Every so often a festival comes along and really touches my heart, brings a smile to my face, tears to me eyes. Last year it was Beloved Festival in Oregon, and this year it was Unifier Festival in Western Massachusetts.
It’s a hard thing to articulate, but I think the main thing that struck me about Unifier this year was that their primary focus was 3 fold:
– To create a container of reverence for this planet
– To treasure the sacredness of human connection
– To acknowledge the importance of ceremony as a weaver of the gathering from start to finish
Participants can feel that, artists can feel that, the event producers can feel that and what happens is a sweet, welcoming, intimate, intentional, celebratory environment where you can’t walk by another human without smiling. Body and mind rests into ease, and clarity emerges.
-The Polish Ambassador
Note: This review is a collaboration between between Paul Lenda and Patti Kelly. Sections in italics are written through the voice of Patti whereas the rest through the lens of Paul.
Unifier Festival kicked off for us the moment Paul and I approached the entrance and were warmly greeted by a beautiful voice passionately chanting to the beat of a frame drum, Yahweh, the Hebrew name for god. We watched him transfixed and excited to take in this unique moment of expression, that is certainly not a common daily occurrence for most. For me personally, heartfelt human vocal artistry guides and vitalizes my soul like nothing else and I was extra touched by this moment of entry marked by song.
It immediately brought us into presence and into remembrance of the uniqueness and specialness of the gathering we were walking into. It was a reminder that we were entering into something precious and so to be cherished. As we got closer to the source of the sound and approached the man of the music, our eyes met with a sense of loving recognition, shared humanity and mutual respect, a level of seeing that I don’t find as often in the daily bustle of life, but delightfully became a common occurrence throughout the weekend. His eyes were bright with clarity and assurance that told us he was authentically holding his position in service to us, to welcome our way, offering this simple musical prayer experience in our coming, blessing us and setting the tone of sacred connection that this festival experience was truly all about.
This festival was not simply a party or place to escape for the weekend, it was so much more and rather a place to come home to ones’ authentic self. In addition to an incredible variety of musical and artistic showcasing, there was also an essential focus on providing safe, healthy spaces and ample opportunities for people to explore, celebrate and express all that it means to be a creative, powerful human being living in conscious relationship to the Earth and to one another. This essential focus on personal and planetary growth was clearly visible in all realms of the festival offerings from the ground up: the festival philosophy, talented musical variety, workshops with many areas of focus, ethically & sustainably-minded vendors, healing arts practitioners, elders’ wisdom teachings, activities for children, beautiful nature setting, Earth stewardship (compost, recycling, permaculture education, organic food, clothes), and local community sponsorship that all truly made this festival nourishing to body, mind and soul.
It was not just celebratory merrymaking but also a spiritual retreat to connect with greater depth and purpose in our lives, with more meaningful roles for us to play. It was a playing field to put into practice and explore new ways of being in a relationship with ourselves, each other and our planet that is more compassionate and healthy for all…a relationship that is mindful of the future for all.
Creating a Unifying Culture
We were born to live creatively. Let’s come together and dare to be inspiring. Let’s create a culture together.
These were the first words that greeted me when I opened up a booklet with the festival schedule for Unifier. I can say with full conviction that this is a festival that practices what it preaches. It has become the leading Transformational Festival of New England…and for good reason. Living up to its name, it was a unifying co-creative experience bringing together a conscious community for a weekend of play, celebration, ceremony, learning, sharing, inspiration and rejuvenation.
This year Unifier moved to the edge of the beautiful Berkshires amidst Tolland State Forest at a Girl Scouts camp. If you’ve ever been to the Berkshires you know how captivating the naturescapes are there (and captivating they were). With miles of forest surrounding just under 1,000 of us, we felt the closeness of Nature that we often lose the awareness of when we’re out in the concrete jungles we call cities or when we are constantly distracted by our own technological marvels. Coming to Unifier was like coming to a soul-nourishing retreat.
