The Death and Evolution of My First Love or My Changing Perspective on Music Festivals

***This post has been published in a slightly different version at elephant journal! Read the article here.

There’s something you need to know about me: I love music festivals. I love folk, world, bluegrass, indie rock, psychedelic dance, weekend-long, week-long, camping, non-camping, you-name-it music festivals. But recently this love felt different. I attended one of my favorite music festivals and didn’t feel the all-encompassing, “oh my goodness my life is altered,” riding on the waves of bliss kind of love and pure joy that I usually feel. Instead Envision Festival left me feeling jaded, sad and heartbroken in ways that I couldn’t quite understand.

Envision Festival is a four day camping, music, yoga, art and movement festival in the Costa Rican jungle alongside a beach. Over the past few years there’s been an emergence in music festivals that are centered on conscious community and transformation, Envision included. Throughout the day at Envision there are multiple yoga classes, permaculture discussions and healing workshops. At night and through the sunrise hours there’s live music (mostly electronic).

I love music festivals because of moments like this: a group hug at Random Rab's sunrise set.

I love music festivals because of moments like this: a group hug at Random Rab’s sunrise set.

This year I went to Envision straight from living at the Mystical Yoga Farm, an intentional yoga community in Guatemala. It was my first time leaving the lake and leaving the farm for more than 24 hours. It was also my first time in a long time being around thousands of intoxicated people.

Many magic moments happened at Envision. Nahko and Medicine for the People’s set fueled me with energy for days. Ayla Nereo inspired me to not waste time in following my heart. Suzanne Sterling’s yoga class brought me to my knees in prayer, love and tears.

Suzanne Sterling's class. Photo courtesy of Envision.

Losing ourselves to ecstatic dance in Suzanne Sterling’s class. Photo courtesy of Envision.

Running into the ocean naked revitalized and invigorated me. I made connections with people who helped me to see with clarity. I connected with my tribe of festival friends from around the world. I overheard a toddler call to their friend over and over, “I love you so much. Bye. I love you so much. Bye.” These words echoed throughout the night.

Many beautiful things happened. But I didn’t feel cradled in community. I didn’t feel supported. I connected with people when I needed, but those were mostly fleeting connections. I was slightly overwhelmed by all that was going on. I saw the warped connections that occur once it gets dark and people start taking too many drugs. Especially since I’ve been living at a drug and alcohol free community, I felt ultra-heightened to these bizarre hours of the night and day when shit just gets weird.

I didn’t feel jaded because of my personal experience (more on that in a different blog post), but overall something seemed missing. I came to realize that what I really felt was a lack in overall intention. The Envision program reads, “Together we are here to celebrate our spirits, heal our bodies and minds, and revitalize our souls…” Yes, I do think Envision provides a space for that, but it also provides a space for people to partake in and possibly abuse drugs and alcohol. Depending on the music festival, drug and alcohol use are going to occur, but I think there can be a stronger balance with drug use and wellness. Even though there were yoga classes and there was a healing area, I’d like to see a greater space devoted to wellness and connection at these types of events.

After Envision I spontaneously landed at Tribal Alliance Retreat, a visionary leadership immersion in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. Once Tribal Alliance was in full swing I realized why Envision left me jaded and upset.

At its core Tribal Alliance was a journey into the heart of community, sacred celebration, regenerative culture, rites of passage, empowerment, and embodying the vision of a new Earth. All this and more at an alcohol-free event with limited participant space and three vegetarian meals daily led to an intimate, inspirational gathering. At Tribal Alliance people were united in their intentions to be vulnerable, to go deeper, to build and maintain lasting connections and to remain centered on ultimate wellness and love. Focused on the more engaging, learning, grounding aspects of community, Tribal Alliance bridged the gap between music festival culture and tangible aspects of health, wellness and permaculture.

Where music festivals provide a plethora of options to partake in at all times, Tribal Alliance provided one workshop at a time. Where music festivals provide multiple stages with multiple musicians playing at once, Tribal Alliance provided one stage with one band playing at a time; there were no overlapping sets. Where music festivals provide a space to be pulled in a million directions, Tribal Alliance provided a space to be grounded and to be a part of community.

