd. Lane 8 delivers the most emotionally-encapsulating set of ambience and introspection of the entire weekend, folding into the mix expectedly thought-provoking and detailed light shows. Bonobo closes it out with the kind of fervor and star power expected from a DJ who helped pave the way for most of the others at the festival. As night one comes to a close, spirits are high, and the electronic crowd has had their equal share of what they were looking for and what they didn’t know they’ve always wanted in balance from a music festival.
Disappointing news that GoldLink – the festival’s premiere hip-hop attraction – cancelled his performance rock day two before it even begins. Commonplace in festival culture, cancelations can wreak havoc on collective morale, so a quick fix is almost always the desired next move. Unprecedentedly, Deep Tropics were able to fly Rick Ross out for an emergency performance on the heels of the release of Port of Miami 2 – his careers eleventh album that has already found its way to the top of the charts. Practiced in the art of getting a crowd on his side in a hurry, Rick Ross exceeds all expectation and highlights night two against all odds with one of the more memorable, and least expected sets of the entire festival.
Around the Rick Ross-rooted energy, the DJ’s highlighting the rest of the evening’s performances shine equally bright. Shiba San gets the mood in full swing with a vibrant French House set. Opening for Rick Ross, What So Not turns the crowd’s collective energy to a peak with a trap performance that shakes Nashville for miles around. And Troyboi closes out the entire weekend with expected explosiveness and superior crowd control. Balance once again brought everything together for Deep Tropics’ second night.
In comparison to other festivals, comparisons are superfluous. Deep Tropics isn’t just unexpected in light of Nashville’s cultural preconceptions; It’s unexpected for a musical festival in general. Leaving Bicentennial park, leaving Nashville was not filled with the drained dread of returning to normality usually following multi-day festival benders. Instead, the balance and comfortable scale held at Deep Tropics leaves its audience culturally and emotionally inspired and centered.
If you want to experience an intimate festival in an underrated cultural haven that pulls in some of music’s biggest names and works to maintain the kind of warm culture on display at greater scale in its host city, Deep Tropics is a must for any music and art fan’s consideration.