It’s no secret to the festival community that there has been a huge wave of transformational music festivals taking over the scene. It’s been happening for the past few years. On March 17-20, 2016, the third annual Serenity Gathering took place, making it the first transformational music festival of the 2016 festival season in Southern California. A total of 50 different musical acts were set to take the stage including Shpongle, Nahko & MFTP, Emancipator, Del the Funky Homosapien, Bleep Bloop, Ill Gates, Phutureprimitive, Random Rab, Desert Dwellers, Big Wild, the Moontribe crew, and many more.
Serenity Gathering was a unique festival that celebrated the Spring Equinox. It focused on the balance of the universe where, “night and day, dark and light, are in perfect balance”. Serenity provided a positive and creative environment where the attendees could connect with one and other while also reflecting and honoring this special time.
The 4-day event took place at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center. This is the oldest and largest retreat center in the Western U.S. It is 2 hours away from both LA and San Diego, making it a perfectly central location for Southern Californians.
This location was also ideal for camping. The beautiful California desert and the clear night sky truly added to the festival element. Car camping was included with every ticket. This was definitely a HUGE PLUS. Car camping is always essential at these types of festivals and not having to pay extra for this is always a come up for attendees.
The weather was optimal for being out in the desert. Honestly, when I was preparing for this event, I thought it was going to be so hot during the day that I’d get a headache and so cold at night that I’d have to wear 2 coats at night. Thankfully, none of that happened. The daytime temperature was more than bearable and at night I only had to wear one furry coat.
Like many transformational music festivals, this was an environmentally friendly, leave-no-trace event. Reusable cups and plates were encouraged, glass bottles were not allowed and taking home your own trash was strongly enforced.
The site also mentioned that they would be instituting a parking fee so that they could help reduce air-pollution via carpooling. There was a $40 fee for solo drivers, a $20 fee for two passenger vehicles, and free parking for cars with 3 or more people.
Right outside the JTRC grounds there was a Serenity Gathering sign. If that wasn’t there, we would have definitely missed the entrance and drove on for another couple miles until we realized we were lost. We drove on to the dirt road that was near the sign and soon came across the will call and entrance tables. Once we drove past that and further down the dirt road there was a fork in the road. The left path led directly to the main stage area and the right path led to parking and campsites. At the middle of the divide, were two men and a black pig on a leash. Before continuing to the right, I got out of the car to quickly pet the pig. He was so sweet!
The campsites were located behind the main stage and vending area. This area consisted of the vendors, food trucks, bathrooms, healing sanctuary, and the Serenity Stage presented by The Untz.
Right behind the Serenity stage was a hill that over looked the entire location. Once you walked to the top, you saw some people doing yoga, others meditating, a few people taking pictures, and the rest were just enjoying in the scenery. It was the perfect location to stop and appreciate that moment in time. Did you even really go to Serenity Gathering if you didn’t see the sun rise or set from this hill?
You could also see the other two stages at the top, both of which were off to the far back left. At the main area exit/camp entrance, there were additional vendors to the left as well as a face painting station and an awesome psychedelic painted bus that had color changing lights projected onto it.
Continuing down this road, we walked past some camps, shrubbery, and cacti. Behind all this was the Bridge Family Stage. This was where the live bands and artists performed. The New Moon Stage was located even further behind that. This was where the Moon Tribe crew played. Even though we did see this stage while we were at the top of the hill, it was still a little harder to find. However, once the music started playing at the New Moon Stage, it was easy to locate. You could simply follow the sound and the people that were dangerously running around the cacti.
THE PEOPLE (Staff & Attendees)
The staff was friendly, helpful, and patient. They were decked out in their festival gear and spread their positive energy to the attendees. Some drove around in carts getting to know the attendees as they picked up pieces of trash. On Sunday, we saw one staff member trying to keep a pole stable so that the tarp it was connected to wouldn’t be blown over by the wind.
As for the festival attendees, there were people of all ages since it was a family-friendly event. Toddlers were running around and playing in the dirt, with their parents close by of course. Older children were seen with their parents at the family dome. The young adults and those with more life experience danced until night became day with their faces painted, jewels on their bodies traveling from stage to stage in their fur coats.
I also want to give an honorable mention to all the hardcore festival dogs I saw. The site said no pets but it seems that there were a lot of people that chose to ignore that rule. There were a few that were service dogs but you could sense that most of the dogs weren’t. You could tell simply by the dogs’ demeanor that this wasn’t their first festival either. They ignored most humans that went up to them but were extremely friendly to all other dogs they saw. They also worked out a festival system. The dogs made friends with the food vendors so they could manipulate the vendors into giving them scraps. It was definitely interesting to watch them roam and know exactly what they were doing. Perhaps one day I’ll do an article on festival dogs.
There were so many awesome outfits but the best accessory was a girl’s rainbow unicorn umbrella! Where does one buy this? We should have asked her.
