Photographed by: A. Arthur Fisher

The counter culture of Santa Barbara bathed in psychonautic media Friday night as the Arlington Theatre hosted an enchanting arts festival, Rising Vibes for the Universe. Produced by Lucidity, the event embraced the open-minded ideas that the organization and other like festivals have come to advance, including an expansion of consciousness as well as personal and communal growth. To call it an arts festival is certainly a generalization. The night celebrated copious forms of art including music, dance, theater, painting, bodywork and more. As promised, it was a night of multi-sensory and transformative fun on many levels.

The street scene began in the afternoon as festies of all walks of life began to trickle in and explore the spontaneous playground that was once the Arlington courtyard. An “open-source” event, the festival encouraged all attendees to actively participate and express themselves with freedom and livelihood. Fur, fishnets, and feather headdresses ruled the night as people rolled in with costumes surging. Before theater doors even opened, hearts opened up like flowers blooming as people gathered together to enjoy live painting by talented local artists. Female energy swelled as a barefoot tribe of dancers performed with skirts flowing, letting loose to the earthy drumbeat. Local food vendors supporting organic, sustainable food provided tasty treats to satisfy appetites. The ginger, cinnamon, cacao, almond milk ice cream of Sugar and Salt Creamery was particularly sensational. The Isla Vista Food Co-Op revamped the indoor concession stand as well to provide more health conscious options than are typically available at venues; a real treat for all. The grassy lawn sprouted into a I AM Healing Sanctuary where anyone could enter to calm their body-mind and soothe their soul. Healers trained in various forms of energy, sound and bodywork like Qigong, Reiki, Tui Na, and Thai, offered their kinesthetic kindness free of charge. Chrystal bowls were played to massage the ears and reconnect the mind. Earthjing Tea House offered wonderful warm teas and the Pyro Bar blasted flames in raptures, inviting all to come engage. A “trickster playground” housed a wooden, three-dimensional tree-like structure and an array of paints so anyone could play the role of the painter and contribute to one of the many forms of communal art. Vast inclusion and active participation set the tone for the evening.

As the street scene raged on outside, theater doors opened and MC John Halcyon Styn welcomed The Good News and Youth Interactive who introduced their film “New Ways of the Sacred,” the third episode of the Bloom Series. The film provided an intricate chapter of transformational festivals, exploring the ways in which festivals reintroduce feelings of mythos, ritual, and the importance of the sacred into communities. Following the film premiere, founder of the Tribal Convergence Network, Jamaica Stevens, took the stage to further dive into the potential of transformational festivals.

Senses were heightened as the Lucent Dossier Experience performed next. The Los Angeles based circus-like troupe was extraordinary combining elements of dance, aerial acrobats, and avant-garde theatrical performance with electronic music, live instruments and vocals. A striking performer dressed in a silver body suite with gold ties and a sequin headpiece resembling an Egyptian goddess spun through the air in free flow form with geometrical airborne structures. She showed off the elegance of the human body as she moved with aerial silk, achieving beautiful poses and giving a physical form to the mystical, sensual music. The group embraced traditional vaudeville elements with a clown character whose large inflatable belly bounced around as he twirled about the stage. Several dance acts displayed comical social commentary on societal interaction and self-image. Perhaps the most arresting piece of the performance came with a dance signifying the rebirthing of society. A booming voice introduced “the birth of a new humanity… An awakening… Your participation is key.” In what at first seemed to resemble a burial, performers slowly entered the stage and a woman wrapped in white cloth was laid down. In purposeful ceremonial form, water was poured over her, waking her up and calling her into this world. Dubstep dropped and our heroine began to dance, claw, and burst her way out of the womb, ripping the white sheath into pieces, revealing her nearly naked body, glorious in innocence, awe, and rejoicing in pure consciousness. The troupe finished the performance by breaking the barrier of the stage and immersing themselves in the audience, dancing with any and everyone. Audience and performance became one as the music eventually came to an end and the Lucent Dossier crew blew kisses of love to the crowd.

