I've been to music festivals in Southern California, in the Midwest, Northern California and the East Coast, but I had an epiphany at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa (about an hour north of San Francisco) last weekend.
There, I realized that for some reason, NorCal music festivals are special. Not just different--I mean, they're crunchy granolier, have more hippies, more body odor, more weed, more sage in the air--but special, in that music isn't always the main focus of these events. Some parts are totally obnoxious--especially if you hate hippies!--but others make you wish that the Northern California mentality spilled over to the rest of the world. After the jump, a list of just how different things are up North.
Here's a scene from the 2008 Earthdance festival held in Laytonville.
1. A Plethora of Hula Hoops
This would be OK if, like at Harmony, there's a hula-hoop corral for all the idiots who are usually too fucked up on exotic drugs to hula hoop properly. Unfortunately (as a person who's been decked on the head more than once by a runaway hula hoop), not a lot of those corrals exist. But people in Norcal will hula hoop to eternity anyway!
Interestingly enough, one of my friends told me that hula hoops became the rage as a way to transport drugs into festivals. Basically you open up a hula hoop and stuff drugs in there, and no one will ever know whether you have lentils or ecstasy pills making that shaking noise.
I have something against dirty hippies; mostly, I hate the way they don't bathe and the non-stop body odor. But I also hate the way most of them beg for food and money, yet they own two dogs each (yes, sometimes they also beg for dog food). The most detestable hippies are the ones who beg for money so they can go to a music festival...outside the festival grounds. Seriously? But hippie-ravers? Like the candy-hippie-ravers pictured below? I guess these are good if a) they don't smell bad b) you're a fan of Lady Gaga c) like to make fun of people unlike yourself.
3. High-tech Weed Paraphernalia For Sale Everywhere
This interesting contraption is called the Magic Flight Launch Box. It's a stealth vaporizer powered by rechargeable batteries that was selling for $90 at the festival. Also on the grounds: a ton of growing stalls that teach people better ways to grow plants in hydroponic ways.
NorCal fests are seriously like marijuana conventions; they have a ton of "alternative medicine" tents, and a lot of "holistic healing" going on. Harmony even had a medical marijuana tent where festival goers could go to "self-medicate."
4. Yummy Organic Food
The food is the biggest plus at NorCal music fests. They usually serve really unusual organic food that doesn't taste like cardboard. At the Harmony Tea House, my favorite spot at Harmony, for example, they served organic gluten-free dishes like spring rolls, and chai made with raw, unfiltered almond milk. It was also really cheap food, and averaged about $3 a dish. Win! For beer options, Sierra Nevada was on tap, along with other microbrews. I don't think I even saw a Bud Light being sold.
5. Reggae (and variations of) All Day
Obviously, this could be really good...or really bad. I've calculated that each NorCal fest I've gone to has been composed of 80 percent reggae music and 20 percent world music. Here's a video of Delhi to Dublin, one of the more interesting bands I saw last weekend. The Vancouver-based, multicultural five-piece freely mixes hip-hop, reggae, Indian Bhangra and Irish jigs in their songs--it was a trip to watch.
And, of course, whenever a band leaves people from NorCal good vibes, they're automatically a favorite. You can't claim Santa Barbara's Rebelution to be the greatest reggae band in the world, but you'd think it based on the reception they always get in NorCal.
6. Maximum Recycling Options
This is actually an old photo from 2008'sEarthdance
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...the more recent festivals I've attended actually have a separate compost bin for all compostable materials. Usually, everyone is really conscientious about where their trash goes and their collective carbon footprint--so much so that by the end of the festival it seems like the people are dirtier than the festival grounds. Ick.