Interview: Festivaling to Deeper Happiness
FESTIVALING TO A DEEPER HAPPINESS
I met Ethan when I rode my motorcycle out to Victoria, on Vancouver Island, B.C., thinking of moving here (I moved). Riding to a beautiful lagoon beach out of town, I saw him setting up his slackline, so I wandered over and said hello. Another stranger arrived too, and from the caring and patient way Ethan helped teach him the basics of slacklining, I knew he was someone I’d want to meet again in the future. About eight months later, I did.
Ethan – “I basically want to talk about happiness, finding that place. The word ‘fun’ – people take it so lightly. For me it has a deeper meaning. It’s about healing, and magic, and connection. It’s a medicine, it’s not just ‘a fun thing to do when you’re not working’. I want my life to be based around it, and I find the festival season – traveling, connecting with people, being silly, being in the moment – all that helps lead into that pinnacle of fun.
The major events that started me thinking about my happiness… were when I started going to electronic music festivals.”
EARLIER: NOT UNHAPPY… BUT NOT HAPPY EITHER
“My parents broke up when I was around two; then when I was around seven to nine, both my parents had new partners, who they’re both still with, and I now have four parents. And they all get along, sometimes they have dinner together, go on vacations together. And I have a total of three sisters and two brothers, including the in-law siblings.
Everyone lives in town, close by. I feel fortunate to have such loving family around me, to sort of lead by example on how to get along. I like to share my parents with my friends, just so lucky to have them. My girlfriend really appreciates them as well, likes them as parents too, in a way.
In my younger years I don’t remember being a really happy kid… but I don’t remember being that sad, either. I felt I was different than the other kids, I related to adults a lot more. I think I was feeling not particularly connected to people; not knowing how to deepen intimate friendships and connections at that age. I was perhaps unique in communication and in my demeanor. My Mom raised me on limited TV, took me to all kinds of events.”
THE FIRST ‘EVENTS’ DIDN’T PARTICULARLY STICK
“My very first music festival was on Hornby Island when I was about thirteen. I didn’t get into the scene much at that point, but I experienced it, just hung out with my friend who’d introduced me to it. I wasn’t as good at ‘having fun’ back then, it takes a bit of practice and know-how actually.
In high school I’d gone to some little ‘raves’ in the city, and that was fun too, but not the depth of letting-go that I’ve been able to find from outdoor festivals out in the forest these last few years.”
LOSING THE SAVOR OF LIFE
“In my teens and late teens I was a pretty happy person, I was like that – fun. But after high school I lost track of that. I was thinking that high school was the best times, the most fun, and now it was over. I kind of lost my child, my inner child; I wasn’t as ‘fun’, I was just hanging around, doing business, trying to make money. Lost track of that happy, fun-loving, ridiculous, playful self that I used to be.
There were a few years like that. I think society wishes for people to be at work, focused on that nine-to-five; I think my real beginning (of his conscious change to ‘having fun again’) was… finding out that I didn’t want to work at doing a job I didn’t want to do. Then I started getting into these festivals, when I was around twenty-four or twenty-five years old.”
A BREATH OF NEEDED AIR: THE FIRST ‘REAL’ FESTIVAL
“I think the Soundwave festival was the beginning of all this. It was up in Ucluelet, on Muscle Beach. Super beautiful there, amazing. Previously I’d been to raves and parties, but by this time I was feeling older, done partying. I met this girlfriend who was into these festivals and convinced me to go with her. When we went to that first Soundwave it was so much fun!
There were sometimes live bands, but it was mostly deejays, electronic music. One music artist named Maharani, I think she’s from New Zealand, showed up there and she does loopings; she plays instruments and then loops it, then sings, then loops that, until it sounds like she has a whole band, orchestra, but it’s all herself looping, building up the music. Some artists and deejays would come from all over, it was becoming pretty renowned, people would come from all over BC and some from across Canada.
Soundwave (locally) is discontinued now, but when it was in full swing there were about four thousand people attending. It was a weekend event, but some people would get there a few days early, stay a few days later, make almost a week of it.
It wasn’t about the artists for me, back then, I didn’t even know about the different music so much. I was with my girlfriend, she liked this or that music, had tastes for different genres in the music, but to me it all sounded the same at that time. I wasn’t a connoisseur, but I was having fun and I was fine with whatever music was there.”
WHAT WAS YOUR REAL DRAW TO FESTIVALS, AS AN ADULT?
