Words by Ian Stone :: Images by Susan J. Weiand
Earthdance :: 09.16 - 09.18 :: Black Oak Ranch :: Laytonville, CA
Earthdance is not just a festival focused on music, but rather a
festival of spiritual consciousness, environmental and political activism
and awareness, and a vortex of energy being reflected from various other
points around the globe. The setting was perfect - about 150 miles north of San Francisco at the historic Hog Farm owned by the one and only Wavy Gravy – the site of many gatherings and the famous PigNics throughout the '80s and '90s. The Earthdance organization is focused on the collective efforts of everyone gathering to spread peace through music.
The height of this collective energy occurred on Saturday at 4 p.m., when a
prayer for peace was conducted uniting over 180 cities in 50 nations around the world all
involved with Earthdance. This was an intense gathering and required concentration and spiritual dedication to the moment in order to make it work; otherwise you'd be standing around wondering what was happening. Chanting and ambient music filled the background as everyone raised their hands in unison in order to channel the energy. Through these collective efforts at the festival, many people learned about themselves, their neighbors, and the worlds around them, which ultimately help to bring us all to the goal for which Earthdance strives: peace and awareness through music, activism, and spirituality.
The Black Oak Ranch was set up and organized quite well, leaving festival attendees the choice of camping with their vehicle, bringing their gear into the woods for shade, or parking for the day and leaving in the evening. At times, however, the parking staff was a bit confused, and people had to endure long waits to get in and get parked. The parking and camping situation required that you have a minimum of three people in each vehicle to be able to park for free, but this didn't always seem to be enforced. This was a great way of encouraging people to carpool because if you did not have enough people, you would be charged $20 to park your car. The festival promoters also set up a website called "Spaceshare" to help people get connected with each other to make sure that every car would have enough people. The festival was very "green" in that regard, and it seemed that everyone there had the same love for the Earth and respected the grounds by cleaning up and packing out their trash. Recycling and trash pickup were all quite well organized, and everyone seemed to be doing their part.
The main stage area had quite a bit going on aside from the music. A plethora of vendors kept busy with clothing, incense and air fresheners, as well as live CDs of the sets taking place on the main stage. There were also various art installations - some done as festival decorations, others done by festival attendees, and some, like the Earth mandala, that were collaborations between the festival organizers and the attendees. The food court was adjacent to the main stage, and all of the vendors' food was healthy and made with organic ingredients. Also near the main stage was a beer and wine garden, and adjacent to the main stage opposite the food court was 'Kidlandia' - a place to keep the little ones occupied.
Kan'Nal :: Earthdance 2005
Aside from the main stage, there were three other stages scattered around the festival grounds - The Taj Mahal Dome (Temple of electronica), The Arlo Forest Stage, and the Diner Divine. The smaller stages were all set up quite well, with great decorations to keep everyone's eyes stimulated. The way that each of these stages was set up was quite unique, and they all worked very well in their own way. Other places of interest were the Lotus Temple, the swimming hole in the river, and the fire circle that had drums going all night. The activist alley was a great place to get involved and to get educated, and many charities such as Conscious Alliance, Earth First, and the Make-a-Fish foundation were there raising money.
The Taj Mahal dome, with a stage on one end and walls covered with tapestries and lights, was packed most of the time with hippie-raver types dancing to the various DJs. Although at night the dome became a haven for glow-sticks and psychedelic light patterns, during the daytime the dome was used for activism talks and yoga. The Arlo Forest stage was a typical outdoor stage, but they used hay bales in the rear concert area for people to sit on and relax, which gave the stage a great vibe. The Diner Divine was the most relaxed and chill of the stages and was enclosed by tapestries with a roof on top for shade during the day and space heaters for warmth at night. Not only was there music at the Diner, but they had a kitchen there serving sandwiches, breakfast foods, and drinks at any time of day and a coffee shop serving up various java concoctions. Couches, bean-bags, cozy chairs, and blankets filled the inside of the Diner, allowing festivarians to relax and take a load off. It was a good place to just hang around, chat, and meet some great people.
