I've never been to the annual Atmosphere Gathering in Cumberland, B.C., here on Vancouver Island, but something tells me this festival is going to be right up my alley. It's no secret that smaller-scale, boutique-style festivals are my preferred choice - partly on account of my self-proclaimed introverted-ness, but mostly due to the unique sense of community fostered by these more intimate events.
Atmosphere Gathering planted its roots just over a decade ago in its first inception as the Cumberland Village Works festival, boasting headliners Michel Franti & Spearhead, before evolving into its eight-year run as The Big Time Out. This year marks the festival's third birthday as the re-imagined Atmosphere Gathering, an eclectic and interactive event not only showcasing an impressive array of performers, but a colourful mix of art, vendors and workshops.
Atmosphere Gathering fits perfectly into the genre of transformational music festival, a category defined by Wikipedia as one that "celebrates life, personal growth, social responsibility, healthy living, and creative expression." The creative element is in fact one of the biggest features enticing me to this event, touching everything from the traditional big top circus tent to the sacred geometry installations decorating the festival grounds. Photographs of past years' events show a gorgeous blending of vibrant transformational art, dreamily festooned forests and luminously-lit nighttime visuals, promising festival-goers a 360-degree sensory experience.
As for the music, my own interest in the festival was first sparked when I found out Vancouver's own sultry sweetheartFrazey Ford would be counted among the headliners, though I have to (somewhat abashedly) admit my lack of familiarity with many of the weekend's other acts.
Of course, that didn't stop me from poring over the list of performers, trying to mentally keep track of the must-sees. Delhi 2 Dublin, who blew my proverbial socks off at last summer's Tall Tree Festival with their high energy mash ups, are absolutely at the top of the list, as are New Orleans-based jazz ensemble The Soul Rebels, renowned for their interpretive blend of hip hop, jazz and rock. Likewise, Colorado's Fractal Tribe promises to be a dazzling spectacle of artistic acrobatics set against a backdrop of auditory rapture, while Canadian poetess Kinnie Starr is sure to deliver a powerful and provocative experience (check out Haida Raid 3: Save Our Waters for a taste of what I mean). With three separate stages featuring a steady flow of live and electronic music, my biggest worry is that I won't have the chance to see it all!
Adding to that challenge, and marking the event as particularly special, are the series of workshops taking place in the 40-foot Tipi over the course of the weekend, with offerings spanning everything from shiatsu massage to an edible and medicinal fungi workshop. In the time I've spent sifting the internet looking what to anticipate from my Atmosphere Gathering experience, the account that struck me most was one festival-goer describing how she almost didn't attend last year due to the exhaustion of a busy festival season, and how she was amazed to discover the way the festival helped to balance and restore her, rather than leave her worn and depleted.
And certainly the organizers of Atmosphere Gathering have made this element of self-care and renewal a priority for the event, from the Tipi'd Sanctuary, offering a haven from the hubbub, to the Elixir Temple, featuring nourishing and healthful refreshments and superfoods offered by Cumberland's very own Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary.
And for those of us lacking the stamina to boogie into the wee hours, the Silent Disco is something worth celebrating. Partiers looking to dance the night away can do just that by renting a pair of headphones and tuning in to a diversity of featured DJs, while exhausted campers and the neighbours of Cumberland Village are guaranteed to get a proper night’s sleep.
With only 1,500 tickets available for the event, attendees at this year's Atmosphere Gathering are in for one helluva treat.
Intimate, unique, extraordinary. I, for one, am counting down the days.