The Rise of “Festivals”

My recent return to Burning Man last week, this article about Taco Bell attempting to reach out to “burners”, and a few conversations about the apparent increase in festival attendance really has me thinking. If there is an increase in participation at “festivals” why is that? As is the case with all my blog posts I basically have no facts, just my own experiences and hypotheses that I think out when I should be working. It should be noted that for simplicity sake I use the word “festival” very broadly and include Burning Man (definitely not a festival in most ways), Lucidity style events that involve multiple days off site and includes a spiritual aspect, and EDC-style events that are more musically focused.

I think the biggest factor is the seemingly unique environment that people in their 20’s and 30’s operate in today. It is no secret that marriage is often being postponed, kids are birthed later in life, and college graduates are enjoying social freedom that is usually reserved for retirees. Many of them, including me, cohabitate with a partner or friends which allows for a lot of disposable income. Festivals can be expensive but if you have two people with college degrees and professional jobs sharing an apartment with no kids it is financially possible to participate often in multiday parties.

These celebrations can often involve intimacy and sex (the Orgy Dome at Burning Man is pretty awesome) but the focus is rarely on hook-ups or “one night stands”. In fact, festivals are very often attended by people in long-term committed relationships. I went with my partner, my best friend has gone with his fiance, our camp at Burning Man has had at least one married couple each year, and two of my dearest friends often go to EDC and similar events together. I also went to two weddings at Burning Man this year, one of which was a couple who got engaged at Lucidity.

Another important factor in festival attendance is technology, particularly the internet. Even relatively small events can spread the word quickly via Facebook to like-minded people across the globe. This is true for big events as well like Burning Man, which has been around for over 25 years, saw themselves face ticket scarcity for the first time thanks to burners sharing their pictures and videos over social media in the last couple years. Musicians who don’t have major labels can also use the internet to attract a fan base and advertise their presence at musical festivals. There is also greater specialization that is possible when people can communicate freely, it is now possible to attract participants to very unique and focused events where in the past smaller cliques would need to participate in big festivals and hope their classes would be attractive enough to get attention.

Lastly, I feel like there is a feeling of lost direction among many people due to the fracturing of society around us. Politicians continue to prove that party doesn’t matter and that they are basically all the same. Traditional religions are fracturing and failing at providing even the bare minimum support for individuals as their beliefs are unwilling to change to accept new scientific evidence. Modern media works tirelessly to tell us all how doomed the world is, despite evidence to the contrary. The social institutions that provide support, love, and comfort in the past have been found lacking so people are looking elsewhere to connect and find family. Festivals, particularly Burning Man and similar events, help fill that gap. At least that is why I go, because I reject violence, consumerism, religious zealotry, and the idea that I need to work in an office for most my life before I can have fun and celebrate life. Festivals give me community, love, support, and acceptance, and I think it does that for many others as well.

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Cargo Cult – Burning Man 2013

As we wind our way through California’s mountainous passes it is impossible for me to not reflect on the last week I spent at Burning Man. The embers of the Temple still burn in my heart and I feel the love of that place erupting from the 70,000 spirits that have scattered across the globe, taking The Playa with them. In the end Burning Man is not a place, event, or time, it is us. Our stories, our lives, our desires and dreams, that is where the real value is, and in the end we impact each other on many levels known and unknown.

This year I did not camp with an established theme camp but our little collective of LA friends (and one last minute adopted Washingtonian) started calling ourselves Camp Sonder. The word “sonder” comes from the dictionary of obscure sorrows and is defined as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
That is beautiful to me, and in many ways defines much of my experience out in the dust.

It is an oft repeated cliche but Burning Man really is whatever you make it, and often you don’t know what you will create until you get there. This year was like no other for me. In 2011 my mind was broken and the Playa provided healing. In 2012 my body and life was in constant movement and Black Rock City provided stability. And this year, my life is on a great path and I was given a celebration.

It has always been difficult for me to acknowledge my own successes. I feel guilty when things are going well and it feels braggy to admit life is good, but since my last Burn my life has been fucking awesome and that was reflected in my week on the Playa. I was able to spend a week with a woman that I’m crazy in love with, two of my best friends, an amazing couple from LA who I originally meet prepping for Burning Man in 2011 that I hope to know better in the coming months, and a new friend who is likely stuck with us crazy kids for a long time. I danced, I sang, I relaxed, I smiled, I loved, and I simply celebrated my life… and for once I realized that’s okay. Sometimes you just need to party. Of course, I want the only one celebrating. I was able to witness two beautiful weddings out on the Playa celebrating the love of four burner friends.

