As the vast field of stars fades with the glowing gradient of the sunrise, the howler monkeys begin their day. Many of the insects have already had a long night creating a harmonious melody that is both deafening and soothing. Now the monkeys, dogs, and birds waste no time in taking over the chorus line at the first sign of sunlight. As the fiery orb crests the verdant mountains, the surrounding forested landscape begins steaming. In the beachside jungle of Costa Rica, the machinery of human effort that will produce Envision Festival is already in motion.
Situated a few degrees above the equator in Central America, Costa Rica is filled with picturesque landscapes, beautiful beaches, and smiling people. Both the tropical weather and the radiant demeanor of the locals makes even sunny Southern California seem bleak and chilly by comparison. By all accounts, it’s the perfect music festival destination at the end of February.
There are eight pillars of Envision: movement, spirituality, music, radical acceptance, community, permaculture, health and art. Listed underneath those pillars on the home page of their website, visitors are immediately told about the eco-hub, the on-site center for sorting, recycling and repurposing waste, designed to help make the festival “the best experience…for people and planet.” Before even reaching the grounds, the bar has been set high with what to expect, as far as transformational festival experiences go.
The hope is that Envision will be different than some festivals, where thinly-veiled rampant consumerism and waste is wrapped up in faux concern for the planet’s well-being and social issues. The creation and touting of a “Green Team” usually fails to impress when the recycling bin stands nearly empty, the compost bin is nowhere to be seen, and the landfill bin is overflowing with food waste, single-use plastic cups, plates and serving utensils. As music festival attendees, how responsible are we for the environmental practices of the events we attend? Ideally, it would be a collaborative effort, with administrators, guests, and artists working together to participate in and highlight environmental initiatives. But is total conscious consumption even possible?
At a glance, Envision seems to be more in harmony with nature and mindful consumption practices than most. The website advertises this, and the emails and media that festivalgoers have received all make mention of different environmental initiatives. There aren’t any single-use items sold by the festival, and to order food from a vendor, attendees must either bring their own dish, rent a plate and return it to the dish area when they’re done, or in rare cases, vendors will serve meals on a compostable banana leaf. The stages, structures, and decorations are often made with driftwood, leaves, and bamboo, which lends a beautiful and authentic feeling to each area. There are often five or more categories for waste disposal at each station, including glass, aluminum, other recycling, compost, landfill, and even an entire can for empty coconuts. At a casual glance inside, it seems that the compost bins were usually the most full and there was rarely any plastic uselessly floating around.
The festival also has partnered with Costas Verdes, a local nonprofit focused on restoring Costa Rica’s beaches. A portion of each purchase from Envision goes to the organization, and on Sunday at 4 PM, there is a planting ceremony sponsored by the festival. Different types of trees are planted on the land where the festival takes place, with the intention of helping the integrity of the local ecosystem.
The waste and environmental initiatives all seem to be top-notch, but what about the logistics of bringing such a large event to a foreign country and its impact on the people? Envision does make sure to hire plenty of locals to help with the festival, and the taxi services, restaurants, and hotels certainly experience a boost, but discerning whether the majority of Costa Ricans (known as ticos) actually want the festival here is a little more difficult.
It’s hard to imagine that there’s much of a reason to be against it. Local businesses receive a surge of cash, the festival is sequestered entirely away from the public, and there aren’t any major infrastructure changes. Assuming the environmental initiatives are as successful as they appear to be, it could be a mostly out of sight, out of mind event for the local population if that’s what they want. If they do want to participate, it’s apparent that the festival has employed many of them for work before, during and after the event and that almost everyone attending harbors a great deal of respect for them.
An extroverted tico, who was working the festival, had some ideas about the environmental impact that Envision has on the community and the opinions of the locals on the event. He smiled and pointed into the forest. “For maybe half a kilometer in each direction, sure, it’s hard on the forest to host a festival. But the forest here is strong, nothing poisonous goes on the ground or in the sea. The rains start soon and everything is cleaned and grows again.”
“Also,” he grins, “maybe this is someone’s first time in Costa Rica! Then they fall in love and want the best for the country.”
