Usually people use the term wanderlust to indicate something someone is struck by. For me, I didn’t begin to travel in California or get struck by wanderlust until I had the definite sensation that L.A. was slowly killing me. From the point of near death, I began to venture, to wander as it were. While most people trying to get out of L.A. for a weekend might choose to tour Santa Barbara wine country, or relax on the beaches in San Diego, I found myself on the way to a California music festival.
An unlikely destination for a California music festival – Los Padres National Forest
Most recently, my wandering took me up the edge of Highway 101 along the curl of the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Once I passed Santa Barbara, I began inland and up towards the Los Padres National Forest. This particular morning, the rain alternated in drizzles. A stretching dimness clung to the morning with clouds hanging in the crevices of the mountaintops like cobwebs.
I was headed to a campsite just beyond Cachuma Lake nestled well into the mountains with long, sprawling views of mossy green in every direction. Though I packed my tent and sleeping bag, I hadn’t traveled all this way just to simply camp in the woods. In fact, out of those mountains I sought an unlikely feature: music. However, it was not the music of the hills; it was the sharp jostling and thrusts of electronic music–music that is estranged from the land.
Refugee camp or California music festival?
Like me, thousands of people gathered to camp near Cachuma Lake at the Lucidity music festival for an immersive three day experience of music, workshops, and interactive art installations. This event was the fifth in a series of six festivals I attended this year, and it was the most highly anticipated for me because of an incredible lineup of DJ’s and musicians I had yet to see perform live. Upon arrival, the campsite looked like a post-apocalyptic refugee camp. Makeshift tents, canopies and an assortment of other structures sprawled across the entire camp grounds. Hippies and ravers mingled in a marriage of two seemingly opposed worldviews, the ascetic and the aesthetic. One group seemed full of heady, yogic ideals while the other seemed committed, most nearly, to hedonism. Together they found commonality over their shared enthusiasm for hallucinogens and electronic music.
California music festivals attract a diverse group of individuals
My first night, I encountered an individual who could only be described as a patriotic half-clown, half-mad scientist. Dressed in a wild collection of American flags, he advertised a strange elixir, chanting into the crowd “Hocus Pocus, who wants doses?” While I typically refrain from ingesting strange concoctions of unknown origins, it appeared that many other festival goers hadn’t ever learned not to take candy from strangers. From the look of people on the dance floor hours later, hula-hooping, fire twirling, and gyrating, I would say there were many who partook in his mad medicine.
The camp, which sat in a valley beneath a nearby ridge, felt almost like a circus. If you were not intoxicated, you could look on with wonder, but you could not enter. Only one special threshold existed for the uninitiated–the dancefloor.
California music festivals and house music – The perfect combination
For those who have not experienced the eccentric and erratic nature of an electronic music festival, dancing to house music might feel something like pretending to be a robot underwater. Participants face the stage and then spasm and seize to fits, drags and distensions in the music. The idea is to transcend one’s roboticism and attain fluidity, to intuit sound and movement simultaneously. For me, there is no better place to let loose and dance to your heart’s content than a California music festival. The combination of California’s ideal weather, beautiful nature, and friendly people make it the perfect environment for a three day festival deep in the woods where music can be played at max volume for thousands of fans eager to dance the night away and freely express themselves in ways that frankly, you just won’t see anywhere else.
While dancing, you can’t help but feel something of that forgotten connection to the primitive, to rite and ritual. Indeed, part of what gives house dancing a distinctly primitive feeling is that participants dance amongst one another, but not necessarily with one another. The act is both social and deeply personal. Each member acknowledges the tribe while retreating further and further inward, save the strange muse who seems to dance outwardly, in a distant eroticism.
The weekend concluded for me with a new favorite California music festival
In the end, I returned home from what has become my favorite California music festival with tired legs, a slightly sunburned nose, and a new appreciation for a very special way that hippies hug. The hippy hug is more of a prolonged embrace than a hug. If a stranger smiles at you and unexpectedly approaches you with open arms, don’t be afraid. This is a loving gesture. Eventually, I came to really enjoy these embraces. It took me a while to realize that the hugger isn’t flirting. It’s an entirely platonic embrace and it may end with an oddly maternal kiss on the forehead or a sage blessing. Either way, you know you have met a new friend who gives great hugs and there’s something inherently satisfying in that, even if you know you will most likely never see them again.