Colorado Fest Highlights Budding Culture

Festivals, unlike concerts, are a way for the whole family to get away under the stars for a weekend of revelry and color. With Woodstock almost 50 years ago, festival culture (and it’s 1960’s pioneers) have come of age. This means that multiple generations can now come enjoy, and add their own flavor to the evolving music festival phenomena. Arise Festival in Loveland, Colorado embraces this idea by celebrating a healthy lifestyle, embracing ecological values and simultaneously throwing one of the area’s best summer music festivals.

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Colorado is home to some treasured festivals including Telluride bluegrass, jazz, and blues fests as well as the emergent Bloom Festival which is primarily electronic dance music. Arise blends these flavors into a locally-grown community showcase with internationally recognized acts. You can take a yoga, qigong, tantra, belly-dance or other workshop at the Healers Village or enjoy any variety of music genre spanning electronic dance music, latin, folk, or funk.

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Electronic Dance Music Producer known as The Polish Ambassador has embellished a concept that has roots in Numundo and has continued to sprout in communities across the country. The festival is preceded by a 3 Day Permaculture Action Course at Sunrise Ranch, where the festival is being held. Participants will help to steward and create an edible food forest that can be enjoyed for years to come. foods planted include:

-planting Nanking Cherry, Manchurian Apricot, Siberian Pea Shrub, Sand Cherry, and Golden Currant and more
-inoculate logs with Shiitake, Pearl Oyster, and Blue Oyster mushrooms
-build a Willow archway to the Edible Forest Garden
-finish off a cob oven
dig rainwater catchment earthworks (swales)
-re-plant garden beds and plant fruit tree guilds
-and a few other projects

Living Folklore, a Telluride favorite for almost 20 years brings a giant “parade in a suitcase”. Giant puppets (8-10 feet tall), umbrellas, flags, and kids costumes are all provided allowing festival-goers the opportunity to have the experience (and photos) of a lifetime. This years parade highlights the importance of rain, and the interconnected web of life that depends on the gift of water from the clouds.

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The concept of combining educational programs, interactivity, and  immersion into a musical fantasy dreamscape is catching on all around the world as the conscious movement towards sustainable communities continues to build momentum. You can learn more about this emergent phenomena in a creative new book project called Reinhabiting the Village. These solutions-based approaches to making the region more sustainable (and Colorado’s recreational marijuana policy) are reason to enjoy rocky mountain high in a whole new way!

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Musical acts at Arise include Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Emancipator Ensemble, Ozomatli, Rising Appalachia, TURKUAZ, Trevor Hall and many more. The human desire to gather on the land and celebrate through music, dance, and pageantry goes back generations and today we are seeing ancient elements blending with contemporary expression in beautiful ways. Come play at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado August 7-9 and be part of a blossoming new event that promises to become a favorite local pastime. I’ll see you at the parade, but you might not recognize me with my colorful costume on…


The Grateful Phish 50th Anniversary Show, Fare Thee Well

I have been derailed all day unexpectedly. I heard the rumors flying for weeks and actually never really thought it would stir such deep feelings. Today the 50th Anniversary Show has been announced for the Grateful Dead with Trey Anastasio to play lead guitar at Soldier Field this July in Chicago. The chatter has filled up social networks, is trending on Facebook, and causing old friends to reach out in a frenzy of excitement and heated debate.

Politics can get heated and so can religion, but to a certain community of people, this is more important than a Charlie Hebdo comic or a presidential election.  Some people have such deep feelings about their memories of this chapter in American musical and cultural history that trying to convey it to people who weren’t there is almost impossible. Some people are ecstatic and some are, well let’s say a little miffed. Let me explain.

On the surface the Grateful Dead was a band but upon entering this strange and beautiful realm you began to realize that it was much much more. It was/is a community with roots that stretch into the social upheaval of the sixties, beatniks, Merry Pranksters, Haight Ashbury, LSD (not a whole list of designer drugs that hadn’t yet been invented), the sexual revolution, Jack Kerouac, Vietnam, colorful double-decker school buses, disco, the yuppie 80’s, patchwork overalls, tie-dyes, grill cheese on a coleman stove. It was a time-capsule of these and other things but it was also something else…

isotMaybe it was drug-induced, and naive or maybe something real but just barely out of reach like a desert mirage. It was a place where people dreamed a better world was possible. A place where the crap in the mainstream didn’t matter. The lying government, the scripted fashions, the selfish indulgences of capitalism and endless war faded away and you were surrounded by people who looked you in the eyes, who smiled and danced at every opportunity. Budding entrepreneurs, gypsies, dropouts, girls with hairy armpits and patchouli to mask their body odor celebrated life without a care. It wasn’t a weekend getaway, it was a lifestyle. It wasn’t something new it is ancient, like a tribal community that had been lost in the gears of progress, a love for all things interconnected and a sense that us humans are all in this magical soup together. A magical sub-culture in another times forgotten space.

