My first visit to the Pavilion in Denver’s Cheeseman Park started out fine. Everything was as one would expect from a large park in a big city: couples walked dogs or flexed Pilates poses while others played frisbee or volleyball throughout the park’s well-kept green grass. However, as I was in search of Meow Wolf’s first Monster Battle in Denver, I had hopes of something much more fiendish. I continued along the sidewalk with my hope slowly drifting away when I caught a beat on the wind. The beat thumped to a new rhythm, rising over the giggles and chatter from people on park benches and grass. I followed the beat along the winding path until it swelled to a nearly overwhelming thump. And, that’s where they were. The monsters were vibing in the Pavilion up a small hill.
Just like that I was in a different world. Here’s a list of monster battles I’m familiar with: King Kong vs. Godzilla, Freddy vs. Jason, Abbott and Castello Meet Frankenstein. So, I was expecting to see costumes inspired by Gwar and Slipknot warring to see which of the two is the edgiest band. However, what I witnessed was much less Souls-inspired and somewhere between creatures from Adventure Time — playful designs with vibrant colors inspired clouds and candy — and the images comedian Patton Oswalt’s presents in his stand-up bit that details his battle with insomnia. The bit is titled Vestibule of Dreams. In it he discusses his belief that everyone’s dream has their own troupe to play out the scenarios — the nightmare group has their own players and costumes, as does the school dream, as does the sex dream, and so on. I won’t spoil the rest of the bit, but that idea is essentially the experience that is the Meow Wolf: Monster Battle—all the troupes, both dreams and nightmares, came out at once to throw a party.
Up on the hill a DJ’s fired up their wheels of steel in front of the sectioned backdrop that displayed flashing lights orbiting behind him in fluid shapes. The horde of dancing monsters formed in front of him: there was costume made of white reflective material to create a sort of ice cream princess; a couple furry beast-faced monsters in red onesies that could have been minions from Cuphead; a man blew bubbles from a tiny wand all while looking like a biblical prophet aside from his glasses and rainbow-colored ram horns.
At the base of the hill, where the two giant fountains lie empty, performers whirled hula-hoops lit with fluorescent lights and juggled bowling pins of the same design all while doing flips or riding on roller skates. One man came with a “best I could do at the time” energy. His costume was him being full belly-out in a bathrobe wearing nothing but boxers and sandals. Meanwhile, on the other side of the park, a young woman wore nothing but a black fishnet onesie with matching thong underwear and cattail and sparkling pasties.
Then, just when I felt I had a grasp of what this event was, a group of cyclists led by a man in a purple vest with his hair styled in purple devil horns rode in like the Wheelers in Return to Oz. They flowed into the venue with a serpentine weave, in and around the fountains spinning and popping wheelies, amplifying the moment with their own energy and music.
The magic began to fade when the sun went down. The purple devil-horned cyclist blew a whistle, and they all snaked away as fast as they came in. The little clumps of monsters scattered across the venue began to thin. I decided it was time to head back into normalcy, following along the sidewalk truly thankful that Meow Wolf put on such an event for those of us who, on random Thursday, decided to not stay in to watch TV or go to the park for yoga or to post on IG, but instead decided to track the footsteps of the wild things and let them lead the curious ones to a moment a lot less ordinary.