Envision this: festival culture magnified.

8 March 2012 § 1 Comment

Sometime last summer, toward the beginning of this grand adventure – okay, September – I stood in the doorway of a beautiful community house in Portland listening to an excitable and lively twenty-year-old dressed in hippie clothes and smiles tell me about a festival called Envision. It was on the beach in Costa Rica next March, she told me.

I smiled back, with a similar reply I’ve given others when they’ve told me how I absolutely have to go to Burning Man: It sounds amazing. I’d love to go. We’ll see if it works out.

I first heard about Burning Man nearly ten years ago, when it was a little smaller party, and I was a little smaller a person, and have passed on no less than two opportunities to go. Meanwhile, I’ve travelled and travelled, lived lifetimes in the same relative crowd, wondering where my tribe is, and what do I have to do to find them?

That excitable nymph, Cara, danced her playful nymph energy away next to the ten-foot-tall red glowing lights, to Kaminanda, a DJ I’d never heard and at that point didn’t mind, in her own blissed-out world. She had her space in the Costa Rican jungle, in between us and Jamaica, the dancing community organizer/earth mother who had, at that same house in Portland all those months ago, given me the most sincere I-see-you-thank-you-for-existing hello I’d ever received. Anyone who walked between them, oblivious to what they might be interrupting, may have thought them just another couple of dancing drunk girls. They most certainly were not, for in that freedom, to that music, they knew something of life that I would only glimpse in the next few days, and which many people go lifetimes and cannot learn (for the world would be a much better place if they did).

Upon our arrival, Heather and I set about finding her friends, some of whom were instrumental in organizing the event, eager to volunteer. Right away I was picked up by Shaun the technical director, and went to the sound stage to unload PA equipment. Within minutes I was back in my element, in the world of live music production I had worked for and in and reveled. It is one of hard work and incredible payoff, knowing during a concert that you helped organize and set up the gear, put the microphones in place, made sure the rivers of cables flowed well out of the way, the bass amp was plugged in, the works.

I spent two years working in that world, not so long ago, and walked away from it, wanting to keep my soul unjaded to an industry difficult to get into and just as difficult to leave. I’ll do it again, I thought, when the time comes.

For two days I helped with the stage and the backline, unloading speakers from trucks and then digging those trucks out of the mud, setting up lights and making sure the right power amps were in the right places. I watched as Vinny the tico assistant engineer did the job I had done, setting up the system for the head engineer: getting sound check out of the way, tweaking the overhead mics – C3000s – and setting the toms – A98Ds, all from the beautiful Soundcraft Series Five in the middle of the field. Later, feeling useless, I was pulled away to set up the DJ system near the food court. I was handed a mess, and with cobwebbed knowledge and a vague memory of signal flow being massively important, I had music up in two hours, which earned me a great big ‘thank you’ from the bartender in the form of a rum and coke. I’d asked the universe earlier that day, in a weak moment, to be useful at some point that day. She answered. I hadn’t been that happy working in years.

Over the next three days, I learned things about myself and that beautiful universe I thought possible only in dreams. How is it that a group of people can come together and create what they did – not just a party, but a celebration – one based on Intention, Gratitude, and Community? With direction and focus and love. Fittingly, they named it Envision, and set it in rural, hot, beachside Costa Rica, which was an adventure of a lifetime for some, and for me, a seed planted lifetimes ago, one that grew, until the last moment, only enough to be a reason to get out of the house. And I don’t regret going.

An ex-elitist metalhead, I’ve always been critical of countercultures, especially those who are not subtle in their rebellion. I learned to tolerate ¨hippies¨ while living in Asheville, secretly adopting their views of peace and love without telling my metalhead friends, starting listening to trip-hop and groove music, and even recently took up yoga. Apparently, I’m a natural 🙂

The festival crowd, with their feathers and specially-made clothing, like what Cara had been wearing in Portland, seemed vaguely ridiculous. Like in any culture, certain styles were more abundant than others – the pocketed leather belts and holsters, fedora hats, Jesus-sandals, fairy skirts – and some people wore them better than others. It was trendy and understandably expensive. How could a culture, like those who favored Burning Man’s no-cash gift economy, be so consumerist?

On the dance floor, I understood. Eye candy. The blonde girl who walked around in pink linen pants, topless and smiling, was in their ranks but defied them. Whitney Houston’s elegant double, who gained a year of age every second I spent gazing at her at four in the morning in the Tea Lounge, glowed at the compliment Heather suggested. I had stood up, walked to that glorious vision of a woman, and delivered the message.

Earlier, we’d received a scrap of paper from a stranger which read Open Me. Inside it read You Are The Most Beautiful Thing in the World. I passed it to a girl and her whole world seemed to light up. So I wrote a few more which had similar messages, and one even came back to me. What luck!

I wish I could describe to you the energies I saw – every character who walked past us as my astral self spoke to Heather’s, next to the line of portapotties, as we stood between the semi-BDSM DJ Jillian Ann and the Hare Krishna dance in the Tea Lounge, how they walked and what they offered to the world around them, what hurt they’d been subjected to and how they dealt with it. Like the two British girls in elaborate costumes picked from hostel lost-and-founds, who circled the party at every hour of the night searching for LSD or Molly, often carrying large pipas, straws poking out. They were caricatures of themselves, stereotypes and loving and living every minute of it, beauties from Newcastle. There was the Falafel guy, the Israeli by way of Melbourne, whose food stand was open ALWAYS and whose line of people never ran down, because it was the best food at the festival for the best price. He and his crew worked their asses off, and deserve every penny they earned (the lucrative potential of vending to the festival crowd is a whole other subject – stay tuned).

And how can I properly describe to you a Lucent Dossier Experiment performance? The sound was shit, the mics disconnected (and poor me, powerless to fix it myself but not needing to point it out to Shaun, who worked to repair it the whole time) and speakers delayed in the wrong direction, but the dancing, the monsters, the fire! Tammy Firefly, a four-foot-eight  bombshell of a performer, flew through the air above the gargoyle-looking beast of a man who could do anything with the grace of a ’57 Chevy hot rod with a little Micheal Jackson thrown in. It was Thriller meets Saw to music related to dubstep and opera, like the deformed cousin at the family reunion nobody wants to stare at, but can’t help it.

When I’m feeling a little more open, you’ll have more details on this incredible experience. I’m in this. Might have a job at next year’s Envision. May have found my tribe, and wouldn’t even mind donning a costume. But the food. The food is prohibitively expensive in the fest world, so it may very well be chasing festivals with jars of peanut butter all over the world from here. The signs are pointing away from Burning Man Fertility 2.0, but to many others instead. Boom. Shambala. Beloved. Lightning in a Bottle.

The possibilities are endless.

Seeds are always being planted.

 Keep going.


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§ One Response to Envision this: festival culture magnified.

  • edgish says:

    Thank you for cutting me in on something I would never have experienced until now. It is all the more meaningful for having been seen through your eyes.

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