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.
We found Julia and Sidney on the stage-left side of the crowd, between some fire torches, a small pond, and the forest shrines that led to the Evolver tent. Greg and Julia didn’t talk much. By that time, he was emitting almost totally dark waves of energy. Then Phil appeared stealthily – I thought he had emerged from the pond because he looked like a lake creature, shirtless in his blue fisherman pants. He was on an introverted trip and seemed angry at first (but we were all laughing in his face, and he later said he felt taunted by that). Then suddenly he smiled and said, “This is awesome,” before walking closer to the stage – ending our group’s brief moment of cohesion. I was bouncing and skipping and labalaba-ing in circles around Julia and Sidney, who both laughed at me. Sidney thought I was tripping really hard, but the drugs were actually beginning to wear off and it had become a test of personal will power to keep the experience going, I told her. Julia and Greg paraded off by themselves. They seemed entangled in the stress of planning a wedding and the imminent (and, presumably, permanent) interweaving of their lives. When that happened, Greg would also become stepfather to Julia’s young daughter.
Sidney and I found ourselves alone, and she asked if I would be going to Greg and Julia’s wedding in August. I said yes, and she responded, “Great, we can be friends. You seem like a good friend to have.” She asked if I minded taking a walk back to our camp with her to refill her mixed drink. Her seductive demeanor made me feel nervous, but I tried to roll with it. She had given me a drink of her tequila, which was pleasantly refreshing. That was really some of the only alcohol I drank the whole weekend. Sidney had to hide her plastic cup, since technically only alcohol sold at the festival was allowed on the grounds – a surprisingly corporate-seeming tactic. I can’t deny the possibility that, as a so-called “transformative festival,” they were trying to discourage people from drinking excessively.
Tent City looked entirely different than it did on night one, so Sidney and I got turned around in the darkness a number of times. Back at the camp, she asked if I wanted more MDMA. I tried to ask if it would have an effect so soon after I took it before, thinking of other substances that produce such a short-term tolerance in the body. She didn’t understand my question and dismissed it as outside the realm of “spontaneous action.” We were standing under the red awning of our camp kitchen when she put her powder-covered pinky in my mouth. On her face I saw a similar neon glow to the one I perceived on Felicity, but there wasn’t as much of a sense of archetypal recognition. Sidney surprised me by saying something like, “I control my own reality?” – as she pulled the top lip of her shirt slightly down and to the side. I could have asked her to elaborate or even just put my hands on her, since it was clearly a sexual advance – but I hesitated, and the moment passed. I thought this left open the possibility of engagement at another time, but her whole demeanor towards me changed. Looking back, I think she probably felt rejected. It had happened so fast, and I was so far outside my realm of previous experience. If I had done something wrong, at least it was unintentional and beyond my ability to understand.
Sidney and I walked back to the music area, awkwardly trying to make conversation. I wondered if we were still going to be “friends.” Sidney ran into two guys she knew near the dome stage – one of them was a video artist in the dome, and he led us behind the stage to the artists’ area. I felt weird hanging out there, so I took a solo trip to the toilets, crossing the creek and passing by the Evolver tent and the main stage. I battled internally over whether my encounter with Felicity and all the feelings it stirred up in me might have prevented me from living in the moment with Sidney. This left a deep feeling of unrest in me, based on the sense that my romantic sensibilities had become a really imprisoning factor in my life.
When I got back to the dome area, I found Phil and we visited briefly with Sidney and those guys. I overheard Sidney asking one of the men if he wanted to go back to camp to fill up her drink and wondered if I had already been replaced. Phil and I departed that scene and explored the festival grounds together until around 4:30am. I was worried to go back to camp, thinking I might hear sex noises coming from a nearby tent that would restart my madness from Thursday night. On the way back, somewhere in the dark chaos of Tent City, I heard a man in a tent enduring a screaming fit of acid psychosis. I knew exactly what he was experiencing in his body and in his mind – or at least, I knew approximately. I tried to block it from my attention and hurried towards our camp. We ended up finding Sidney and the second guy friend (not the one she had asked before) sitting in lawn chairs under the kitchen awning, seemingly at an impasse. He left shortly after that. I went to sleep in my tent and actually got about six hours of rest. I still had two days and two nights left at Sonic Bloom, but it felt more like being lost in a timeless void.
“…Real transformation means meeting your animal body, stepping into the underworld, and letting go of our hard-won boundaries long enough for something to reshape. …Participation in truly transformational festivals – however much they may present themselves as hedonistic celebrations – require a sacrifice of whomever we thought we were. To travel and to never open our eyes to the unfamiliar is no better than to never have traveled at all. In fact it is worse: for we can delay transformation, but we cannot outrun it, and that which we repress springs back violently, instead.”
