Op-Ed: Music Festivals Can Help Bridge the Donald Trump Era's Divides

Symbiosis Gathering 2016
Piotr Wojnarski

Atmosphere at Symbiosis Gathering 2016 in Oakdale, Calif. on Sept. 2016.

Since the dawn of ancient civilization, community gathering has been vital to the human experience. Today’s modern music festivals, born out of Woodstock counter-culture, the Grateful Dead tours and many others, can further trace their lineage back to the ancient rituals of the Greek’s Eleusinian Mysteries, where warring tribes would lay down their weapons, sip the nectar of the gods and come together, transcending language barrier and conflict, for the Spectacle of Lights.

In the current political climate, weapons of injustice and fear have again been drawn, and we as event producers can provide the public with an opportunity unlike any other to lay down their pre-conceived notions, and come together to connect and create.

Leaders in every industry have the choice and freedom to capitalize on movements as as they see fit. While there is nothing inherently wrong with filling parking lots with LED screens and top ten artists, we’ve entered a era where two roads diverge: we as producers can continue to satiate the masses with bright lights and big names, or we can dig in, dig deep and provide solid containers for meaning, change, and connection.

Living in the era of peak festivals, there has been an influx of venture capital, major mergers, and publicly traded companies. Despite this infusion, many events haven’t been doing that great. This is in part to do with general festival homogeneity and a stagnation of creativity. Lineups are populated by the same 200 acts and are produced in a diametric worldview of entertainer and observer. In a bigger way than ever before, we need to break the fourth wall.

Festivals are a global phenomenon and can be a hub for culture and exchange, inspiring passionate dialogue and breaking boundaries between what we know about ourselves and what we know about other people. The global electronic music industry is estimated at $7.1 billion per year. When you compare this with other genres of music, you start to get a sense of the power we hold as event producers to touch tens of millions of people.

In our digital age we are trapped in an illusion of impact, where we shout our opinion into the echo chamber, it shouts back, and we feel like we’ve been a part of something bigger. Festival organizers must recognize the power they hold at the gate to welcome guests into an arena of participation with more than just a wristband and a totem. No event has done more for this shift than Burning Man. The event itself has changed the culture by encouraging everyone to bring their talents, and games, and goofball shenanigans to break the fourth wall and jolt people back into conscious participation where everyone is part of the show.

The unique physical environment of a festival also offers a chance for face to face conversation with someone who might hold different views from yourself, an opportunity for perhaps a handshake or even a hug, not just a poke. As creators we must be willing to invest in and build a temporal, stimulating and safe world that serves as more than just a tented backdrop to intoxication.

Obstacles create opportunities for evolution and creativity and in this turbulent time, we have the opportunity to promote ideas of an integrated global culture, all invested in the health of the Earth. Creating environments to promote values of community and social justice is our highest purpose. Many people are searching for something to believe in and gatherings of this magnitude are a service to the world.

The next four years are going to be a hell of a ride, and it’s up to us to offer more than just tickets. Although we don’t have all the answers, we’d love to be part of the solution.

Kevin Kochen is a partner at Symbiosis Gathering