Another important aspect to Tribal Alliance: the food. The event included three vegetarian meals a day, and we all ate together. Eating with others and connecting over a meal is a beautiful bonding experience. I love being able to share the joy and fortune of food with others. There was live music every night, but it ended at 1 a.m. It was easier to rest when I didn’t have to worry about missing any late night music or have the remnants of late night partyers stomp through the campground.

Meal time at Tribal Alliance

Meal time at Tribal Alliance

I still think there’s a place and need for music festivals and I always will, but my personal needs are changing. As my life becomes more focused on health and wellness, I find myself questioning how nourishment fits into being at a four day party without getting the best rest or eating properly. As I become more myself, my values are changing. I value getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, looking people in the eyes, mindfully eating, learning who people really are, practicing yoga daily, connecting to people without the influence of drugs or alcohol and carrying an awareness while remaining grounded.

The more immersed I am in community, the more I realize how important a support group is. The more time I dedicate to yoga and health, the better I feel in every way. I want to live life as intentionally and mindfully as possible without fogging my perspective with drugs or alcohol. But at the same time, I love live music. I love dancing all night until past sunrise. I love the magic that can only occur at music festivals. How does all this balance? Where does it fit? At Tribal Alliance I felt the balance. I experienced how nourishing, healthy transformational events are possible.

Right after Envision I realized I was slightly heartbroken because at Envision a piece of myself died, a piece of myself who I’ve been for years, a piece of myself that was so intertwined with my identity. At Tribal Alliance I realized it didn’t die; it evolved.

So will I always be in love with music festivals? I can’t say for sure, but I know I’ll always love them in a special way. They’ve shaped my life tremendously. I’m constantly growing more into the person I want to be, more into the person I am. I’m recognizing what I really want out of life and how events like Tribal Alliance combine my interests in the most positive, meaningful way. I want to bring concepts and ideas from events like Tribal Alliance into music festival culture. I want to attend and be a part of events where ultimate wellness involving mind, body, spirit, land and community is the root.

This is my last blog post under the name ‘aprilsfestivals.’ I’m keeping the blog, but I’m ready to make the official transition to Smile and Be Free. Smile and Be Free represents the evolution of my love of music festivals and my ideas on life.

What are your thoughts on this emergence of “transformational” music festivals? Where do healing, yoga and permaculture fit into music festivals? How can we foster lasting positive change at these events? How do you remain present, grounded and mindful at music festivals when the chaos spins all around you?

5 thoughts on “The Death and Evolution of My First Love or My Changing Perspective on Music Festivals

  1. April! Thank you for writing this and sharing your experience! I’ve enjoyed reading Aprilsfestival ever since my sister Heather and I met you at Bonnaroo Clean Vibes. You raise some excellent points about the nature of the transformational music festival.

    As a fellow music festival lover, I can assure you that you are not alone. After Lightning in a Bottle last year, I come away wondering, “What really transformed in me?” There are so many great moments within a festival, but they are often fleeting and difficult to integrate into one’s life. Those ‘weird’ moments late into the night often leave me feeling not nourished and elated, but drained and depressed. Sometimes I have difficulty connecting (perhaps related to communication issues as a result of drug use) which leads to feelings of isolation that in itself can encourage transformative introspection, though not in the joyful manner marketed by these festivals. I think this may be one aspect of creating an authentic festival experience- acknowledging the whole spectrum of the human experience, not just the super happy, dancy fun parts. Make space for people to break down and rebuild, to be vulnerable, to be themselves.

    On the production side, I think it is probably difficult to market an event, make it profitable, and develop enough community rapport to make that space possible. It sounds like Tribal Alliance did that for you, though I think a possible trap with the small intimate model is that it may become exclusive or self-limiting to people at a certain level of spiritual development, whereas a larger more varied event may be open to a broader group.

