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The Trick Is To Surrender To The Shwirl: enchanted forest gathering 2016

Nestled into the towering oaks way up in Mendocino County, California, enchanted forest gathering is an aptly named festival experience, rich in human connection, a superfluity of steez. An enigmatic group of fest-veterans have come together for the past six years, creating enchanted forest gathering to provide a warm respite from the massive festival scene that dominates so much of the landscape every season. In an era that is overrun with events that proclaim themselves “transformational”, this is an event that posts no bills, and exists as advertised. Having lived it for the first time, we can testify: EFG is a living, breathing, bountiful blueprint for the transformational festival experience. 

Hosted at the magnificent Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, CA, the site has a storied history in this community that extends over several generations. In 1987, Wavy Gravy asked Jerry Garcia to play here as a fundraiser, to help with the mortgage at the ranch which had fallen into arrears. Naturally, Garcia obliged, albeit with the caveat that the esteemed Bill Graham produce the event. The result was the very first Electric on the Eel festival, which saw the “dress rehearsal” debut of Garcia’s new acoustic quartet (the group would play a thirteen night run on Broadway that October), as well as an electric JGB set. Garcia roots planted, consider the spot smudged! Since then, Black Oak Ranch was home to the renowned Earthdance Global Peace Party for over a decade, and today it annually hosts the Kate Wolf Festival. 

enchanted forest gathering offered a smorgasbord of activation, and did so in a setting that was eye-popping with inspired art installations, yet intimate in its scope, feeling smallish, and connected. With no WiFi signal on site, people were forced to go off grid and surrender to the otherworldly vibes that permeated the ranch. The days were hot as July, the nights quite cool; the afternoon saw lots of skin and the scantily clad, by dark the hoodies, furs, and snuggies were en masse.  People took their time perusing a shakedown-bazaar rife with eclectic vendors; among them were the shanti-debutante fashions of Maddie Moon, a Brooks Brothers for burners at Om Gaia Tree, and the astonishing Bliss Emporium, where Jason Bear displayed numerous antiques and treasures of the sacred. 

One of the more remarkable aspects of EFG was its no-alcohol policy; the motto goes “Get saucy, not sauced!” I cannot stress how drastically this rule affected the vibes and energy, as the festival’s constitution was on terra firma. Forget the fact that people were not sloshed, violent or disrespectful; the positivity and sheer elation, the joy on steroids, was even more evident through clearer eyes. In full disclosure, a handful of folks kept some beer or booze back at camp; but it was never very visible, in fact, we rarely saw any drinking at all. Please don’t get it twisted, this was by no means a sober event, as psychedelics were prevalent, and ganja was in the air. There was even a medical marijuana dispensary onsite, Emerald Pharms. That said, intoxicants were far from a main vein at enchanted forest gathering, and the most popular beverages were without question the plethora of soothing and invigorating teas being served at The Hearth Tea House, or by RonJon Terlane, the legendary West Coast sommelier of sacred. I’d be remiss not to mention the delectable array of kombucha on tap (with ample room to enjoy it under a shade structure) at every stage. This new festival paradigm, one of a clear mind and open heart, is intoxicating in itself.  

Wisdom University was headquarters by day, for the activated and motivated. Stop in the Nourishment Lab for nutritional education, to discuss relationships and sexuality, health and wellness. Center Stage hosted comedy routines, deep discussions, and ritual magic workshops. Daily twelve step meetings were held for those who sought the blessing of fellowship, and safety in numbers. The Namaste Yoga dome hosted a who’s who of different schools and arenas of practice, while the Dance Temple welcomed festers to a variety of dance-centricities, most notably the Twerkshop, facilitated by Tristan St. Germain and soundtracked by [Clever Alias}. Among the most engaging workshops would be “Wild West of Dancefloor Politics”; ideas of consent, creepy dudes, and other awkward sociological situations that arise amongst dance-nation were fleshed out and forwarded.  