Unifier Festival is much more than a festival. It is a sacred ceremonious celebration that brings together intentional evolutionaries and those who aspire to be living examples of a New Paradigm way of living. Yoga, belly dancing, circus, internationally-known music artists, permaculture, spiritually uplifting workshops, live painting, ceremonies, organic food…Unifier had it all and more. It truly felt like a holistic experience that was designed and co-created to reflect a holistic way of life. When a festival mirrors the sustainable and harmonious way of life we wish to see on this planet then that is an enormous cause for celebration and excitement, because it means we are consciously evolving towards that vision. Our culture is a collective reflection of what we are and where our level of consciousness is at. Here’s what we firmly believe: If the group vision expressed at Unifier was one that was implemented into society at large, we would eliminate alot of the things that cause suffering and destruction on this planet.
Unity, Sustainability, Creativity…these were what we saw as the pillars that upheld the Unifier vision turned into a reality. It’s incredibly reassuring to see a festival take the celebratory model a step further than most festivals do and actualize the philosophy behind the event. What’s more is that the people who ended up making the decision to come to Unifier brought with them the intention to allow for their greatest good to come out at the festival. We saw how people truly are themselves after they remove the self-limiting boundaries and walls normally placed up when we are out and about in society at large…and what we saw was inspirational.
When a festival brings out the highest level of consciousness of its attendees then that is a festival that is acting as a direct catalyst towards changing the world. By creating a space for people to feel comfortable in being vulnerable and opening themselves up to a community that respects and cares about their well-being, Unifier became a hub of personal transformation which translates into social transformation if attendees hold onto the imprinted changes they experienced at the festival. If a person opened themselves up in such a way that they learned how to express themselves in a more direct and honest way through a workshop they attended, they could have taken that into their daily lives after they left Unifier. If every attendee experienced a positive shift in consciousness to some degree then already we have a collective group consciousness seeding the world with the fruits of their shifts.
Festivals like Unifier are helping us change the way we interact with others. They bring us into alignment with the universal reality of the interconnected wholeness of all. It’s a much more comforting, loving and fun way to express ourselves and live life on this planet. It’s a more open and elevating way to live.
“The energy here is so clean.”
This was something I heard someone share to another person as I walked on a forest path at Unifier…and I couldn’t agree more. The energy brought by those who came and were a part of the festival felt genuine, it felt honest, it felt open to giving and receiving from others. Creativity, as we saw at Unifier, is a tell-tale sign of victory over limiting boundaries where people are able express from their most authentic selves and this was abundant in the people present. So many people expressed themselves from this place of freedom that brought them and others a certain joy, and gave a sense of surreal magic to the vibe of the weekend. This magic led us into our experiencing of some deeply-moving spontaneous acts of creation. It’s not as common out in the everyday world to have an impromptu group heartsong sung and danced to.
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill festival. Unifier was more of an intentional gathering of the Mindful Ones…mindful of our deeper collective story and journey. Positively-focused intentions were seen everywhere. Smiles greeted you everywhere you went, making you feel like you really are part of one big family on this planetary starcraft.
As festival founder Jason Cohen pointed out to us in our interview, ceremony is a central aspect of Unifier. The unique roots system from which this festival emerges is that of a ceremonial conscious community, Forestdance. With Unifier taking inspiration from the Forestdance gatherings, there is a strong focus on ceremony at the festival. A sweat lodge and fire circle were the primary mediums through which ceremony was performed. We experience firsthand just how powerful a hundred people coming together around a fire circle, drumming, singing, and dancing is. There is something magnanimous about a group of souls being able to walk around a fire for hours until the sunrise and feeling as if it were outside the bounds of space and time. The sense of bonding and kinship was paramount.
