Gaian-Mind Summer FestivalIn Retrospect 06.26.2003
words and images by Michael Curran
Venue: Four Quarters, Artemas, PA
Gaian Mind 2003... where to begin? on the way home from PA I thought that it would probably take me a few days to totally decompress and digest everything that went on over the course of the weekend, but now weeks later I am still struggling to articulate the thoughts and feelings that I brought back home with me from the 2003 Gaian-Mind Summer Festival in Artemas, PA, USA Gaia June 26th-29th...
Alright, so first things first. originally I thought the odds of rallying more than one or two other people to drive from Atlanta to southern Pennsylvania for 12+ hours and then back again were just about zero to nil... but as the festival dates approached i was pleasantly surprised to find out that not one, but two carloads of people down here were planning on making the trek to the event (5 of us riding up there total). After having gotten a late start on Thursday, we cruised through GA, SC, NC, VA (which took FOREVER), on through WV, MD, and then finally on to PA, arriving early Friday afternoon.
After making our exit off of the interstate, we rode along a wonderfully scenic rural road that wound its way through the mountains of southern pa for about 20 minutes or so until we reached the long dirt road that lead to the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary of Earth Religion (to be referred to from this point forward as 4Q). Upon arrival at the entrance, we were greeted by aastral (one of my good friends from Asheville NC who had volunteered for the event) who gave us the low-down on the site set-up and told us how to get registered. Although we had neglected to get our discounted tickets early (I guess they sold about 400 advance tix), we had no problem purchasing them at the gate, and soon enough we were on our way to cross the Rubicon into the main campgrounds.
The first carload of people from Atlanta had already gotten settled-in and had set-up camp by the time we arrived, so after having parked the car next to their site, we set out to survey the grounds by foot. First off, let me begin by saying that the land that 4Q is on is huge... the property extends well into the densely wooded hills that surround the immediately visible grounds. A winding dirt road (the same one we drove in on) served as the artery that connected all of the different areas of the grounds, and with the exception of those that were camping on the high meadow, most of the festival-goers set up camp along this path. The majority of these campsites were near the North Crook Stage where the ambient-chill area was located, along with the outdoor unisex showers (!) and swimming in the hemlock hole. I haven't seen so many tents since I went to Burning Man a few years ago; it was literally an ocean of tents, poles, rope, and tapestries.
After having gotten a quick chance to look around, we set-up our tent with the rest of the Atlanta people, equidistant to the main stage and the chill-out areas. Once situated, we took some time to relax and ready ourselves for the night ahead. as day gave way to nightfall and a clear blue sky gave way to a blanket of stars overhead, a trail of paper lanterns and tiki-torches illuminated the route between the two sound installations and beyond. after an opening ceremony by the 4Q people, the music kicked off in the main trance area around 10pm. this stage was located in the standing stone circle, which is not unlike a small Stonehenge... monolithic stones form a semi-circle around a central altar, upon which several candles, flowers, and a statue of Shiva/Nataraja were placed.
On the opposite side of the altar from the stone circle was the dj booth, sandwiched between cabinet upon cabinet of speakers... behind which several screens were placed with an endless reel of video eye-candy projected upon them. Over the booth and stretching over the dance area were multiple pieces of large colored spandex which were attached by wires to the surrounding trees, thus giving the canopy shape and form. Placed around the perimeter of the circle was a multitude of psychedelic artwork... everything from smaller, highly detailed mandalas to giant UV panoramas of alien landscapes and visionary images. Plenty of black light all around ensured that everything emitted a fluoro-delic glow.
The music on Friday night was rockin' from start to finish with Chad, Ritter Gluck, Onnomon, Kri playing a blinder of a sunrise set, followed by Steve-o with sh.i.k.i.d. closing for the morning. The tone of the evening was full-on psychedelic trance all night, and the crowd was totally up for it. Even after the sun began to reveal itself and the music went a bit more progressive/minimal, there was still a throng of people in front of the speakers until the music stopped around 10am or so. After having nearly danced my self to the point of exhaustion, I decided to retire and get some sleep before Saturday night's main event.
I awoke to another beautifully clear afternoon, just in time to take advantage of the free vegetarian 'fractal feast' that was made available to everyone that attended the event, which was absolutely delicious. With a full stomach and time on my hands, I took a nice long stroll around the Sanctuary. the thing that caught my attention most was the diversity of the people that were taking part in the festival... there were loads of Japanese, Russians, Indians, Israelis, British, Brazilians, and even a couple of Ethiopians thrown in for good measure. For someone who is more accustomed to the homogeneous white-suburban crowds of the rave and club scenes, it certainly makes an impression upon you of the global reach of psytrance music. as a matter of fact, there was hardly a single 'stereotypical raver' to be found there... much more like a Dead show than an EDM event (you would be hard pressed to find anyone sporting any kind of 'designer' apparel with big brand-names on them either... it was much more eclectically casual, with people wearing anything from gypsy-esque hippie duds, to fluorescent and reflective wear, to saris and sarongs, even a few folks in the buff... 4Q has no official clothing policy). sometimes it is nice to be reminded that trance-dance is about something more than just a fashion show (as opposed to the 'image over substance' ethos that is prevalent in the rave and club scenes)...
