"They say the only thing in life that is constant is change."
These were the poignant words written by the organizers of Serenity Gathering 2016, referring to the inevitable venue change in the weeks leading up to the 3-day music and arts festival. Although all legal responsibilities were fulfilled on the organizers' end, the Lake Hemet campground had pulled the venue from under their feet, forcing Serenity to relocate to Joshua Tree Retreat Center last weekend, still a charming location.
Yet the theme of constant change did not solely belong to the change in venue. This motif of overcoming adversity appeared through several challenges over the weekend, an obvious fact when it comes to throwing a 3 stage, 3 day festival with 60+ artists, dozens of performers, yoga and movement teachers, vendors, and many, many more unseen contributors. However, with each challenge Serenity found a way to overcome the limitations, pulling off the gathering in its third year, stacked with lineups of activities and performances up to 18 hours every day.
Although it's a bit farther from the coast, Joshua Tree successfully filled the void of Lake Hemet's bailout. Flat grounds made it a cinch to get around on foot, contrasted with the crazy steep hills at last year's La Jolla Indian Reservation. Stages and campgrounds were dispersed evenly, avoiding the packed campground issues of other festivals. Temperatures stayed manageable throughout the night, not freezing over, so you could actually feel your toes!
One issue that Serenity faced with the Joshua Tree Retreat Center were sound ordinances, causing early- morning artists to be limited with how loud they could blast the bass. After the fact, however, Serenity has stated on their Facebook that they are fixing this limitation next year, finding a venue that can amplify it loud 24/7 - because these are some acts that you want to experience to their full effect.
For being such a down-to-earth festival, Serenity boasted quite an impressive lineup of talent from all different genres. Psychedelic acts Shpongle, Desert Dwellers (Live), and Govinda brought trippy desert vibes to the affair; bass heads Ill Gates, Thriftworks, Mr. Bill and RudeBoyNoize (Trevor Kelly and Shlump) spun everything from glitch to hip hop; jam bands Nahko & Medicine For the People and TV Broken 3rd Eye Open kept the acoustic sound alive; acts like Lafa Taylor, Dela Moontribe, and Pumpkin displayed their uncategorized signature sounds. These are just a few spotlight artists, as seeing everyone would be an impossible feat.
The stand-out aspect of this festival was not only the music, in my opinion, but the quality of the welcoming, friendly, incredible crowd of people who attended. Love and warmth was felt when walking around the campgrounds and festival. Not only would you feel comfortable talking to those you hadn't met before, but there was an overall feeling of security at the event. I met many attendees who had come alone, and had no trouble immersing themselves in caring tribes. You could expect every individual to say hello to you as you strolled down the desert path, never knowing who or what you would cross next. Every road was a new adventure, while every soul was a new friend. Meeting such approachable and loving individuals was certainly the highlight of my weekend, maintaining that comforting festival atmosphere that made me start going to events in the first place.
In just its third year, Serenity Gathering has the potential to become one of the leading music festivals of the year. To get to that point, there is definitely some room for improvement.
Besides the sound ordinances that made some artists lower the volume, Serenity could make the experience more fluid by offering a bit more guidance for the weekend. Festival maps and schedules given out at check-in would aid the process of finding stages and artists. Some campers were unsure about which roads to take once they left the box office, as it can be difficult to find at night. Furthermore, changes in schedules and events are common at large-scale festivals like this, but just having an emcee announce what's going on or directing people to other stages would help prevent confusion. Thankfully, this venue had cell service, so you could check online for schedules and communicate with friends, but Serenity will still run smoothly next year if these minor suggestions are heeded.
Challenges aside, Serenity really impressed me as being a true community gathering. Everyone who I crossed paths with was contributing to the community in some way. Artisans displayed their stunning one-of-a-kind creations; dancers sweat while showing off dramatic moves; flow artists hooped, juggled and spun their props in to the early morning light; philosophers talked of in-depth ideas and stories; poets wrote viraciously in their tattered notebooks; givers smiled as they donated tokens to old and new friends. This was just the tip of the iceberg, as many people had unique crafts and talents to share.
All in all, it was apparent that Serenity Gathering was truly a culmination of hundreds of peoples' efforts, a potluck of passion that was strengthened by contributors, performers, and attendees. Everyone has something to share, and as a community we played our parts. It's easier to be a spectator, but the more you put into your experience, the more you'll grow. We just have to be ready to embrace the only thing that is constant: change.
Photos by Aaron William Photography
Sincerely written by...