I was in flight the day a woman died in Charlottesville, VA at a “Unite the Right” rally on August 12th. My destination? Oregon, where I would be going to the Oregon Eclipse Gathering a music and arts festival. Between flights, I spent my layover watching the news and flinging through my Instagram feed, watching the escalating violence unfold. Over the past year, it seems the country rocketed into darkness with Charlottesville as an intense example of the dividing lines in our country.
When I arrived in Bend, Oregon, where I met up with the Future Clear Brooklyn-based art collective, a group erecting a pyramid installation at the festival, no one had heard about Charlottesville. As Bend was off the radar, I relayed the information of what had been happening in the country outside of their campsite bubble: the “Unite the Right” rally, the torches, the car, the death. Although we were headed into what we knew would be an incredible experience driving into the festival grounds, I couldn’t shake the knowledge of the tragedies that were occurring in our country. The world’s realities versus our own.
I entered into Oregon Eclipse with a sadness on my shoulders. Luckily, the festival lineup offered artists who’s focus is to stand up for social justice work and “preach” to a brighter future, which brought me back to the feeling that not everyone is evil and humanity might survive after all. I realized that these emerging artists in the festival community are voices that can continue to spark hope, conversation, and change as we dive deeper into a world that is becoming increasingly terrifying.
The first of these lyrically evoking artists speckled into the electronic landscape is Climbing Poetree. Hailing from Brooklyn, NY, Climbing Poetree has been performing their poems for nearly two decades. Their words speak of the harsh reality of the world we live in: “My brother’s death is not a coincidence, he is a catalyst for reconfiguring the sacred geometry of living”. The two artists have a way with words that recognize the darkness inside the political landscape and are able to awaken something deeper inside their listeners as catalysts for change.
Climbing Poetree’s work focuses on racial issues in America, and how we see ourselves and others. They dive into self worth and self hatred, trying to inspire self love. They see the deaths of many and hope they will be worth a future for others. Climbing Poetree asks us to partake in the knowledge that the world is not perfect, but maybe there is a reason behind the illusions of who dies and why, and who lives and how.
While their previous work has highlighted their words through spoken word poetry, the last album they released has an added element of music. Incorporating traditional Peruvian flute, gospel singers, violin and instrumental backing, the power of their words was strengthened, as their poetry turned to mantra, into the chords of the crowd.
Taking her platform on one of my favorite stages of the week, the Silk Road, which was populated with sounds from Cumbia to Eastern from Dirtwire to Climbing Poetree, Ayla Nereo radiated in an afternoon sunset to share her ideas on sustainability, community, and love. Festivalgoers first fell in love with Ayla through her acoustic songs and sweet, yet prominent vocals when she emerged on the scene about five years ago. Watching her grow into the artist she has become has been a truly magnificent journey.
I first noticed Ayla’s interest in using her voice to speak out about what could happen when we all come together, when she, and her musical and life partner The Polish Ambassador hit the road on their Permaculture Action Tour. This tour asked the question, “How do we take the energy created at shows, and seed it back into the communities?”
The album written for this tour, Pushing Through The Pavement, featured Ayla’s voice as she talked about growing through the system and planting a better future. Since then, Ayla has written songs on topics like protecting the waters, women’s bodies, and about living in harmony with the natural world.
Her honesty of spirit shone through her words as she sang out to the crowd at Oregon Eclipse, dispelling myths about body image through lyrics, “I show myself to know myself.” In this moment as the sun set over the Silk Road, the world seemed to spark with an essence of something humming beneath the darker side of humanity. A light perhaps.
The first time I ever saw Jasmine Fuego sing was on stage as a back-up vocalist for Ayla Nereo at Envision Festival in 2014. Her quick evolution of song has struck, as she took the mic into her own hands at the Oregon Eclipse with the fiery passion that inspired her name; Fuego.
Jasmine’s style is a combination of R&B, soul, and pop, and her lyrical undertone always leads to empowerment and revolution. With a background in social change that permeates her work on stage, she shares songs about the Women’s March on Washington, and develops stories through her songs, writing about healthy relationships and being your own guiding light. Fuego has just released her first studio EP and will be someone to watch in the next few years as her stage presence magnifies.
Another crew traveling from Brooklyn to bring the East Coast flare to the West Coast roots was Pendulum People. This multi-faceted crew is on their way to a momentous year, performing four separate times at Oregon Eclipse Gathering, they were not one to be missed. Singer Nova Zef has no problem in speaking her truth and her vocals were potent as she screamed out over the crowd on The Fringe Theater stage.
More than just a lyrical force, Pendulum People have taken the art of storytelling to the next level. Every piece of art that is taken to the stage comes from their own collective. From costume design, to video production, to choreography, the crew dives into a multi-disciplinary artistic expression to bring their ideas of truth and justice to life. Their beyond-spectacle, showcase highlights what is possible when a crew holds themselves to the highest standards.
Each one of their songs portrays through costume, visuals, and vocals a new, conscious reality, which so many at the Oregon Eclipse claim to be grasping for. Pendulum People brings this reality to life with colorful and creative empowerment right before their audience.
In our current political sphere, the most powerful thing we all have is our words and creativity.
Although it is not always easy to assert this right, these artists are using their stage, their presence, and their innate abilities with language to inspire social, environmental and cultural change. Finding a stage for this kind of artistry can be one of the most challenging aspects of sharing this work. While the party rages, and the electronic music bumps, Oregon Eclipse held a space for those holding intention for the future, which we might one day inhabit.
We may not have seen our last Charlottesville terror, but hopefully we haven’t seen our last eclipse gathering yet either. While I hold these ideas in my head, I think of the moon drifting across the sun, and the darkness that ensued.
What I remember most about that moment of dusk, was the burning rays of sun-flaring light that permeated the darkness. We all have a chance to continue to create and be that light in the darkness.