Til things you’ve never seen seem familiar…

The years that I saw the Grateful Dead were formative, and shaped the life I continue to live as an adult. Those memories are tucked neatly into my own little Box of Secrets where I will happily cherish them forever. Obviously many others feel that way too, and that is why a tidal wave of every possible mixed emotion flooded through my body when I heard about the 50th Anniversary Show. Then the social media frenzy kicked up.

For this is all a dream we dreamed one afternoon long ago…

Imagine that you were a Johnny Cash fan in the previous generation, and it was announced that Jerry Garcia was going to sit in for the Johnny Cash 50th anniversary. All these crazy, loud, stinky deadheads are gonna crash the party and you wanted to go with your wife and remember the songs you fell in love to. Now, instead of a mellow evening with Mr. Cash there’s gonna be all this crazy dancing going on, people with dreadlocks, and a gypsy side-show in the parking lot. You’d probably have a little mixture of excitement and a big sense that your planned nostalgic moment is being hijacked. I think this might be a good way to explain how many of the old school Dead Heads felt when they heard that Trey was going to take Jerrys spot in the band. It’d be hard to hear Johnny Cash playing with Jerry on guitar without feeling like the original musical flavor has been greatly altered.

In the same way, it’ll be hard to ignore Trey’s signature sound in places that you may wanna be hearing a Jerry riff. Trey’s in tune and there’s no doubt though that he will give it his heart and soul to make for an unforgettable weekend of music.

Jerry Garcia was a great American master and the Grateful Dead are not just a genuine piece of musical history, but also an important part of American history. This is a band, born right at the beginning of electric rock, that took the American tradition and moved it forward. They really embodied the American concept of freedom, rolling around the country with a ginormous gang of people and the mindset that ‘you can come if you want, you can leave if you want. We don’t know what’s going to happen. All we know is we’re not looking back.’ What could be more American?” – Trey Anastasio

Now some oldsters haven’t been so eloquent in expressing their sense of distaste on social media, but it isn’t really about Trey. Of course Trey is a great man for the job, Phish has become its own epic phenomena and their musical prowess is hard to deny. Yet they are distinctly different despite their surface similarities. The line between dark humor and just being rude and mean has somehow been crossed if you believe in the Grateful Dead motto, “Ain’t no time to hate.”

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John Perry Barlow, and Robert Hunter created a universe in the hundreds of songs they wrote. They drew on social rebellion, religious texts, history, great poets, cowboy stories, folk & bluegrass ballads, and cultural themes stretching back for 1,000 years. This informed the community, and as silly as it might sound to an outsider, these lyrics were almost a religious kind of gospel that people lived. Yes it is a bit silly, but it meant a whole lot to people who were having their own experiences within each show. Generations of people grew up through these songs.

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Someone like Trey is his own sort of legend, a giant musical character, a personality with his own unique tone and approach to music. He is coming from some shared roots, but he isn’t an imitator, he’s 1 of a kind just like Jerry. I’d love to see him in this role any day of the week, but for the 50th Anniversary Show I was a bit mixed in my feeling. I have a hard time imagining that I will hear anything but Treys distinct sound in tunes that I want to hear Jerrys sound, Jerry’s phrasing. For a 50th Anniversary Show I might rather hear someone like Steve Kimock, Dave A. Bear, Stu Allen, Jeff Mattson or better yet, Warren Haynes. These are guitarists who are also giants, and unique in their own right, but they are also coming from Garcias generation and share a similar approach and angle to the music. In the emotion of it all it can be hard to say this without stepping on some toes, especially the toes of thousands of eager Phish fans who are jumping for joy over this recent news. One thing is for sure, Trey has been picked and he will not disappoint any true music lovers!

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Now the venue was also a bit of a let down for those of us who were hoping for a free show in Golden Gate Park, where it all began. No offense to our community in the midwest who are overjoyed that the show will be in Chicago, but wouldn’t it be nice to walk down Haight Street and into the park to see the boys one last time? Wouldn’t it be nice if it was free instead of an expensive flight, hotel and ticket away? Hey… Dead Heads are known to dream dreams like this and I doubt that I’m alone in this particular reverie.

