Sunrise Ranch outside of Loveland, Colorado is the first stop on the road to a better world. The first weekend of August for the last six years has brought people of all flavors to this beautiful little nook amongst tall, red layered rocks and rolling mountains. During sunrise, the festival grounds quiver with magic – how the adolescent sun peaks over the hills and glimmers off the reservoir, the devotional yoga practice overlooking the grounds, the friends sitting up, snuggled in their blankets and soaking up the moment. For just a few hours between when the starlit sky is overcome by the brilliant Colorado sun, the grounds are quiet enough for birdsong and the occasional acoustic guitar strumming.

Come nine o’clock, contagious laughter pours out from the Healing Village’s Laughter Yoga. The StarBar jitters with brews for the sleep-deprived festival goers while vendors open up shop. All amongst the campsites are families, whether blood or by choice, munching on breakfast foods and sharing stories about the night before. There was an excitement that was collectively felt for the new day. Luckily, the first two days of this year blessed us with cool cloud-cover; the lack of sun didn’t ruin anyone’s smile. Since no one had their eyes glued to their cell phone, eye-contact actually existed as people meandered through the campground. Introductions and hugs went together frequently, as did dread locks and hula hoops.

On day one, attendees flooded in, bringing their tents, tapestries, and good moods with them. The opening ceremony began with a parade through the campground with a marching band of animal-skin drums and proud vocals, all clad in white traditional clothing of several tribes. They led curious newcomers to the Eagle Stage, where they gathered in a communal circle around an altar comprised of feathers that once belonged to birds of prey, a massive conch shell, burning herbs, and other ceremonial objects. The microphone passed through many hands of people that had a message of peace, hope, and/or action. Those who had found themselves witnessing this soon saw themselves becoming a part of it. It was evident that the people that would receive this the most were right where they were supposed to be.

An elder Lakota man asked of the audience, “Take these prayers with you. Bring them to all your friends that will be arriving later, make sure you let them know why we are all really here. Then, at the end of the weekend, take it out to your communities. Let us respect each other and this earth.” His words were ignited with passion and reverence. It set the tone for the whole festival, even though there were only a couple hundred people that witnessed this, the beauty of that moment rippled out to the rest of ARISE.

The artists that had been brought to ARISE each had their own opportunity to spread a variation of this fundamental message. The Earth Guardians spoke about climate change, Rising Appalachia about being grounded, Ziggy Marley about unity, exclaiming, “We are the PEOPLE!” and raising a real, live industrial hemp plant above his head. Jurassic 5’s set touched on racism and overcoming hate, while Del the Funky Homosapien rapped about love. The Everyone Orchestra created a performance that literally included everyone; there was no escaping that synchronicity of those fifteen excellent musicians.

Although there weren’t many lyrics at the Area 51 Stage, each electronic artist spoke truth through their music as well. During CloZee’s set, a man with a cowboy hat was digitally painting on a screen behind her, creating an entirely new dimension to her live production. Meanwhile, live painters lined up behind the various stages, each producing a piece of art that was like brain candy. Some images evoked alien-life, some with a whirlwind of color, and still others showcased political statements. Gazing at these images was like seeing their soul’s composition – so out of this world, so intricately expressive. Onstage, performers showcased themselves with fire dancing, aerial silks, hula hoops and even some burlesque. Their costumes ranged from traditional Native American dance attire to tight-fitted, sparkly leotards, to animal-like characters. Everywhere you looked, you saw someone in their genuineness.

During the day, a walk around the entire festival is like a stroll through your own subconscious playground. Nestled in the campgrounds, the Wisdom Village provided an area for people to seek advice from an elder or to sit next to the sacred fire and spark a conversation with the fire-tender. Here, men could enter the Father Sun tent to seek wisdom and women could enter the Women’s Red Tent to be held in the feminine energy. Next door, the Healing Village was running workshops throughout the day for anyone to come and heal an aspect of themselves. In the Solutions Village and Community Action Island one could find a leader in social or environmental change to help them get involved in the movement. Perched at the top of the hill, the Gaia Yoga Sanctuary was always packed with practicing yogis. Workshops on shamanistic herbs, or uniting the divine energies of the masculine and the feminine, permaculture, ancient ceremonies, and everything in between created an atmosphere in the Workshop Tent that was transformative. Vendors lined the pathways with their organic goods, socially conscious business, hand-crafted, and locally sourced items. Incense was always burning a sweet scent from somewhere as the sun shined.

As dusk set, glowing lotus tents were lit up by a color to represent the chakras, and within the tents there were Tibetan singing bowls and cushions to relax on. This space was designated for sobriety, and did not permit smoking of any kind, drugs, or alcohol. However, because ARISE is held on private lands, attendees that were of-age were free to toke up cannabis anywhere else besides the Children’s Village. As an effect of the loose rules on cannabis, alcohol was not a huge factor in the behavior of the crowd, which was certainly a nice change from the typical festival scene.

By nightfall, ARISE morphed into a vortex of colors and creatures. A gigantic, LED paneled dragon rolled through the wide open field, welcoming any and all aboard. The Flaming Owl made another appearance to ARISE accompanied by a new addition of two gargantuan ants kissing made of metal. These sculptures stood aflame as soon as the sun went down over the horizon each night. Couples and friends snuggled up next to the warmth of the flames in the grassy field that overlooked the main stage and the plentiful LED flow toys seeming to magically zip through the air in meticulous motion. There was always plenty of room for more people to come lounge in the grass, and it never felt cramped or overcrowded anywhere – not even in the first few rows of people at the front of the Eagle Stage. Space-bubbles were respected, and this helped to keep tensions low.

The people that call Sunrise Ranch their home, even those who call it home for just three days in the summer, have the utmost respect for that land and the people they are sharing it with. Each step in that sacred field feels like it has this ancientness to it. In every way, love was the common ground at ARISE. It stays true to its goal as a Leave No Trace event, and by the end of the festival, not a single piece of trash is left behind by the campers and volunteers. The staff was unyieldingly friendly, the organizers all share the vision of a co-created event, and every person on-site has the same goal of making the world a better place. When each of the attendees purchased their ticket, a tree was planted. Anyone who purchased a parking pass was surprised by a compostable paper embedded with perennial wildflower seeds. All receptacles had a hole for recycling, compost, and waste. The Oasis showers used gray-water recycling, and bags for recycling and bags for trash were handed out. Nothing was wasteful; everything was planned consciously.

ARISE isn’t about the glamour of festivals. It’s not about the competition, or bigger numbers. ARISE is about the movement towards a healthy planet, socially and environmentally. This movement is so far above any need for rivalry, flamboyancy, or indulgence that many modern festivals boast. The community that showed up for ARISE feels passionately about this shift, and 2016 had its greatest turnout yet. ARISE is accumulating more peaceful warriors with each year. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are starting to make this movement move, and thousands are on the path to enlightenment that just happens to go through Sunrise Ranch during Colorado’s most magical event of the year. 

Written by: Jaelyn Kohl