Picture an immense reservoir with a serene backdrop of green rolling hills dotted with trees, in foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Now plop an eccentric lakeside festival there, and what you have is Serenity Gathering. But the gathering was so much more than just lakeside music and festivities. The festival was an intentional gathering that focused on music, art, and raising consciousness. Sprawled out on a whimsically lobed peninsula, the same location where Symbiosis 2016 was held, was 4 beautifully crafted stages. The main stage had intricate laser printed geometric wood panels with LED screen focal points, however in my opinion its light and lazer show was mediocre. For me it was my least favorite stage aesthetically, mostly because you could clearly see the trusses around the stage and it made it look like an industrial metal box. With that being said, the visuals and glowing obelisks really brought the stage to life with full-spectrum color.
The Euphoric Bounce Stage was a Burning Man art car with bright fluorescent colors, massive speakers, and ejected columns of fire out of the top. The Bounce Stage was probably the most impressive; its vivid animal prints and disco balls screamed 80's neon disco meets megalithic jungle rave. The music here was fun and primal, with its several DJs pumping out high-BPM dance music.
The Pisces Moon stage hosted more hardcore sounds of bass music, including Drum n Bass, Dubstep, Trap, and other uncategorizable sounds. The stage itself was creatively designed like a glowing Las Vegas cathedral with organ-like pipes above the DJ’s table. Attendees could enjoy sonic sermons from artists like Conrank, CharlesTheFirst, and spacegeishA. It was the smallest stage but it had blindingly bright spotlights that shot pillars of light thousands of feet into the air. The one design flaw of this stage was that it faced directly to the campgrounds. Therefore it was difficult to get any sleep unless blaring, wonky and sometimes aggressive music is your lullaby.
By far my favorite stage in terms of both music and aesthetic was the New Moon Stage. Nestled in between lit up trees, the whole New Moon stage area had a silk road vibe to it. Next to the stage, in a lush nook beside the lake, was an interactive art installation called “The Forest of Dreams”. The art environment had a large spiral crafted out of driftwood, several glowing and hanging crystals, as well as a tea booth with journals for guests to write inspiring notes to each other. The New Moon stage itself was brilliantly crafted out of organic looking materials like wood, rope, and fabric. In the surrounding area were four similarly crafted viewing platforms, where you could find cuddle puddles all weekend. The stage bolstered a mutitude of genres from Psydub to lots of techno during the Moontribe full moon takeover. On the first night there was a man with a bike trailer with solar panels, LED lights, a propane stove, and a couch. We sat together listening to Wolftech's wonderful set while he cooked random people delicious grilled cheeses. There was definitely a spirit of selfless giving at the event, similar to some of the culture found at Burning Man.
The vibe at the gathering was positive, full of mellow and down-to-earth participants. Unlike many larger gatherings and festivals, I ran into nobody acting belligerent. Although there was definitely people who came to rage, everyone, for the most part, was respectful and courteous. I met several painters and artists who were also friendly and happy to share their passions and strike up a conversation. Overall it felt like there was a sense of close-knit community where people gathered to share interests and catalyze human connection.
At the core of the stages, in the nucleus of the event, was the “Heart of Serenity,”. This area was topped with sacred geometrical lycra sails, and hosted a variety of a workshops, yoga and community happenings such as ecstatic dance, ceremonies and a tea dome. Workshops ranged from how to make Kombucha to Kirtan-infused voice looping. Heart of Serenity offered a loving and warm environment that was a haven for those seeking a more transformative experience, however I feel that the area could be expanded upon in future years. Throughout the gathering were little pockets of magic and creativity, such as the art gallery by the main stage, multiple art cars, and several art installations. Each experience in these areas was unique and special, and it definitely showcased a glimpse of the far-out creativity that the West Coast has to offer.
It seemed that performance art was especially highlighted at the gathering. The Main Stage and New Moon Stage hosted a variety of performers who shared their talents in movement and flow art. I saw many impressive feats such as fire spinning with a rope dart (which is extremely dangerous btw), sword dancing, aerial silking, and a variety of other dazzling dance forms. At the pinnacle of the gathering was creative expression, and it was a delight to see so many creative souls manifesting their visions.
Overall, there were many facets of the gathering that made it a signature California festival. The beautiful scenery, lake shenanigans, over-the-top creativity, great organic food vendors, and of course some dust. You can’t have a California festival without just a little bit of dust in the air. The festival was easy to access, with hardly any long lines, and the relatively small number of attendees sprawled over the expansive festival grounds and campsite made for an uncrowded yet intimate gathering. I would recommend this gathering for anyone who loves a SoCal festival vibe but can't resist NorCal climate and landscape (the festival was only 1.5 hours from Yosemite). For anybody who loves Bass culture but also dabbles in some DnB, Psy and Techno. For those of you craving community, connection and creativity—Serenity Gathering is for you.
Written by Colin Eldridge