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A splendid time is guaranteed for all, and the music will be as good as it gets without a doubt. So if you’re a Phish fan wondering why all these crusty Dead Heads are grumbling, hopefully this helps a little bit. When it is all said and done, the music never stopped… We’ll welcome this evolving scene whether it’s Visionary Festivals with DJ’s, Rainbow Gatherings in the woods, dead cover bands at a local bar, bluegrass in the mountains, Phish or even something crazy like a wild Rastasaurus.

Music is life, is art, is community and it thrives on re-inventing itself. More than ever we need a new story because the same old crap they are feeding us on mainstream media is killing the planet if you haven’t noticed.

Politicians throwing stones, it’s all to clear we’re on our own. Singing ashes ashes all fall down

Now is a good time to take a look back and reflect, reevaluate your history and your dreams for the future. Something new is being born as the wheel is spinning and it can’t slow down. Is this the end or the beginning?

The seeds that were planted all burst into bloom and decay.

So here’s to 50 years, to a tradition that is older than all of us, even older than Phil. We are a tribe, a community, one people on one planet. The Dead is and always has been an ancestral thing, an ancient Ghost Dance in a modern time. Believe it if you need it, if you don’t just pass it on.

Since the end is never told, we pay the teller off in gold in hopes he will come back but he cannot be bought or sold.

The last thing to say, before I am through…

Without love in a dream it will never come true!


The Dreamtime Realm of Circus Life In Contemporary Edwardian Style…

Want to just run away with the circus and inhabit a different dimension? Let’s wander into the storybook, not as a reader, but as one of the characters. It’s more than fantasy, it’s a necessity! The Edwardian Ball, a San Francisco favorite, invites you to do just that with a fusion of historical elements, steam-punk, and contemporary urban flare. Like Alice in Wonderland, you can take your very own journey down the rabbit hole. A delightful immersive environment filled with sensory delight awaits you as The Edwardian Ball prepares another season of festive revelry.

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My first experience of the ball was at The Symbiosis Gathering. A world within a world, Symbiosis is set in the backdrop of Woodward Reservoir which is an area of outstanding natural beauty. A peninsula surrounded on 3 sides by a crystal clear swimming lake, with incredible shoreline camping. Symbiosis is a festival that lives up to its’ name.

Edwardian Ball has many acts and curiosities for you to explore starting with a traditional circus-style midway. Watch out for buffoon dancers playing croquet, and swirly-collared stilted characters adorned with gears as you step up to play ski-ball or a water-powered game. Be careful of banana peels dropped by clowns in grey-sepia colored suits as you prepare to enter the avant cabaret. The child within you lives for moments like these!

The Edwardian Ball is an elegant and whimsical celebration of art, music, theatre, fashion, technology, circus, and the beloved creations of the late, great author Edward Gorey. In the Ball, stage acts like Vau de Vire SocietyRosin CovenDelachauxDark GardenShakti BlissFou Fou HAShovelman, and The Klown Korps will entertain you while you ooh and ah between dancing to electro-swing music. Does this sound like a dream getaway? It certainly is.

Everyone is clothed in stories! The clothes you wear, your hair-style, the types of music you like, and the ways you choose to express yourself all tell a story about who you are to the rest of the world. Immersive environments like this allow participants to dream bigger, to redefine themselves and push the boundaries. This isn’t just a momentary dream, this must-see, must-feel, must-hear experience is transformational in its essence allowing individuals to navigate new possibilities long after the event has passed.

All ages of costumed and enthusiastic attendees, traveling from all reaches of the globe, gathering for a delightful blend of ballroom dancing, live music, riveting stage shows, DJs, fine art galleries, absinthe cocktails, steam machinery, parlour games, sideshows, and The Edwardian Ball Roadshow’s very own highly acclaimed Vendor Bazaar. Vau de Vire Society has a revolving door with Cirque Du Soleil performers so this might be your best chance for an up-close, interactive evening with world-class artists where the lines between actor and audience are blurred. Ken Kesey once coined the term, “Ritual Reality” and the description is fitting for this kind of ecstatic journey into the living dream.

If you like Edward Gorey stories and illustrations, turn-of-the-century, Edwardian Fashions, Steampunk Creations, Goth, Macabre, Absurdist ideas, Simple elegance, Burlesque then you are in for the treat of a lifetime. If you don’t enjoy these things it’s probably because you have never been. So don’t hesitate to make your own costume, comb the local vintage shop, and add your own flare to the evening because the pocket-watch is ticking and YOU are the star!

Upcoming 2014 events in San Francisco, January 17 & 18 and Los Angeles, February 8. Learn more at their website.


