***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).
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.
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.
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?