by Saphir Lewis
If you get to a transformational festival this summer, you’re in for a spectacular time. No matter how high you set your expectations, they’re bound to be topped. Ye old “stage in a meadow” is a thing of the past. Even as the east coast, midwest and deep south join the bandwagon with new events in nearly every state, the basic festival template they are stepping into, is expanding beyond anything we’ve seen before. Every new event hits the floor running, hoping to offer all the trending activities.
The new “Collaborative Village” model has fully taken over the arena….and what do I mean by that? When I got my start as a producer a little while back, festivals were run by one leader or a small group of 3-5 heads who designed the programs and a cheerful team then worked to make that vision a reality.
Today fests are co-created by the attending community. We used to hang some colorful flags and call that decoration. Today teams of enthusiasts spend the better part of a year designing and building immersive experiential environments to thrill and inspire their community. With hundreds of creative participants involved, the new collaborative model makes the impossible, possible, to where even young new fests can achieve a lot right out of the gate.
With creativity being nourished and encouraged on every level – and so much talent in our amazing community, the wonders never cease to amaze. In fact, the game is to “out do everything that’s been seen before” – again and again and again. Each fest is a new palate on which to improve on earlier creations, always with a common thread of connection, and an honoring of beauty, nature and of life itself. Collaborators inspire one another from fest to fest, filling the playing field with things to do and see. The resulting Villages provide a deep immersion into bursting creativity, that not only inspires but also recharges and renews you from the inside out.
Lets go exploring….
Once you arrive on site, the first thing you’ll need to do is Set Up Camp. These events are 3-4 day outdoor getaways in beautiful natural environments, often state parks. You’ll need to bring a tent and sleeping gear, and be prepared for all sorts of heat and cold and wind and rain….but whatever the weather, camping with a few thousand new friends is just the beginning of the fun to be had.
Pack it in, Pack it out, but bring your cool stuff!
Of course Music is a main attraction, and you’ll find several stages, with a variety of music genres to get your heart pumping. You’ll get to see some of your faves right up close and sometimes even meet them if they stick around to enjoy the festival themselves. You’ll also discover lots of new music, even some you might not have listened to otherwise. And there will be lots of opportunities to show off your best living room dance moves.
The Stages have become beautiful works of art in themselves, elaborately sculpted by master artisans. They rival the incredible music that’s growing out of our creatively nourished culture. Partnerships between fine artists, painters, electricians, carpenters and light show masters produce spectacles for the senses. Designed to inspire a love affair between dancer and musician, the stage decor and light shows are crafted for all times of day, from early morning to bright afternoon, to those wee hours past midnight on a backdrop of darkness. You’re in for a show, for body, mind and soul.
With the constantly forward movement of technology, Light Shows are getting more and more elaborate and delightful. Sound and light technologies are synchronized, often with video and photography, to create an immersive experience that opens the heart and deepens community connection.
Shade Structures are another place for functional art. Artescape is a collective bringing intricate tapestries that block the sun, filled with awe inspiring beauty. Their work has pushed designers worldwide to reach greater and greater heights with their simple shade covers, that provide cool comfort in the summer heat.
The Do Lab builds structures for events across the country, pooling their talents to design Installation Art, simply for gazing upon, and for creating an environment of magic and possibility. While Do Lab’s pillars are filled with light and color, other installation art collectives make things to climb on….Despite the social lines between child and adult that leave climbing on the child’s side…in festie world we all feel the itch to head for the sky with hands and feet. Festival culture has had a fantastic time creating Jungle Gyms for big kids like you and I to monkey around on! And their popularity attests that the drive within us to scramble upward doesn’t fade with age.
The Dance Floor has been a favorite place to move and groove since the dawn of humanity, but today’s dance floors offer even more. This summer you’re bound to find an array of Flow Arts supplies in the dancing area, offering opportunities to hula hoop, juggle, spin poi or any of a wide range of acrobatics, with the beats right there to keep you moving.
With the climate getting hotter every year, Swimming is a plus at most fests these days. You know we love our music, so it didn’t take long for floating stages to make their appearance. Add to that a pirate ship or two, climbing structures, floaty toys and a shade tent…and water is the playfield of choice for many festies.
Sometimes we get a little too carried away and begin Rolling In The Mud….”it’s good for the skin” they’ll say between giggles and guffaws…..then others jump in and soon its a massive muddy body painting playground…..
But lets rinse off and head inland, there’s lots going on.
Just about the time the sun is setting, many festivals hold an Opening Ceremony to welcome everyone and to bless the gathering. Elders from local native tribes are included to facilitate and offer prayers, and group leaders often introduce a few fun activities, like the ever popular spiral dance.
Food of course, is one of our great passions, and long gone are the hot dogs and elephant ears that “festival” was once known for. We are a life affirming bunch and we love fresh, radiant, colorful, often raw, natural foods. In the same way that music, light shows and sculpture have gone wild, food has become a place of masterful art. Lucidity dubs its kitchen “mindful feeding” and that truly expresses the sentiment. Partnering with local farmers to grow the food they serve, fresh-local-organic; festivals are featuring bright nourishment that supercharges attendees and staff. Alcohol is not made available and also discouraged….and in its place are far more refreshing options. Micro Brewers and Juice Bars offer delights like lemon ginger kombucha, fresh juices, or super food smoothies. No worries, Ice Cream never goes out of style 🙂
Fed and watered, its time to go wandering! So much more to see and do!
