Beloved Festival of Sacred Music, Art & Yoga in Tidewater, OR (August 11-14, 2017).
Toward Bliss: Beloved Festival’s Tenth Year Presents the Challenging, Joyful Sounds of Unity in Divided Times
In an ancient corner of Oregon’s coastal rainforest, thousands have gathered each August, for the past nine years, to remember they’re not separate. Music in every shade, from every possible place, rings out from a single stage, a clear call for unity. Cell phones don’t work, but the dancefloor beckons.
This is the Beloved Festival of Sacred Music, Art & Yoga in Tidewater, OR (August 11-14, 2017). Bass music and global sounds, rustic surroundings and cutting edge sound, lighting and visual technology intertwine to create a glimpse of the divine, in all forms.
“Music always has a sacred side,” muses Elliot Rasenick, the founder and artistic director of Beloved Festival. “The notion of sacred music is redundant. All music can evoke a sense of unity, which is the presence of the sacred. Beloved is the idea that we can cultivate a community and hold a container that makes it easy to cut through the illusion of separation, at least for the weekend.”
That perspective inspired Beloved’s most basic feature. The festival highlights only one act at a time, one performance the entire audience immerses themselves in. When one performer concludes a set, another performer begins at the opposite end of the stage area. There is no divided attention, no hopping from set to set.
The shared experience extends to another central piece of Beloved, its yoga offerings, which have been part of the festival from the start. Over the years, the festival has upgraded its dedicated yoga space, from a simple structure to a large open hall, set in a clearing in the forest, a welcoming space with excellent sound, to offer festival goers an opportunity to engage with music and the spirit in a different context.
None of this, however, is intended to provide an easy out or to support New Age excuses for apathy. At Beloved, spiritual does not mean divorced from real world issues. “I often think, to paraphrase Van Jones, it’s in the convergence of spiritual people becoming active and active people becoming spiritual that the hope of humanity now rests,” reflects Rasenick. “Beloved has become an ideal platform for this meeting of spirit and action.”
The festival makes these intentions explicit, taking the conversation beyond suggestions of musical universality or vague ideas of togetherness. Beloved takes inclusion seriously, asking participants to come ready to interact with each other. Moreover, the festival pauses performances at key times during the festivities to hold community conversations.
“At the peak moment of the peak day of the festival, we interrupt the music and dancing to talk about relevant issues that are important to our community,” says Rasenick. “Last year, we discussed racism and asked what it means for us to examine and commit to dismantling privilege. The year before, we talked about sexual violence and the pervasive oppression of the patriarchy and the challenges of building a culture that respects consent. This year, we’ll be talking about borders; we want to bring awareness to the aggressive and violent ways this country is enforcing borders and to express how counter to our values this is, especially the for-profit industry of detention and deportation.”
Singular focus and conscious community building contrast beautifully with the festival’s open-eared and wide-ranging sonic offerings. Groups from around the world, some intensely traditional, some more experimental, rub shoulders with electronic dance music icons and innovators. There’s a reason for this: Rasenick noticed a similar appreciation for the ecstatic experience, deep musical exploration, and community support in both scenes. He thought that these communities (bhakti-loving seekers and all-night dance-music connoisseurs) had a lot to say to each other, and wanted to gather them at a single event, to see what happened.
Over the festival’s history, the range of musical styles, genres, and origins has increased dramatically. To celebrate Beloved’s tenth year, Rasenick has invited South Asian and Middle Eastern classical musicians (sarod master Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Oud master Rahim Alhaj), who rarely perform at outdoor summer festivals for general audiences, side-by-side with classic reggae bands (The Abyssinians and Dezarie), Malian international hitmakers (Amadou and Miriam) and Tuvan throat singers (Huun Huur Tu). He purposefully chooses artists who speak to current tensions and questions. This year, that means music from the Muslim world and several bands representing the countries targeted by Trump’s executive order, including one from Yemen (A-Wa).
“For many people in our community there’s a temptation to engage in spiritual bypassing, to use the beautiful sentiment of ‘be the change’ to obsess about our own perfect little lives and create an excuse not to speak up. Hopefully this festival can help people be more engaged in everyday life and in the world. Beloved wants to expand the notion of personal healing to include being an antidote to darkness avoidance, an antidote to obsessive focus on ‘the light’.