In a saturated festival market, where lineups and themes start to blur into eachother, you have to pick wisely. This year’s 10 year Re:Union of Symbiosis was my big pick of the summer, and I was not disappointed. I had not attended a Symbiosis event since the legendary 2009 Symbiosis in Yosemite, and I couldn’t wait to Re:Unite with this magical family. The Symbiosis production crew always delivers with a style and class that is hard to match. I know this because I have had the pleasure of attending 4 Symbiosis festivals, first in 2006 and 2007 in Angels Camp, California and then in 2009 in Yosemite, California (this was an amazing venue for a festival). I’ve also been to the same crew’s 2007 Zero Ground party at the Regency Center in San Francisco and one of their epic Yuris Night parties at NASA’s Ames Research Center. All of these are on the top of my list of favorite events ever.
Over time I’ve witnessed the beautiful evolution of this amazing production team and the insane amount of love and attention to detail they put into every aspect of the party experience. It is incredible that they have been able to stay true to their original vision as the festivals grow and more people show up each year. From 2006 in Angels Camp to the present 2015 Re:Union, I have been consistently blown away because the team some how manages to book some of the best electronic music producers in the world, and even gets them to try out new things that they may have never done before. One of this year’s rare treats was the second ever appearance of Crying Over Porcelain, a downtempo project by Edit and Ooah of the Glitch Mob.
These days, it’s easy to throw together a festival line up that will bring in the masses, and we are at the point where the same names keep popping up year after year. Symbiosis’ ability to keep its finger on the pulse of the counterculture is truly impressive- they draw not only on the best of the old school names, but they always introduce us to something fresh and awesome as well. This relevance is what keeps a loyal family coming back year after year. It can be hard to keep these values in a festival as it grows, the corporate sponsors move in, then the beer gardens and more mainstream acts, and finally a crowd that is far from the love and respect that you will find at Symbiosis.
This all isn’t to say that Symbiosis hasn’t had its fair share of challenges, but they always seek out and obviously do their best to incorporate attendee feedback, even issuing a festival survey immediately following each festival.
This year’s obvious problems were ones that can easily be fixed in the future. The porta-potties were some of the worst I have ever seen (and I have been to Bonaroo the year it rained and they couldn’t get into the festival to clean them for 2 days). From what I understand this was not entirely the festival’s fault but also had to do with the company in charge. There also simply were not enough food vendors for the number of people in attendance. While the selection was great, when it takes 45 min to get a simple salad you have a problem. Shout out to the Poutine Your Mouth truck which delivered fast and delicious poutine night after night. Lastly, there were sound issues. Bass driven acts were in time slots which were affected by noise ordinances. It was painful trying to enjoy Gladkill, Dimond Saints, and Thriftworks with no bass what so ever. This is something that could have been considered ahead of time so that fans of those particular artists didn’t get shafted. Thankfully the sound was perfect for the sunrise sets or I may be a little more than annoyed. Also, please put all of the advertised headliners on the schedule, so Tipper fans don’t miss Tipper’s epic sunrise set.
Other than these hiccups it was a perfect weekend, and I was able to have one of the best festival experiences I have ever had. I’m going to try to convey what I experienced in the different areas of the festival that really stood out to me.
First of all, the art was in line with any Burning Man I have attended- big, powerful, and interactive!!! We ventured into the main festival grounds on the first night, in total amazement of the sheer size and scale of some of the installations. I was particularly happy to see all three of the new brass sculptures by mars-1 in person. I also recognized the flaming spheres sculpture, and the baby legs jungle-gym from the playa (if you know the artists, please shout them out in the comments!). The Psyport, a pulsating portal by Carey Thompson, welcomed viewers to the world of visionary art in the Mova Gallery (curated by the master Andrew Jones). I have watched the evolution of Carey Thompson’s work starting with the Dymethol Temple at Burning Man in 2005 to the present Psyport and I love that he is getting the attention a praise that he deserves from doing large scale installations at world class festivals such as Boom in Portugal and Envision in Costa Rica.
The Drift was a floating Island Tree house with slides that shot you off into the water while a DJ in a treetop booth catered to a raging dance party below. A rope-operated ferry taxied you to and from the shore, or you could swim right up to this incredible installation. On Sunday we ventured over to enjoy an epic old school gangster rap dance party while escaping the heat and getting our swim on. This was an experience like no other.
Another installation that was unlike anything I have ever seen was Further, designed by Warren Binder and Nils Volkmar Hammerbeck and there team of hard working volunteers. It was a hand made wooden amphitheater where, over the weekend we would be able to watch artists Damon Soule, Oliver Vernon, Mars-1, David Choong Lee, And NoME Edoona collaborate on a giant psychedelic painting. It became a hub for us throughout the week to get some shade and relax while we watched these world class artists do what they do best. Underneath the amphitheater seating were Kasbah-like tea rooms, hammocks, and giant-crystal altars.
Finally, no Symbiosis event would be complete without the beautiful work of Shrine On. From the Japanese style temple stage at the 2009 festival to the Empire of Love and the Re:Union Palace at this years gathering, Shrine On has graced these events with completely recycled sacred spaces. I have had some of the most powerful sunrises of my life in the presence of his art, Tippers sunrise set this year being one of them.