People entertained themselves in a myriad of ways, with drum circles (a few folks brought guitars as well), yoga and chi kung sessions, areas for healing and massage, workshops on the dreamspell/Mayan calendar, as well as the ever-popular sweat-lodge that saw heavy traffic throughout the course of the weekend. One really nice touch was the outdoor library installation that was set-up near the fire circle... anyone was welcome to thumb through the large collection of printed works that were available for browsing. Considering how the 'Gaian-Mind' Festival gets its name from the works of the late Terence McKenna, it was really appropriate to give everyone an opportunity to feed their heads with a bit of literature as they relaxed. The 'coffee dragons' provided free tea and coffee, and Ishtarbuck's kept the chai flowing. The tranquility and quiet of the afternoon was punctuated only by the occasional rumble of the 4Q staff vehicles towing giant containers (water buffalos) of free drinking water, which never once ran-out over the course of the weekend.
Down by the North Crook area, the ambient/chill zone had people lounging and socializing. words really cannot do the ambient temple justice, it was really something that had to be seen... apart from the dj booth and sound system that were tastefully decorated with a lunar-cycle motif, there were also a couple of huge cargo nets suspended from the surrounding trees that served as hammocks for up to 10 people at a time, a large geodesic dome with a couple of smaller fabric-covered ones, and elevated tables for massage. There were also a few fabric structures/sculptures as well as some black light artwork... and as the sun went down and the black lights came on, the space was transformed into a magical ultraviolet wonderland.
As night fell upon the 4Q farm, anticipation of the night's festivities was most definitely in the air. the sound in the stone circle/trance area was re-activated around 10pm or so, with a special performance by Archedream from Philly. Archedream is a troupe of performance artists that specialize in black light ritual dance theatre, and their costumes looked fantastic under the ultraviolet lamps... each representing different archetypes and elements (fire, water, earth, wind, etc..). After they finished their performance, the music started thumping and Saturday night's main event was at last underway. Gavin kicked things off, and was followed by Allen who set the tone for the approaching sonic mayhem of Hux Flux. By the looks on peoples' faces, it was obvious that everyone there was ready to rage all night, and the spirit of Timothy Leary was most definitely in attendance. As Allen finished up his set, Sweden's Hux Flux took to the stage around 3:30am. they played for about 2 1/2 hours or so, and not once did they ever show any sign of slowing down... their sound is absolutely relentless full on psychedelic trance, and I just about pissed myself when they played "Bring Your Own Bios" (one of my all-time fave Hux Flux tracks). I heard them play a lot of stuff that I haven't heard before as well, so now I am really looking forward to hearing their new album Division By 0 when it gets released on Spiral Trax. for the most part, they were playing off of their laptops with a couple of MIDI keyboards as controllers, and the sound was loud and crystal-clear... and it was quite apparent that Dennis and Friedrich were having just as good of a time playing to us as we were having listening to them.
Once Hux Flux finished their set, Allen came back on to mix some interstitial music while Germany's Magnetrixx prepared to take the helm. Soon enough, Stefan and Heike were plugged in and switched on and began their live set shortly thereafter. They played for about 2.5 hours as well, with a set that could be described as tribal, progressive, minimal, and hypnotic among other things. once they finished up around 8ish, dj Oliver from Denmark's Reefer Decree got behind the decks and took everyone on a 3 hour journey into more progressive psytrance... it was an absolutely perfect soundtrack for the beautiful day that had dawned only a couple of hours earlier. The music eventually came to an end around 11am or so, and was followed by a closing ceremony provided by the staff at 4Q.
As things began to wind down, we got all of our tents and gear broken down to ready ourselves for a streamlined departure from the grounds of 4Q. After getting most of our stuff stowed away in the car again, it seemed best to take one last walk around the site to take everything in while the opportunity was still available. one of the really nice things about the festival was that everyone seemed to have the utmost respect for the grounds of 4Q and its policies... people really adhered to the LEAVE NO TRACE policy that is in affect there (much like burning man), and left the sanctuary in the same immaculate state as when they arrived... no litter, no cigarette butts, no junk whatsoever.
Eventually we made it back to the car, and were soon on our way (albeit reluctantly) and were again on the road that lead back to the interstate. as we were leaving though, it really struck me how incredibly well organized and promoted this festival was... the meticulous attention to detail, the intent of trying to create a community of the future that can co-exist with nature, the pursuit of utopia on earth. Everything was absolutely flawless in every conceivable way... Gaian Mind has really set a high standard for what a psytrance festival can be, and I look forward to coming back next year and experiencing it again.
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