Transformational Festivals: Let’s Celebrate!

It’s the dead of winter for many of us in northern climates. Though some are heading out for a winter adventure, I’m hearing more of folks getting ready to buy tickets for festivals like Burning Man, making plans for ‘festival season’, or heading south to tropical festivals.

It’s a common judgement of escapism or being in denial about the realities of our climate. But some are not escapes in the sense of ‘checking out’ or ‘running away’ from real life. Instead, they are aimed to ‘checking in’ to increase meaningful engagement and make daily lives more intentional.
Michael McCarthy’s ‘The Intentional Traveller’, offers that characteristics of an intentional action include:
(a) a desire for an outcome
(b) a belief that the action will lead to the outcome
(c) an intention to perform the action
(d) the skill to perform the action and
(e) awareness while performing the action.

From his perspective, intentionality is the opposite of ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ where kindness is randomly inserted into the status quo. By contrast, “the goal of the intentional traveler is to acquire techniques leading to conscious awareness during life’s journey, and to share them with other travelers.”
Michael McCarthy recently interviewed Sofiah Thom, co-founder and performer at Envision, a music, arts and yoga festival in Costa Rica, who makes it clear that Envision is an intentional gathering which is part of a broader festival community and movement.

Envision is one of many transformational festivals which embody a vision towards active engagement and co-creation as an intentional community. Jeet Kei Leung’s TED talk on Transformational Festivals in Vancouver (BC not WA) captures the flavour, spirit and significance of these events. Transformational festivals provide a “shared psychic space” where “urban, technological humans had stumbled back upon the most ancient of rituals” to facilitate “transformation through inspiration” towards a post-structural “ancient future culture” as an “antidote that speaks so deeply to what is missing in our modern materialist urban societies”.
For many, the ultimate of transformational festivals is Burning Man, which is big, bold and beautiful in the harsh Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Yet geographically far away in south eastern British Columbia, 10,000 ‘Shambalervlies’ (I know you’re out there) make their pilgrimage to the annual Shambhala Music Festival.

Despite its popularity, web presence and flamboyance at transformational festivals, electronica does not hold a musical monopoly. Folk festivals remain a kindred spirit among transformational festivals, though few are as large or famous as Woodstock. Blue Skies Music Festival in Ontario (Canada, not California) is such a folk festival, limited to a mere 500 enthusiastic and dedicated participants who cross their collective fingers and toes in hopes of winning the Blue Skies ticket lottery. There’s no official website, but David Scrimshaw’s unofficial Blue Skies page provides an overview (and while you’re there, check out his blog ‘Disclaimers’ and ‘Claimers’: love it!), but most of what is to be known about Blue Skies is passed through the community by word-of-mouth.

I grew up with Blue Skies as my local transformative festival, and beyond the music, festival atmosphere in the woods (and square dancing), folks like Washboard Hank (make sure you watch well past the intro) still bring a smile and a laugh.

But it wasn’t all fun and games, dancing, music and all manner of things beautiful. Like most transformational festivals, there was a strong sense of community around shared deep concerns with significant social issues in the world. I’ll never forget when Moxy Früvous played ‘the Gulf War Song’ on the main stage on Saturday night at Blue Skies in the early 90s, after which I bought their home-recorded demo cassette.

As every festival junkie (uh, I mean participant) knows, the key to the significance of the transformative festival is not the festival itself, but the ongoing integration of the transformative process into daily life. We can’t all go to festivals, all the time, and many of us wouldn’t even want to. I may not ever be up for the intensity of Burning Man. But somehow just knowing it’s there and vicariously peeking into its magnificence via Youtube captures my imagination and spirit, providing a reminder of intentionality and transformative celebration into my daily life. It isn’t the escape to a non-reality, but more to imagine and experience- even if briefly- a more vivid and colourful reality than exists in my current lived life, whether by festival, travel, video, Flickr sets, travel pictures or with music.

“In these temporary autonomous zones, where we escape for a moment from the hierarchies and agendas embedded into the very material of our mainstream consensus reality, we are freed to co-create and share the momentary realization of the liberated world we would wish to live in” (Jeet Kei Leung).

Now that’s something to celebrate!

Whether or not you participate in an organized festival, there’s plenty of reason and opportunity to create and embrace the spirit of festival and intentionality on your own transformational voyage to infuse more joy and meaning in your life.

Cheers! Caffeinated Camel

Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre), Italy
Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre), Italia

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