Symbiosis was one of Northern California’s last festivals of the summer, and it did nothing less than blow my mind and leave me with goosebumps. I had spent months keeping up with event updates: what workshops were being offered, which artists were scheduled, and what kind of delicious food I could devour. The music and workshop schedule was up a couple weeks before the event, and looking through the massive schedule on the Symbiosis website was overwhelming. I usually try to write down what musical acts and workshops I want to attend each day, but this time I knew I would just have to wait to get to the event and play it by ear.
My friend and I left Wednesday night, September 18th, for the festival. We both got off of work at 9pm, and the gates to the festival closed at 12am that night; we knew we had to drive pretty fast from our location to Oakdale to make it in before they closed the gates. When we finally made it to the festival entrance, the usual rush of excitement swept over me, and I was ready to enter another world. We were waved to parking by a dancing volunteer, and parked the car in the usual, bumpy field. Waiting in line at the box office took a while, but as soon as we got our wristbands we were ready to park our car closer to our camp. Since we were arriving early, we only had to walk our gear a few minutes to our camp. It was already past 1 in the morning, we set up our camp and went to bed; However, I already knew this was going to be an amazing time.
Thursday morning came and waking up at the Woodward Reservoir was beautiful. The reservoir was large, the temperature was already warm, and there weren’t too many camps around since it was still very early. Walking around the festival, it was clear that there were many things that were still being built. Although this may put some people off, I enjoyed watching the progression of stages and art installations. Everyone was putting passion and love into each and every stage and atmospheric eye candy, but my favorite stage to look at was the Pantheon stage. It was adorned with a couple of cushy couches and cushions, had a few small altars scattered around the floor, and warmed your heart with the crimson and earth-tones that completed the look. This stage was very eclectic as it would have poetry readings and lectures during the day, and ethnic beats at night.
Thursday night, I caught Dub Kirtan Allstars at the Cove stage. The Cove was the place to be for most of the festival. Colorful banners above the stage and dance floor provided shade, and on each side of the dance floor there were two wooden structures that people could climb and dance on; it slightly resembled the Bamboo stage at LIB. Listening to DKAs at the Cove was amazing; I love their use of chants and mantras during their sets, and while it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I swear the chanting and dancing takes your mind to a whole new level. Since DKAs was the highlight of my night and the music was ending around midnight, I chose to mosey around the scene for a while. The amount of vendors that were at Symbiosis were incredible; I am a huge shopper when going to festivals because I want to support everyone’s creative works as much as possible, and seeing the large amount of shops definitely gave me the chills- in a good way! Herbs and spices for cooking, enlightening books on spirituality, tasty and refreshing elixirs, breathable and unique clothing were just some of the many things being sold at the marketplace, and I made it a point to collect as many cards as I could.
Friday had arrived and I woke up realizing I missed Wala and her sexy-smooth beats. That’s what I get for going to bed at a decent time like a boring festival-goer. Friday was the hottest day on the reservoir, so naturally it was time to go swimming. The water was already hosting many people and their inflatable rafts, so I threw on my suit, grabbed my camp-mate’s raft, and jumped in. Having a body of water close by at any festival is wonderful, especially if you can swim in it. Seeing, hearing, feeling water is naturally calming, but when you can skip paying seven dollars for a proper shower and take an impromptu one in the reservoir, it makes it that much better. I did this every day minus the day before I left. Another pro that the reservoir had to offer was how flat the land was. I agree that many camp sites were far from the stages, but if I don’t have to kill myself hiking up and down large hills to get to my destination, everything is all good! Not to mention that you could jump into the water at almost any point of the festival grounds.
Friday’s decision was this: Plantrae or Vibesquad? I walked to the Empire of Love stage and hit up Vibesquad. The Empire of Love was a silvery, shiny, teepee-shape that was partially created using large metal cans and their detached lids. I absolutely love when production teams create something out of nothing! It seriously looked like a holy temple where it’s attendees weren’t Bible-thumping, but where bass was bumping. Vibesquad was, as usual, going off. As the Symbiosis booklet put it, Vibesquad is, “electro-crunk-gnasty-gooey-dancefloor-throbberz and 3rd eye squeegeeing down-tempo-dub-psy-hobberz.” I don’t think I could try to explain it better than that. Many bodies were enchanting the dance floor with their moves, and looking around, I could tell there was a a huge smile adorning my face just like the other people who were dancing around me.
The next spot to hit was the Cove so I could catch Gaudi. Gaudi’s ethnic sounds makes you feel like you’re wandering through a tropical forest that is throwing psychedelic images into your brain each step you take. Since it was already night time, the Cove was lit-up, the crowd was vibrant, and all I could find myself doing was sitting on the hill above the Cove with closed eyes, letting the music take my mind where it needed to be. Behind me, artists were painting their masterpieces and a huge metal structure in the shape of a wolf held festival-goers watching from a distance.
Saturday morning was starting to appear, and I was at the Cove again to see Russ Liquid’s set. The sunrise as well as the sunsets at Woodward were always awe-inspiring, and when you add tasty tunes to the mix, everything was perfect. Russ Liquid is an artist who incorporates lives instrumentals into his sets, and that is always something I enjoy in any set. There is something to be said about seeing music being made in action; it is definitely inspiring. His music just makes me feel warm and cozy, like I am sitting in a vintage smoking lounge letting jazzy tunes take me away.