Branches Mobile Gallery was a traveling fine art gallery, shade structure, and ultimate chill zone. Visionary artists also got busy all weekend on a collaborative mural. The sacrosanct Nectar Temple was a mystical, rapturous environment, with pillows and blankets strewn about the ambrosial arena, grandiose floral beauty courtesy of Anthony Flowers Ward.  Danceher Alive and a stream of dancers, chanters, musicians, artisans and freaks channeled the aurul Zen. Every night, from dusk til dawn, the Nectar Temple was home to his Live Downtempo Sacred Tribal Psychedelic ImproVibrationary performances. If you were lucky, you got “buffed” (a stroke of hippie ingenuity and a phenomenon that deserves its own article), or caught a stealthy nap in the shade. Looking for a prankster party vibe? Then Mendoland was the move. A collaborative effort between AcaCia BeaTs and Camp Higher Porpoise, Mendoland was a Burning Man-style theme-camp that went renegade rage with a stage, LED installation, and copious amounts of hilarity for the duration of the festival. 

enchanted forest gathering is actually a music festival at its core, though it can be easy to forget with so much Yes going down elsewhere. On Friday, Nevada City’s Andreilien crushed the Swimmin’ Hole stage late afternoon, delivering his patented glitched-out, dub-iteration vibration to set things off. French femme fatale CloZee continued her meteoric rise in the pantheon of producers du jour with a prime, choice midday performance on the main stage christened the Mighty Oak. Later, the inimitable Thriftworks nearly put heads-to-bed super early, with a blistering-but-brief jam after sunset. Jake Atlas came with a drippy, Dilla-on-LSD mindfucking, as he’s wont to do under the NorCal moon around this time of year. Immediately thereafter, the sexy, sultry sounds of Pantyraid brought bombastic eroticism to the festivities. The Miami/LA duo blazed through most of their recent LP After Glow, before delving into some of the more seminal material that made their bones.  

From jumpstreet, the real fireworks would be found at the Live Music Lounge. As Shabbat approached, EO and Krystyn Pixton performed a sublime duo set, before HÄANA took the stage in her usual hauteur. The radiant violinist/producer/priestess embarked with us on a sonic-bass journey through cumulus clouds of cinematic femtronica. Ms. Thiem’s transcendental compositions, and archangelic singing were augmented by entrancing movement art, as Metamorphosis ballerina Marlowe Bassett and the sassy, supreme Shay Butta graced the stage with a noblesse fit to match HÄANA’s regal flair. With her Nordic leanings, classical and orchestral elements, and a sophisticated, worldly air, HÄANA’s set was a magisterial presentation of preeminent performance art.  

Photo: Marisa Pfenning-EyeRise Photography 

Video courtesy of HÄANA

After an impressive set from Lila Rose, it was time for the lounge’s Friday evening main attraction, AmaeLovesLife. Fielding herself a large, vibrant live band, the singer, fashionista, and poetess, the First Lady of enchanted forest gathering Amae Love provided an expressive, emotional tour through all of the feels. In thanking the people of Black Oak Ranch and celebrating its Garcia-tinged history, Love led her band of troubadors through a rollicking take on the Grateful Dead’s timeless rebel yell “New Speedway Boogie”, an appropriate rallying cry in tortured, troubled times. Ably assisted by West Coast sax maven Christopher Boa (Sun Hop Fat, AfroMassive), guitarist Danny Stark, and a tight knit (if loosely rehearsed) crew, AmaeLovesLife put their stamp on the weekend with folky R&B, sultry crooning, and flashes of spirited jamming. By the stroke of midnight, Krystyn Pixton, HÄANA, Lila Rose, and Amae Love had built a firm foundation for the festival’s feminine power and prowess to flourish.  

To greet the sunrise, we returned to the Mighty Oak, where British Columbia phenom aTYya dropped an eternal blessing draped in dark, erogenous grooves, and minimalist, binaural beat science. The rays began to peek betwixt the trees, the Audiowaska-helmed stage looked grandiose in the morning, People flocked to the dancefloor to embrace the daybreak, and the masses coalesced in a sea of rhythmic movement art, while Ty Clark delivered a priestly benediction for our unified bass tribe. 

