The Best Laid Plans…
Join me for a journey through Gratifly 2014- a festival that was a concentrated example of how the world *might* look if hippies ran the show. Most things would be awesome and beautiful and colorful and surrounded by nature. Loving vibes would permeate the air. Hair would grow unencumbered on most bodies. Sacred spaces would be promptly smudged with sage every morning, and regularly throughout the remainder of the day. But some things might not run on schedule. Some things that were supposed to happen might not happen at all. Sometimes there wouldn’t be enough pizza. But overall, everyone would leave with a sense of “Yeah, I’d definitely do that again.”
Every good review starts with commentary on the entrance situation, right? Well, we were totally warned before-hand that we would have to park a little distance away from the festival grounds and shuttle in. But no one told us there wouldn’t actually be any shuttles, just a few pick up trucks and a flat bed tow truck…and 2 taxis. We got tired of waiting in the rain with our stuff, so we intrepidly threw our things onto a flatbed, on top of an already overloaded pile of hippies and camping gear getting ready to take off. As warned, we assumed a seated position and, having thus completed the necessary safety precaution, we were off. Not much besides the merciful hand of The Almighty secured our place on that flatbed, but as you can see from this photo, dangerous situations only make for more fun. At the very least, we knew from the get go this wasn’t going to be some fancy-shmancy high-end hippie fest (East coast keepin’ it real, as usual). That was confirmed when the shuttle had to stop short of the grounds because of mud issues. We were some of the lucky ones who found a camp spot in the last few hours of daylight on Thursday. But many of our brethren were stuck making multiple trips with arms full of unnecessary things to an unknown spot in the woods, probably on a major slant, in the dark. And we missed most of Thursday’s early evening talks and workshops. So my point is that real busses would have greatly sped up this process.
But how can you stay mad when the digs are seriously this beautiful? In fact, we saw very few people mad about anything, all weekend. This is a huge testament to the love and positivity that the Gratifly team put into their project. If this had been any other event on the East Coast (and I’ve been to a few) many more people would have been heard complaining/ragging on production/yelling obscenities. But at Gratifly, gratitude and community was the name(s) of the game. And these woods! We were greeted by the softest green forest, surrounding a field of dreams full of interesting installations, spaces, and structures (some of which were still being built when we arrived). The earth was forgiving enough that you could roam barefoot without even worrying about it, and a generously Carolina blue sky hung above us for the whole weekend. I have to say that I have never felt more immersed in nature at a music festival.
The field and the woods were filled with spaces. Places for us to learn, to immerse ourselves in experience, to absorb wisdom from those who have gone a little further down the path and come back to share what they have seen. Tents and various structures marked the gathering places for each day’s classes- and there was something for everyone to learn. Whether you were interested in fermenting your own vegetables, improving upon your hooping skills, or learning how to nourish the yoni, there was an offering for you. Yoga and movement classes dotted each day’s schedule. I was happy to see many of the classes and talks well attended by my fellow fest-goers and truth-seekers. There is nothing quite like moving through your flow yoga class while simultaneously admiring people listening raptly to a teacher, or exploring their inner being with some kind of shamanic ceremony, or getting creative in a writing workshop. All kinds of sounds coming from the various classes and workshops blended together in the field throughout the day- it was a truly blessed learning environment, and hopefully these kinds of classrooms will only grow in size and popularity.
Gratifly did an excellent job of bringing together some of the most interesting and genuine teachers this movement has to offer. I enjoyed my introduction to Qigong with Sifu Beth Leone, yoga with Leigh Anne Neal (check out her studio, Nirvana Yoga, if you are in Atlanta!), AcroYoga with Joaquin de Teresa (who will be coordinating the yoga program at next year’s Aura Music Festival), and yin yoga with Sharashten (founder of Shakti Yogi Journal). I learned about fermented, activated foods with Tai Magick of New Dimensions Fermentia, found my flow in a hoop with Baxter, founder of The HoopPath, and joined in Kirtan with Bhakti Dojo (led by Srikalogy and his partner Jesse). Contrary to the musical lineup, the workshop and class lineup always ran on schedule, and I would return to Gratifly just for a chance to again immerse myself in this learning environment.
What I especially loved was that the teachers were so accessible- they were not up on a stage, speaking into a microphone. We were sitting on the same earth, eye to eye, sharing. There was always time and opportunity for questions and genuine connection with any teacher you found inspiring.
I have to commend Gratifly for trying out a new, truly sustainable festival dining experience: Cafe Gratifly. For $25 per day, or $100 for the weekend, you could have 3 meals per day prepared by chef and food activist Njathi Wa Kabui, all with locally-sourced, organic ingredients (pictured above are people waiting nicely in line for their meal). I know when they hash out some of the kinks of this initiative (like making sure there is always enough of every portion for all those who sign up), this will change the way we do festival food! However, besides Cafe Gratifly, there were only 3 or 4 other food vendors. The beloved and always delicious Free Lovin’ Foodery was there, plus some awesome pizza makers cookin’ up pies in the oven right before our eyes. Their pizza was super dank, but on Saturday night they were closed, and the Free Lovin’ Foodery line was LONG. By the last day, it seemed that there was a bit of a food shortage. I could have probably eaten a few more slices of pizza, but had to settle for a grilled cheese.
SO THIS RIVER. Totally the festival’s real headliner. It was a 3 minute walk behind the main stage, on your way to the hill/forest stage (I don’t remember the stage names because I didn’t see any signs demarcating them and we weren’t given maps), and it was amazing! Never have I seen a more perfect river for a festival, with plenty of sitting and wading room. We went multiple times a day, and I even washed my hair in it (with all organic natural shampoo, obvs.) It was like a festival A/C, water park, and shower all in one.
