Creating and hosting a music festival is no easy feat. Festival goers get to show up, set up camp, and enjoy. But what of the people who are tirelessly slapping on wristbands and checking reams of guest lists in the face of artists, performers, media and staff. Those who have been on-site building, preparing, and sweating only to take it all down after the festival is over. Though seemingly disorganized, Serenity Gathering managed to put together a beautiful festival in spite of oversold tickets and overworked staff. From the eyes of attendees, it was nothing but beautiful music, art, performances and oak trees.
Only in its second year, Serenity Gathering grew from a newborn to a teenager with its stacked lineup and more than doubled ticket sales. While it was clear that the organizers were slightly in over their heads, I did not see one frowning face amidst a glowing sea of colorfully decorated individuals. Part of the adventure of creating something magnificent is testing your might, learning from mistakes and rising above the struggle. Serenity Gathering did just that. Set in the beautifully serene La Jolla Indian Reservation, there was plenty of shade to keep you cool in the day time and as long as you kept dancing, the forty-something degree nights were bearable. The expansive setup made walking to and from camp and the stages more of a hike than a stroll, but with psychedelically lit trees, glistening streams, and plenty of art to see on the way, it became part of the experience.
Released in three mind-melting phases, the lineup was beyond amazing. With four stages, Bridge Family, New Moon, Frequinox and Serenity, there was no shortage of variety spanning from electronic to psy-trance to indie rock and experimental to hip hop with every shade of beat, bass and instrument in between. Some of the most memorable and gut-vibrating sets were G Jones, Thriftworks, Stelouse, Vokab Kompany, Desert Dwellers, Andreilien, Mr. Bill, Vibesquad, Sugarpill, and Dela Moontribe. The Desert Hearts crew kept the Frequinox stage hopped up on house. Some of the acts I was sad to miss were J*Labs, J-Pod, Eoto, CloZee, Herbert Bail Orchestra, TV Broken 3rd Eye Open, Pega5u5, and many more. Such a massive lineup made it difficult to see everyone and scheduling mix-ups made it difficult to know who you were seeing.
One of the most unique acts I stumbled upon was Magick for the Masses, a quirky psychedelic-electro duo whose one-of-a-kind SpaceHarp hypnotized and magnetized the audience. Like a polyphonic Theremin, the SpaceHarp functions on human electromagnetic currents, lighting up and emitting sound with the wave of a hand. With nine infrared beams that are triggered by shadow as well as three sonar sensors that act as effects modulation by height, the SpaceHarp translates motion into melody. They ended their set with a shared incantation from the audience and a giant group hug. Definitely one of the most engaging sets I experienced at Serenity Gathering.
The performance artists have become a necessary fixture at these gatherings. A designated rock circle for fire performers gave audiences a somewhat safe distance to observe these master flame manipulators. Blazing staffs, poi and rope darts swung, twirled, and flew through every tangent of the circle. One would be so lucky to feel the warmth of these fiery apparatuses whizzing passed as any source of heat was welcomed on those chilly nights. Illuminated hula-hoopers were peppered throughout the crowd along with every other light up toy imaginable. Nighttime at Serenity Gathering was glowing with a Technicolor aura of LED lights and fire. Desert Dwellers had some of the most memorable performers. Scantily clad women with swords and snakes, dipped and writhed on stage behind them. The imagery was both erotic and bizarre.
All great festivals begin in the hearts of dreamers. Combine that dream with the power of music and something magical is born. Even many of the greatest and longest running festivals are flawed as it is impossible to predict and prepare for the many variables a massive gathering brings. Serenity, albeit chaotic at times, was a glorious gathering of beautiful souls, magnetic minds and inspiring art. I have no doubt that it will soon be listed among the many great festivals that one must attend. Even amidst the excitement, chaos, and energy of a music festival, my heart found peace at Serenity Gathering.