Genius Loci: Exploring Authenticity Beyond the Festival
I have attended a lot of music festivals in the past six years, especially since I have begun covering them professionally. Every festival is different and has a lot to offer the attendee; however, a few festivals always will stand alone. One of these is Burning Man: not so much a music festival as a life festival, this bright collective celebration of consciousness. Another, which I discovered this past weekend in Punta Cabras, Baja Mexico, two hours down a windy dirt road on a campground by the ocean was Genius Loci festival.
Unlike the larger festivals I have attended this was small, simple, and pure. It felt more like being at a theme camp on the Playa than a large scale music festival and that was exactly what made it so special. It was a beautiful group of friends who all had come together to share art, music, food, yoga, the ocean, and a general good time together. It was impossible to walk around without a smile radiating from the deepest part of oneself and joy was completely contagious.
Similar to my Burning Man experience, which I wrote about here, I decided to go to this festival very last minute and that brought up a lot of fear and resistance. What if I forgot something? I wouldn’t know anyone when I was there! My cellphone won’t work and I’ll be in a foreign country! The evening before I left I sat in my Los Angeles apartment surrounded by camping stuff and this tightness in my chest wouldn’t release. What if I had made a terrible mistake? I had only ever texted the person who was giving me a ride… all I could think of were the thousands of ways everything could go horribly wrong. I forced myself to remember I had done this before. I recognized that I was afraid and instead of fighting it I accepted it and that forced me to let go of any expectations for the event. Since I had no idea what to expect I was free to purely be in the moment.
Immediately upon meeting the people I was carpooling from LA to Mexico with my heart relaxed and this extreme sense of being exactly where I was supposed to be settled over me. As immediately as my fear had gripped me it began to dissipate as I opened to the possibility of connecting the way we so easily do at festivals. I sat in the car and began to question why I am so much more authentic in festival settings than I am in real life. As I flowed through Genius Loci as a visceral part of the community, both a journalist and a bartender, I began to recognize the little things we do at festivals that maybe we forget to to do in real life.
Firstly, we look people in the eye and touch them in festivals in a way we do not in real life. When I began a conversation with people trying to figure out the set times on the incredibly confusing map and schedule they gave us we all gathered over it in the dimly lit bar using my headlamp to try and make sense of it all. Slowly more and more people gathered around and we all introduced each other, made eye contact, and hugged. Immediately we were no longer strangers. We were a part of something. This connectivity continued and grew stronger over the course of the entire weekend. By Sunday afternoon on the beach I realized that I actually knew at least half of the people at the festival by face, if not by name. The guy with the crazy pin wheel hat I had seen bouncing around all day was Djing at the Main Stage, the girl I had laughed with while serving her sangria was serving me ceviche, the guy who I chatted with while in line for that same ceviche was Alex Cruz who had destroyed the dance floor Saturday night— we were all right here together. There was no sense of hierarchy or separateness. Even Lee Foss was hanging out at the bar before he hopped on the decks. This intense sense of intimacy is rare at larger festivals and crucial to how I came to understand why we are so much more willing to be authentic within the festival rather than out here, in “reality.”
I felt the lesson click in while I was dancing with my body and soul to Marques Wyatt on at the Playa (beach) stage as the sun set. He played “Divine” by Jamie Antonelli, a classic most would recognize from the sample used in Pete Tong’s weekly Essential Mix on BBC radio1: “it was deep it was soulful, it was techno, it was disco…” He played it from the beginning and I looked around and realized nothing had ever felt so true:
“Last night I had a vision of a disco in the sky.
I saw angels and saints dancing together,
like a mystical dream inside of my mind.
I remembered to move, I remembered that groove,
I remember the thump of the bass
and the pump of the kick,
because my heart was almost out my body.”
As the song continued I looked around. People around me waved flags from every country I could imagine. Behind me the ocean approached us with the tide and we danced in the waves. Above us more gathered to share in the music. We gazed at each other rather than some crazy light show. It was exactly the community of togetherness the song described. Wyatt is something of a legend, especially with the house music community here in Los Angeles. In fact, many people I spoke with have been attending his parties in LA for over ten years. They refer to seeing him as “going to church.” It was then I realized that we are most authentic here on the dance floor because it is our own personal version of heaven.
On the dance floor there is no need to fear being ourselves because love is whispered in every phrase of the music. At Genuis Loci you can hardly walk five feet without someone seeing you inside and out and telling you they love you. This does so much to encourage self love. You realize that people do see and appreciate the authentic beauty you bring to the world. This acceptance makes one more willing to share. The music frees us to see beyond the masks and shells we live behind daily. It encourages a sense of freedom to play. It is this curiosity which sets us free. I realized that a lot of the freedom I find within the festival is because my sense of curiosity is ignited. When I am most curious I am most creative. That is why I often find the flow state in the festival. Through all of this I curate a stronger sense of self love than I experience in daily ilfe. It is self love which allows me to go beyond and connect more deeply with others in my most authentic form.
This lesson had flowed to me slowly over the entirety of the festival. From doing yoga of the cliffs of the ocean, to serving sangria at the Playa stage bar right alongside the ocean, to dancing as the sun rose at the tiny dome-like Peninsula bar structure as the sun rose to reveal the ocean surrounding us and spraying us with water. Now that I have found it has sat with me. I have found that I am more encouraged daily to open up my curiosity and to connect, to truly look people in the eye and see them. My friend and Genius Loci artist Nicolaas Black mixed in the vocal sample from “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles as the sun rose Saturday morning and the smiles lit up everyone’s face as brightly as the sun sparkled off the waves. All it takes are little moments to brighten up even the darkest night. Just a bit of curiosity can change any broken attitude. And self love is the fuel we need to connect because if you are not willing to connect daily with yourself you cannot expect to connect more deeply with others. Authenticity is a challenge and we must use the freedom the festival brings to enlighten our constant search for it in our daily lives.