September 22 - 25, 2016 (Thursday – Sunday)
Woodward Reservoir Regional Park,
Oakdale, California, United States
When it comes to the alternative-reality, anything-goes festival circuit, Burning Man tends to get all the attention. But Symbiosis, which was “born from Burner culture,” positions itself as a purer, more curated version of the bohemia-fest.
Different Every Year
Founded in 2005 with its first event, taking place in Santa Cruz, California, the gathering has changed locations several times in its decade-long history, though it took a two-year hiatus from 2010 to 2011 with a year off in 2014 as well. Through this process, it’s embraced its migratory nature, having moved from its origin in the Santa Cruz mountains to Angels Camp, then to Yosemite National Park, after that to Pyramid Lake and finally to its current location at Woodward Reservoir. The festival has also been held during different months of the year, giving it even more variety. While each installation is connected in spirit and ethos, each year always has its own distinct identity.
For fest-goers who want to have an eco-conscious experience and meet like-minded people rooted in a sustainable ethos, Symbiosis is an ideal hub. In addition to art, performance, creativity, and music, there’s a heavy emphasis on earth-consciousness. While other festivals may have a green aspect as an afterthought or sideshow, the organizers of Symbiosis describe their mission as seeking to “provide a space for the fusion of aesthetics, sound, and natural living, in an atmosphere of interactive co-creation.”
The environmental consciousness goes way beyond just food (which of course is all organic) and recycling—attendees can get involved in many eco-initiatives, and organizers invite Native American people who live nearby to make sure that traditions and ecological heritage are respected.
Not Just another Burning Man
So how is Symbiosis different from Burning Man? Well, while Burning Man is the ultimate destination at which to try all the things society might shun—radical exuberance, substances, unfettered creativity, youthfulness, and just plain weirdness—Symbiosis, though it also embraces those things, aims to create an atmosphere that weeds out some of the riffraff that a festival the scale of Burning Man inevitably attracts. With just several thousand attendees as opposed to Burning Man’s tens of thousands, Symbiosis is far more intimate and mindful. But similar to Burning Man, there are no sponsorships, for-profit commerce, or brands in sight, which means attendees can take a rare break from capitalism. Instead, there's an alternative marketplace where sharing, cooperation, and collaboration are key and people of all stripes feel welcome.
A Quirkier Lineup
The latest installation of Symbiosis (its 10-year reunion) was held at the same location as its 2013 event. It featured more than 200 acts on four main stages, with musical genres veering away from mainstream EDM, instead favoring more experimental, alternative acts including Nicholas Jaar, Shpongle, Emancipator Ensemble, and Griz. Add in the Fungineers , the Vau de Vire Society , and Bubble Gutter foran even quicker, entertaining time.
Without any major, big-name acts, the ticket price (around $300) can feel steep for the five-day festival. However, in addition to the music, there are many workshops, art projects, lectures, yoga classes, and alternative performances and experiences. And the Woodward Reservoir itself presents a popular activity—take a fresh dip in the lake between sets and activities to take in nature’s beauty.
While there are a few complaints about less-than-efficient organization, veteran attendees most frequently rave about the stages at Symbiosis Gathering, which, in addition to serving as the performances' backdrop, are art installations in and of themselves. With music going into the night, there’s nothing better than dancing until the sun comes up amid stunning manmade and natural scenery. This is a truly a place to let your spirit run free.
Cost: $245 (early bird pricing)