Alternative Culture, Festival Season in Full Bloom

2013-07-12-Living_Folklore_Telluride_Bluegrass_2013_By_Merrick_Chase_Photography2.jpgFor many of us who follow politics and are concerned about our future, the constant barrage of bad news from Washington, D.C. can become overwhelming and depressing. We know a better world, a better society, a better government is possible yet our leaders continue to fail us. Sometimes, taking a step back and clearing your head from the political circus is the best thing you can do for yourself. It’s summer and thousands of people are doing just that, gathering at festivals across the country to camp, be in nature, dance, wear their most colorful garb, enjoy art, music and experience a different kind of community. This needed escape is not only a place to party, heal, and recharge, it is an environment that models the kind of community that we all know is possible. A cooperative instead of competitive environment where people enjoy the best aspects of art and culture to experience and envision a glimpse of our potential as a society. Let’s take a journey through a few diverse realms of festival life in America today and consider the ways that these gatherings are shaping our culture for the better.

The festival phenomena is not without precedent. Cultures around the world have been gathering in celebration of life, the changing seasons, the planting and harvesting since the beginning of time. It is only in our modern world, where people have been convinced that anything worth having can be purchased, that we have forgotten the importance of creating our own sense of meaning, community, and personal/collective expression. Expression is something much different than consumption as it creates personal renewal from the empowered feeling that one can give back to rather than only take from the world around them. Great festivals encourage this reciprocity from their patrons and this is a powerful way to shape culture without waiting for politicians. Unlike a sporting event with a defined winner and loser, festivals create a collective “win” for everyone who participates.

Going back through the decades we have Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festivals, Mardi Gras, rodeos, and pow-wows, but things get real interesting after the cultural renaissance of the 60’s. Let’s look at some events that combine the old and new world expressions of festivals from Rainbow Gatherings and Woodstock to Burning Man.

According to Wikipedia, “Rainbow Gatherings and the Rainbow Family are an expression of a Utopian impulse, combined with bohemianism, hipster and hippie culture, with roots clearly traceable to the counterculture of the 1960s.” Thousands of people come together to observe their First Amendment Rights to gather peacefully on public lands in a primitive “city” that is carried in and out of the wilderness by foot. It is no surprise that Hopi Elder David Monogye, visited a Rainbow Gathering in 1977 near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico riding in on a donkey to address the gathering. He spoke of “The Hopi Life Plan” and the prophecies that tell of people coming together from all walks, all religions, all cultures and all colors of the rainbow to restore and heal the hoop of life on earth. Monongye was almost 100 years old when he spoke at The Rainbow Gathering and this exchange merged Hopi cosmology, which is one of the oldest living cultures in North America, with a modern emergent form of expression. Hopi to Hippie.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is perhaps the grandaddy of American music festivals. Started in 1970 as a celebration to the music and culture that defines America’s melting pot of cultures. In America’s City of Dreams along The Mississippi River, Gospel, Soul, Blues, Zydeco, Jazz, Funk, Rock, Tribal music along with the best Creole and Cajun food you have ever eaten make this event unforgettable each spring. Now in its 44th year, the event has perfected the art of cultural cross-pollination, as jazz and blues were born of the merging cultural expressions between settlers, indians, and slaves in the deep south.

Photos Above: Living Folklore, known for their giant puppet parades and children’s entertainment, celebrates the 40th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Top: The Ladybug Parade. Courtesy of Merrick Chase at Telluride Photography

The Telluride Bluegrass Festival just celebrated its 40th year in one of the worlds most beautiful mountain valleys in Colorado. Giant waterfalls, 14,000-foot peaks, aspens, and red rocks are a visual delight to compliment the world-class musical acts. The festival also boasts one of the oldest sustainability initiatives with compostable eating utensils, cups, carbon offset for travelers and more it has set an example for other festivals to strive to reduce their footprint on the environment. With a diverse musical lineup that celebrates the many influences of acoustic, folk, country, rock, and bluegrass, this event is an amazing celebration of the roots of American Music. This year the festival hosted The Drepung Monks with a sand mandala of healing and Tibetan music on Sunday morning creating a cross-cultural delight for everyone present.

Telluride, besides being a ski destination has become a summer festival town with a world-class Jazz Festival, a Blues and Brews Festival, a Film Festival, a Mushroom Festival, a Yoga Festival, and more. Locals, tired of having every summer weekend booked with festivals, requested a permit for a “no festival” weekend to get some space from tourists which was accepted by the city council and The Nothing Festival was born.

