January 28, 2016

In the last weekend of February, Feb 25-28, Envision Festival will blossom to life for its fifth straight year. The four-day event is set in Uvita, Costa Rica—specifically at Rancho La Merced, a sand-speckled stretch of beach nestled between the leafy jungle and crystalline waters of Playa Hermosa. Musically, Envision is sandwiched between The Dead and The Burn, with music from live psychedelic outfits like Shpongle, Beats Antique and Random Rab coexisting next to DJ sets from Burner favorites like M.A.N.D.Y and Atish. Along with the musical options, the festival’s Village stage is a multi-purpose hub for non musical events like speaker-led workshops, a “witches healing sanctuary,” a chillout zone for kids and families, and yoga workshops from a variety of acclaimed downward doggers.

The festival was cofounded in 2011 by Miami-born Stephen Brooks, a lifelong Deadhead and Burner who studies the relationship between human and plants during his day job as an ethnobotanist. “Everything I’ve done has been dedicated to creating transformation… [and] creat[ing] experiences to wake people up, so they can live differently and take a different path,” Brooks recently told me via Skype from the driver’s seat of his Jeep, where he was pulled over in the middle of a banana plantation in Costa Rica on the way back to his home, which is only accessible by a 20-minute boat ride.

Stephen Brooks.

Envision calls itself a transformational festival, and like other events of this ilk, like Desert Hearts, Symbiosis, and Lightning in a Bottle, environmentalism and sustainability is a key part of its ethos. According to Brooks, Envision is the only festival in both Central and South America to run predominantly on biodiesel. Food is nearly 100 percent organic, composting bathrooms use zero water to break down waste, and there’s a near-ban on disposable items like plastic plates, cups, or utensils. Instead of corporate sponsors, Envision is teaming up with independent companies like Colorado festival Sonic Bloom, psychedelic education association MAPS, and the Punta Mona Center for Regenerative Design and Botanical Studies, a local sustainability institute in Costa Rica that Brooks founded with his herbalist wife Sarah.

Ahead of my own pilgrimage to Envision next month, I spoke to Brooks about the rise of transformational festivals, his educational farm in Costa Rica, and how to party in a way that leaves you with something more than just an epic comedown.

THUMP: Why do you think transformational festivals are really taking off in the states?
Stephen Brooks: I think what’s happening is that people have a great void in their lives; they’re seeking community, they’re seeking their tribe. What happens at Envision is people truly find that. The festival gives you the power to think big and go: “maybe I don’t need to go back and get a regular job, and maybe I can choose all my best friends and buy a piece of land.” That’s kind of the theme in what we’re doing. [Envision partner] Josh, has been on his property for 12 years and myself 20 years, and we’re both dedicated to creating a different way to live. That’s sort of infiltrating through every thread of the festival.

What brought you down to Costa Rica?
I first came down here on vacation and witnessed a playground of indigenous children get sprayed by a Chiquita banana crop duster. It blew my mind and slammed the brakes on my life. Eventually I moved down [to Costa Rica] and started a company to bring down high-school and college kids with a goal to show them how beautiful the country is, as well as the reality of how fucked up the banana plantations are and the rainforest destruction.

I started my farm with the goal to become an example of a different way to design, live, and treat workers. Now i’m 20 years in and I’ve succeeded, and I live in a paradise. There’s 20 college kids there now with 30 more coming, and they’re learning ideas of different ways to treat and grow our food … It’s amazing when somebody can come down to see how transformative an experience it is. Everything I’ve done in my life has been dedicated to creating that, and to give them a taste of what I got in the parking lot of that Grateful Dead concert in 1988, that sense of community.

What was the process like to find the location to hold the festival, what drew you to the land?
It’s epic. We rent a chunk of a several hundred acre property from a really sweet, humble, Costa Rican land owner. It’s right on the beach with a beautiful forest and a good amount of shade. Where I live now, you have to take a 25 minute boat ride to the nearest town, so I’m a professional at off-the-grid event throwing and coordination. For your average person It’s hard, but i’ve been living off-the-grid for 21 years so for me It’s not that difficult. The hardest part is the people; you have so many personalities, and It’s a challenge. You think about a regular music festival and there’s a stage and there’s music and that’s it. We have so many moving parts and over 400 people on staff, It’s freaking huge.

What does the local community think about the festival?
That definitely has its challenges. Costa Rica’s a catholic country and all the sudden you have all these hippies with tattoos and piercings, and their boobs hanging out. But we do everything we can to do right by the community. We hired a third party group that’s helping us bridge the gap with different associations and church groups, to do everything we can to make them love us. We bring so much money into the area too so everyone’s pretty stoked.

What are some new things you guys are doing this year?
This year we launched Envision Education. My wife’s an herbalist and has been doing herbal clinics at our farm—It’s one of the best in the world. She works with one of the top herbal clinicians who’s been working at the Rainbow Gatherings as a medic. This year we’re working with him and MAPS, so if you get sick and have to go to the clinic you can choose whether or not to get herbal medicine. We’re also organizing a cacao ceremony that i’m leading with over 1000 people. It’s chocolate that we make and grow, then mix with superfoods. It’s seriously heart-opening and amazing.

Do you see festivals like Envision as an escape from real life?
I wouldn’t say that It’s an escape from real life, I’d say It’s a recreation of a new life. What is real life? I think we’re being tricked into a life that’s not serving us, and is supporting wars and chemical food, and a system that’s broken. What Envision is trying to do is show that It’s possible to live good and thrive, and not do that.

Grab your last minute tickets to Envison Festival here.

Find David posted up at the cacao ceremony, or on Twitter.

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