Transformational Festivals: Where Ecstatic Spirit and Sonic Celebration Unite (w/ Timeline & Preview Guide)
Lightning In A Bottle – Photography by Watchara
A “Business Model” for the New Paradigm
Transformational festivals thrive on the integration of various disciplines, but there is an additional challenge in balancing the logistical operations of funding, promoting, and supporting the gatherings with broader spiritual and community-driven intentions.
As Rasenick of Beloved explicates, “There really shouldn’t be a fundamental difference between sacred art, sacred music, new paradigm education, and the logistical deliberations and collaborative processes that lead them to being presented at an event.”
And yet, having adequate funding, ensuring safety, and working with sponsors and collaborators can be difficult, for a number of reasons. Most importantly, there is the question of finances. Many transformational festivals, including Bliss Beat, Evolvefest, and Symbiosis, are not supported by sponsors, and instead generate revenue and enable offerings mainly from ticket sales and hiring volunteers. For founders like Bryson of Evolvefest, operating without investors, sponsors, or backing is liberating, allowing the festival to be “self-situating and [to] shape its own dimensions.”
“How one obtains money is everything,” he continues. “In order to maintain ethical ground, you must exchange value for value — no lies, no scams, no misrepresentations of the truth. In fact, we believe that we are giving, in experiential value, many times over and beyond the price of admission. Money is a blessing, and compensation will naturally occur when you create something that people are willing to pay for.”
For Weber of BaliSpirit Festival, a large part of production focuses on ultimately securing the festival’s long-term financial sustainability. “We don’t see any philosophical conflicts on the financial side… Creating or participating in an economy that enhances both human health and happiness and the ecological vitality of our local area is completely in accordance with our vision and values,” he says. “The more challenging aspect is to make the event sustainable financially… We knew as founders that we were getting into a long-term situation regarding sustainability as a business, so there’s a certain degree of patience and acceptance, but there is also a pressure to see the visionary ideals we’ve so successfully achieved in terms of the festival experience mature into a sustainable enterprise.”
Beloved Festival – Photography by Zipporah Lomax
For festivals that do choose to incorporate sponsorship and collaboration into their business models, the way those sponsorships and collaborations take place is key. Whereas Symbiosis has, according to KoChen, so far declined to work with sponsors because it has not yet found the right matches, others, like Beloved, BaliSpirit Festival, and Wanderlust, feel fortunate to have found sponsors that align well with their ideologies.
“The old paradigm of sponsorship is to whore out your brand to the highest bidder without care for what that highest bidder is doing in the world, and that’s just not something Beloved will ever do,” founder and producer Rasenick explains. “There are a small number of medium-sized companies that have been crucial and amazing partners for Beloved… We are willing to partner with companies that we would like to see succeed, because we believe in how they are doing what they are doing and why they are doing it.”
This symbiotic relationship between sponsor and festival not only supports the festival, but also enhances and furthers its goals on a grander scale. Lightning in a Bottle, for example, has won Greenest Festival in America three years in a row, in part due to the fact that they only align themselves with companies that fit within their sustainability mission. “Since the beginning,” says Flemming, “we have partnered with New Belgium Brewery from Colorado because they are leading the way in sustainable practices among breweries.”
“We also have to get creative with [sponsorships] because we don’t want banners and advertisements all over the festival,” Flemming adds. “We encourage sponsors to find creative ways to interact with the audience instead of the traditional boring methods that we’re bombarded with all year long.”
Similarly, becoming a corporate partner at Wanderlust means more than just supporting the festival financially. According to Hoess a partner must also be “willing to enhance the [festival’s] experience, to create something of authentic value that stands apart from any immediate commercial goals.” One example he cites was Wanderlust’s 2012 partnership with Toyota, in which the company offered festival attendees the opportunity to screen print an unbranded, natural-fiber tote bag, receive complimentary hair braiding, visit a tea station, and mix their own mat cleaner from natural products and essential oils.
Indeed, even promotional material can act as extensions of festival experience. “[Beloved ensures] that all promotional materials are ultimately sacred prayer cards, that can have a life of their own beyond the date of the event posted on them,” explains Rasenick. “It goes all the way through to thinking about how we are communicating with people as they arrive at the site, how they are moving through the site, and what happens when they get there. Every aspect of an attendee’s experience should reflect our sacred intention, our joyful creativity, and our ecological ethic.”
While some festivals acknowledge the discrepancies between money and their spiritual goals, founders like Rasenick of Beloved are hopeful about the future of festival finances. “There is no question that the way money is used in the larger society runs contrary to the vision of Beloved,” he says, “but the way that money moves through this festival is getting closer and closer and closer to really speaking to the core of our values.”
This year, at Beloved’s traditional Saturday Council meeting of festival panelists and audience members, the topic of conversation will be about sharing economies and the ways in which society can “transition to an economy that serves life”. During the meeting, Rasenick hopes to generate constructive discussion. “I do see that our economy is currently a machine that functions to convert living systems into dead traded commodities,” he continues. “I believe that there is a way out of this mess and that we are helping to model the solution with the festival.”
Lightning In A Bottle – Photography by Watchara
Note: The last page of this feature has a comprehensive summary of the history, focuses, and offerings of each of these participating festivals.