“I really appreciated connecting with like-minded people, all being there to have fun and be in the moment. I found that, if you’re open, you could make best friends in just a few days. When you’re hanging out with a regular friend it’s just a couple hours here and there, but at a festival you can hang out with people for a few days straight, twenty-four hours a day, getting to that raw depth of character with them, getting past those surface-level conversations, getting to a deeper connection of ‘who is that person’.
Who they are in that moment, anyway; learning who someone is while having fun is different than learning who they are in a hard moment of their life. But you can really take in your love for people when they’re in their ‘happy kid’ selves, you know? Everyone’s on that level, it’s like a mutual vibe, a mutual uplift, so it’s easy to step into that entheogenic behavior, into that heart-opened stasis, back to what people… should be.”
(Note from interviewer: I had to look up ‘entheogenic’. It’s based, generally, on the phrase ‘generating the divine within’.)
“It’s a lot of things that open you up, not just the music. It’s getting dancing, getting into the moment, almost like a trance, and getting into your body. I used to dance when I was younger, then I got into break dancing with my brother, he was into the hip hop thing. But that was all about battling people, being cool, doing this move or that move.
Through these festivals, I found who I wanted to ‘be’ with dancing; being in the moment, feeling my body and the movement, interpreting the music. That’s helped me open up, it’s been a creative outlet.
Another thing is a lot of people do funny costuming. There were these guys who dressed up in ape suits, have bananas and run around, you never knew who they were.”
KEEP GOING, IMMEDIATELY
“After that first Soundwave, right away the next weekend there was another festival, the Bass Coast festival in Squamish, and I wanted to go, to continue being in that atmosphere. It was like the cherry on top: you’re in the mood already from the last festival, ready to go, warmed up to that atmosphere.”
“Burning Man is the Mecca of festivals. It’s been going on for about twenty-five years now. It’s in the Black Rock desert, about two hours away from Reno, Nevada. There’s nothing else, it’s just flat desert.
It’s like an art festival, where people of the world come and create this utopian community in the desert for one week. Last year (2013) about 68,000 people were there. But it’s not about the number of people, it’s about the number of awesome people. Because there are bigger festivals out there that are not nearly as amazing. I first went three years ago; it’s now my favorite festival, it’s amazing, and now I go every year.
Some people come with campers, tents, some build very elaborate camps with buildings even, just for that one week, and then they’ll take it all away.”
(Note: part of the Burning Man ethos is to leave no trace; all sign of the festival ever being there is removed each year. But during that week, a whole city arises, called Black Rock City, laid out into streets.)
“It’s an almost moneyless society, you can’t sell anything. The only things they sell to pay for expenses are coffee and ice, in the center camp coffee shop. The festival is for gifting; it’s not about ‘this is my table of stuff (to sell or trade)’, it’s about ‘this is my table of stuff; here, have one’.”
ART CARS, ART CAMPS, AND, YES, THE ‘DOME…
“There are about 900 of these ‘art cars’. There was a fundraiser last year for one, this bus that was converted into a treehouse-type thing, with lights and a deejay and music, it drives around the desert picking people up. The art cars are mobile parties; sometimes they all collect in a big circle and it will spontaneously combust into a party, all of a sudden thousands of people will be there.
One time I was riding my bike, following this fire-breathing steampunk-style octopus art car made out of trash cans and household bits of metal, muffin tins, what have you; then this train-style art car pulled up, playing funk music. We all started dancing to the funk, and the train had to stop just because we were so into the music, the octopus car stopped, more people showed up, and suddenly there’s a huge party right there in the middle of the desert.”
(Note: go to the internet, search for ‘burning man art cars’ in images, and prepare to be amazed.)
“And then there are about 600 art installations, and hundreds or even thousands of theme camps offering different things, like yoga classes, even daycare because you can bring your kids to these festivals.
The theme camps have crazy, great things; like there was one called the ‘Foam-Mitzvah’, it’s like a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah, which are coming-of-age rituals for young Jewish men and women. But the Foam Mitzvah was this place you could go to have a ‘shower’. Mitzvah means to do a good deed, and cleanliness is next to Godliness, so you’re doing a good deed by helping people get clean, in the desert where showers are a rarity. You can’t just have a shower and pour water on the ground, the festival is all about keeping the place clean and leaving no footprint after, so you have to lay something to catch the water, evaporate the water, and clean up all the goop.
The foam mitzvah was a great thing, a lineup of about ten people at a time – naked, or not naked, but mostly naked (laughter) – they’d get sprayed with ‘Dr. Bronner’s Foam’, scrub up, rinse off, feel like a million bucks. Foam mitzvah.