His prediction seems to be accurate. The grounds are filled with wide-eyed, cheerful people drinking cacao and covering themselves in blue mud from the rainforest. This treatment is touted as a healthy exfoliant, sunscreen, and bug repellant, and the popularity of the mud is obvious from the many people participating. Attendees can frequently be seen helping each other recycle and pick up trash from the ground, and aside from the occasional inevitable cigarette butt, the grounds are remarkably clean.
Every aspect of the festival honors local culture and the land on which the festival is hosted. From musical acts to roving artists, to clothing and food vendors, ticos are well represented. They have slots on different stages, pieces hanging in the art gallery, handmade clothing for sale, and delicious local food available. From her first set on Wednesday night, before the festival begins, Deya Dova exhorts the crowd to honor the land and the people that live on it. It’s encouraging to see this attitude brought to the forefront before the festival even begins, and the same respect can be felt throughout the remainder of the weekend.
The level of involvement from festival attendees is truly inspiring. The crowd converges on Envision from all corners of the world, and despite hearing an array of languages all over the grounds, it feels like a small, close-knit community. The two separate yoga temples are packed to the brim throughout the weekend, and a myriad of workshops are also well-attended. The Kids Zone adds to the wholesome, family-friendly nature of the event. At this point, rejuvenated from yoga, inspired by talks on spiritual empowerment and sustainable agriculture, this entire endeavor would be worthwhile even without the addition of the exceptional music lineup.
Four stages populate the grounds, ranging from the small Village stage, which hosts a variety of live acts, to the Lapa stage, the home of pure dance music for the weekend that pumps out everything from house and techno all the way up to psytrance. The dual main stages are a sight to behold as well; the Sol stage, geared toward live bands, has an impressive array of projection-mapped visuals, and the Luna stage, decorated with enormous twin serpents made of driftwood, focuses on producers and DJs.
The stages all feature breathtaking decorations, often made with repurposed material and handcrafted items. The Luna stage has driftwood-decorated structures peppered through the back of the dance floor that emit gouts of fire at dramatic moments. The Village stage is also made with driftwood and painted with a stunning mural that sits behind the artists. Live art is being painted seemingly at every turn. The art gallery next to the Luna stage features an incredible array of pieces by both local and foreign artists. A staggering number of performers—doing everything from spinning fire and breakdancing, to aerial silks, lyra, and acro yoga—accentuate much of the music.
The DJs are remarkably tuned in to the environment of the festival, and even the music is conscious and intentionally chosen. Absent are the ragged cries into the microphone of “1-2-3-JUMP!” that populate so many festival stages, and the musicians frequently opt to let the music to speak for itself. Acts like An-Ten-Nae, Saqi, Electric Mantis, Hedflux, Esseks, Govinda, and Pushloop deliver intense and quality performances throughout the weekend. There are blistering bass bangers until the early morning hours, to be sure, but the dance floor feels friendly and uncrowded. It’s possible to simply walk straight up to the stage without actually making physical contact with another person, at least until the crowning set of the weekend; the iconic CloZee plays late on Sunday night to an energetic and packed crowd, and Tycho plays one of his legendary sunrise sets to close out the Luna stage’s weekend.
The pillars of Envision have been put into practice at every turn. The movement is found in yoga and dance, the spirituality is found through nature and mindful connection, the music is carefully and expertly curated, and people radically accept each other from all corners and cultures of the globe. The community is thriving as people are planting trees and taking knowledge of permaculture home with them, keeping each other healthy, and celebrating in the variety of art being created and on display.
Total conscious consumption seems within reach after attending a festival like Envision. Filled with like-minded people with big dreams, compassion for the earth and for the creatures that live on it, the way that this festival is conducted is an inspiration. It takes a tremendous amount of work from a dedicated team, but the festival circuit and the environment would be well-served to follow Envision’s example.
If the intention is to create a conscious community that educates and transforms attendees into flowing, compassionate citizens of earth, the goal has been met and exceeded. As the deep red sun sets on the last evening of the festival, the unity and intention are palpable. The ancient jungle and the deep azure ocean witness the rise of a loving, connected gathering that is sure to continue growing and sowing seeds across the globe.
Featured photo: Eric Allen Photography