Musically, the festival had quite a diverse lineup, ranging from reggae bands to electronica and from down-tempo DJs to hip-hop and more. This attracted a very diverse crowd and brought them all together through the collective energy of the festival. I wished that some of the time slots were longer, allowing the bands to get more comfortable, but such is the nature of festivals. I thought many of the bands on the bill were great; however, I felt the lineup was lacking in regards to larger acts. I found Prezident Brown to be a bit of a letdown after I had heard of his reggae greatness and was really looking forward to his set. Although he was "into it," moving around the stage and expressing himself, I found his band to be dry and predictable. Culture on the other hand was probably the best reggae band at the festival, and they delivered an energetic set full of some of their best material. New Monsoon, Kan'Nal, Hamsa Lila, and Aphrodesia with the African Showboyz delivered great sets, and all of them had decent crowds showing up to dance. Ozomatli seemed to be another crowd favorite and brought out a good number of people in the late afternoon. Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Zap Mama, and Electric Apricot, featuring Les Claypool, were some other impressive names on the bill.
Karl Denson :: Earthdance 2005
Steve Kimock and Friends will at times bore me, but during this set they really hit the nail on the head, possibly due to the change in lineup. Former KVHW band-mate drummer Alan Hertz joined Kimock on stage after not playing together for five years. Along with keyboardist Eric Levy and bassist Liam Hanrahan, they gave new life to Kimock's catalog and filled it with energy and direction. Michael Franti joined in for "Everything is Everything" and really got the crowd going. Franti seems to be a favorite at Earthdance, so it was no surprise that the crowd went wild when he hit the stage. Many of his loyal fans were probably just arriving as Spearhead was scheduled to take the stage next. Franti's set was good, but it was just as expected with a great deal of politics mixed in with the hippy-hop sound and his trademark "How you feelin'?" to get the crowd amped up. He did reflect on some current events happening domestically - mainly the hurricane tragedy, so it was nice to see him focus on something other than Iraq in his music for a change.
Steve Kimock and Alan Hertz :: Earthdance 2005
After catching a little bit of Franti, I headed over to the Taj Mahal Dome to check out Ganga Giri. Ganga Giri is a live electronica band that came all the way from
Australia to play at Earthdance. For me, this was one of the highlights of the festival, and knowing that it would be a while before I'd get to see them live again, I vowed to check them out the following day at the Diner Divine. Ganga Giri is focused around the didgeridoo, at times incorporating an electronic didg, which has different selectable tones and a sliding mouthpiece that can be used to control pitch and depth. Other parts of the band include a DJ, percussion section, and bass. After such an impressive performance one hopes that Ganga Giri comes to the U.S. for a full tour, or at the very least, comes back again next year for Earthdance 2006. The Taj Mahal dome was packed for their set, and there was even a crowd of people waiting for others to exit in order to take a turn inside. I met a few folks from Australia who had traveled to Earthdance just to see Ganga Giri play, so there must be a good following for them Down Under.
Steve Kimock and Michael Franti :: Earthdance 2005
The best dance party of the weekend came when Signal Path took the Arlo Forest stage on Sunday evening. Due to heavy dust problems in the Taj Mahal Dome, Signal Path's set was switched over to the Arlo Forest at 6:45 p.m. This was to be Transcendental Hayride's slot, and they were gracious enough to give way to Signal Path, knowing that the band had traveled all the way from Missoula, Montana to be a part of Earthdance. Signal Path was thankful, and even mentioned Transcendental Hayride's kindness during their set. With a surprise guest bass player who was temporary filling in, Signal Path gave it their all and found some new fans along the way. Pumping out a heavy trance-based sound, the two drummers kept the groove going and kept the energy level high all throughout the set. Unlike the trance sounds of Sound Tribe Sector 9, to which Signal Path is often compared, the band seemed to raise the bar by taking the trance style and adding a more upbeat danceable rhythm to it, including other elements like jazz and funk. Not one person in the crowd was sitting down or standing still. Everyone was getting down for the hour-long set that Signal Path delivered. Although it left everyone wanting more and yelling "encore," Signal Path definitely left their mark on Earthdance.
Earthdance attendees were encouraged to bring instruments and drums, which was fully embraced by all, and made for some interesting camp jams and late night drumming sessions. It seemed there was a parade happening everywhere you looked, with people drumming, dancing, and waving flags. It was a non-stop celebration. There were drum sessions in the back of pick-up trucks driving around the campgrounds, banjo-picking sessions under a tree, and best of all - the late, late night drum circle and jam down by the river camp fire. People came to sing, drum, play guitar, and connect with one another on many levels. It was the perfect way to end an amazing festival.
JamBase | Earthdance
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