California, the birthplace of The Grateful Dead, has a long tradition of music festival culture and one of the most innovative contemporary manifestations of this community can be seen at The High Sierra Music Festival in the Town of Quincy. Three stages, two late-night stages, a kids stage (that featured Vince Herman from Leftover Salmon this year) with a world-class kids/family area, an open meadow for yoga, juggling, frisbee, silent disco and fire-shows, camping in the pines, and colorful samba parades with giant puppets, stilt walkers, and costumed festival patrons. The Rockin Nannies will babysit your kids at night, Clean Vibes heads up the recycling and sustainability effort and the musical selection is hard to describe. This year Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Emancipator, Sarah Jarosz, Thievery Corporation were a few of the diverse acts that covered classic rock, folk, bluegrass, electronic, funk and more. Artist workshops are always exciting, as musicians from different bands come together to play and share stories of inspiration and musical roots in an informal “workshop” environment.

In Arizona, Festivals like Hullabaloo and McDowell Mountain Music Festival focus on raising funds for local charities and non-profits thus adding to the cultural impact as well as the local economy while throwing a fun party for the whole community. There’s nothing quite like drinking another beer to support The Phoenix Children’s Hospital

The seeds of The Woodstock Nation have sprouted across the country, and their effects are experienced every weekend from sea to shining sea across our great country.

Burning Man has inspired a whole new cultural expression and many festivals have sprouted up in its image. If you ever wondered what it would look like if Rainbow Gatherings and Burning man had a baby, visit Lucidity Festival in California. Lightning in a Bottle, Symbiosis, Rootwire, Coachella, Electric Forest, Bonnaroo, The Fareieworlds Festival, and too many to name are now redefining what an immersive festival environment is.

In order to keep up with all the emergent festival culture, The Bloom Series has captured the attention of an international audience through their documentary web-series that focus on electronic music festivals that they call “Transformational Festivals”. Bringing the concept of a “gifting economy” to the mainstream, the episodes are available for free with an option to donate to support the vision. The high production value of the series is due to a skilled team with the grounded intention and professional experience of using the power of media to shape culture. Take a moment and watch the second episode of The Bloom Series entitled, Practicing The New World here.

I know I have left out so many wonderful festivals and perhaps a follow-up is in order. Regardless of your musical taste, it is clear to see that these independently produced events (and media) have a rootsy expression of culture that is missing in corporate America. They provide a sense of belonging, of community, and expression that is priceless. Festival season is in full bloom and I encourage you to make an adventure to one in your region at least once this summer. Don’t forget to bring your most colorful outfit, some suntan lotion, and a re-usable water-bottle so that you don’t have to use throw-away plastic bottles!

I have always loved the saying, “If the people lead, the leaders will follow”. Perhaps our political leaders are too far gone with back room dealings and money-lined pockets from corporate interests to ever live up to the oaths they are sworn to uphold as public servants. Perhaps we must continue to cultivate hope outside of political institutions and define our communities without them. Or maybe we should make it mandatory for politicians to go camping for a weekend, dance under the stars, and sleep under the moon before writing any more laws or making any more deals that effect our collective future. Visualize!

Reggae in Indian Country With Casper From Hopi-Land

Musicians just love combining diverse cultural elements into creating fresh new sounds through instrumentation, rhythms, or lyrics. Live music has the ability to bring people together across cultures like no other art form. Some formats, like Blues, Jazz, Funk, and Reggae are especially welcoming to diverse ethnic and cultural flavors. After all, Blues was created when The Native American 4-beat rhythm was combined with African polyrhythms as a result of the coming together of African Slaves and Indians in southern Louisiana. Just like a pot of stew, there is an endless amount of flavors that can go into the pot, and an endless number of ways that those flavors can compliment each other.

Music and song are at the roots of every spiritual tradition, as well as dancing and community gatherings. It has the ability to convey feelings, release grief, express joy, tell stories, or even be a prayerful expression of gratitude for life itself. Some musicians are able to draw on such universal themes that they attract audiences across genres and cultures. Bob Marley was one of these artists, a figure who transcended music altogether as a prophet, a spokesperson for the oppressed everywhere. Just as Louis Armstrong’s name has become synonymous with Jazz, Bob Marley is synonymous with reggae.

In The Southwest, Casper Lomayesva from The Hopi Mesas, has become synonymous with Indian Reggae. Casper is not afraid to sing about the troubles of modern life growing up on the reservation or the joys of being alive. One evening I was blessed to catch Casper in a quiet moment to learn about his influences, how a young man from Hopi was introduced to reggae, and the philosophy behind his music. Casper shares his journey of finding a balance between his traditional upbringing and embracing new forms of musical expression, while keeping his ties and respect to Hopi strong. You can learn more or “like” his Facebook fan page here.

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