Set in the mystical and the formerly fenced off Pyramid Lake Nevada, Symbiosis 2012 (we’ll never forget,) took place for a heavy-handed 5 days and 5 nights. A “gathering” centered on mind, body, soul, and of course the 2012 solar eclipse.
As we left our humble mountain home and set sail for unknown deserts off west, we really had no clue as to what we were really in store for; this much could be ascertained from the lack of equipment would need over the following days. Sure we had enough food to feed a small tribe for several weeks, more propane than Hank Hill would recommend, but did we have the necessary goggles and face masks to protect us from the tumultuous wind, and their ensnarling sands? Of course not, why would we think to pack full body armor, even though it may actually fit our style, the thought didn’t really cross our minds… what a sad, sad, mistake.
Approaching the area surrounding the festival it felt like our plans had come to frution and we had beaten the rush of cars that would undoubtedly collect. Although there was constantly question whether or not we were on the right path. All the signs that were supposed to be out, were nowhere to be found, except for one tiny poster board that was taped to a stop sign about 20 miles out. It was hard to shake the feeling that we were going to someone’s backyard BBQ, and not a legitimate festival. We finally hit a road after taking a few lucky turns, and began to see a few more cars beginning to collect. With each additional turn the number of cars grew, almost exponentially. After the obligatory 5 hour wait in the line of cars the chaos of the situation was becoming a quick indicator that the festival was definitely in disarray. We continued to traverse sand dunes and cacti to reach the festival grounds slowly we began to see the disheveled nature that would become associated with Symbiosis. To their credit the elements had already been a force to be feared, wrecking, reportedly, hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the festival setup the night before; at this point everyone was making it up as they went along.
After wading through the mess of checking in we were able to find our parking spot… and thus began the real trip into the desert. If you didn’t want to set camp in a collection of tumbleweeds and rocks then you had to make camp wherever you could find an appropriate spot. Since we drove all the way out for the lake, we thought why not go out by its shores, it was one of the few places that was still open. We would quickly learn why that was the only space left. From the cars to the lake was at least half a mile away, and though one hike there isn’t bad, several hikes with a weeks worth of supplies and a full camping setup was a bit more than we had anticipated. Since the winds had already destroyed a fair amount of signage, there was great difficulty in trying to find a path. Unfortunately this meant trial and error that would often result in falling into the copious amounts of sinkholes that riddled the land. After a solid 30 minutes of hiking from the car, through the descending terraces of land that had been setup, we were able to find a spot… this is when the winds decided to test us.
It started with what looked like a thick brown smoke encasing the mountains to the East. Slowly it devoured the rocky hills, and began to set on the first level, just at the foot of the mountains. This is where all the cars, and the majority of stages were setup. Within seconds that too had been covered—it was now apparent, it was a sandstorm sent from on high. The sandstorm began to make its way meticulously down the levels, stopping at each only for a moment, as if literally stepping from one to the next. It finally made its way to us down by the lake, just as quick and unreal it looked from afar, we had found ourselves right in its hold. To open your eyes with no glasses or goggles was futile, you wouldn’t be able to see, even if the sand wasn’t cascading off the tops of your eyes, there would still be the fact that there was no visibility…that is if you looked anywhere but the lake. Only 200 yards away the lake sat to the West of us, the storm stopped at its shores only focusing its strength in and around the festival, it was beautiful to see the Sun falling behind the Sierra Nevada’s just west of us, giving true hope that this was a test of respect and endurance. In the mean time no amount of rope, anchors, nor ancient stones could keep the winds from coming in and demolishing everything in site, it was a relentless display of strength. There was a specific point when trying to secure the tent for the twentieth time, that we had to recognize the ineffectuality in the situation, the tent was no more and we had to quickly accept that. But for one person to think about letting the tent go would surely me the other person holding was going to go parasailing, (THIS IS NOT AN EXAGGERATED POINT.) Within that moment was a deep and heartfelt reverence for the power of the nature around us. After finding our first kind friend, a noble knight from the north, hailing from Nanaimo Canada, we were able to secure our tent; it only need about 50 ft. of duct tape, several newly fashioned stints, and every last inch of rope we brought, which was substantial to say the least. So began out stay at Pyramid Lake.
After walking around through the night to find our bearings, we became very familiar with what the idea of an all-night, all-day festival actually meant. From half a mile away you could still hear that bass from pretty much any stage rattle the soil loose…and feel it everywhere you went. Waking up the following morning, we stepped out of our tent and were greeted by the glorious lake; this seemed to momentarily alleviate the tension that the lack of sleep was beginning to create. Spending day after day walking around the hard Nevada terrain, can seriously take its toll on a person, being able to go and take a new Yoga class to stretch out those sore muscles can vastly improve a person’s experience, and disposition. The Yoga was only the tip of the exceptional alternative things one could do. Of course there was always music, music all day and night, but during the day and into the early evening there were classes on ancestral arts, spirituality, and much, much, more. These classes were one of the best benefits to this particular event. It seemed so interesting to expand knowledge on so many different various thoughts, while at the same time sharing an experience with thousands of others centered around a celestial event.