Festies were transported into a new space as William Close began his first of several acts with the Earth Harp. The Earth Harp is a beautiful, custom-made instrument with long strings that reach out towards the perimeter of the room. In this performance, William stood upon a platform with strings extending over the audience’s heads, reaching to the upper balcony. The musician ran his gloved hands along the expansive strings to create beautiful vibrations, filling the auditorium with peace. As the artist explained, the chords are physically connected to the architecture of the building, so everyone present was literally sitting inside the instrument. This unique apparatus celebrates the distinctiveness of every space it enters and the Earth Harp evolves and transforms to fit its environment, as no two spaces can be exactly the same. Each of his performances (he was later joined by a woman who played simultaneously with him) was transcendental and a beautiful gift to everyone present.

As with any festival, Rising Vibes provided plentiful contemporaneous options that posed choices to be made for attendees. Do I go in or stay out? Do I explore the fire dancers and risk missing a musical performance? Do I walk over to a painting that is calling to me from across the room or do I stop and say “hello” to a friendly-looking fellow? The festival has abundant overlapping activities for a reason. Part of being a festie means making decisions and understanding that you can’t experience it all so there are some things you will simply miss. It means feeling excited and appreciative of other people’s experiences, but staying clear and present wherever you choose to be. That being said, I decided to investigate the outer bounds, discovering the beauty within the healing sanctuary, at the same time as Govinda’s performance. Word of mouth promised that the presentation was sensational, combining violin and electronic music in a multi-sensory performance with exotic dancers and galactic live projections.

I was fortunate enough to catch Rising Appalachia who teamed with Human Experience for a soulful performance. The two women who form Rising Appalachia have a folksy, near gospel sound that pairs effectively with Human Experience’s psychedelic beats and cross cultural vibrations. The collaboration is powerful, utilizing music as a weapon to spread messages of awareness. Songs like “Sunu,” “Mississippi,” and “Swoon” penetrated the auditorium deeply, dripping with emotion and saturated in relaxation.

VibeSquaD Live closed the night taking the dance party within the Arlington to its climax. Swirling melodies and dirty bass filled the sultry air as festies joined hands and danced their final dance. Dirty MF of LiveSquaD (VibeSquad Live) continued active participation by inviting the crowd to come on stage and let loose together. Hopping up on stage to get down on beats, festies let LiveSquaD’s jams like “Chocolates” and “Kaleidoscone” lead them through spontaneous movement and into a transcendental state.

Rising Vibes was undoubtedly a wonderful, lively source of enjoyment for all of Friday’s fest heads, though the experience is certainly more substantial than a mere one-time form of entertainment. The collective experience of Rising Vibes has joined the revolution of transformational festivals that are quickly growing in popularity. These events are taking the world by storm, encouraging free thought and personal growth on every level. The concept of the arts festival is ever-changing and evolving by and with the people involved. Offering a safe place, a sacred space, to get in touch with oneself, to learn new things and to view the world with liberated eyes is a breath of fresh air in today’s society. Festies are tired of the sapping, staggered drudgery of economic and egocentric thought and they crave an alternative path of life. This yearning has paved the way for transformational festivals to function as the new school for a generation who wants to learn and interact differently. The zeitgeist of today’s “counter culture” has found its catalyst. Clear consciousness, personal healing, social responsibility, harmony with nature, strength in community, and spiritual awakening are only some of the values taught and celebrated at these events. The possibilities are as infinite as the human capacity for thought and emotion. Excitement can be felt rippling through Santa Barbara as the area continues to flourish with home grown festivals like this one.

If there were one thing to be said concerning the festival’s potential for improvement it would be regarding publicity. The event was spectacular. Everyone had a huge smile on their face and appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely. However, the show did not even come close to selling out. The majority of the people there, who came to unearth new thoughts and meet new people, already seemed to know each other. They are already part of the same open-source culture. This is the same festival-going group of people that can be found at Lucidity, Lightning in a Bottle, Burning Man and Symbiosis. These people relish in their freedom of expression, their expansion of thought and love of community and they want to share this with the rest of society. Unfortunately this was not prevalent at Friday’s event because word of the affair did not seem to penetrate the greater community of Santa Barbara. In the future it would be wonderful to continue to break barriers and have the invitation be more vividly extended to the general population so more can share in these unique experiences. The more the merrier, on an exponential level. For now, all who got to attend had a blast and, without a doubt, raised positive vibes for the rest of the universe.

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