Symbiosis Gathering 2016

Coverage: Roger Coppola

Photog: Steve Morissette


The summer festival circuit closed out with a splash at Symbiosis Gathering this past weekend, as 15,000 people flocked to the temporal oasis at Woodward Reservoir in Northern California. The collaboration of artists, attendees, and the Symbiosis team nurtured a Burning Man-esque environment with the perks of a water-filled lakeside retreat. Thoughtful stage design, intimate shaded areas for speakers and workshops, and interactive artwork that extended beyond the shoreline allowed people to explore their desired state of happiness - be it hedonia (feel good, margarita in-hand, floating on a pizza slice pool raft) or eudaimonia (purposeful, listening to Vandana Shiva drop perspective-shifting knowledge on Earth Democracy, inspired to change the world).

The setting is truly unique; Symbiosis successfully captures various aspects of our favorite festival scenes and pulls them together to create a Renaissance of aesthetes, alternative thinkers, music-lovers, social entrepreneurs, and as with any up-and-coming “transformational [underground] festivals” – those looking for a place to rationalize Bacchanalian behavior in the backdrop of something truly special. The event showcased world-renowned experts and Luminaries giving speakshops on topics ranging from permaculture to transformational ecosystems to “sex, love & cacao.” Yogis found their mats underneath large, stretch-shades that provided a clean, cool escape during the blazing mid-day heat. The Nourishment Lab offered attendees the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with everything from stone grinding chocolate to bottling  home-brewed ginger beer. And as expected with the stacked line-up, the eclectic array of musical artists provided the perfect tempo at any time. All these defining characteristics are finally stirred together in the refreshing waters that provided a cold cleanse that most other events lack.

The cool, muddy waters of the reservoir dance juxtaposed with the warm rays of sunshine as the day fades away and the colors shift to hues of fuschia and marmalade. The distant lake is placid and reflects the setting sun. The near water is lively and patterned with radiating waves as flocks of floating unicorns melodically bob past with sun-drained smiles. People trickle in to fill the shoreline amongst the scattered stalks of thin, dried grass as lingering Dirt Wire melodies pluck and twang in the breeze. The event sprawls around the far-reaching waters with microclimates of the many environments hosting various activities, sounds, and themes.

Artists from around the world made the trek to share their talents. The much anticipated Nicola Cruz journeyed from Ecuador bringing his Andean sound and story. Cruz played under a rustic wooden shack at the Juke Lagoon while people stomped the underlying Astroturf. The same stage welcomed the subtle, intoxicating vibes of Nu through his sultry minimal-techno, while letting Seth Troxler remind us to not take things too seriously as he went to work on the decks.

A sea of drifting, half-deflated rafts kept the legendary Swimbiosis stage participants afloat, as people grooved to the bumping sounds of the Desert Hearts’ afternoon takeover. The debauchery is blurred as wine bags are slapped mid-air in celebration of the autumn equinox.  The up-tempo Latin beats of Captain Planet and dancehall don JStar keep the party alive, while Ekali closes out the day in heavy fashioned bass.

The Drift crew returned to build another aquatic masterpiece, this time the Atoll stage. The manmade island boasted a towering lighthouse, succulent adorned DJ booth, and a 2-story waterslide allowing for a sexy exit from Symbiosis’ wettest stage. Dirtybird’s notorious beats filled the air amongst the laughs and roars of people pirating the impressive dock.

The appropriately named Fringe stage sits on the farthest shore as it faces the setting sun and the low light reflects off the iridescent, earth-toned fabrics that line the over-hanging structure. Big names find their home on Symbiosis’s main stage in the company of Gramatik, Santigold, and FKA Twigs. Other highlights included the message-contained lyrics of Rising Appalachia and the overwhelmingly talented FKJ.

Plenty of freaky late night attractions added some spice to the typical festival charade. The Mantease Stripping Container featured an Intergalactic-themed male striptease competition, to determine the most viable genes to carry-on mankind should we need to move to another galaxy. You could step from the final headliner straight into the mind of Super Tall Paul, as he blurs the boundaries between uncomfortably strange and unusually entertaining at the Jive Joint’s Vaudeville show. The variety of experiences gives a glimpse into life at Burning Man without the need to escape civilization entirely.

As we waved goodbye to Symbiosis, so did California- at least for this coming year. Next season the event will be making its way to Oregon, where, along with Boom Festival and other world-class producers, they will collaborate to create “Oregon Eclipse 2017”. We’ll see you there!