First stop: the Yoga Zone. If you’re attracted to yoga, there will be plenty of varieties to jump into, from early morning stretching to full on strength training in the afternoon. It’s been a few years since yoga classes appeared at festivals, but today you can check out acro yoga, chi gung, all sorts of dance, capoera, and a wide array of other innovative offerings. Learn something new, or hone up on your signature moves… in a community of health focused folks, there are all sorts of fun things to do together or solo, in our fine fit bodies.
Many fests also include a Kirtan Tent where you can chant to sweet melodies in sanskrit for hours on end, a truly divine and very healing experience.
If you find kirtan a little too mellow, there’s a great step up to the Monkey Chant! One of the coolest things ever….you’ll sit in a circle with a couple of hundred people and a facilitator, very often the one and only Paradox…..who will give you some sounds to make in a rhythmic pattern (like Hoo-Hah-Hoo-Hah) and a few moves to make with your arms…..your section will take on a part, and other sections will be given other parts and soon it becomes one rolling, rocking, musical movement of motion and noise. It’s something to experience and never to forget.
Learning and listening to great teachers is a fervor at festivals this summer and workshops span such a wide range of topics that some are using the word “University”. From basics like permaculture, a variety of healing arts and herbal classes, topics range into sacred sexuality, emotional intelligence, quantum physics, non violent communication, new economies, world travel, and ancient arts taught by native leaders.
You can take a cooking class and learn to prepare vibrant and healing foods, or explore the healthful world of fermenting. Also popular this summer are primitive skills, reconnecting us to the natural world and to our roots with ancestral humanity.
One of my absolute must do’s at festival is the Sound Bath. These have become super popular in the last couple of years, and there are few fests that don’t offer it now. A perfect place to relax in the mid afternoon, you’ll find a beautiful temple of exotic fabrics and persian carpets, surrounded by ancient instruments….one can lie on soft pillows, eyes closed, surrounded by peace, serenity and good people….to spend an hour being serenaded by sounds that resonate every cell, head to toe – harmonizing body, mind and soul….there is nothing quite like it. You’ll feel refreshed, renewed, relaxed, recharged.
Healing is definitely a theme at transformational festivals, and generally the Healing Practitioners will circle up and create a palatial wonderland of sacred altars, crystals and decorative tapestries around a central courtyard designed for relaxation. Find yourself in a shaded garden of earthly delights. This is where the pampering begins….start with a deep tissue massage or a reiki session. Have some tinctures or essential oil blends made specific to your personal health journey. Meditate in a dome filled with giant crystals to recharge your batteries and align your energy with the magnetics of the earth.
Follow it up with a Tea House Experience. Your host will introduce you to the fine art of exotic tea brewing, tell stories of the lands from whence the teas came and the properties of goodness they bring. He or she then will serve you alongside others in an elegant ceremony, where you’ll savor the flavor of finely brewed herbs in a romantic setting that rivals desert dwelling caravans.
If you’re not a tea fan, you just might like the Cacao Ceremony. Its very similar to the tea ceremony, but instead of tea, you’ll receive a rich cup of sweetened cacao – the raw form of chocolate. It’s thick and dark and will even make you a little high, not to mention how decadently delicious it is.
Got kids? There will be lots of activities for the little ones. Painting, drawing, costumes and parades, all sorts of crafts and adventures and even Natural Leaders programs if available in your area.
Kids like to get their Face Painted, but there are extraordinary Face Painters on site for adults too! Stop by their tent and get an exotic look that will leave you being trailed by paparazzi!
When you’re ready for a little down time, you can take a wander through the shops. At every fest you’ll find a Marketplace of independent designers selling the coolest clothes on planet earth. You’ll never find anything like these clothes at the mall, and wherever you wear them, people will smile and comment on your finery. Clothes like these help create the immersive environment that we love, and just wearing them, you’ll feel just a little more magical, a little more enchanted, and open to possibility.
And everywhere you stroll you’ll be taking in a showcase of art. Live Painters will lean their canvases on trees and spend the days painting, near a stage where they are inspired by the music. Invited for their mastery and wow factor, you’ll get to watch their paintings develop from first sketch to something you may just fall in love with. There will also be an Art Gallery where you can browse and even buy some of their completed works.
Soon enough the sun will set and it will be time to grab your warmer clothes. As it gets darker, the village comes to life with light and wonder. Paths host all sorts of LED Surprises and the trees too will glow with twinkly lights. On the stages, the light shows begin and if you’re lucky, some of the photographers will set up a Light Show Photo Booth where you can get a psychedelic portrait taken with your friends.
The music will go all night at some events, but you may want to wander away from dancing to check out the Fire Spinnng. Generally the festival will set up a safe zone, with a fire truck and safety equipment, and when it gets dark enough, dozens of fire dancers will perform. Bring a blanket and some snacks, a posse of pals and take in the show.
If you get bored after a dozen fire spinners and a few fire swallowers, you might go rambling until you find some Late Night Theater. This can be a barrel of laughs, as good or better than late night tv, and often a spoof on everything that went on during the day.
But in the end, wherever you wander, nothing is quite as good as Clowning Around with the new friends you’ll make. That, most of all, is what memories are made of.
Watch our blog and calendar for features on upcoming festivals…. all sorts of varieties, that you absolutely don’t want to miss. Thank you so much to the generosity and tremendous work of our amazing photographers. Three cheers and a big hurrah!
With over 50 transformational festivals on our North American calendar this year, there’s bound to be an amazing event that fits your time and travel needs. Don’t let this experience pass you by!