Wanderlust Festival: Common, Andrew Bird, John Friend and Shiva Rea Rock Out in Squaw Valley

The concept of yoga by day, live music party by night in a gorgeous mountain town sounded like a dream. But could this ambitious festival concept live up to its potential and come together in an authentic way?
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A few weeks ago, I wrote a post for the HuffPost about the Wanderlust Festival: a three day music festival and yoga retreat in Lake Tahoe with featured artists including Michael Franti, Andrew Bird, Jenny Lewis, John Friend and Shiva Rea. When I first heard about it, the concept of yoga by day, live music party by night in a gorgeous mountain town sounded like a dream. But could this ambitious festival concept, with potentially polarized crowds, live up to its potential and come together in an organic, authentic way? I was a little skeptical.

To my delight, Squaw Valley was not overrun with over-the-top yoga enthusiast clichés or people that would make me self conscious to "OM" in public. Instead, Wanderlust attracted a crowd of people with positive energy, ready to share yoga practices, meditate, learn about mind/body wellness and follow it all with some live music, cold beer and late night dance parties.

The yoga classes took place inside studios, outdoors under tents or in front of concert stages from 8am to 4pm. There were about 1,500 participants for the weekend and class size ranged from twenty to 200. Over the three days, I took 8 classes: some with John Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga and the type of yogi icon that could seemingly fill a mega church; another with Duncan Wong, a virtual ninja and creator of Yogic Arts, and several others. It was a veritable buffet of yoga teachers and styles.

One of my favorite classes of the weekend, "Off the Hook" with Shiva Rea, seamlessly blended traditional moves like sun salutations with trance dance and DJ tracks with hand drums. When Ms. Rea first described the intention of the class, for us to let ourselves 'off the hook' from our hang-ups through impromptu free body movement, my inner cynic reappeared - this sounds out there -- can I really get down like that? But by the end of class, everyone, including me, was naturally and joyously dancing to trance music and drum beats you might only expect to find at a rave. It was incredible - Shiva Rea had managed to transition the entire class from guided Prana flow to completely freestyle expression, resulting in series of movements never seen beyond the four walls of my room.

My other favorite class of the weekend was a sweaty Bhakti flow taught by Rusty Wells, a yoga guru based in San Francisco. His session began with some spirited chanting and tambourine, followed by "Let's Rock it out!" While we moved from child's pose to cobra, 2Pac's "California Love" and Led Zepplin's "Whole Lotta Love" bumped from the speakers. The huge tent set up to shield us from the sun reverberated with sound, while the blue sky was visible from all 200 yoga mats. Rusty's philosophical mantras stayed with me: "Make peace with uncertainty", "most importantly, be kind," and like any good coach, "sit down three more inches in that chair...this is not your grandma's utkatasana."

As for music, the main setting was the Gold Coast stage at High Camp, 8,200 feet up and accessible only by gondolas. The crowd was not too large, an estimated 5,000 people there to see music, so when I wasn't grabbing a beer or going for a dip in the swimming hole nearby, there wasn't a bad seat in the house.

The lineup consisted of quality musicians that seemed appropriate for a California, mountain, yoga and music festival: Michael Franti, Andrew Bird, Jenny Lewis, Broken Social Scene, Spoon, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, and Sharon Jones, who were all spectacular to watch against vistas fit to inspire a Bob Ross painting.

At the last minute Michael Franti, who was set to headline the main stage on Saturday night had to cancel due to appendicitis; he was replaced by hip-hop artisit Common, whom I haven't seen live in a long time and happens to be one of my favorites. Living in Austin, I have had the chance to see Franti several times, so I was secretly delighted about the swap. Common gave a great show and added a welcome edginess and musical diversity to the lineup.

Late night back down at base camp, Girl Talk mixed tracks like "Bombs Over Baghdad" with "Shout" and a Bhangra DJ, DJ Rekha played at an inside bar until the wee hours. Massive dance parties ensued, fire twirlers, hula-hoopers and drag queens milled about, and bars in the Squaw Valley functioned on on all six cylinders until 2am. "I hope this doesn't make you miss your morning Yoga classes!" DJ Rekha called out over the crowd. Valid concern.

In addition to the abundance of quality music and yoga, Squaw Valley ski village provided an ideal infrastructure for the festival. There were bars, restaurants and shops already in place that could benefit from commerce in the slow summer season, and most importantly, available bathrooms were ubiquitous. On top of that, the Wanderlust producers, Jeff Krasno and Schuyler Grant, promoted environmental conscientiousness and progressive movements by sourcing local food at Squaw Valley restaurants and going to great lengths to achieve a 90% zero-waste goal for the festival.

In the end, Wanderlust was a great balance of spirituality, mind/body wellness, live music, and dance-your-ass-off good times that showed all of those things could be experienced while standing in front of a stage or on a yoga mat. It was a unique experience for me and three days after I have returned, I'm still looking at my pictures once a day, breathing deeper and looking forward to next year.

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