Those who attended were there with open hearts. Our neighbors greeted us and welcomed us to the festival right when we arrived. There was also a girl walking around offering hugs. At one point, this girl walked up and asked me if I wanted a hug. Naturally, I was confused at first. Once I processed the moment, I smiled and gave her one of the best hugs I had in me. Then we wished each other a good day and went our separate ways. Plenty of people were ready to connect, even if it was for a brief instance. On Saturday night, we were walking back to the camp and a random guy appeared from the dark trail. He asked us what we loved most in the world and we gave our answers. He smiled, said “thank you,” and then disappeared back into the darkness. We connected with someone unique everywhere we went. When that wasn’t happening, we definitely overheard hilarious bits of conversations of strangers connecting.
“The Rice-a-Roni people are in town!” – I don’t know what this means (if there was any sub-context) or what preceded the conversation. All I can say is that the genuine excitement in this man’s voice when he said this made me laugh. Maybe he really enjoys eating Rice-a-Roni? We will never know.
“I’m going to keep singing until this girl comes out of the shower…. (Proceeds in singing voice) Girl, please come out of the showerrrr, I need to showerrrr too!”
FOOD/WATER/VENDORS AND BATHROOMS
All of the attendees were really good with bringing their own food and water. With that said, there was still one water station in the main area just in case you ran out. There may have been another one but this is the only we saw. As for the food, they offered a healthy and organic selection. Also, if you wanted Kombucha, they had it!
Serenity also had an assortment of vendors that met all your festival needs. You could find people selling hand made, one-of-a-kind jewelry, clothing, and art throughout the festival. People were also selling crystals, tapestries, photographs, and so much more.
As for the bathrooms, there were three locations. The primary bathroom location was located in the main area, right near the camp entrance. There was more than enough port-a-potties and I didn’t have to wait more than five minutes. They were also cleaned every day but they were definitely cringe worthy to go into at night. There were also 2 indoor bathrooms, which were located all the way towards the back of the camping area. Each bathroom had 2 sets of showers, a toilet, a sink, mirror, and soap. There was always a line for these but they were much cleaner and worth the wait.
There was a trailer right outside and to the left of the main area exit/camping entrance. It was selling some of the most beautiful hand-made dream catchers I have ever seen. Although they were expensive – the smallest one being $222 – they were absolutely beautiful. The feathers that were chosen were perfect and the crystals that were picked and artfully placed in the middle made them simply breath taking. On the tag, it read, “Live with Fierce Intentions.” We couldn’t agree more.
YOGA & WORKSHOPS
Serenity Gathering also offered its attendees a variety of workshops meant to enhance their lives and promote sustainability. Throughout the festival, they offered various 30-minute sound healing sessions. They even offered a special sunset sound bath with Eric Dingo. The event also offered festival yogi classes from acro-yoga to galactivated yoga to family yoga. If you wanted to work on chakra enlightenment or awakening your chakras with Vinyasa flow they had classes for that as well. Over at the Nova Family and Community Dome they had a Forts and Fantasies class, which seemed really interesting. The four year old in me would have attended but I missed it.
MUSIC & ART
As previously mentioned, 50 different musical acts from different genres across the board were scheduled to help enhance the vibe of the festival. There were so many amazing performances each day but our favorites were TV Broken 3rd Eye Open and Lafa Taylor. Both played on the Bridge Family Stage. First off, TV Broken 3rd Eye Open can best be described as a psychedelic jam band that unifies its listeners to the universe through their music. When they were playing, I closed my eyes while dancing and felt like I was floating through a colorful vortex that was being created through their sound. Lafa Taylor also had an amazing set and live mixed his voice. I felt like he was truly able to connect with the crowd in a special way. By the end of his set he had everyone singing along.
In regards to sound, it could have been louder at the Serenity Stage and Bridge Stage. When both stages were crowded and we stood towards the back, I do remember wishing it was louder. The New Moon Stage was a smaller area and I felt that the sound was just right.
FAVORITE PIECE OF LIVE ART
Over at the Bridge Family Stage, they projected live visual art on to the back screen. When we went around the back of the stage to take a closer look, we noticed 4 people with 5 projectors pointed towards the screen. Each person had a clear Petri dish, various oils, food coloring, and a projector. They put the oils into the Petri dish, dyed them with food coloring, moved the dish around on top of the projector, while they displayed it onto the screen. Each projection overlaid on top of the other one. It was live psychedelic art at its finest.
Serenity Gathering was a unique festival that celebrated the beginning of spring, balance, life, and music. It was a great start for our festival season and we thoroughly enjoyed dancing in the moonlight under a clear night sky to some awesome beats with good-hearted people. We can’t wait to go back next year and we hope it’s at the same location too!
Article by Dominica Murillo
Photos by Lily Colovic