Symbiosis was designed to be much more than a music festival. Symbiosis created a schedule of classes and lectures, which offered attendees the chance to balance their nighttime exploits with daytime workshops and talks that encompassed numerous aspects of the human experience. From learning ancient tradition and lore of the local Paiute tribe, to methods of modern sustainability and permaculture techniques, the range of educational supplementation was vast. There were discussions on astrology, electric cars, indigenous wisdom, sacred geometry, social activism and more.
Notable figures such as author and social activist Starhawk, documentary director Chris Paine, Native American leader Chief Golden Eagle, and sacred geometry researcher Harlan Emil Gruber all led workshops. The amount of knowledge that was available was astounding and truly inspirational. Festivals that foster the pursuit of higher understanding are slowly starting to develop in larger numbers, making it a trend everyone should try and support.
As is the case with many “gatherings,” larger acts don’t seem to be the goal for festival organizers, instead there’s a focus on being able to provide higher quantity of artists, spanning different sounds in different genres, so that there’s at least one thing always playing. As the chaos of the week persisted, it made it difficult to keep track of who was playing, and what had been listened to, but there were a few that stood out. Of course the first most prominent artist, Emancipator, began on the main stage, aptly named The Eclipse stage. There was no transition or acknowledgement that he was about to start playing, he just did; it wasn’t until halfway through his first song that this clicked for anyone watching. Playing to a magical desert sunset, the crowd was eager to be kicking off the weekend, and it was definitely visible in the large amount of amateur performers that had come out. Gang Gang Dance, a “neo-psychedelia” band out of Manhattan followed Emancipator. Though high in zest it was hard to keep up with some of the songs. Lyrics aside there was odd shifts of beats and quick changes in tempo. The initial night continued its powerhouse performances with Beats Antique. Beats Antique came out with the full power of their massive stage presence. Offering several different characters dancing on stage, the chaos proved to be just as impressive as the music.
After battling the elements, and traversing the sands of Pyramid Lake for several days, on the afternoon of the Solar Eclipse so much was put into perspective. Right before the eclipse began one of the Tribal Monitors, a younger gentleman from the host Paiute tribe spoke about the tradition and the admiration his people have had for the sun throughout their history. He spoke on how his people, were people of the sun. For centuries they would look up at the sun, they did this sans any fear of blindness, and based on that fact we too should look up and not “give into the fear.” If that fear was too strong for us to manage alone, we were told to channel our fear into him as he looked directly into the sun. Sure as his word, throughout the eclipse you could catch him staring straight at the sun.
As the moon began to pass, there was an eerie silence to fall over the grounds, save for the tribal drums that were going on in the center. Thousands of people standing still, together, collectively appreciating what was transpiring above, was a surreal experience. Throughout the passing phases of the moon’s transition, (¼ pass, ½ pass, ¾ pass.,) everyone would cheer, applauding such a rare moment. The appreciation for each stage was an enjoyable surprise, there was a large sense of reaffirmation in the ability to express and celebrate this particular moment in however way it motivated you. Once the moment passed, it was like a switch being flipped once more. The music came back on, and everyone began to make their way to find their next best party.
Even More Music
Tipper had the privilege of playing at the end of the eclipse, but it was James Blake that really closed out the eclipse and sang to the sun as it set. Having never seen James before there was little expectation for his set. As he was the main headliner curiosity got the best of me and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. During the progression of his set I couldn’t help but feel that the music itself felt a little out of place for this particular festival. It was less focused on BPM’s and more centered on creating low, bass-filled arrangements that were delicately balanced with Blake’s soulful voice. To put it simply he’s a dubstep Bon Iver, and though I would never have thought those three words could go together, they do, and in an amazing way. It didn’t take long to realize why he was the headliner.
Shortly after James Blake was Little Dragon. A Swedish outfit that followed James Blake’s trip hop, with their own blend of trip hop and down tempo dream pop. They also felt a little out of place, but of course a very welcomed change of pace. The following day, as the festival began to come to a close, and as ceremonies began, just as quickly the music had turned on, it turned off. There was peace in the desert. Silence, that none of us had heard for several days. The peacefulness of the silence brought a soothing calm.
Symbiosis 2012 (never forget) was definitely one of the most intense festivals I’ve ever endured. From the elements to the 24-hour music, everything seemed to test personal boundaries. At the end of it all, I believe I can say I came out a stronger person for it. Ultimately I feel like I got the urge to go to Burning Man out of my system, maybe someday, especially as this was supposed to be harder, but I’m not eager to battle those conditions