LAST year I made my way to my first transformational festival, Desert Hearts. That festival and weekend changed the way I view festivals and still impacts my life to this day. During the first night there I was talking among some new friends and they mentioned a festival that had taken place the weekend before called Serenity Gathering. They were absolutely gushing over this festival, from the lineup, to the vibes, and especially over the festival’s intention. Fast forward a year later and I’m turning off a desert highway in Joshua Tree to welcome in the spring equinox for the 2016 edition of Serenity Gathering.
THIS year, Serenity Gathering was not without its missteps. Having the location moved so last minute was not only inconvenient for festival attendees, but also created staging issues for the festival itself, which lead to technical difficulties and long delays. And although the Joshua Tree Retreat Center was an absolutely beautiful location, that provided a gorgeous backdrop for all sorts of festival shenanigans; its close proximity to civilization created a noise conflict that left much to be desired, especially with the late night sets. With music at the main stage ending early the late night music was in the hands of the Bridge Family Stage, and the New Moon Stage, and even though these two stages were further away the volume was still reduced. This however did not stop the smiles and love that was over flowing at this festival.
SERENITY was a place where everyone was greeted with a hug and smile, where families of all kinds came together, where parents introduced their children to a lifestyle of love and compassion, and where friends partied smiled laughed and loved together. With the engraved wooden arches breaking the tree line we were beckoned into the main grounds of the festival. Outlining the grounds were the vendors; from hoops, to thirdeye pinecones, pizza, designer hoods, noodles, festival fashion, and everything in between the vendors at Serenity had just about something for everyone.
BEHIND the main stage was a steep hill that provided not only a windswept, breathtaking view of the entirety of the festival, but also a stark contrast to the normal world just on the other side. Inside the walls of the festival we were free to express our true selves. We were able to drop the stresses of normal life for a weekend and let the music consume us. With teaching, flow, and yoga workshops there was plenty to do for any weary soul that wanted to recharge and heal…but the main attraction of course was the music and Serenity delivered.
BY the time we set up camp and made our way to the main stage Labrat was putting the finishing touches on an amazing set that had us grooving while setting up our weekend home. After Labrat was Big Wild who threw down by far the best set of the entire weekend. His mix of live and electronic music blended together perfectly with the rising dust cloud created from the dancing feet of the crowd taking in every last note. Saturday was highlighted by three hours of Phutureprimative and Shpongle both of whom pushed the boundaries electronic music. Even with all of these great electronic acts it was wildly refreshing to see such a variety of music offered. From soulful rock, to funk, reggae, and hip hop there was a musical diversification that was only matched by the festival attendees.
FOR a lot of people the main attraction of festivals isn’t the music nor is it the workshops, it’s that genuine human interaction that we today have seemed to have lost. Strangers greet each other like old friends and in and amongst the shade you can see piles of people lying together catching a nap or hiding from the desert sun. On the main road traders set up shop and struck up conversations with those passing to and from the campsite and main stage in what became a surreal festival silk road.
ALTHOUGH it had its faults this edition of Serenity Gathering was an absolutely incredible experience, and honestly perfection in a festival is very hard to achieve, and by overcoming these obstacles I know next year Serenity will be better off for it. All in all it was an absolutely amazing way to kick off festival season and I can’t wait to gather next year for a weekend of Serenity.
Recap Teaser provided by Michael Daniel
Photos provided by Jacob Avanzato