Editor’s Note: Most of us involved in festival culture are familiar to the tension between escape and engagement, recreation and sacrament, consumption and creation. We publish Eugene’s personal account of his festival experience from last summer not because we condone his personal decisions, but to provide insight into the experience of many young people attending these events – opening up to transformational experiences without the wisdom of elders or an adequate container. This is not an apology or an alarm. This is an invitation to step inside and understand. Names have been changed to protect someone’s privacy.
The author can be contacted here.
“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry ‘Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!’”
–Thomas Parke D’Invilliers
a.k.a. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
My experience at Sonic Bloom Festival 2012 really began with the ride up to Georgetown, Colorado, in the Front Range directly west of Denver. I carpooled on Thursday, June 21, with my friend Greg*, a fellow representative of the Evolver Network, and Jonathan Zap, a writer and philosopher whose work I had read on Reality Sandwich. Greg and I shared our perceptions of how Catholicism had affected us while growing up, and this segued into a discussion of belief systems. Jonathan talked about the idea – or the myth, as he put it – that you can create your own reality, in light of his own philosophy of dynamic paradoxicalism. He said this myth might help someone at a music festival, but not so much if, for instance, you had been a Jew in Warsaw when the Nazis invaded Poland. Jonathan struck me as a no B.S. kind of guy, and I liked his ideas. He seemed completely at peace with the realization that “the opposite of a profound truth is often another profound truth.”
The idea of shaping your own reality is one of the most controversial topics I’ve encountered since entering this counter culture scene – but it would play an important role in my time at Sonic Bloom. Around that same time I found the psychological concept of the “locus of control.” People with an internal locus of control perceive themselves to be in command of their own lives and their well-being, while people with an external locus perceive that control to be outside of themselves. Throughout most of my life, I’ve been stuck with an external locus, suffering under whatever circumstances presented themselves to me.
Greg and I had over-packed and had to carry at least four loads of material from the car for our personal camp and the Evolver booth. In the Colorado high desert, temperatures tended towards the upper 80s during the day, very sunny and dry – with relieving temps in the 50s or 60s arriving only late into the evening. We set up the Evolver station on the south end of the main bridge across the river – what would turn out to be a central hub on the festival grounds. The hope in representing Evolver was to get people involved with our “spore” back in the Front Range, or to inspire them to create their own. Then the idea was to network and connect different sustainability projects and transformative groups, to grow the communities of the future from within the current failing system – or at they put it, “Building community for the new planetary culture.”
Next we found a small grove of trees in what would soon become Tent City and made a temporary homestead for ourselves. We pitched tents for five people, since our friends would be joining us the next day, on Friday. I strung up a hammock for us to use – a clutch item at any music festival. We ran into Dosha, a friend I had met at Neoformia, a Burning Man regional event in Colorado two weeks prior. She attended Sonic Bloom as a “green team” volunteer. We told her about our plans to experiment with psychedelics, and she recommended to always return to the music as a source of grounding and balance. She also told us that she brought 5-HTP, which reportedly helps synthesize more serotonin, the neurotransmitter temporarily depleted by psychedelics like LSD or MDMA. I later saw online reports that describe it as an over-the-counter anti-depressant.
Knowing that Bonobo would perform a headline DJ set on Thursday, Greg and I prepared to take acid that night. I had never tried LSD before that month, even though I eagerly (and fearfully) wondered about it for over a decade. This would be my second experiment with the famed molecule. I consumed two hits of blotter acid, Greg ate three – and it quickly unfolded into the kind of experience for which no one ever could have prepared me. I found Bonobo’s set to be chaotic – ever-changing and amorphous. If I moved too close to the stage, I felt my whole existence dissolving. I kept drifting to sit at the nearby pond, where I focused on my breathing and repeatedly reminded myself that I had taken acid (it’s easy to forget). The pond’s surface looked calm, and the whole scene – a natural body of water with multicolored lights reflected on the surface and shining in the surrounding trees – gave me a secure, grounded feeling.