Expanding that vision out of the sphere of temporary community into a long-term community resource, Unifier has developed a bold plan. It’s a plan that’s began developing in the minds of other transformational festivals as well. The next evolutionary step is seen as being a creation of lasting and enduring conscious community. In Unifier’s case, the vision for a thriving future is being actualized by a significant portion of proceeds going to support a land trust fund for the creation of a retreat center and potential eco-village, which would be governed by a council that would be in service to the community. We’re sure that we’ll be hearing more about this bold vision soon.
The soul-elevating music from down-to-earth artists was an eclectic array of wonderment. We were blown away by the pool of talent the festival brought in this year. Desert Dwellers, The Polish Ambassador, Papadosio, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Living Light, Luminaries, The Human Experience, Peia, Srikalogy, Suns of the Earth, Numatik, Erothyme and others shared their musical offerings at Unifier. Our only gripe in this area would be that we weren’t able to see everyone that played! The talent of these musicians was amazing and it felt as it they were fully present when performing…this wasn’t just another gig for them, this was as emotive of an experience for them as it was for everyone that came to be a part of it.
Interview with Erothyme
While there were so many fantastic music performers at Unifier, as always we decided to highlight one artist whose musical landscapes were particularly emotive and resonant with us. At this year’s Unifier that artist was Erothyme. A 24 year old born and raised in Virginia, Erothyme is the musical starcraft of Bobby West. We caught up with him to find out his deeper story in order to find out how he’s able to create such powerfully moving music.
What’s a day in the life of Erothyme?
I put my shoes on one foot at a time, if I put shoes on at all.
I like to travel, and right now I don’t have a home base.
I drink coffee with cream and sugar every day, if I can help it.
I like food that has never been to a factory.
I like to listen to the birds.
I like to watch the sun rise.
I think about love all day & night.
If you really want to make the world a better place to live, or if you have ever promised yourself that you will follow your heart even if it kills you, I just might be a lot like you.
What are the inspirations for your unique and lush soundscapes?
Have you ever made love on a mountaintop at sunrise?
But really though, my work leveled up substantially when I started carrying a field recording microphone everywhere. Sound design is a lot more fun and gentler on the wrist when you can do it while dancing under waterfalls. Audio from real acoustic space is infinite and always different, and the possibilities get even richer when you integrate those sounds into the digital world, which is also infinite in a different sense. There is something really special about personally gathering libraries of sound from within earshot of your own body, and if you know a thing or two about sound, you can make music out of anything, probably because everything without exception is already music. I have successfully make bumping beats out of nothing but rainfall, for example.
Again and again I find that the most imperfect-seeming sounds are actually the most perfect, and I have a good hearty laugh at all the audio engineers out there who sabotage themselves by trying to make their soundscapes sterile.
I like to connect the dots between different moments in my life, to create time-capsule style collages of sound. A lot of my music develops that way, these days.
What anchors and empowers you in your life in a way that makes you able to extend out with your creative expression?
Coffee & herb. :)
The Internet is helpful, too. Dunno what I would do without it.
What are your greatest creative catalysts for producing new music?
All personal and transpersonal experiences make for great creative catalysts, if you have the right attitude toward them.
All manner of spiritual experiences have always been major catalysts for me, lighting the fire that fuels my creative mission. What I consider “spiritual” includes experiences with Love and loss, with the overwhelmingly majestic supremacy of nature, with visions, with mediation, with dreams, with out of body experiences, with confronting death, and with the uncanny poetry which governs all happenings in the universe (some call it synchronicity, I regard it simply as the way of the Cosmos).
The most important thing to me, in maintaining integrity and authenticity in my creative process, is that my work accurately reflects my perceptions of beauty and my experience of emotions. Somehow the output needs to do some semblance of justice to the input. This is a daunting task, but it keeps me from half-assing anything. Life is too short to do anything but your best with art. My continual sense of my own mortality keeps my standards high, knowing that inevitably one day my work will speak for me, and not the other way around.
Many of my peers have asked me about how to effectively translate your feelings into your art. My answer is: whenever you feel anything, joy or sorrow or anything at all, make art.
