Five-hundred people dressed as fairies and sprites gathered in the Chapel Hill Sea Turtle parking lot on N. Columbia Street last Thursday night. As they piled into a fleet of school buses, people signed waivers with no idea where they were heading.
Photos courtesy of Julie Saracino
They were going to see the alternative pop artist Santigold – but this was not an average concert. The audience members would be part of a production. The Music Experiment is an MTV and Intel production featuring a series of interactive concerts in undisclosed locations.
The venue remained a mystery until the buses arrived at the Barn at Fearrington Village in Pittsboro, and the surprises didn’t end there.
There was a string band playing covers outside. After walking through a hall filled with white string lights, audience members entered a fully transformed barn. The columns were decorated with string lights to look like trees, and branches were fastened to the chandeliers to give the place an aura of an enchanted forest.
Performers dressed in fantastical costumes lined the walls, inviting attendants to Intel photo booth-laptops to take photographs.
A screen in the back displayed the photographs and Instagrams shared with the phrase #musicexperiment on Twitter.
A disc jockey’s creations reverberated throughout the barn, televisions played a random, psychedelic video feed and an acrobat did tricks while hanging from the ceiling.
After the excitement died down and most audience members had arrived, three dancers took the stage and performed to some dubstep music. Their dancing was captivating but probably missed by people who weren’t in the first few rows. There was also a costume contest in which the winner received a laptop.
It was a lot to take in, but in a good way.
But the downside of a production this size is it’s very time consuming. Shuttling the audience on buses took nearly an hour, and after everyone staked out a spot as close to the front of the stage as they could get, it took at least an hour for Santigold to arrive onstage.
But finally at about 10:30 p.m., she arrived.
Santigold made quite an entrance with her signature stoic backup dancers. The band members wore plastic white wigs that look like something that Pierce’s dad from Community would wear if he were in Devo. The set bordered on theatrical, with Santigold and her dancers going through two costume changes and using props like parasols and pom-poms. A life-sized horse costume even made an appearance.
Santigold connected with the audience, talking about taking her Great Dane on the road in between songs and, most notably, bringing audience members onstage to dance for crowd-pleaser “Creator.”
The performance was highly danceable, from old favorites like “Shove It” to standouts from the newly released album Master of my Make Believe like “Go!” And dance the crowd did – followed closely by the MTV camera crews, of course.
In a town frequented by small, intimate shows at Cat’s Cradle and Local 506, The Music Experiment felt like a monstrous party in comparison. Such a heavily tweeted and branded show may not be everyone’s bag, but it was certainly a welcome change. And with costumes made of fish suits, unicorn horns, skull masks, flower crowns, fairy wings and even Spiderman suits, it was clear MTV had worked its magic on the residents of Chapel Hill.
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