“No matter how old you are, you are always malleable in some way. Once you decide who you are as a person is when you stop growing.”
These are the inspirational words that came out of a beautiful soul and new found friend at F.A.R.M. Fest 2016. We were sitting in the “Workshop Way” area enjoying beverages at the tea lounge, listening to ambient music float over from the Integration Stage, a renegade-style stage with massive fluorescent dream catchers on either side. I was sitting in a circle with fellow festival attendees, having deep conversations about life, love, growth, and change. It was part of a conversation very fitting of F.A.R.M.’s motto - #GrowTogether.
There was a lot of valuable knowledge to be gained at F.A.R.M. - not only from the patrons, but also from the variety of workshops they offered at “Workshop Way”. With over 35 workshops offered over the 3-day event, this year the festival put on its most extensive workshop programming ever. I got to learn how to make natural tie-dye out of turmeric powder, and also learned how to climb a tree with a harness and rope. There were Cacao and Kava ceremonies, natural and medicinal plant walks, and a plethora of different yoga classes. I think what I was most impressed by was that this year they offered “F.A.R.M. Anonymous” meetings, for attendees that decided to party sober. Sober spaces and meetings are something that are desperately needed in the festival community, and this festival was leading by example. There was a little something for everyone at F.A.R.M., and you didn’t have to search far to find it.
If it was 3 days in the forest you were searching for, F.A.R.M. was the place to be. The entire festival was set in the beautiful Paradise Lakes Campground, which is deep in the Pine Barrens of south Jersey. There was ample space to hike around and find seclusion in the beautiful oak-pine ecosystem. At night, the trees lit up and the entire place became a magical fairy playground, much like a Sherwood Forest of the East Coast. During the day, the trees provided ample shade for the high 90 degree weather. All camping was in the woods, so we never felt like we were baking in the sun all day. If we did get a little overheated, a dip in the shallow pond (really more of a marsh) cooled us off.
The main stage was right on the shores of the pond, so we spent a lot of time listening to great music like Tweed and Spiritual Rez while soaking in the healing cedar water. At night, the sandy shore was perfect for dancing at the main stage, and the music continued full blast until sunrise.
There were three separate stages, all with their own unique vibe and setting. The integration stage was the farthest walk, but still no longer than a few minutes from any given camp site. With a generator, a card table, some overhead tarps, and the previously mentioned dreamcatchers, this stage had a simple setup that could pack a punch. Psytrance, dub, ambient, and other electronic styles of music permeated from this stage all weekend long.
Down the path from the Integration stage, the Funkadelphia stage was a crowd favorite. I would always find people going buck-wild at this stage. It had a large blue dome that rose skyward and featured several LED video panels which displayed captivating visuals. The stage’s funky bass and heavy dubstep sets from artists like Wax Future, SOOHAN, ill-Esha, Brightside, and Freddy Todd melted people’s faces through the incredibly thunderous Funktion-One sound system. Our friend group's campsite was right across the venue from this stage, and the dirty dubstep was a bit much at times when it was 6 AM in the morning. Although, I’m sure that many of the patrons wanted to keep the party going as long as they could.
The main stage was by far my favorite, due to the sheer creativity and craftsmanship that went into it. Last year, the 2015 the main stage blew me away with its sacred geometric lashings on top. This year, the F.A.R.M. Fest production crew outdid themselves. The stage had an outline of drift wood carefully placed around the border of the stage. In the back there was a large wooden eye with spiral patterns in the iris. LED panels surrounded the eye on both sides delivering visuals. To top it all off, there were three diamond shaped wooden sculptures on top of the stage. Add on the epic laser shows every night, and the whole main stage experience was absolutely phenomenal.
The music wasn’t the only thing blowing my mind. Fire performances were on point for the entire weekend, accompanying most evening sets at the main stage. Also, the amount of visionary artwork and live painters was overwhelming in the best of ways. In the main stage area, there was at least 20 artists either selling their paintings or creating them live. Before Emancipator’s set, I had a long talk with an incredible artist named Drake Arnold. Some other great artists I met included Alexia Valez and Andrea Tuccio. All of the art at the festival was phenomenally psychedelic and consciousness-expanding, to say the least.
Now this may sound a bit dark, but someone has to Come out and say it...
F.A.R.M. Fest labels itself a “transformational gathering” and is “inspired by the free thinking movement”. The festival was indeed a place to co-create freely and openly, and was an opportunity to learn, grow, and awaken one’s own consciousness. However, this year I considered F.A.R.M. to be more of a Music and Arts Festival than anything else. I would not have called it a transformational gathering, and here’s why.
At various points throughout the weekend it became evident to me that many people were more concerned with partying than they were about transforming themselves or anything. It seemed that the crowd was not there to heal each other or the planet, in fact at times people were doing harm to themselves and not treating each other and the space with respect. The festival grounds were left relatively trashed (which is also a larger problem in society and the festival scene in general). There were cigarette butts thrown in the pond, whole tents just left behind, trash strewn about the campgrounds.
Here’s the thing: if we’re going to have a transformational gathering, we need to be regenerating the landscape instead of trashing it with our parties. Leave no trace is outdated... we need to leave a space BETTER than we found it. We need to celebrate with eco-intention and purpose. We need to talk about and work towards decolonization and anti-oppression, right now. It is time to recognize that attendees at so-called transformational gatherings are practicing sacred indigenous ceremony on stolen indigenous land. Land where genocide and colonization occurred.
We need workshops on cultural appropriation. We need time and space to honor the land and the people who inhabited it before us. Such gatherings are meant to create alternatives to the problems we experience in society. However, they often perpetuate the very same systems put in place to oppress marginalized groups and destroy ecosystems. This is why less focus must be placed on how hard we can rage, and more focus put on teaching each other how we can heal our broken society. These critiques are not unique to F.A.R.M. Fest, but to the transformational scene in general.
Another thing I noticed at the festival this year was that the vibe was a little bit different. Having attended the festival for the past 3 years, I noticed that the crowd this year was looking more for the bass and less for the workshops and healing. There were times where my friends and myself experienced intense negative energy coming from some of the heavier DJ sets. I even had a conversation with an organizer who told me that the healers at the festival were being disrupted in their lightwork by dark forces. I was not the only one at the festival who experienced these vibes, and I think it was indicative of this year’s larger crowd, heavier and darker musical line-up. Even though I believe this year had more workshops and art installations than ever before, there was no doubt that the music brought a very specific type of crowd.
Despite some of the negative experiences at F.A.R.M., I would say that every moment was more of an opportunity to learn and grow. Not every festival or crowd is perfect. Yes, at times the event seemed a bit disorganized, or people were being disrespectful, or trashing the land. And yet ALL of the experiences, good and bad, were opportunities to learn more about myself and others. The knowledge I take home with me from the event outweighs some of the negativity I experienced.
Even if we don’t get everything we expect out of certain experiences, in one way or another every experience helps us grow. Even from the brightest light comes shadow, and from the darkness there is so much for us to learn. Overall I learned that we all have things to work on as humans, and we are here to help each other do so. We were all put on this planet to #GrowTogether, we are ever-evolving. Hopefully these sentiments will be reflected in the future at F.A.R.M. Music and Arts Festival.
Written by Colin Eldridge