There were food camps, make-yourself-a-postcard camp, most of it was family-friendly. But there was also, like, the Orgy Dome (laughter). It was air-conditioned, there were certain rules, like you had to have a partner, set a towel down, no bugging other couples unless it was welcomed. So infinite there, so many experiences.”
ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE
“There are so many people from different walks of life who come to experience the art, the creativity; one of the principles of Burning Man is participation, however you can participate, from art, music, dance, crafts. It really brings people together. It’s amazing to see the art and the level of communal effort people put in.
I really appreciate the variety of ages. I end up partying with people in their early teens, even kids come to the festival. People even bring babies – they put ear muffs on them so the sound isn’t damaging their ears. Even people in their sixties and older are there, Burning Man has been going for over two decades and there are many people who’ve been going since the beginning. So there’s all the wisdom from the different age groups and generations all coming together. I didn’t have that with friends in high school, but now it’s nice to have friends from all walks.”
EVEN THE PARENTS?
“My folks like the festivals too, they’re involved. I convinced my mom to come to Burning Man, and a bunch of my friends brought their parents, kind of a ‘parent year’… or an ‘apparent year’? It was great, a magical thing, so special for me to have my mom and stepdad there. My mom was concerned about the dust, her lungs, bronchitis, she was not doing too well healthwise, was considering not going; but it was so dry there it actually helped her. Up here it’s a little wet, but down there it dried her lungs just right.
My stepdad is basically another dad, he’s been my stepdad since I was seven, I’ve spent as much time with him, if not more, than with my other dad. I’ve learned so much from both of them, different things; I love them both. My stepdad was a little concerned with not finding people his own age that he could relate to at Burning Man… but that wasn’t a problem.
One of the nights, mom came out, biked around with us, went to different parties, checked out the art, stayed up past sunrise with my friends and I. An amazing night.”
EVEN THE CELEBS GOTTA FIND IT SOME TIME…
“One morning the party was still continuing after going all night at Robot Heart, one of the more popular art cars. I was offering people sprays of my essential oil mix with water, and different herbal cigarettes I was offering as a gift – people get smelly, body odor, you can smell the dust. So I ended up spraying Puff Daddy (a celebrity) with my essential oil, without knowing it was ‘him’. I ask everyone, of course, I don’t just go spray people (laughter), so I asked a few people, they said yes, later on I found out one of them was Puff Daddy. I got a few photos; later on I found photos on the internet, ‘Puff Daddy at Burning Man’, they look almost like the photos I took from the same morning.
I now call that essential oil mix ‘Puff Daddy Spray’.”
IS THERE A ‘DARK SIDE’?
“Not so much of the ‘dark side’, in my personal experience at festivals. They’re such positive places, not many negative things happen. I’ve seen people hurt themselves a little, maybe get too intoxicated, an ambulance might need to come. One of the darkest things I’ve heard about: apparently one person committed suicide there one year, hung himself inside one of the domes. I think, alongside all the happiness, there’s some sadness too. People who aren’t able to ride that wave of happiness.
I did experience some sad times. At my first Burning Man my girlfriend (at that time) and I broke up, right at the festival. Although it was sad, it was also really positive – I’m so much happier now, it was the catalyst to this change. We’d been fighting on and off, I could see it coming for awhile. I think I was just holding on out of fear, fear of being alone.
This festival helps you step into that, into the unknown, you’re going out there into this crazy universe of possibilities and potentials, being open to anything.”
BURNING MAN DNA DUSTS ALL THROUGH YOU
“It’s like a fine baby powder. It depends on how the rains have been, how hard-packed the ground is. Some years are not that dusty, but some years have huge windstorms, hours where you can’t see a thing through the dust. You have to take goggles and dust masks and be prepared for that. You could be out on the desert, and if the wind and dust picks up it’ll be hard to find your way anywhere.
(He hauls out a dust-encrusted knapsack to show me:) Once the dust gets on your stuff it’s hard to get it off. It becomes part of your life, for a lot of people. Like Lay’s potato chips – you can’t have just one. I want to go every year, now. Pretty amazing.
I really like to also have an adventure on the trip down and the trip back, too. Burning Man is such a different universe, a crazy thing, that it’s nice to do a decompression afterwards; we travel, go to the hot springs on the way back, instead of just going home right away, straight back to work.”