If you can make yourself cry with your art, you’re probably on the right track. If you can’t, you probably just need to keep trying, maybe for hours, maybe for years. For me, it took years.
With our technology today allowing us to seemingly create any sound imaginable, what do you see the future of music being like?
The future of music is limited only by our understanding of our resources, our willingness to explore, our authentic creative instincts, and our determination to follow through with our visions.
There will always be more than enough copycats in the world, and that is okay, too – there is a reason why particular grooves resonate with populations of people and necessitate further exploration (this is what “genres” are).
There will always also be those who wish to bring their own unique dreams to life in the form of art. The pure experience of the music inside the mind is so much sweeter than anything anyone has ever actually created. It’s up to us, if we are in any way genuine, to keep gravitating closer to the Soul’s song.
What were your impressions of Unifier Festival, New England’s trailblazing transformational festival?
Rarely have I experienced a festival of this type on the east coast with such a wholesome feeling permeating it. A saw a lot of smiles on a lot of faces of all ages, I bounced around on lively dancefloors in broad daylight, I quietly shared prayers with strangers by a fire under the trees. People were remarkably clean overall and I didn’t personally see anyone lose control of their own composure. I didn’t personally witness any violence or emergencies. The food was phenomenal and the porta potties didn’t have cave paintings on the walls. It might sound silly but you can tell a lot about an event by how the issues of eating and pooping are handled.
Do you feel transformational festivals like Unifier are having any long-lasting influences on society and culture at large?
Opinions may differ, but I actually think this is so obvious that it goes without saying – culture is an amalgimation of the individual and group experiences of its constituents (such as you and I).
By collectively breaking out of our shells in the context of celebration (which is the appropriate response to the privilege of being alive), we are setting precedents for a more joyous and loving relationship to the world (which is the only real answer to the world’s problems).
The more we can learn to co-exist harmoniously, the more we will naturally do so in the course of our lives wherever we go.
Smiles are contagious, every energetic exchange makes a difference, and every experience you have is a blueprint for the future. Let’s make our story a good one, shall we?
Where can people go to see to upcoming performances?
If you follow the Erothyme page on Facebook, you will have access to updates as more events get scheduled. :)
While there were many workshops to participate in, based on the great things Unifier’s founder Jason Cohen said about Grandmother Kaarina, I decided to be a part of her two-hour workshop. At 67 Grandmother Kaarina is certainly a powerful spirit, and her animated energy and passion was very evident throughout. She called it the kindergarten class of shamanic work and it definitely turned out that way, in a powerfully transformative way for those involved. By employing breathwork, energy movement, and other shamanic practices, she guided us on a mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healing journey.
The highlight of the workshop was when she told us all to get into groups of four and have each person take on the persona of a different animal, one for each of the four directions: eagle for the East, bear for the West, hummingbird for the North, and serpent for the South. We became conduits for the messages of these spirit animals and delivered them to our groups. Each person delivered a unique message to their group as they felt it flow through them. “I am from the ___ clan, I bring you this message from the Creator.” The messages shared were messages of the dire situation presently in the world, our role and duty in being positive changemakers in this transitional period, and the potential wonderment of what will come if we come together to bring the vision into reality.
Grandmother Kaarina helped us understand how to become universal healers and be living messages for humanity. We are the choice makers, the change we wish to see in the world. We are the ones we called for. Connecting to each others’ hearts while in a figure 8 pattern was a powerful way to imprint the intentions of being healers of the world and then touching down to the Earth was a powerful way to feel and be aware of the intimate interplay of consciousness between each other, the planet, and the universe. Grandmother closed the workshop out with the creation of a massive circle where we all held hands (we probably made it ~200 feet wide) and sent the intentions of peace and love for the planet and all life contained within it…letting the universal life force flow through us. I can now see why Jason held Grandmother Kaarina in such high regard, as she was a powerful conduit for the shamanic journey that elevated and transformed us.