Predictably, Saturday was a scorcher; it was also sweltering hot in those Mendo foothills. The Swimmin’ Hole stage was a surefire respite from the humidity, and DJ Dragonfly continued his inspiring return to the scene (he’s been battling a serious illness) with a noontime session by the river. From there, we sauntered over to the Saucy Spa and Foam Party. All weekend long, at nearly any hour of day, festival goers could enjoy the Saucy Spa, a situation unlike any other I’ve experienced at a music festival, even by California standards. Think bliss, booty, boobs, and bass, all going off in a sea of beautiful people dancing furiously while drenched in Dr. Bronners foam. Like the kids say these days, It was everything. Guyuaki set up shop with an ice cold Yerba Mate bar, alongside Dr. Bronners, who facilitated the foam shower scene. It was at once Caligula, and good ol’fashion fun; hippies, lovers and aliens, splashin’ in the California sun.  

One of the most rewarding parts of festivaling, for this writer/music nerd/dance enthusiast is the discovery of new artists. Case in point: Saucy Spa on Saturday afternoon- The Pirate out of Santa Cruz, and TreyZilla holding down Portland, OR and representing We Got This. First, The Pirate took the decks with an understated confidence and a moustache that would make Calico Jack quiver, before serving notice to take cover, my man was there TO take prisoners. Mixing dope, contemporary and underground hip-hop cuts from all over the map, The Pirate tossed tunes slow’d n’ throw’d in the thizzle tradition, beefed up on monstrous 808s, and swimming in blunted patois. Rudeboy rugged with his black dreads hanging like field hockey sticks, the homie Treyzilla then got on the wheels. Like his namesake, Mr. Martinez came through and stomped the buildings, unleashing a torrential assault of bass gymnastic atop tasty rap and R&B joints. The entire Saucy Spa soiree was sippin’ on some syrup, and TreyZilla’s brand of lean was certified organic, conflict-free, and most definitely trap-to table. Ayy!!

Late in the afternoon, down at the river’s Swimmin’ Hole, Baltimore’s SOOHAN was sending dancers into a dithers with rowdy remixes that would make Stringer Bell sweat bullets. Dropping heaters from Made in Baltimore and Global Gate 808, he slipped in some obscure edits (Ace of Base!) and the usual panty-droppers (Missy Elliot). SOOHAN booty-smacked the people with that alienized, world-music crunk, an original style that’s apparently been torching parties across the USA for some time now. Eartha Harris provided a nutritional workshop and led a yoga practice at EFG, but everybody anxiously awaited her musical turn as Living Light, on the main stage as dusk approached. The people were satiated with a mystical melange from her recent efforts Tales from the Karman Line and Ecliptic Visions. Grrrl power was in full effect when HÄANA emerged with violin in tow, to add theatrical flourishes to “Strata.”  

Soon thereafter, The Polish Ambassador took the pulpit clad in an altered, sleeveless version of his patented yellow and blue jumpsuit. Polish is heavily woven into the Enchanted Forest family afghan, and curated selections showcasing his sprawling career-arc. Sprinkling in some newness, cutting up his recent LP Dreaming of an Old Tomorrow, and hot-wiring the way-back machine for some stutter-step glitch-hop delirium, TPA delivered a dance party that drew one of the larger audiences of the weekend. This writer was forced to depart Warsaw mid-set, as {Clever Alias}, one the best kept secrets on the scene, was at the Saucy Spa simultaneously cranking out a clinic in low-end theory. Tough slotting against Polish, but the cagey professor, (government name Daniel Laureano), delivered his dissertation with deadly, icy calm. As the foam and suds ran rampant, bracketology class was in session. {Clever Alias} spoiled the bass tribe rotten, tossin’ tunes with that Linden Bully type of slang, on that rough n’ rugged, shanti-ratchet spirit-trill. Do not sleep on this beast from the east, because one day soon, he will be a king of the jungle. 