IT DOESN’T END WITH THE TRIP HOME: LOCAL FESTIVALS
“It energetically charges your batteries with human interaction, adventure, exploration, creativity, openness. I would say that most of my good friends these days are people I met at festivals. I’d always been a drifter between groups and friends, but in the last few years of finding the Burning Man community, I haven’t felt the need to drift around as much. I’ve been feeling fulfilled with that group of like-minded people I meet at festivals. Even my roommate here at this house, I met at Bass Coast festival three years ago. I have a good friend up the street, in his fifties, we’ve done a few theme camps together, did the Hot House sauna camp together. (Read more about the Hot House in next chapter.)
There is a Burning Man community here in Victoria as well, I know a few hundred people, and there are communities around the world. There are events held here throughout the year. Our community is called Other World, we have an effigy that gets burned, everyone brings their own decorations, gifts, theme camps, we do fund-raising events for Burning Man.
Other World is held out in Shawnigan, where a campground has been letting us throw the party for a number of years now. It’s beautiful, in the trees, right on the river; the people who own the campground love it, they come and enjoy the festival.”
GETTING MORE INVOLVED: INTO THE HOT HOUSE
“In the beginning I just went, took it in, but this last year I felt the need to do something more, I wanted to start a theme camp. I’ve always enjoyed saunas, so I collaborated with friends and put together a sauna. Our theme camp was called Hot House, the idea started out as a hot rocks sauna in a tent, but we decided it would take so much fire to heat rocks that would only heat the tent for a few minutes, so we upgraded that idea to using my friend’s enclosed trailer… he had the idea to just use the trailer for the sauna. Put the wood stove in, a few benches, have the chimney come out through a hole in the fake wall we’d made for the open side of the trailer to keep the heat in.
It was a fifteen-person sauna, it was great. We had it running the whole time, during the day, all night. So any time you’re cold or you’re tired, even at four or five in the morning…
We had the most naked people in our camp than in any of the other camps (laughter). It was kind of fun, coming back from dancing… and there’s steaming naked people hanging out in my camp. One of the pinnacle moments of that Hot House sauna camp… was going in, seeing the sauna rocking, twelve naked people swaying back and forth singing ‘In the jungle, the mighty jungle’ (from the song ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’), just so happy, so warm. Seeing twelve people so open, naked on the inside and the outside, together in that moment.
Then we did another camp, for a smaller event, called Good Vibrations Buffer Camp, where we lay people down on a massage table and run a power car buffer over them (laughter). Feels amazing, actually, vibrates you down to your soul. People love it, quite the party trick. You show up at four in the morning, everyone’s tired from dancing… you get buffed all over. People love it.”
A LOT OF MOMENTS
“The most festivals I’ve been to in one year is six, including Burning Man. These festivals are outdoors, so it’s hard to do in the winter in Canada. Burning Man is at the end of summer, everything builds up to it through the year for me.
There are a lot of those great moments, like a connection with a new friend. Maybe some amazing mutual sexual attraction and adventure with a woman, or even just a new friendship with a guy I feel a real connection to.
I think one of the highlights of last summer happened at Bass Coast; it was raining lightly, I was feeling so amazing with this beautiful woman I’d just met. This rainbow appeared in the sky… and it was the most beautiful rainbow whether you were on acid or not; it was like eight rainbows in one, kept repeating inward, and inside it was all pink… everyone on the dance floor was amazed. Just that moment, dancing and the rainbow and the music… magical times.”
EXPANSION INTO WORK? INTO LIFESTYLE?
“Yes, I want to become even more involved with festivals, perhaps even make it my living somehow, whether that be importing goods that can be sold at some festivals, or possibly even doing a TV show I’ve been wanting to pitch.
It’s called ‘Winning The Rave’. Of course, you can’t really ‘win’ a rave, it’s just an expression for having the most fun. It’s when you’re the most ridiculous: it’s five in the morning, you’re still going strong… you’re winning the rave. This show would be about helping people find that fun, sort of a how-to guide, showing by example. How to be organized, how to have the right foods to keep you going, what kind of drugs to not do – there’s certain drugs that can be mind opening and heart opening, medicine for the soul, and other drugs that are not.
I like to help people in their experimenting, steer them away from a direction that may not be as medicinal or healing. The festival survival guide, something funny, something to inspire someone to want to try it themselves.”
EVEN AT HOME: ‘TICKLE TRUNK’?
“So many things can be creative, from how you dress, to finding a community where you can be accepted. I find some of the most fun times are just having friends over and going into the ‘tickle trunk’, putting on weird costumes. That can really change the mood.
