WORDS: JONATHAN AKBARI & PHOTOS BY: BRITTANY NO FOMO
As the 2016 festival season comes to a close and everyone is unpacking a lifetime worth of lessons and experiences, Symbiosis Gathering wraps up celebrating their 11th year. The festival started as a small 600 person gathering in Santa Cruz in 2001 and has moved a number of times from Angels Camp to Yosemite to Pyramid Lake in 2012 during the solar eclipse. Each container of the event and experience has been unique. After finding a semi-permanent home at Woodward Reservoir for the 2013, 2015 and 2016 editions, this year saw the largest attendance with nearly 20,000 people flocking to the watery oasis. Nicknamed Swimbiosis because of the reservoir and water centric play, “Burning Man’s Summer Camp” has marked the end of the festival season.
Tucked away in Woodward Reservoir 100 miles east of San Francisco, a body of water to play in during the scorching days with art boats and even a DeLorean hovercraft serves as a canvas for the imagination. The festival combines elements from Burning Man, Lightning in a Bottle, Desert Hearts, Boom Festival but its own vibe to create an All-Star experience. Symbiosis pulls the best elements from each relatable festival to form a magical amalgamation of fun. Festival creators want to shed the label of a “transformational festival” and truly become its own gathering: A gathering of friends to recap their year, celebrate the close of summer, and listen to some of their favorite artists.
Symbiosis instills a sense of playfulness, wonderment, awe and mystery. The vibe is impeccable using natural elements of the peninsula and water to create a sense of intimacy and community, through shared play on water stages and boat art cars.
The festival organizers have worked hard to create a flat hierarchy devoid of pretension and exclusivity that is starting to plague lots of transformational festivals, even Burning Man. There’s no highend camping areas, no corporate sponsorship, nor any over-the-top secluded areas. Is it possible to transform a group of strangers into a loving, egalitarian community for a weekend? Maybe the truth is that it is possible.
Another aspect Symbiosis has always done well is offer a dynamic assortment of art, music, speakers, and performances. From the famous secret Tipper sunrise set in 2015, to FKA Twigs, OTT, Seth Troxler and Nicola Cruz this year, the entire spectrum of electronic-based sound was on display. There was an eclectic array of entertainment that seemed to appear to everyone, from interactive talks that covered ancient wisdom in the modern world to the Android Jones VR experience that took viewers through a virtual Ayahuasca trip. The duality of experimentation and familiarity was present among all the art, music, and performance elements for a full experience.
Many festivals try to combine elements to create a holistic experience for their attendees but usually end up creating a streamlined, one dimensional vibe. Symbiosis is multilayered, focused on the human experience of connectivity while bringing in diversity through the wide array of offerings. The combination of multiple distinct physical and nonphysical factors sent everyone on a journey through mind, spirit, and body. Symbiosis was a convergence of many communities to bridge scenes and highlight individual exploration.