Traveling cultural and music festival Symbiosis Gathering celebrated its 11th year at Woodward Reservoir Regional Park near Oakdale, California, on September 22-25, 2016. Technically, the festival started a few days earlier for those more interested in attending talks and workshops and wishing to skip the wilder weekend activities.
It being a camp-friendly venue and festival, a high number of attendees arrived on opening day Thursday hoping to get a prime camping spot that unfortunately created a large jam at the box office entrance. Many people were stuck in cars for several hours to get in. The longest I heard of someone waiting in line was twelve hours.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait in any line as I was only able to make it on Sunday. That obviously meant I missed most of the festival. Since it was the festival’s final day, mixed emotions filled the atmosphere. Some attendees were sad to see the festival ending. Some were still energetic and excited to maximize what little time they had left there. Others were simply content.
This was my first SG so I had had no expectations going into the day except that it was going to be hot. Despite my best efforts with staying in the shade and continually slathering on sunblock, I still got slight sunburns. I’m sure many of those in swimwear (or in even less) got it worse, especially those hanging out in the water all day (i.e., skinny dipping).
Art surrounded the festival grounds as light fixtures, drinking water fountains, and signs. It was hard not to notice or be in awe with the sheer creativity of their creators. My favorite was a both figurative and literal world globe that actually rotated so its shadow would always differ in the “rotating” sun.
Anthropologist Wade Davis was a big fixture during the festival as he gave multiple talks about his research into exploring cultures around the world from previously uncontacted tribes in South America to spending years living in the Pacific Islands. Davis spoke much about what we still can learn from “primitive” cultures and how they co-exist with nature and their surroundings and the immediate and long-term implications with moving forward in unsustainable manners.
Dr. Vandana Shiva followed up with a compelling talk about sustainability and its implications on justice and peace around the world. Her talk on “Earth Democracy” centered on how environmental and political injustice (e.g., Citizens United, NAFTA, legal and judicial ramifications of genetically modified seeds) creates conflict which ultimately results in the needless suffering of billions of people. One specific point she discussed was how inequitable agricultural policies in Libya directly contributed to its current civil war and the displacement of millions of refugees, which she guaranteed isn’t typically mentioned in the mass media.
Tyler Hanson spoke about the current state of festivals and how to produce them. While light on the true logistics of planning festivals, Hanson was otherwise very informative about what it takes to truly create what he calls “temporary city building” and taking care of these temporary residents.
Aside from the constant electronic dance music being performed by the dozens of DJs invited to take over three different stages, music on the other spectrums were light. I don’t think that deficit was lost on others as the Family Circus tent was packed for the Rising Appalachia show. The Leah and Chloe Smith-led band performed a range of global folk songs they learned from their travels, including “Calling Me Home” and “Find Your Way.” New Orleans-born “St. James Infirmary” was a personal favorite.
Unfortunately, music seems somewhat marginalized even though it was tough to not hear even a single beat on any part of the festival grounds–some music stages were “on” all day and night long.I use “marginalized” because it seemed like even the showcased artists weren’t being properly advertised. I couldn’t count how many times I was asked who was performing at the big “Fringe” stage by either the uninformed or not sober. It might be my bias talking but these main performers totally rocked it, and it was a shame not many people showed up to see them.
Art rock trio Hundred Waters was one of these bands as they produced some truly thoughtful sounds (“Cavity” and “Show Me Love”) and genuinely head-rocking beats. Oh Wonder was another band that deserved a bigger audience, but I don’t think there was a single dissatisfied person who was there that didn’t enjoy OW’s low-key electropop. From the opening “Livewire” to “Dazzle” to closing with “Technicolour Beat,” the British duo performed a welcome calming change to the near-constant immediate stimulation that the scorching day provided.
British singer-songwriter soloist FKA Twigs helped closed out the festival to the ironmen and ironwomen who were still left dancing, let alone standing. Afterwards, fortunately, there was still music left to be performed for those still wanting to party late until into the morning. I just hope they didn’t have to work on Monday.