Over at the cozy and comfy Live Music Lounge, the arresting, seductive Cheraki was leading her band with confidence, panache, and commanding verve that betrayed her relative youth. This is a woman destined for success, as Heather Christie mixes folk, R&B, electronic elements, her Native American roots, and built-in pop-star sensibility. Cheraki had the assembly nestled in the palm of her band, and offered further evidence of the divine feminine, powerfully omnipresent all weekend. Later that evening on the same stage, the mythical legends of Hamsa Lila delivered a set double in length, and exponential in vibes. Mixing a myriad of world and indigenous influences by celebrating the musical and spiritual traditions native to Morocco, West Africa, the Middle and Far East, this band was something transcendental to behold.  Led by the venerable West Coast multi-instrumentalists Vir McCoy (Dogon Lights) and Evan Fraser (Dirtwire), Hamsa Lila unearthed rhythms and melodies from instruments like kalimba, kamale ngoni, jaw harp, melodica, and guimbri. Driving, focused grooves were embellished with harmonious melodies and meditative chanting, Hamsa Lila (translation: Inspiration and Intention) delved deep into the annals of their voluminous catalogue. They were unafraid to connect the contemporary; an spirited refrain on NAS & Lauryn Hill’s timeless NY hip-hop anthem “If I Ruled The World” nearly set Black Oak Ranch ablaze. 

With well over a decade in the game, Long Beach’s Bluetech is a seasoned veteran of the West Coast festival scene. Egging on the sun at six in the morning, Evan Bartholomew sounded off a sublime awakening as people came running to the Mighty Oak as the (next?) day began/ended. Blessing the morning with ethereal downtempo and elastic bass gymnastics, Blueteh pulled material from Dreamed into Being, Spacehop Chronicles, Native Dubs, and Cosmic Dubs, as well as the self-released The 4 Horsemen of the Electrocalypse: The White Horse. Immediately following, in what might be the most definitive juxtaposition of the entire weekend, the Live Music Lounge welcomed the devotional music of Fanna Fi Allah. The resulting hour was blissful, spiritual ecstacy. Performing the ancient Sufi tradition of Qawwali with potent passion, this collective unified the audience, evenly split among the still-awake and the up-and-at-’em. The fire of divine love, or ishq, was expressed with ebullient and emphatic joy, by way of the mystical verses of Sufi poets passed down many generations through the songs of faith and devotion. Fanna Fi Allah urged us all to lift our hearts high, and exalt in our devotion to the divine; this was a magnificent way to end a wonder-filled waking day. 

After a brief nap in the shade of the towering black oaks, as the Cali summer heat encroached yet again, we started Sunday funday appropriately at the river. Nevada City svengali Brian Hartman set the vibrations aloft early and often with his ever-evolving blend of world-music, dub cumbia, and latino-sexy house jams. Shortly after, his good pal and Gold Country bredren Nadi assumed the captain’s chair at the Saucy Spa. Kyle Sanchez then proceeded to obliterate the foam party session with a finessed pizzazz, as a sea of dancers swarmed the scene with reckless abandon. In a freewheeling, white-knuckle ride, Nadi dropped the finest in Kingston-rudebwoy swagger, dripping in electropical waves and island chill, with a mainstream anthem (Jamie XX’s “Good Times”) for good measure every now and again. This selectah has a firm grasp on how to understand and command each unique dancefloor he is in charge of, he is a true master of Move The Crowd. A classic yin/yang, one-two Saucy Spa punch of SpacegeishA followed by Milton kept the flow in step through the oppressive heat of the day. The former’s Tipper-inspired blend of rubber band bass and post-dubstep thump was as psychedelic as it was sexy. Milton then took the sexy handoff, and it was as-they-say “curtains;” the spa got itself extra-saucy and super-sultry as Nevada City fam took over the foam party proper. 