Mother Turtle’s presence at Unifier was an unexpected and pleasant surprise for me as this past June I completed a very special women’s leadership program called Priestess Path, that she is an alumni of as well. I met Mother Turtle and came to know of her work during my journey through this program and was always compelled by the specific work she offers around healing our stories. Little did I know, that coming to Unifier Festival would provide me with the opportunity to experience it firsthand. It was during Peia’s captivating musical set that I saw Mother Turtle standing there in her wise woman glory. When I went up to her and found out that she’d be offering this workshop, I knew I’d be going.
Mother Turtle’s offering lead us into an in-depth process of exploring our own unique inner landscape by examining the many kinds of stories that we tell ourselves, an invitation to write better ones as well as a reminder and ritualized returning of the power to do so that is truly in our own hands.
About 30 of us sat together in a circle at the amphitheater area by the lake surrounded by the comforting encasement of the large stacked branches that made up Nature Dreamweaver’s “human nest”. There she guided us through various processes of experience that included deep belly breathing, guided visualization, storytelling, journaling, and ritual to affirm and connect with our own inner wisdom and innate ability to author our own lives. The dynamic interplay of all these together and body/mind involvement required for these fostered a meaningful imprint in us that made it a memorable and truly influential experience we brought home with us.
The sharing of her own story of overcoming the belief, roused from a traumatic childhood, that she was unlovable was an incredible point of strength as her victory spoke to our hearts and modeled for us how a transformed story can change a life. It was one of my favorite moments when she asserted out loud and clear, “I am a beautiful goddess, I am worthy of deep unconditional love, respect and kindness. Men and women find me attractive and down right sexy.” She affirmed with great confidence and zest the new story that she created for herself; an amazing and inspiring testament of what she was inviting each one of us to do for our own selves.
Imprinting Intentions onto the World
Before we made our journey back home, we took part in one last workshop at Unifier; a meditation Sunday morning led by Kelli Joy, the organizer of Unifier’s Sound Sanctuary. Kelli from Vibrational Visionary led us in the mantra Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, which translates into “May all beings in all the worlds be happy and free and may my life be an offering for the happiness and freedom of all beings.” The power of sound and vocal tones expressing sound is a powerful one. Through the study of cymatics we know that sound has form (and we even have ways of seeing this now) and so anytime we vocalize something we are literally forming it into reality. This is a very helpful thing to know as it can dissuade us from vocalizing things which are hurtful or cause suffering. By meditating in a mantra such as the one Kelli led us in, we were in effect imprinting the intention we vocalized onto the fabric of our world and the life contained within it.
The Next Step
With the so-called Transformational Festival culture growing and evolving more with each passing year, we can look into the future and be visionaries to see what lies ahead. What is becoming a greater and greater focus is bringing the model of New Paradigm living out of the confines of our minds as a vision and imprinted onto 3D reality as an established way of life. What Unifier and a few other festivals have set their sights on is to create a permanent space that would take the elements that make of transient festivals and place them firmly into an eco-village, retreat center, or intentional community setting.
The localization and community-building that has exploded in popularity in recent years, from permaculture eco-villages to tiny house communities, to spiritual retreat centers, is also coming to the Transformational Festival world. With humanity being at a crossroads that will ultimately dictate whether we thrive on this planet and grow into an enlightened society or whether we perish with the extinction that has already begun.
It will take a collective effort to ensure we guide humanity towards the bright future we envision is possible. Creating a transformational culture comes with the responsibility of instilling meaningful and impactful change within ourselves, our communities, and our global society. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and it’s a sign of hope and inspiration that festivals such as Unifier are acting as catalysts for the shift to a human family that lives in collaboration, cooperation, unity, mindfulness, authenticity, integrity, compassion, and harmony. Thank you Unifier for being the trailblazer of the Transformational Festival model in New England. The ground here is rich in motivation and determination to co-create the most optimal experience of living on this planet as possible. We love to play but we also love to get things done…and we’re doing just that.