After going back to camp, sleeping, and taking my morning dip in the water, the weather started to change. The wind picked up, the clouds rolled in, and my camp mates and I sat under the EZ-Up for a few hours, trying to find the gusto to start our day. When we finally did manage to get ourselves together, it started raining, then we heard the thunder and saw the lightning. We had already gotten past the dome called the Movement Shala where numerous dance and yoga classes were held throughout the day and night, and since we knew were weren’t going to go any further, we grabbed some food and went back to camp soaking wet. I couldn’t complain too much since I had a hot, crispy, gooey grilled cheese and spicy, Cajun garlic fries, all from the Hal’s Cajun Queen booth. Honestly, it was the only booth I ate at the whole time. Prices were super reasonable, and everything was hot, tasty, and unique.
Because of the sudden storm, which I enjoyed, the schedules for everything got a little screwy. The storm took a little while to pass; light to heavy showers were coming and going, the wind would die down and then pick up, but it eventually faded and then stopped. It was time to see Pumpkin at the Juke Shack! My camp and I were all big Pumpkin lovers, so when we got to the Shack, it was about to go off. I thought Pumpkin could have been at a larger stage because there were lots of people crammed onto the Shack’s dance floor, but the closeness was also very communal. The Juke Shack reminded me of Dorothy’s Kansas house from The Wizard of Oz. It had a rustic vibe, and as Pumpkin was on the porch, dancers were inside of the little house, dancing in the windows and photographers were taking pictures of the audience through the house’s picket fence. Dancing to Pumpkin with everyone was a definite highlight; I am a remix fan, and being able to sing along to well-known anthems is such a good time. It’s priceless looking at your unknown neighbor and singing your heart out with someone you don’t know, but are connected with through music.
After Pumpkin, it was time to get ready for Sound Tribe Sector 9. I re-fueled, wandered the shops, sat down at my camp for a while, and then headed back out to catch them at the Big Island stage. The Big Island was the farthest stage, but the trail leading to it was decorated with art, art structures, and rainbow lights. While the Big Island only housed a few acts throughout the weekend, STS9 was the best it had. The lights and production of their show were amazing, and the sound encompassed my body to the point where it literally felt like the sound waves were hugging me. As previously mentioned, I think instrumentals are the business, and STS9 doesn’t lack instrumentals whatsoever. With guitar, keys, percussion, bass, keyboard, and drums,they musically cover everything. Dancing to the electronic rock sounds of STS9 is an experience that should be had by all. Their hard work and energy initiates excitement and energy in the audience to dance their faces off, and seeing a group collaborate so well to create something to beautiful encompasses what festivals are all about.
Saturday came and went, and Sunday, the last full festival day, arrived. I woke up to sounds of Random Rab, and was excited for the day, knowing I would get an ear full of DMT-inspired Shpongle. I walked to a workshop held in the Rainbow Dome and participated in some chanting with Kundalini mantras which uplifted me and filled the air with unconditional love. After, I filled my belly with a massive crab cake sandwich from the Cajun Queen booth and walked the marketplace one last time to see what I really wanted to purchase. Walking over to the Cove, I could already see people crowding the dance floor, climbable wooden structures, and hillside to get a good view of Simon Posford’s set. Before he came on, The Akal Project were performing a beautiful song and dance routine that had everyone captivated. Since I arrived at the Cove towards the end of their routine, and am of pretty small stature, I didn’t get to see much, but what I did see I loved. As soon as the routine ended, it was only minutes until Posford appeared. I wiggled my way forward and ended up at the very front of the stage with no one in front of me except for a couple of photographers and Posford himself. His music took me to another level; I was so incredibly excited to listen to Shpongle, and everyone else around me on the dance floor had huge smiles on their faces and were moving their bodies with absolutely no inhibitions. It also triggered a warm feeling seeing Posford sing, smile, and wave to the crowd as everyone sent him all of their energy and love. After over an hour of bubbly, psychedelic beats and vibes, I felt as though I should give someone else my spot up front, so I swam through the ocean of people around the stage, found my camp mates perched on the hillside, and continued to enjoy some Shpongle for at least another hour. As the sun was going down, this was the time everyone brought out their Flowtoys, hoops, and in-progress art creations; the atmosphere was spot-on.
A while after Shpongle, I went back to the Cove to see Emancipator; tons of people were still at the Cove, and as I listened to his smooth melodies, I looked to my right and noticed a therapist giving people massages on her fold-out massage table not far from the stage. It was perfect. My energy was starting to lessen so I laid on the hillside for a while, then got up and walked to Birds of Paradise at the Pantheon. I realized I needed to go to bed very soon because my eyes were closing and getting heavier, but I didn’t want the night to end, for I knew the next day I would be heading back to the “real world.” A couple camp mates and I headed back for camp, and I passed out like a tired baby.
Monday morning was here, and I started to pack up my gear early so I could be ready to head out before the traffic got too heavy. Before I left the festival though, I headed back over to the Pantheon and watched Thriftworks. I got a burst of energy when I got to the stage, and I have to say, it was the perfect set for me to leave Symbiosis with. The sounds I heard were surreal and I felt as though I was jumping around in some kind of Super Mario-type land. Everyone around me didn’t seem to be dragging, but refreshed and social. Groups of people were sitting and talking on the Pantheon floor, others dedicated that morning to dancing, and some were trying to sell or gift the last of their handmade crafts. I felt satisfied walking away after Thirftworks even though I knew I was about to head home, and I had this unexplainable love bubble building up in my chest.
Symbiosis 2013 was my last festival of the summer and I am nothing but grateful for the people that helped put this incredible festival together. There was so much to do at all hours of the day and night, and the community vibe was on point. I made tons of new friends, and you know you’ve had a great night when someone you do not know whatsoever approaches you and says, “You definitely look like someone I need a hug from right now.” The spectrum of colors, lights, mind-blowing art, comforting food, innovative creations, and excited people were all a part of an amazing experience that everyone should take part in at least once, and it was something I am so grateful to end my summer with. I will definitely be back next year.
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