Written & Photographed By: MysterE
Once in a lifetime or so, a full moon falls on a summer solstice.
And with a nearly full moon a few hours before the longest day of the year, the What The Festival invites the Shakti team to make the trek and report the experience through the lens of my seasoned festivarian eye; I’m curious how many of these festival goers will remember this event as a once in a lifetime occurrence. For what is a transformational festival anyway, but an opportunity for an expanded relationship with ourselves, the environment, and those around us in a condensed place and time?
Located an easy two-hour drive from Portland, we get the feeling on the way, that we are leaving everything behind. The drive takes us from freeways to highways, to country roads before turning to gravel, through the ever shifting landscapes of the Mount Hood National Forest. A few times we question our directions, but only because we are feeling so removed from the world and are ready to boogie.
We arrive at the entrance Saturday afternoon and are met with big smiles and an even bigger question: – “Do you have a ticket? If not, you’ll have to turn around.” A good sign – it is sold out and the staff is still friendly.
After checking in to receive our wristbands, our first impressions are positive. We find the staff to be incredibly alert and concerned with our well-being, but without any urgency. We walk into the festival with wonder, taking in the sights, smells and sounds. The vibe is relaxed and inviting. We choose to wander with open hearts and let our experience dictate our schedule.
It is busy, but not oversold. The camping is naturally spread out with two main vending areas – each with diverse food and drink options supporting the crowd. Everything feels organized, but lends itself to spontaneity. Electronic music is the flavor of our afternoon as we explore the fringes of the festival, naturally flowing from one experience to the next.
The crowd is young, curious and alive – the crowd is 18+ predominately pacific northwesterners — we are met by attendees, artists, staff and vendors alike inviting us into their dance, including an improvisational duel with an oversized bear, (I lost), climbing and shaking it on top of scaffolding on top of the Tech Tonic school bus, (we jammed), and lifestyle consultations by the vendors about clothing and accessories, (we bought). People here were free in their expression and comfortable in their own skin, leaving them curiously inclined to play in each moment.
Following the thump, thump, thump of the music, we are drawn to the main festival grounds which are elevated from vending and camping with two large stages on either end of a giant open field framed by mountain wilderness. In the middle is a great mirrored disco ball which stands well overhead inviting people to gather and reflect on the beauty around us.
Still exploring before dark, we find our way to the (not quite yet) Illuminated Forest – a network of trails, art exhibits, smaller stages and surprises which borders the main field. It is set in a hollow-like area, making this incredible scene of melding natural and human worlds complete.
Feeling like we have properly scoped out the festival, we go back to our camp for dinner and warmer clothing. Making our way back to the music, we load up on some sweet authentic chai from Java GoGo to get ready for dancing.
As the nearly full moon rises, we begin our musical journey at the WTF main stage with Lido who put on an amazing solo electronica performance highlighted by his drumming, then off to Thievery Corporation, who delighted the crowd with renditions of Outrageous Illumination, Shadows and Depth of My Soul – and whose set seemed to have an extra funky element as a giant neon-lit spider, (the Galactic Arachnid) weaves her magic above the dancing crowd.
After Thievery finishes their set all too soon, the crowd meanders like streams from a melting glacier. We flow to an entrance of the Illuminated forest – and its clear the magic below is only heightened in the dark. Before dropping in, we bow reverently to the mighty metal Earth Dragon breathing fire above our heads, to make our way to the remarkable screened-in fire pits. Our sweating bodies against the coolness of the night welcomes this gathering spot of warmth. We find even more happy faces here as we share some hot chocolate we got on round two at Java and get passed some herbal medicine to smoke.
It’s well after midnight now as the Illuminated Forest invites us into her mystic ways of unbridled creativity. We slowly walk the weaving trails dotted with art installations and colorful lighting. The passionate sounds of Stellamara draw us into a comforting spot at Shinto A-GoGo stage. It’s the perfect place to begin winding down from the big stage atmosphere to enjoy something more intimate as lead singer Sonja Drakulich mesmerizes the smaller crowd with her devotional music. A belly dancer offers a performance as traditional as the music itself demanding the crowd pause to behold every subtle movement of her hands and hips; mesmerizing all with her expression of divine feminine beauty.
Afterward, we slowly make our way back to camp, taking in the revelry and comfort of the scene. It has been a perfect day – we are neither in a hurry for, nor quite ready for bed.
Sunday morning, we shift focus to explore the personalities and workshop offerings of the festival – again allowing our hearts to guide our experience. “Why are you here?” becomes the inquiry.
We order breakfast from Happy Go Lucky Crepes and sit down with some fellow festival goers at a picnic table. The food is wonderful and the company even better. We offer to share our fresh juice we made before leaving Portland of carrot, ginger, turmeric and lemon.
What The Festival attendee, Camille Lucas enlightens us: “Transformational festivals have changed me. Last year, What The Fest was my first festival ever, and then everything in my life fell into place. My creativity blossomed and now everything is so much better. Festivals are teaching us to trust what is inside, to trust creating our dreams. I now have belief that my dreams can come true.”
Her friend, Alex Curtis adds the following: “I was curious after hearing great things about this festival. I wanted to dance my ass off and feel the vibes – but most importantly I wanted to walk around as myself and be accepted in my self expression. The bottom line about these festivals is that people are a lot more open to connect, especially here.”
On the way from breakfast, we make our way back to the Illuminated Forest, known by day as the Woodlands where on this Sunday morning, the quietness of the forest is soothing to the soul after a long boisterous night. We treat ourselves to two workshops, stopping to visit with other festival goers, and investigate more closely the art installations.
