Transformational Festivals: Where Ecstatic Spirit and Sonic Celebration Unite (w/ Timeline & Preview Guide)
Beloved Festival – Photography by Zipporah Lomax
Transformation Beyond Festival Boundaries
At the end of the day, it is not only a positive experience at the festival that organizers are trying to ensure, but one that will live on and continue to have a meaningful impact on its participants and others, long after the festival is over. Whether the festival is large or small, whether it emphasizes yoga or nature, whether it works with sponsors or not, to tangibly transform its participants into more conscious, connected beings and to support them in their transformation is a unified goal that each festival shares. According to Bryson, “Evolvefest is [most definitely] about fostering community and helping to birth the new consciousness that is wanting to be born into this world… We don’t want to just turn people on to yoga and healthy living; we want to turn them on to their own divinity.”
Rasenick shares a similar sentiment, acknowledging that at Beloved they “take very seriously [the fact] that everyone who attends the event is participating in an important and sacred journey” that continues even after they leave. “My hope for the event is that as participants we see through the illusions of separation between each other, from the earth, and from Spirit. We want for all of us to leave having experienced at least a brief moment of real connection,” he explains.
Upon the conclusion of their events, transformational festival producers hope to have inspired their participants to be the people they want to be, to have the lifestyle they want to put into action, and — perhaps most importantly — to share their transformation with others.
As Weber of BaliSpirit Festival describes, “In a world somewhat crippled by the fatalism of, ‘Well, this is just how it is and how it’s going to be,’ we’re proud to have created a portal-experience through which people emerge refreshed, inspired, and grateful for Life.” He describes one participant who, after leaving her “corporate existence” in Southern California to attend the festival, discovered a new, satisfying lifestyle in Bali. “The event catalyzed a clarity that hastened her to move to Ubud, where three years later, she has a gorgeous little girl with a beautiful and caring husband, has just completed her yoga teacher training, and radiates happiness and contentment every time I run into her in town.”
Stories like this one are wonderfully not uncommon in the realm of transformational festivals. At Wanderlust in 2010, one individual was so inspired by her experience that she enrolled in a yoga teacher training program upon returning home, taught for a year, and in 2012, decided to open in Austin, Texas, the first-ever Wanderlust Yoga Studio.
Founding partner of Costa Rica’s Envision, Stephen Brooks, recalls a powerful interaction with a previous festival participant. “Last year, I was walking in a supermarket in San Jose and a Costa Rican couple stopped me,” he says. “They looked me deep in the eyes and they seemed as if they were about to burst into tears, and they just started saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you. I know that you were a part of organizing Envision, and it absolutely changed our lives. We just never knew how beautiful everyone is and that American culture also brings good to this country. Thank you for bringing your festival culture!'”
At Evolvefest in 2012, tragedy struck when a participant who had a heart transplant in the previous year passed away during kirtan, a gathering featuring the chanting of traditional Hindu devotional hymns. Rather than falling apart in distress, the gathering came together to celebrate his life. “I don’t need to tell you what a powerful experience that was as I remember you being there,” one attendee wrote later in a letter to the festival’s producers. “When I think of Evolvefest, I think of the miracle of life. Thank you for creating a safe space for people to explore. A safe place for people to be how they are, as they are, where they are.”
The prevalence of these kinds of life-changing and perspective-altering experiences are the ultimate reward and measurement of success for festival founders and all those involved — knowing that they have allowed for “amazing moments of healing, inspiration, and creative expression” and sown “a seed for the future,” as Leskin and Fearon of Gratifly explain. “… Our greatest success would be for even one participant to have a life-changing empowering experience: the young music lover who tries meditation for the first time, the old wisdom keeper who dances to electronic music for the first time and experiences that magic, the soulmates who meet at the tea lounge. It is those small moments that are huge to us, and it is the magic of those kinds of experiences that is our main inspiration.”
The possibility of transformation, moreover, is not limited to just the festival’s participants, but must also tangibly impact its promoters. “The event should be a transformative and meaningful experience, first for the people who are creating it, and if that happens at the core, then that experience will surely be extended to the attendees,” explains Rasenick of Beloved. “Every year, I receive dozens of profound and touching emails about how people were moved, inspired or changed by the festival. Countless couples have fallen in love, babies have been conceived, old wounds have been healed, deep-seated griefs and grudges have been released, but the story about personal transformation that is most significant for me has been my own. Beloved has changed me and continues to push me in deep and potent ways every year… I’ve learned what the world I want to live in looks like, and I’ve learned about the kind of work — both the sort of personal growth work required for each of us and the physical work on the built and cultural environment — it will take to create the new world.”
No matter where, when, or how their festivals take place, to collectively transform themselves and others is a goal that all producers hold and one that lies at the heart of transformational culture and goes beyond merely the few days that participants and producers are gathered together.
“Making a positive impact on the local community, planting trees in the rainforest, helping school children buy new computers, and building a container for transformational events to happen in people’s lives is what we do this for,” says Envision’s Brothers. “Success lies in making a positive impact, and that’s what we’re doing on many levels.”
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.