I had a party the other night, things were congenial, it was going well; but as soon as I instigated the costumes, the whole thing changed. Everyone started having more fun, started being silly, putting on the weird hats, just like kids.
Costuming, from an outside perspective, it’s just ‘putting on stuff’. But from the inside it can be very healing. You don’t need to be at a party, you can just be with a couple friends, being silly, being in that moment.”
ADD MORE POSITIVE
“Instead of telling people what they should do, I just tell them about myself, what I do. I’m sure it’s helpful to find the things that are bothering you, the prick in your side; but sometimes… instead of trying to take away the negative things, you can add more positive. Eventually that’s going to snowball, you’re going to feel that and be more positive.
Why rub the wound, when you can instead take in the healing medicine? Try and find something to help you be in the moment, in a happy state. That’s why I like skateboarding, slacklining, dancing, those things that help me be in the moment.
That’s the happiest place for people to be. That’s what the Buddhists say, that’s why they meditate, it’s all about being in that moment, not dwelling in the past or looking to the future, even though both of those can at times be helpful in navigating the now.
I always say these festivals are a kind of rocket ship into the now.”
“One thing I wanted to touch on… is touch itself. I think men are afraid to connect with other men, afraid of being thought of as ‘gay’. But hugging your guy friends can be really nice, it can be a way of connecting, cuddling with groups of people. It doesn’t have to be sexual, but it can be sensual, healing, magical, and very deepening of a friendship.
I like women, but still I like to have deep friendships with men. I think too many people are afraid of that, judge it. But it’s great even being next to your good guy-buddy even in a cuddle puddle, it doesn’t have to be a girl you’re next to. It’s being willing to be open to an intimate connection with your guy friends, without feeling threatened or afraid of the stigma of being thought of as gay.
It’s something I think a lot of people are missing out on. Society is really accepting of women being like that with other women, intimate friends, but when it’s men it has a more negative stigma. I think that’s something that needs to be worked on.
It can be a really nice expression to embrace your male friends in a deeper, more intimate way than just punching their shoulder, you know, ‘Hey buddy’.”
CLOSING (OR ‘OPENING’) THOUGHTS ON FESTIVALING?
“A multitude of different types of people come to the festivals. Some have drastic differences between how they are at the party, and their lifestyle at home. For other people, their actual jobs are throwing the festival party, deejaying from one to the next, really committed to the lifestyle. Some people are first-timers, some are students and this is their way to cut loose.
And the ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll’? Sure, there’s all that there. But the deeper things, like the moments of connection, friendships, opening up, are all the meat; the rest, the sex, drugs, alcohol are the spices and herbs you use to marinate and prepare the meat. There’s a reason for sex, drugs, music, alcohol… they’re fun. Under the right circumstances they can be very healing. What else is life for? Some people just want to make a ton of money, but… then what do you do with it? For me, if I have money it’s fun… and if I don’t, then… it’s fun. You know?
I was raised Jewish. I would say I’ve always been spiritual… but I’d say this is my new religion. The festivals. Much more open. Doesn’t have the rules like other religions. It’s about that open spiritual connection between the universe and yourself and the community. The festivaling has helped me be able to share myself, have more fun connecting with people.
I met my girlfriend at a party, on the dance floor. I’m really attracted to people who like to have fun, dance. She is all of that, very lovely, open, and loving. I’ve never felt so adored before in my life. Every day I wake up and feel so grateful for what I have. Thankful. The odd time I’ll be sad, too, but generally I feel happy and grateful for what I have. Appreciate it, and trying to deepen that appreciation.”
“I’m going to Asia for a few months with my roommate. We’re flying to Tokyo for a week, then to Malaysia, then perhaps take some small flights to nearby countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma. Take trains too, the night trains are nice, you sleep and when you wake up you’re there.
Then we fly to Indonesia for a month. I plan to bring my slackline, chill out on the beach and work on that, work on my tan, relax, enjoy, try meet some people, eat some food. I think there’s a lot of art scene and creative people there, too. I’m just open to seeing what happens. I think it’s a big thing in life, being open to what the universe provides. Being grateful for that, riding that, not trying to force things.”
“Perhaps this interview might lead someone to some amazing healing, some festivals that would change their life, meet some friends and make intimate connections that they’d never dreamed of having.”
As we were discussing what a good title might be for this interview, and what ‘category’ to create for it on the website, Ethan said: “I like that you don’t have a category for this yet.”