Kortney Moore – “I went to Lightning in a Bottle last month, and then I came here to be totally free. In the real world, I feel people’s resistance to connecting in the way that is so natural here. Here I feel safe.”
After speaking with Kortney, we arrived at Love Yourself Yoga – taught by Maddie Phillips. Maddie has at least thirty people doing yoga in the cascading morning light on the same platforms on which people were dancing the night before. Gone now is any sense of wildness, and peace fills our hearts.
Adjacent to the yoga glass is Catalyst – a contemplative art piece. I feel invited to sit and write in the accompanying journal, which I learn is going to be burned at Burning Man. This instillation seems to serve as a calm space in an otherwise chaotic environment and I must say, it’s working it’s magic.
On to the Hug Life Workshop – taught by Spades. We are watching about 40 people having variable experiences with hugging, and it seems more than appropriate that this workshop is happening here and now. Quoting Spades, “Hugging can be like Zen, bringing you into the moment when you breathe with it.”
We stop to admire The Cosmic Messenger, a metal winged horse whose many facets are inscribed by the chalk-holding hands of festival messengers. I can see her gracefully delivering these many prayers into the cosmos – as the morning sun is reflecting off of her flanks into the earth and stars.
Emerging from the woods back at the festival grounds, we sense the morning quietness is giving way to a more boisterous afternoon as most of the festival goers seem to be awake and ready for more. We grab some mochas at Bella Luna Coffee and head out re-energized, stopping to chat with members of the What The Fest Green team – those gladly responsible for the trash, composting and recycling efforts of the festival. They are dedicated, friendly and having a blast.
We find that more is now happening at the Splash Stage, where three 12” deep large pools of water are placed inside an expansive rectangular deck bordered with sand. It’s an epic beach scene which seems strangely at place here in the mountains. DJ Kitten has the morning started off right, and gives way to Evan Alexander, who brings the capacity crowd to its joy potential with a raucous set of electronica. We notice the signs and banners people are holding in the crowds are works of art… testaments to the genius and freedom of the festival goers themselves.
Delightfully meandering, we find ourselves drawn to the vendor booth of “The Fancy Shop of Important Things,” with creative geniuses Evan Fife (milliner) and Michael Eakin (clothier) of Lost Boy Rags.
Evan relates to us his experience, “This is a great crowd. Amazing openness, and from a different perspective than I was used to. I came here five years ago for the first What The Festival as a food vendor and ended up selling hats. Now, that’s all I do, I love it and business is very good.” Michael echos his sentiment about being fortunate enough to be “creating a lifestyle that supports my life, rather than a business to support me.”
As the day moves on, we find ourselves deeply enchanted with the art, the music and people – spontaneously moving with the flow of the festival. Stopping frequently at such places, including the art installation of doors near the Heart of the Forest, and the Registroid, which can only be described at old school drugstore cash register deejaying.
We are offered two polaroid photos of us in the afternoon. One at the Magical Photo Rickshaw and one while sitting on the grass by festival attendee Andy Beatman who like us, is watching a riveting set of afternoon music by World’s Finest at the Equinox Day Stage.
Andy tells us: “I just moved from Boston to Seattle eight months ago and for us, it is all about lifestyle. I have been to lots of festivals – and have heard how great What The Fest is, so it was inevitable that we’d end up here. I mean look at this place, its like a summer camp! We love how this event lends itself to connectivity. Stage or sky, doesn’t matter which… It’s amazing.”
True dat! What a perfect interaction to end our exploration.
The impression What The Fest leaves on its attendees all around…
Transformational Festivals are playing a large and vital part of the cultural regeneration of humanity for a more purposeful and sustainable world. What people experience at these gatherings are the seeds for growing a better life for themselves and humanity and the planet.
What the Fest is emerging as a leader in the culture of these festivals. As we imagine the impact of all these people going back into their ‘real lives’ and sharing their experience, we are encouraged. For what does anyone value more than feeling safe in one’s expression and connecting authentically?
Shakti Yogi Journal highly valued:
Community & Setting. The crowd is polite, festive and easy-going. The gathering lends itself to connectivity. It is like Summer Camp – enough said!
Organization & Safety. Impossible to get lost, and highly likely to find adventure. The staff is perfectly invisible – except when required. The facilities are clean and everything is working well.
Artistic Freedom. From the attendees, to the performers and most certainly the artists – the creativity is incredible. Bravo!
Shakti Yogi Journal highly enjoyed:
1. Music Quality – there are musicians and bands from many genres and backgrounds playing at various venues to suit multiple tastes.
2. Vending – exceptional people and artisans in alignment with the festival.
3. Food choices and quality – Also in alignment and high quality.
4. Diversity in all areas – however we wonder about the absence of children and elders.
Shakti Yogi Journal would offer the challenge for What The Fest to do even better next year and #BeTheChange by the following:
+++ Go to zero waste. You’ve established yourself as dedicated to your cause and being leaders of consciousness, so go for it. It’s vital.
+++ Bring in more ceremony and make it visible. We loved the open fires, but longed for something even more grounded.
+++ Value transformational yoga and workshops even more. We feel there is main stage potential for high end teachers to share their wisdom.
All in all, What The Fest is a once in a lifetime experience for us. We leave feeling inspired with open hearts, and for the exquisite journey being with all of you.
SYJ-Highly recommended for people who want to be in an all adult atmosphere with a small-family Burning Man feel and a big heart and a large Mount Hood siting and possible Sasquatch abduction. Visit their website and watch for special alerts on early ticket prices for 2017!