Surrender to the Divine Journey: A Review of ARISE Music Festival
19 Nov 2015

The Author

Profile photo of Abby Benjamin
Soulful Scorpio always chasing the next adventure in the outside world and within.


Many believe there’s an all-knowing energy that guides our human experience. This motherly force is said to put us exactly where we’re supposed to be at any given moment. Whether this concept resonates with you or not, it allows us to release the stress of yesterday and tomorrow, and live in the here and now.


In the moment at ARISE music festival

When anticipating a music festival, it’s only natural to imagine the weekend you’re going to have based on experience and friends who will be in attendance.  Over the years I’ve realized that what actually happens is a far cry from what’s envisioned- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The constants in each experience are growth, perspective, and a deeper understanding of oneself. With this in mind, I’ve learned to let go of built-up expectations.  Instead, I remember that a beautiful journey awaits me, and all I have to do is surrender to it.

My experience at ARISE festival 2015 is a perfect illustration of this idea.  A few weeks prior to the event the ARISE team sent an email announcing themes for each night: Friday was onesies, Saturday was spirit animals, and Sunday was woodland creatures.  I usually drop the ball on theme costumes, but this time I wanted to do it right. Earlier in the summer at Sonic Bloom I fell in love with a metal owl sculpture that lit on fire at night.  That weekend the sculpture led me to discover that my spirit animal is an owl.


“Hin-Han” at Sonic Bloom and ARISE 2015

Many cultures believe that each of us have a spirit animal, also referred to as totems or power animals.  Spirit animals are said to be a symbolic representation of our unique inner characteristics and dynamic.  They also serve as a spirit guide with the potential to expose different facets of ourselves and our relationships.  I had been curious about my spirit animal for years, but knew it would cosmically reveal itself when the time was right- which is exactly what happened this summer.

ARISE’s Saturday night theme inspired me to create a costume to embody my new found totem.  I relied on my basic sewing skills to manifest a bird-like creation, and reached out to artist friend Laura McGowan in the hopes that she would paint my body onsite to complete the outfit.  With Laura’s affirmation and my costume complete, I packed up the car and headed to Loveland.

When I arrived onsite the first thing I noticed was WOW, has this festival grown!  Last year the field that stretches from the venue to the reservoir was half full; this year campsites and parked cars filled the entire area.

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ARISE 2015 campgrounds

As a result, the line to get in was much longer than expected, causing my group to miss a few anticipated sets (the ReMINDers, Earth Guardians, and Ayla Nereo‘s solo set).  Instead of feeling anxiety right off the bat, I reminded myself that every moment here is part of a divine journey, and there would be plenty of great music to see.


Communal interactive nest

Once we got in and set up camp, I immediately began exploring.  On my way to the venue gates I noticed installations and communal areas set up within the campgrounds.  Beautiful teepees and decorated easy-ups with comfortable seating encouraged interaction, relaxation, and conscious conversation. They also provided great places to relax day and night.

Walking into the venue I noticed the entrance was an arch painted to look like an owl…and couldn’t help notice the coincidence.  Once inside, the growth of the festival was displayed even more.  Last year hosted one row of a few vendors, this year boasted rows and rows of vendors in every direction!  As I made my way to the main stage, my heart leaped as I saw the same metal owl sculpture from Sonic Bloom perched in the back of the field. I knew instantly that it was going to be a magical weekend.

Friday night highlights began with entrancing Emancipator and the full ensemble.  Hypnotic beats beckoned us to the Eagle stage, and together we floated in a sea of converging hearts and minds.  Emancipator’s nuanced subtlety creates an incredible amount of soul, seemingly out of thin air.


Polish Ambassador at ARISE 2015

ARISE had two main stages set up next to each other which allowed the following act to set up sooner, in turn reducing the length of set breaks. The Polish Ambassador polished off the night with an enchanting set full of samples of lovely Ayla Nereo’s voice.  I was anticipating seeing both of them at the press conference the next day and interviewing Ayla herself, so I called it an early night to get plenty of rest for a full Saturday.

I woke up early with the sun, excited to begin my transformation into a fire owl.  After dawning my red velvet creation I met up with Laura and sat patiently under her easy-up while she turned my back, shoulders, and face into a fiery masterpiece.


Fire owl transformation

Fully transformed, I headed to the media tent to catch the press conference hosting the Wildlight duo (Polish Ambassador and Ayla Nereo).  The pair is very down to earth, and the conference was fittingly focused around the Permaculture Action Tour, their environmental education initiative.  Once the conference ended I grabbed Ayla to interview her in the next room (full video interview coming soon).  I was struck by how sweet and relatable she was, and I felt very at ease asking questions about her musical journey.  Afterwards, I headed back to the venue feeling inspired and grateful to have connected with such a beautiful and talented human.

Wildlight (Polish Ambassador + Ayla Nereo) at ARISE 2015

Wildlight (Polish Ambassador + Ayla Nereo) at ARISE 2015

As I prepared for the night ahead, I realized I hadn’t seen most of the friends that I was expecting to see that weekend.  I figured there was probably a reason for this and headed to the music feeling optimistic.  Joe Russo’s Almost Dead lit up the night followed by the much anticipated Wildlight set.  I caught the first half up close before feeling an urge to wander through the crowd.  Once I found a place to nest, I noticed a gentleman in front of me wearing a huge feathered jacket and a top hat.  I tapped him on the shoulder to introduce myself and point out that I was also dressed as a bird that night.  We began chatting and I told him about my inspiration for the costume, the metal owl sculpture that seemed to be following me on my summer adventures.  He said, “That’s funny, because that’s actually my piece”.  My jaw dropped…in a crowd of thousands I bumped into the SCULPTOR who created the mystical fire owl!

After talking for a while and learning more about his work, I headed towards the owl to watch the the show under its burning firelight.  Just as I sat down, an official looking man with a radio started walking briskly towards me.  I looked at him curiously, wondering if I had done something wrong.  Once he reached us he bent down, lightly touched my arm, looked at me intently and said, “I know you”.  I recognized him as an old friend I hadn’t seen in years.  He spotted me in the dark from across the field and came over to say hello.  I asked about his official-looking getup and he explained that he was head of special projects for ARISE, making him responsible for the beautiful installations, workshops, and ceremonies!  He sat with me for a while and gave incredible insight into how the festival was put together and the overall artistic direction.  Everything from the layout of the grounds to individual crystals placed inside communal teepees were carefully thought out with positive energy in mind.  Our connection was incredibly cosmic and serendipitous!

One of many interactive installations at ARISE 2015

One of many interactive installations at ARISE 2015

I glanced at the schedule and saw that The Human Experience (David Block) was up next. I remembered him from the collaborations he’s done with Rising Appalachia, and with that familiarity alone I was compelled to check it out.  He got the late night party started with a mash-up of “Rosa Parks” by OutKast that instantly had the crowd grooving.  As the set continued I was taken on an incredible auditory journey which resonated throughout my entire being. Musically, it was a beautiful blend of original tracks with perfectly timed samples.  Energetically, it was smooth, sensual, and sexy with a serious dance party vibe thrown on top.  I was so impressed that I connected with him after the event to learn more about him and his music (full interview coming soon)!

My weekend at ARISE was very different from anything I could have imagined- and yet it was one of the most magical weekends of my life.  Even though I didn’t do the things I planned to do and didn’t see the people I planned to see, my surrender to the flow opened up the opportunity for the universe to guide my journey.  At music festivals, and in life, I encourage you to let go of any resistance you build up in your mind about things not going as planned.  Instead, have faith in your divine path, and know that you are always where you’re supposed to be.


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