One more time to the river was in order, as the libidinous sound sorcerer known as SaQi was throwing down at the Swimmin’ Hole. Luke Solman is a man of many talents, and earlier in the weekend he had hosted a traditional tantra workshop at the Namaste Yoga dome. On this afternoon, the time was here and mission clear, the people had come to dance. Early in the set SaQi delved into uptempo grooves, with interwoven James Brown breaks afloat. He then welcomed multi-instrumentalist KR3ATURE (Feral Fauna) onstage, and the duo upped the ante something tangible as Solman mined recent records The Muse, The Well, and Quests End. KR3ATURE riffed on chicken-scratch funk guitar, and his melodious sax offered the perfect foil for SaQi’s cherubic trumpet.  About halfway through the set, the dance floor was brimming beyond capacity and spilling over towards the river (and shade.) SaQi brought out the other half of Feral Fauna, Heather Christie aka Cheraki, and the trio delivered a bewitching, erotic take on SaQi’s remix of their trenchant hit “Tincture.” Production warned Solman “five minutes,” the venerable producer humbly requested ten, and our wish was SaQi’s command. Boy, were the music gods ever in our favor, as vocalist Worth appeared and the trio dove into the undisputed sexiest song of the weekend, SaQi and The Human Experience’s amarous aphrodesiac “Drippin’.” It was day three of oppressive heat, with a gang of beautiful humans villaging and celebrating around the clock, yet this tune brought the party and the saucy to its absolute apex. SaQi and krewe cemented their dancefloor decimation with one final salvo, this in the form of a spirited reimagination of Outkast’s timeless Aquemeni classic “SpottieOttieDopaliciousAngel.”

The festival could have ended there; Dayenu, it would have been enough. Yet the genius of festival founder/producer Tulku D’etat apparently knows few boundaries, and the benevolent fella had one more magic trick tucked up into his trademark fedora-on-tilt. Case in point: the fortuitous booking of Ayla Nereo’s solo endeavor, and scheduling it on Sunday night. There are those artists that exist in that rarefied air, who can reach deep down inside of you, touching you in a certain special way, so that you are never the same again. That is how many of us would come away from Ms. Nereo’s set as the festival began to wind down.  

Ayla Nereo- “Twirl Me”  

“Show Yourself”

Tour de force. Revival. Religious experience. Chance encounter with The Light. Sometimes, no matter how weathered, tried and tested a concertgoer you may be, an encounter such as this one will leave you in a puddle of tears, a seeking the womb of a hug, with a gigantic, swelling smile, while setting intentions to realize all of your potential in life. Sunday service was in session, and Ayla used her set to debut a number of songs to be included on her forthcoming sophomore LP, including the stirring ode to an occupied farm “Seeds.” But it was the material from Hollow Bone, her 2014 solo debut, that resonated the deepest, as many of these tunes are by now permanently etched in our hearts. “Life Bound Friend” first opened the floodgates, “Bonteka” was even more medicinal in the live setting, “Let It In” made us all believe that we can do anything in this life, “Show Yourself” the ultimate self-confidence building anthem. It would be her delicate, folk-sorceress rewiring of Wildlight’s “Twirl Me” that finally maxed out my own personal emotional quotient. There IS nothing to fear in moving on, after all. 

Photo: Zac Krohn/Clapping Porpoise 

Under the glorious Mendocino moonlight, to a packed, hushed, weeping and adoring audience, Ayla sang in front of a small band that included the serene Amelia Rae on keys and harp, and Brian Parks on drums. This was undoubtedly Ayla’s stage, but she graciously shared the spotlight with her crew. In utilizing their talents, along with incorporating minimalist production elements and tasteful vocal layering, Nereo created an intoxicating elixir. For it isn’t all the bells and whistles that make her the most impactful female performer I’ve witnessed since Erykah Badu, it is her essence, her verse, her vision, her verve; she is every woman, with a voice and an acoustic guitar. Ayla Nereo has long since transcended being known as The Polish Ambassador’s girlfriend, or the other half of Wildlight; but after Sunday night’s soul-quenching revue, she is officially a force of nature. I am firmly convinced Ayla is our generation’s Joni, our tribe’s Badu, a woman who is galvanizing us all to set this revolution in motion. Levitating away from the Live Music Lounge, I had never been more ready for anything in my life.  

Stay Enchanted… and in Gratitude.

Words: B. Getz

Photos: Jacob Avanzato (unless otherwise credited)

Videos: Kenny Hoff