In the spirit of authenticity, I have to admit that I have never been to ARISE. My only knowledge of this festival is through other people, dispensed to me in bits and pieces usually in the sentiment of, “Oh you just had to be there,” which to me, is an immediate turn-off. With little understanding, other than vague terms of bewilderment and seemingly blissful levels of joy emanating from everyone who has attended, it left me with no choice other than to write it off completely for years — probably a sham of some kind, just another Post-Woodstock capitalist free-for-all, faux festival promising spiritual enlightenment and a “once in a lifetime” experience that somehow could never ever, ever be topped, until the next year at least.
This year, however, contrary to what I just wrote, I will be in attendance, and this article should adequately address the change of heart.
ARISE is a three-day music festival, centered not only around music. While it may play an integral part of the event, it is not its only component. It takes place on the Sunrise Ranch in the foothills of Colorado, which also happens to be one of the oldest intentional communities in the country. Everything that is consumed on the ranch, comes from the ranch. This in itself is a feat, considering that I can barely plan out steady meals for myself, let alone farming and field rotations along with livestock. ARISE also prides itself on the fact that it is a “Leave no trace Festival.” The clue is in the name, each year leaving the grounds exactly as there were before arriving. In addition, for every ticket sold, they pledge to plant a new tree, symbolizing renewal and an awareness of giving back to the planet that we call home.
Since the dawn of time, there was a central premise to why we gather together as people. Speaking generally, its to exchange ideas and thought. At least as far back as written languages go every civilization has always had a place in their village town or city where people come together to do this. With the advent of modern technology, the Internet was supposed to carry on this tradition. However, many argue that it left us further apart than before, disconnected from our surroundings and our planet as a whole.
Arise doesn’t fit into the traditional chronology of music festivals and other gatherings in the modern era. There is an air of something wholly different at play. Sure, there is still a stage and vendor areas, along with other points of interest; the difference lies in intent. After more in-depth conversations with other people who have attended arise, it became clear to me that there was something more profound than just a “oh-you-just-had-to-be-there” mentality. Instead of a fabricated experience produced and managed by a touring conglomerate, ARISE seemingly managed to enable organic experiences. Ones that are independent most times from any active planning by festival organizers.
There is an expectation that it will happen the following year, and a natural understanding that it will be changing and growing and in many ways better than the year before — not because there will be more flashing lights, silly stage antics or massive gestures, but because the experiences and the people who are apart of those experiences will evolve and grow. In earnest, it was at this point that I became even more interested in this festival in the foothills, and when my preconceptions started to completely fall apart.
Democracy at its core relies on a conversation amongst people. It is in this exchange of ideas and ideologies that we achieve an educated population, to begin with. A robust society filled with ideas and thoughts that have the capacity to truly shape the environment and landscapes that we occupy. ARISE managed to create a space in which all walks of life are welcome, from parents to children (daycare facilities included). The organizers of the festival even managed to bring in volunteers to help people register to vote ahead of the rapidly approaching mid-term elections and will prove to be pivotal for national and local politics. It is this level of commitment to engaging people with their political and social surroundings that shattered the other preconception entirely of ARISE being a haven for escapism, a problem with which many other larger festivals lean into, by contrast, is actively fought against at ARISE.
The final preconception to be shattered was the cheery disposition of everyone who was a previous attendee brought to every conversation, and particularly, a keen sense of protectiveness that bubbles up whenever anyone chooses to vaguely criticize any part of the operation. It is only after looking deeper into festival itself, talking to the organizers, and the lovely people at Sunrise Ranch do I now understand what is really going on.
This festival is like no other, not in its size or promises made, but in the people who come to attend and the ideas and culture they bring along with them. It is rare breed and needs protecting and fostering so that it can continue to grow and inspire. The protective nature of the people who have attended is understandable when set in context to the ever looming possibility of its demise. Just as we are protective over our own creations, we must be protective over the places and people who give us the inspiration to create in the first place. We need to be giddy and excited every now and then to not lose the thread of empowerment that led us down the road we are on now.
In all honesty, I can only gather a deeper understanding from people who have attended since I have never been before. However throughout this process, I have seen a side to Arise I thought I never would, genuinely shattering all of my preconceptions of itself, and what a music and arts festival could be. So join us at Arise this year, the whole staff will be there ready, willing and able to exchange ideas with anyone who is ready to dive in.
See you there!