The beauty of the festival grounds definitely saved Gratifly when things didn’t go as planned (like music delays and cancellations). It’s hard to worry about much when the natural attractions are so spectacular and comforting. Lots of people told us they would definitely come back to Gratifly next year despite any hiccups, and I have to think that the festival grounds combined with the aforementioned good vibes promoted by the (almost imperceptibly small) staff are largely to thank for this. So if Gratifly moves from Avalon next year (because relations with the neighbors who filed noise complaints may or may not improve), they either better make sure the lineup goes off without a hitch, or the natural setting is equally charming!
Of the music we did see (which was a fraction of what we thought we would see) The Polish Ambassador was definitely the hyphyest. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, and I was wondering if he really was deserving of all the attention. He is! This man obviously puts his heart and soul into what he does, and his set at Gratifly, which was to be one of the last of Saturday, was a nonstop get down. My favorite moments are a tie between the MJ and the Blackstreet remixes.
Lafa Taylor was set to come on after him, but apparently the music was supposed to stop after TPA due to noise complaints from a neighbor. The production team let Lafa go on anyway, but turned all the speakers off besides one stage monitor which was turned to face the crowd. It was super quiet and, though Lafa was obviously givin’ us all he had, the weak volume took much of the wind out of our sails and few were actually dancing. I later found out that Lafa wasn’t even told that the speakers would be turned off, and he thought he was just majorly flopping and everyone hated him! No way Lafa, we will definitely be back to see you next chance we get.
But that leads me to probably my biggest complaint with the festival’s production strategy: not once did someone come on the mic to let us know what was going on. We understand shit happens, but we understand it way better when it’s communicated to us clearly. If just one team member had come on stage to warn us that certain acts were going to be delayed, or that the schedule was being changed, or that Opiou was being cancelled (and why), we probably would have taken it in stride. But we were left standing around wondering what was going on, and word just had to trickle through the grapevine.
On a brighter note, we did get to see awesome music from Random Rab (with Plantrae on violin!), Srikalogy, and Papadosio. I love to see talented ladies representing in the DJ scene, and DJ Dakini is my favorite new find of the weekend- her set at the Fox & Beggar stage had the woods bumpin’. Wildlight also held it down beautifully before TPA. The Human Experience and his guests, and Thriftworks were also awesome. I missed some things I wanted to see (Desert Dwellers) because they were too early in the morning and I actually wanted to get up for certain classes the next day. I’m torn on the whole sunrise set thing, especially at a festival where the next day is full of things to do from the morning until evening. We also missed most of Sunday, including the Earth Harp Collective and Rising Appalachia, which I know were both fucking awesome (if you were there, comment below!). I’m decidedly in favor of festivals ending on Sunday mornings so those of us that have to be somewhere Monday morning don’t miss out on anything! (The one thing Camp Bisco did right?) Anyone else with me on these points?? Or am I just too much of a grandma to even hang anymore?
I got a chance to chat with Anthony Ward, the flower whisperer, in the art area on one of the days (like the teachers, the artists were also highly accessible throughout the weekend). He performed with both Random Rab and TPA that weekend. Since he is probably the only flower arrangement performer on Earth, I was interested to know how he started, and the intention behind his craft. Turns out, he is a dancer and florist by profession, and he got a chance to blend the two when he was spontaneously invited to perform with Bobby McFerrin (creator of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) at the Omega Institute over a decade ago. Bobby would regularly invite people onstage without knowing what they were going to do. Anthony was also not sure what he was going to do, but he had a bunch of flowers, and a background in dance. BOOM. An artform was born. Michael Franti was in the crowd that evening, and moved to tears by the performance. He promptly invited Anthony to perform with him at a future concert, where Zack, STS9′s drummer was in attendance. STS9 invited Andrew on tour with them in 2002, and the rest is history.
Anthony says that his bouquet making is really a form of prayer- that we are all praying together. His floral art is a spiritual practice. Watching him, you definitely get a sense of the spiritual in how earnestly he offers each flower to the crowd, and to the heavens, before placing it in its new home. We discussed the magnificence of flowers, and he told me his favorite thing about them is that “They shine for everyone equally,” no matter who is gazing upon them. There will soon be a documentary out about his work, “Dancing with the Flowers,” and you can watch the trailer at www.beingwithflowers.com. I could hardly think of a more fitting performer to grace the stages of Gratifly that weekend- as it was all a blend of nature, love, art and music.
So much more could be said, but really it has to be experienced. There is no way I could fit a description of all the eye catching and uplifting things about Gratifly into a review (I didn’t even get to all the amazing visionary artists that were in attendance and displayed their work in an outdoor gallery in the main field!) The whole thing burst forth with love and care, and I hope some important lessons were learned so that next year this gathering can blossom to its full potential (and hippies can redeem themselves). I, for one, saw clearly the importance of balance- the delicate dance between living care-free, moment-to-moment, and also having a footing in the “default world,” if only so you can get your message across effectively to those who need it most.
Before leaving, I interviewed a few people on their experience, expecting at least a little bit of complaining about the cancelled music and shitty entrance situation. Surprisingly, I basically had to remind these interviewees of these situations. They had nothing but positive reviews of their experience, all agreed that they would come back. Most importantly, all found plenty of opportunity for meaningful connection with others that weekend.
Even though Utopia might be a pipe dream, Gratifly shows that when you have certain elements in place (nature, good people, opportunity to share and create, regular sage smudgings) even major glitches in the plan can be moved through. But the true testament to the weekend’s success is the fact that even this jaded east coast Biscuits girl can say “Yeah, I’d definitely do that again.”
Check out our Facebook Album with more photos from Gratifly.
And this AWESOME video by Compose Yourself Mag.