This last year has been a dynamic time where I pursued adventures, love, and happiness. I moved across the country in search of liberty instead of security and it paid off. I opened my heart to what the universe had to offer and I fell in love. I chose to be me instead of what society says I should be and things worked out better than I imagined. With the falling of the Temple my new year begins. This Burn may not have been a deep spiritual experience but it was exactly what I needed, an acknowledgement that my life is on an amazing course and when you pursue your dreams good things happen… and when good things happen you should celebrate and enjoy it.

Just Dance

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EDM. Electric Dance Music. There is just something about the drop… that “womp womp womp” that has come to bring out passionate cries for censorship from the haters and bring the lovers into a nearly orgasmic trance. Recently on Facebook I posted this article, and like many articles I share I didn’t actually read it because I trusted the source and was at work with little time to slack. I’ve read it now and it does a great job talking about the history of EDM, something I know little about, but it did get me thinking about my own experience with raves and the music that takes over the heartbeat of thousands of glowing and fuzzy fans.

In truth, I don’t listen to that much EDM. I can’t tell the difference between dubstep, drum and base, trance, or whatever. I just call it all dubstep and find I prefer my music a little grimy. What I love is the community. My first rave was Beyond Wonderland and my normally introverted self was cautiously curious at the environment. Beautiful colors, sounds, and lights overwhelmed the senses. To be at one of these shows is an experience that the word “concert” doesn’t do justice. I had truly stepped into a new world where how you danced meant nothing, as long as you were being true to yourself, it was a place where strangers hugged, said hi, complimented each others outfits*, and were generally polite. I’m sure that the drug going through most people’s systems was MDMA or mushrooms instead of alcohol had a lot to do with it.

Regardless, there was a sense of community. Everyone was there to have a good time, and that often meant making friends, performing light shows, and loving your neighbor. Coming from a military world where you are trained to hate the different and see anyone as a potential enemy this was a pleasant culture shock. I felt comfortable enough to wander alone, explore the sounds and different stages, dance around, talk to girls (trust me, this is a shock), and enjoy sitting alone. It seemed to be a judgement free zone. Certainly there were drunks and troublemakers, but these seemed to be the exception not the rule. In fact, there were more problems, aggressive people, and drunks at a Lindsey Stirling concert I went to recently than any rave I’ve been to.

Unfortunately, things aren’t always peaceful. Most ravers have stories about the police doing drug busts and shutting down raves. I’ve even heard rumors of undercover cops hanging out near DanceSafe (an organization that tests drugs at raves to make sure people don’t OD) and arresting people who go to them for information and tests. In fact, Assemblywoman Ma from California attempted to ban EDM and seemed shocked when she found out it was unconstitutional to ban a type of music, so she worked to ban LED gloves and pacifiers instead. What this really is is an attempt to use the government to ban what is not understood. And the result is raves moving underground or leaving states where they feel unnecessary pressure from the state.

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Just look at those troublemakers…

If the state must exist the resources should be used to protect those that are weak, not punish those that are different. Every dollar spent going undercover to make low-end drug arrests and shut down raves is a dollar not available to investigate rapes and murders. Any person who thinks that this is an appropriate use of tax-dollars should find the victim of a crime and explain to them why the murder of their loved one or their rape should have resources taken away from it to stop an adult from dancing while wearing a fur vest. We have homes for abused woman and mental health facilities severely underfunded but we have kids going to underground parties because you can’t celebrate life in the open without fearing arrest.

I may not be the biggest fan of EDM but it is a community that has shown me love and I do hope it is here to stay. These are people who embrace peace instead of war, love instead hate, and communication over passive-aggressiveness. It is simply discrimination to punish those with legal action for celebrating a life in a way that is new or isn’t understood.