Every stage this year was a delight in itself. The Spring Stage featured hand made mouse-trap style water mills which drip irrigated hanging plants. Floating fabric diamonds created a vortex shooting out of the Big Island stage. Crystalline structures made up a temple-like Grotto stage. No detail was ignored, resulting in a truly amazing visual experience. Notably, the stages and musical artists did not make use of any digital or LCD screens, which was a purposeful break from our already screen-filled lives. This created an organic feel that was refreshing, and a nice reminder that you can bring it back to basics and still create a highly visually appealing stage. Screen’s can be a major distraction from the music and your surroundings. And while all the stages were water front, Swimbiosis definitely boasted the most Bass, Boobs, and Butts over the weekend.
The spring stage was where I personally enjoyed the most music. Crying Over Porcelain was my favorite performance of the weekend. I saw the premiere of this beautiful downtempo project for the first time in 2009, it was my favorite moment of the whole festival. Seeing them on this year’s lineup pretty much sealed the deal for me. While I was extremely tired before they came on, as soon as they took the stage my energy was restored, and my early morning hippie aerobics were expressed in full form.
As the sunrise poured beautiful golden light over the Woodward Reservoir and the beautiful music filled the air I realized I was surrounded by people I love, some friends that I had not seen in 5 or 6 years where all around me, and many awesome power hugs where exchanged. In that moment I fully realized that this was a family Re:Union. There were even people who’s names I do not know, but who’s beautiful faces I recognize from sharing many sunrise sets with from Burning Man to mountain tops in Colorado. It was a powerful, life-affirming experience for me. The energy in the air was palpable and everyone brought their A-game dance moves- like a glitched-out psychedelic soul train.
Some other acts I don’t usually get to see and was blown away by include The Acid, Bob Moses, Coco Rosie, and Sylvan Esso. Just the quality and diversity of that list right there is a testament to Symbiosis’ unique abilities when it comes to crafting a lineup that has something for everyone.
This year featured two amazing sunrise sets, the second by the one and only Tipper. The stage was built and the speakers brought in right before his set, with the Last Tree Standing sculpture by Bernard Blacksmith on one side and Shrine On’s Re:Union Palace on the other side. Tipper’s downtempo material, which usually comes out for sunrise sets, is some of my favorite electronic music around. It speaks to me in a way that heals and soothes my soul while at the same time gets me to move my body in ways nothing else does. Tipper has been a part of some transformative experiences in my life, including meeting my girlfriend of 3 years in the middle of a Tipper crowd. Watching the sunrise over the lake and all the beautiful people moving their bodies to the alien beats was a beautiful experience that only the Symbiosis crew knows how to manifest. Thanks to them for creating the space for such a magical moment. (PS: Smoking DMT on a boat in the water, or at least on the shore, would have made for a much more meaningful blast off than standing in the middle of a huge crowd of people who would rather not have their nostrils raped by your DMT second-hand smoke. Just sayin’!)
The thing that I love about festivals like Symbiosis and LIB are the workshops, having the option to sit down in the shade and learn something is a great gift to the festival community.
I really enjoyed all the late night stuff that was at the Hub, like Tourettes Without Regrets, and The Feud, which was a take on family feud with an Illuminati and sacrificial cult twist to it. It even had commercial break talking about Kim Kardashian’s reality TV Ayahuasca experience, and America’s Next Top Shaman.
I didn’t catch as many talks as I would have liked this year, mostly because the water was the only place I wanted to be during the hot dusty days, but The Hub’s central location made it easy to hear speakers while you waited for food or chilled in the shade. The design of The Hub was visually stunning with a bamboo tower in the middle that had purple, blue and yellow cloth radiating out from the center creating a beautiful place to rest your bones and re-energize after a long night of getting funky. The Yes Men, Amy Goodman, Rob Breszny, and Saul Williams are some of the memorable people we did hear at The Hub. I have seen many an inspiring talk by creative individuals who I would otherwise never have gotten to see thanks to the growth of this multi-faceted festival model, and for that I am grateful.
As the final day came to a close on Sunday night Rigzin took the stage and, through a series of Tibetan mantras and prayers, she guided us in a ceremony designed to awaken us to divine service from a Tibetan Buddhist stand point. As the dancers circled around her she stood completely still and sang beautiful prayers. It was the perfect way to end the festival and left me with a feeling of inspiration. The Grateful Dead lyrics “Inspiration move me brightly” came to mind because the feeling I had was that I had just been a part of something really beautiful and I was inspired to bring it out into the world. As Android Jones said after his Phadroid set “Take this feeling you have right now, and do something good with it” (a little thing he probably learned from Mickey Hart). I plan to do something good with what I received this weekend.
If you’ve yet to attend a Symbiosis event, fret not, because it’s all going down again in Oregon for the 2017 Eclipse. Given this production team’s track record, I am confident they will build an even more mind blowing experience, growing organically and not losing a connection to their core.
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