Each time I went to check in with Greg, I could barely speak. He kept taking on the appearance of my uncle and grandfather, but an animated amalgam of both people. And since I had on a green hula skirt and pink boa, among other strange apparel, Greg said I reminded him of a gypsy woman he knows. The acid seemed to be activating some unconscious archetypal pattern in our psyches and projecting it onto the other person present. We did run into a few other people we knew, but I think we both felt a bit of awkwardness in not knowing whether the people around us were also on drugs – or on the same drugs that we had ingested. More specifically, we saw Felicity, whom we had met once or twice back at home. She was an incredible dancer with a hip-hop flavor to her movement – totally un-self-conscious and liberated. She half-congratulated us for going all-out by dosing the first night. But Greg and I were so non-verbal that I, at least, felt creepy standing around her. I spent some time lying in the Evolver booth watching swarms of people pass by on that main thoroughfare. There was a fearful energy in the air that night, since authority figures with flashlights walked around on constant patrol. Were they armed police officers, unarmed festival staff members – or maybe aliens visiting from another solar system? I’m still not really sure.
I had arrived at Sonic Bloom with a fresh case of heartache from a recently dissolved romance with Kara, a girl back home. I couldn’t have known in advance that the acid would take that piercing feeling in my heart and ramp it up to the level of a temporary madness. I quickly lost track of cause and effect. Was Bonobo’s music really so amorphous and chaotic? Was it the acid? (This substance seemed to offer a less specific message than mushrooms.) Or was all of this an amplification of my already shattered heart? Greg must have tired of my constant yapping about it. I had a tendency to fixate on relationships, and it was worse than usual that night. Lying in my tent trying to sleep, my sleeping bag felt like a straight jacket restricting my movement. I unwillingly visualized Kara with her new guy. I sobbed in despair, wanting to scream and burn the world down. It wasn’t just the acid; this was a familiar state for me. I recalled some advice from a local guru to feel it fully and let it pass through me instead of blocking it. It didn’t help.
For the first time in my embodied experience, I had the sense not only of the self observing the self in a single loop (i.e., basic self-reflection) – but of the self observing the self observing the self in infinite loops. I could call this enlightening, but also very alarming.
Later on Friday morning, I sought out Dosha for her 5-HTP. I took two capsules, and it did seem to make me feel more balanced. I suddenly had a direct sense of the way simple biochemistry can amplify or dampen my waves of emotions. My new friend Phil arrived on Friday afternoon, as well as Greg’s then-fiancée Julia and their friend Sidney. It was my first time meeting Sidney, and she exhibited a rather prickly energy at first. I heard she had just finished a stressful week of class and work, so I maintained my distance. But I liked that she brought a small cocktail patio set with a table, umbrella, and two chairs, and that she assembled this set just outside my tent door. Tent City kept changing appearances as people filled in every possible space with camping materials, so it was increasingly difficult to find our way around the dynamic landscape.
We sensed that Friday night would be one of the most important of the weekend, so we went big with the plans for altering our states of consciousness – our combined “mental” and “somatic” experiences. Up to that point in my life, I had experimented with psychedelics a limited number of times – and mainly with psilocybin mushrooms. I still held onto the idea that mushrooms should be used for purposes that were more ceremonial than recreational, and preferably in a quiet natural spot, maximizing both intention (setting a goal of personal growth and increased awareness) and integration (making efforts to work the insights permanently into your ordinary mindset, embodied experience, and self-identification). However, the first time I took mushrooms was at Lollapalooza Music Festival in 2006, with 150,000 people crowded into an urban park in downtown Chicago – an experience I’d describe as positively life-changing. So clearly my standards were not totally decided, and my company didn’t seem to share my concerns. All five of us took mushrooms (2-4 grams each) and molly (the powdered form of MDMA, about two “pinkies” each). And Greg and Phil also took some acid that someone gave them. They said that “the universe delivered it” to them, so they didn’t believe they had a choice in the matter (see: external locus of control). I also drank some instant coffee around that time, which seemed to add a considerable boost.
But this wasn’t to be a group experience, as I had imagined during our collective planning. As soon as we walked over to the main stage area, the group dispersed. Instead of becoming lonely or disappointed, I began to feel content with my individual journey and all the twists and turns – both in the moment (because, in my opinion, the psychedelic experience is a microcosm for all of existence) and in my life more broadly. As the drugs took effect, I became extremely outgoing and friendly, whereas I’m primarily a reserved person and tend to experience my introversion as imprisonment. I kept in mind my ongoing goal of being more verbally expressive with people. I complimented strangers for their tattoos, their clothes, and their hair, thinking how – just like me – many people are probably less self-confident than they appear, and need confirmation that what they’re doing is appreciated and worthwhile.
To be continued…