I think we could have a lot of fun together…

And this is why I think I have better than expected odds of hooking up with Ke$ha if I ran into her on the streets of LA…. She can fetishize my beard anytime and I’d love to take a ride in her gold trans am…

Pop star/Dr. Teeth impersonator Ke$ha has a reality show on MTV calledMy Crazy Beautiful Life. It is not beautiful, nor is it particularly crazy in the scheme of reality TV, but I do find her sexual frankness to be radical for a woman in her field.

While female sexuality in pop has been pronounced for decades, it has translated to the real lives and/or personas of its sources in vaguely fictive terms (see Lil’ Kim), in serial monogamy (see Madonna) or with qualification (Pink, whose most recent album features the song “Slut Like You,” explained to Glamour that she’s in fact a “reformed slut“). Ke$ha, who snarls lyrics like, “Don’t be a little bitch with your chit chat Just show me where your dick’s at,” and writes songs about her vagina (“Wham bam, thank you, man / Get inside my fucking gold Trans-Am”) is, at a minimum, committed to giving the illusion that she lives as she sings/whine-raps. Though given the continued cultural disdain for female promiscuity and her rock-star status, there’s good reason to believe that she’s harvesting all the dick that she brags about.

Les Miserables

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This weekend my partner and I went and saw Les Miserables while visiting some of my family down in San Diego. Like most people, her and I left with tear stained cheeks and red eyes. There really wasn’t a dry eye in the house and I really, really enjoyed it.

I highly recommend it but it is always a unique experience as a man to cry in public. There are certain things that I think provoke the waterworks for individuals but for me it is almost always military/war related. I think the combination of losing friends in combat and my strong pro-peace stance makes these issues particularly moving. It was just impossible for me not to reflect on my friends when Marius reflects on the death of all his friends I just lost it. Especially after the XFF where Anastasia talked about the social stigma against men showing emotions.

The whole performance was incredible to me. I didn’t really know anything about Les Miserables before arriving and certainly didn’t know any of the songs but really enjoyed it. Samantha Barks as Eponine particularly stood out to me as a non-musical expert. Anyway… Les Mis is highly recommended and I’m hoping to read the novel some time this year.

“Warrior”

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Seriously… who wouldn’t wanna make out with her?

As my friends on Facebook know, I have a decent celebrity lust for Ke$ha, I would love to meet her and I am not really one that gets celebrity crushes. I guess some of my blog followers may not know that, I’m not exactly sure what the FB-to-WP cross-over is to be honest (if we aren’t FB friends we should be… I am pretty loose with my FB friend accepts and I love “meeting” new people). Anyway, her new album came out this week and I really enjoyed it. After reading a review of the album in The Atlantic (see: Ke$ha Is the Last Great Rock Star) I was pretty excited for it. So, here are my thoughts on the album.

I really like the whole thing, there is a certain righteous rebellious streak that  runs throughout the songs. She rejects social norms and the tradition of our parents generation. Instead of embracing a cynical skepticism she calls for an acceptance of how things are and a desire to make the most of it.

I think that people who were raised in the 80’s and 90’s are rightfully fed up with the “holier than thou” mentality that is always shoved in our faces. We are told that we are selfish by a generation that has spent our money before we had it, that has rejected any type of real reform in exchange for cute words like “hope” and “change”. And then we are told that we don’t care enough.

The generation before us protested Vietnam but seem okay with two political parties that start wars across the globe and kill scores of innocents with drones from the sky. They smoked pot and embraced a hippie culture but have no problem imprisoning thousands for drug possession and continuing a failed prohibition policy. Our parents continue to try and control our bodies and decisions with antiquated views of morality that they ignored, and then call us lazy when we live in a destroyed economy that they created.

So yes, Ke$ha basically says “fuck it”, this is who we are and we are going to have a good time. She encourages everyone to be proud of who they are, live a life of love, and to stop pretending. The rallying cry of “fight for the fuck ups, stand up for true love” spits in the face of the facade of the previous generation who preaches love from either the pulpit or the hippie commune but usually practices selfishness, destructive politics, and war.

At least that’s my rant about the whole thing… Her album is art open to interpretation by anyone and if Ke$ha read this she may disagree with everything. Regardless, I like the album and my coworkers are kind of stuck with it drifting softly out of my office door for the next little while.

Some other songs that I either found really catchy or had a good message: “Die Young”, “Dirty Love”, and “Gold Trans Am”… but just listen to the whole thing on Spotify or something.