    One idea I just had is to create a “Festival Module” where one could curate a particular experience for those seeking, for example, health and nourishment. The idea would be for either festival producers or individual groups to create a “track” for particular intentions-“Permaculture,” “Healing,” “Yoga,” “Dance and Movement.” Throughout the long weekend, these groups would practice together, eat a meal or two together, create community, and focus their energy on a particular project that could be examined in depth. This way the myriad experiences of a festival would be rooted in a unified purpose. Perhaps the group could find time to develop an action plan for future work. Not sure where the late night partying and drug abuse fits into this- perhaps facilitate LSD or MDMA therapeutic intentions?

    Thanks again for sharing! Wishing you peace and contentment on your path.

    • Stevie! Great to hear from you! Thanks so much for following my blog all this time.

      Thanks for all your insight and input on the topic of transformational music festivals. You bring up a lot of things I have also felt and experienced during and after these events. Great question to ask after any event and especially those claiming to be transformational: “What really transformed in me?” As I get older I see myself asking this question more and really feeling a disconnect, especially in the joyful communal way that these events are marketed. The ‘transformative introspection’ has lead me to positive realizations about my lifestyle choices, but hasn’t led me to the community connection that I crave, that seems so close, yet out of reach at events like this.

      I love your ideas! I also think there should be more realistic communities set up at these events. Music festivals provide a space to be happy and dance, but you’re right, there are rarely areas set up to spend time being yourself in every emotion, especially the not so happy ones. There are workshops and healing spaces, but those generally have set hours. At Symbiosis Gathering there was an area set up with chakra healing domes that you could access at any time. It was a nice place to relax, come down and connect with people on a more intimate level.

      I haven’t even thought about it from a production/marketing perspective yet. I would like to continue to brainstorm ways to incorporate healing into these events and make healing and positive nourishment more accessible.

      I love your idea about creating a festival module. At Tribal Alliance we broke out into guilds. First we gathered with all the people who live in the same region as us. We shared our skills and project ideas. The next day we broke out into our skillsets: musicians, journalists, people with land-based projects, artists, etc. This was an amazing way to connect with people and generate ideas. I’m still buzzing from the ideas generated in these guilds. We talked about ways we could incorporate this same format into music festivals. I love the idea of people with the same interests coming together to eat meals, practice, or just be together and get to know each other. This is an excellent way for people with the same intention to get rooted in that intention and feel like they’re part of a community. It’s an excellent way to build lasting connections with like-minded people and to network. We talked about also having modules like this for different professions or people with an interest in that profession. That way those people could also connect. These modules could be set up in one particular area as small geodesic domes; they could be spread out throughout the festival or they could be booths in the vendor area. There are countless ways they could be incorporated.

      I also love your idea about LSD or MDMA therapeutic intentions. When these drugs are used properly there’s possibility for therapeutic effects. I think events like music festivals (where these drugs are consumed) are perfect platforms to open up these types of discussions. Instead of ignoring the fact that many people at music festivals are taking drugs, there are healthy ways to work with this. Music festivals are excellent opportunities to educate people about therapeutic drug use.

      Thanks so much for sharing your ideas! Perhaps we’ll run into each other at a positive transformational event one of these days 😉 I’d love to connect again!

  2. Yes! April Love, when I was reading the bit about how you thought a piece of you died after Envision, I thought to myself, “no, baby, it didn’t die.. it evolved,” and then I read the next sentence and smiled big, remembering why our friendship is so special. I remember having a similar revelation in my own attitude toward not only festivals, but excessive indulgence of every kind. I’m so happy that you respect you body and realize that you deserve the physical and spiritual nourishment. I think it’s possible to maintain that attitude while surrounded by drunken partiers, but it’s so much nicer to be in an environment of positive, healthy vibes.

    Love you and miss you! Your blog will be fantastic no matter what it’s called ❤

    • Oh sweet darling, thank you for your inspiration! I miss your healthy, positive vibes and look forward to shining in the sunshine with you again. Thanks for being on the same wavelength and understanding. Love and miss you!

  3. Hi April, I always felt that music, like all art, was there to lift our spirits. I think you always understood and felt that. Don’t become discouraged by those who miss that point and instead feel that music festivals are an excuse to abuse themselves. Keep your moral compass intact. Do what you are doing. Respect life and your body. I am looking forward to your return to USA. Lots of love y un gran abrazo, Tio Doug

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