– Michael Garfield
I emerged from my tent around 11:00am on Saturday – day three at Sonic Bloom. Phil and I walked over to the dome stage to say hi to Dosha. We found her topless in the broad daylight, and she gave us both hugs. Phil and I were shirtless as well, so I felt her large breasts press momentarily against my skin. Dosha had camped right by that dome, where music now ran nearly around the clock – which means that she intentionally chose to sleep, or at least set up her tent, at the single noisiest spot on the festival grounds. I became aware of Phil’s tendency to carry nothing but the pants he wore, and how this was somewhat lighter and easier than my method of always carrying a small backpack full of equipment. He’d poke fun at me for “carrying baggage,” and I’d say that I liked to “be prepared.”
Later on, Greg and I sat in the Evolver tent for much of the afternoon, with occasional visits from Phil, Julia, and Sidney. The high desert dust was beginning to accumulate everywhere – on our belongings and on our bodies. We had attempted to create a makeshift lounge with a rug and some pillows, but it still looked pretty shabby. On one of the pop-up tent posts we had duct taped a paper board sign with wiggly letters drawn in permanent marker. Since most people didn’t stop to read it, we did our best to make conversation with people walking by. Many individuals at the festival would have ordinarily been very interested in the Evolver Network, but getting anyone in this magical fairyland to think about worldly issues was quite a tricky task.
Felicity came to visit us once that afternoon after swimming in the creek. Her clothes were all soaked, and I couldn’t help but notice the curves of her body through the wet garments. I felt self-conscious about my mild heart-pouring from the night before, but we didn’t talk about it; instead I found myself telling about a transpersonal experience I had in 2011. I had sensed the presence of a spirit being while meditating under the heavy influence of cannabis, and I attempted to interact with the spirit with my “active imagination,” in the way Carl Jung describes. In my state of exhaustion and insecurity I forgot to share the most important part of the story – the essential messages of the spirit that spurred me to make some drastic personal changes and start living the life that I wanted for myself.
Felicity didn’t seem impressed by this tale at the time. She only stayed briefly before telling us she was going for a nature walk. I couldn’t muster the courage to ask if she wanted company. I had the impression – then and other times throughout the weekend – that maybe she thought we weren’t “cool” enough for her. She had artist friends doing live painting and video projection during some of the main stage headliner acts – friends with much higher rank in this scene. But looking back, I wonder if she thought we were acting cold or aloof. Maybe she felt left out because she wasn’t in my camp of five. Or maybe, as I was starting to suspect, she was just a lone wolf – hyper-independent and extremely adaptable – and there was no reason to take her departure personally. After all, Phil spent a lot of time walking around the festival by himself, and it never once offended me.
It could have been a back-and-forth repulsion based on unintentional signals, in which Felicity backed away because my awkwardness appeared as arrogance, and then I further shrunk into insecurity because of her apparently cold disinterest and departure. But without an engaged conversation to work through these layers of speculation, it’s impossible to truly know. And this passes over some basic points: one, I thought our Evolver booth was a bit amateur; and two, I wanted to be as independent and adaptable as Felicity seemed to be.
The afternoon faded on with occasional trips back to our camp. At some point Sidney tried to sit in the hammock with me, but I awkwardly jumped out and said I didn’t think it could hold two people. Reflecting on that action made me feel even more embarrassed, after not knowing how to interpret what had happened the night before. While at the camp I was worrying that Saturday night wouldn’t be as fun as Friday, when we all had similar drugs in our system. But in line with my other tests of will power (as I was calling these efforts to bring my locus of control inward), I took it upon myself to lift up the group energy – or to make the party myself – based on the recent thought hovering in my mind that a festival, like all of life, is what we make of it. I was hula hooping and keeping things light, bouncing and waving my arms, still keeping Felicity’s teachings in mind.
All five of us – Greg, Julia, Sidney, Phil and I – walked to the main stage at 6:00pm to see the Fungineers, an electronic music and puppet show combination. The energy of the crowd felt totally different on Saturday. It seemed that people wore themselves out by partying too hard on Friday, even though I never saw many letting loose away from the music stages. I hardly ever saw people drastically out of control. The inner critics that govern people’s behavior were apparently operational throughout the weekend. But I could see the fatigue on their faces, and I heard evidence of daring psychonautics slip from their mouths as they passed by. It might seem strange that people partied hard at a festival billing itself as an event about “raising consciousness” – but Sonic Bloom was without a doubt one of the hippest parties in the world. And with only a few thousand people present, it was also extremely exclusive. The whole scene felt a bit like a space station on some alien planet, with the steep slopes of the Rockies launching up above both sides of the festival grounds – a space filled with the zooming noises of cars and trucks flying by on the Interstate 70 (literally just next to Shadows Ranch). As night passed on, those vehicles could be seen as trails and blips of red and white soaring through the tree canopy. Clearly part of the intention was to integrate the gritty aspects of civilization (embodied here as an automobile highway) with the farthest reaches of the cosmos (embodied as… labalabalaba… the realm of existence that cannot ever be communicated with language).
To be continued…