WANDERLUST – July 2009
Squaw Valley (Lake Tahoe)
Close your eyes. Imagine a beautiful afternoon, standing on top of a mountain, looking up at a sky so blue you can almost see outer space. Imagine the beautiful yellow wild flowers growing everywhere, the sun shining, and incredible, intelligent music in the air. Now, look up the hill to see the 4 people standing there with hoola hoops around their waist, keeping with the beat of a soulful Gillian Welch song. Everywhere you look people are happy, not in a drug induced Woodstock sort of way either. These people are just happy to be here, sharing this moment in the sun together. And, the music continues to get better and better as the afternoon marches toward a beautiful sunset over the mountain.
This wasn’t a dream, although I must say that at times it felt like one. This was my day at the Wanderlust Festival. This was the first year of what I hope will become an annual trip for me and for many, many others.
OK, full disclosure here. The festival was started by two friends of mine. Jeff Krasno (and his wife Schyluer – forgive me if I spelled this wrong) and Sean Hoess from Velour Music. Two guys who care a lot about the artists they work with and the music they make. Jeff, Schyluer, & Sean had an idea. The idea was to create an annual festival where the wonders of yoga and the beauty of music come together into a celebration of life. From my perspective they’ve created a special & unique experience. These three people had an idea, developed their vision, and created something new & interesting. This is an event I hope grows as more and more like-minded people learn about it. This is why I am writing this entry tonight as I fly across the country back home to Carlisle. This idea has great promise and it will take participation from many of us to help it become realized.
I didn’t know what Wanderlust meant either – so I looked it up on Webster’s on-line.
Here’s what it means:
Very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.
Roving, vagrancy, marching and countermarching; nomadism; vagabondism, hoboism; gadding; flit, flitting, migration; emigration, immigration, demigration, intermigration; wanderlust.
So, lets Wanderlust together for a few minutes….
My day started with a stroll through the village of Squaw Valley, the former site of the winter Olympics. As I walked through the crowd at 8.30 in the morning I watched as the vendors set up their booths to sell yoga mats, clothing for yoga, natural foods, Cliff bars, jewelry, crystals, as well as booths to support various causes connected to this world. Inspiring stuff.
I have never done yoga. I have always had a bit of a blind spot for it, knowing it was out there somewhere but I just couldn’t see it. Well, at Wanderlust the yoga life is in full swing. It’s true, it’s a way of life. The event featured the top yoga instructors in the country putting on various classes throughout the weekend.
After taking a stroll through the village and the securing of a Diet Coke (note: this is not the chosen beverage of the yoga community), I boarded the gigantic gondola and headed up the mountain (Cliff bar, apple, and another Diet Coke in hand). When I stepped off I heard the strangest sound. It was a familiar beat. But, it wasn’t a beat I would have ever expected to hear at the top of this magnificent mountain with all of these yoga people surrounding me. It was hip-hop. I turned the corner only to see 50 people laying on the ground, contorting their bodies in ways unimaginable to my 46 year old body. Welcome to hip-hop yoga. One of the dozen of different types of yoga classes offered as part of Wanderlust. It shattered every preconceived notion I have ever had about yoga. People of all shapes and sizes, sprawled on the floor, hip-hop music pumping, as they worked it out. It was crazy.
After about a 10 minute walk through the yellow wild flowers I reached a temporary village poised on top of a plateau. The view was breathtaking (maybe it was the altitude and the several beers I had the night before, I don’t really know). The village included a stage, various hemp & yoga vendors, a hoola hoop tent, hats, t-shirts, and (thank the lord) a beer stand. Hopefully you are feeling the vibe of the event by now.
I find a nice spot on the hill and sit down to listen to some music. As I look around I realize that I am surrounded by happy people everywhere. These people seem to have a certain inner peace about them. They’re friendly to one another, respectful to the land and to the music they’re listening to. I’ve been to virtually every major music festival in the country over the past 5 years. As I think about my experiences at Coachella, Bonnaroo, or Lolapalooza I am reminded that there are far fewer happy people attending those festivals. Each of them has their own unique vibe. Coachella has the young hipster B list LA kids posing and working hard to appear they didn’t try too hard when they got dressed. Bonnaroo and its sea of sweaty college kids without shoes or shirts on, searching for a place to cool off. Lollapalooza and its mass of mid-westerners walking around in their flip flops and eating brats. Wanderlust has its low key, laid back, earth loving, friendly crowd on top of a mountain. Which one sounds the best to you?
OK, on to the music. The first band up for me was Rouge Wave. A young band somewhat reminiscent of Death Cab For Cutie. They are part of the Brushfire label, a group of artists that are laid back and environmentally conscience. They put on a nice show that lasted about 45 minutes, culminating with their song Lake Michigan. I love the song and their performance of it. I am glad to not have been disappointed by the boys from Oakland. They are 1-2 good songs away from the next level. I for one am rooting for them. Check them out when you have a minute.
Up next was Gillian Welch. This artist was a mainstay favorite of the core Hear Music folks at Starbucks. I was introduced to her music while working there. She blew me away. She delivers a beautiful southern blues/country mix from her guitar or banjo. She hails from Tennessee and if you haven’t seen her live I’d encourage you to do so when she rolls through your town. Her music is the kind you like to listen to on a late Saturday afternoon in your back yard after you’ve cut the grass, enjoying a glass of tea of lemonade (or a beer). She has such a nice voice. An amazing artist that delivers beautiful music. I closed my eyes and pictured myself back home in the South.
Following Gillian was the highlight of the trip for me. Jenny Lewis and her band hit the stage. I have wanted to see her perform for a few years now. She also fronts a band called Rilo Kiley that you may have heard of. Jenny takes the stage and immediately takes us to a new place. This young woman brings a sense of style, and an effortless sense of cool. I can tell that she deeply feels each note and word in every song. For her (in my opinion) performing live is an opportunity to work through her pain. She has a certain edge and at the same time a hint of vulnerability. This quality draws you to the stage and as much as you want to look away you can’t. She commands the stage and delivers with strength, passion, and a lovely voice. The highlight of the show for me was her acoustic version of the Rilo KIley track “Silver Lining”. I must admit, I had a small tear in my eye as she sang it. Later in the set she nailed a cover of the Traveling Wilbury’s track Handle Me With Care. Stellar. Another highlight for me was the song Acid Tongue. I’d heard it before but I now have a different perspective of it. In fact I am listening to it as I write this. Just before she split she and another band member delivered a beautiful and intense version of the song, “Love Hurts”. They took the song to new levels for me and delivered it with intimacy and intensity. If you haven’t checked her out, take a few minutes to do so. She just may be the best new artist out there right now. She doesn’t fit a niche which is what makes her so compelling. She is my new favorite.
The afternoon rolls on. After the Jenny Lewis set the stage was reset for the headline act of the day. Here comes Common. This guy nailed it. He is a family friendly hip-hop artist that somehow is able to walk the fine line and still include tracks about chicks & sex. Common rocked the house. There we were, standing on a mountain in Lake Tahoe watching Common absolutely deliver the goods. There wasn’t a single “yogi” in the house that wasn’t singing along and dancing. Common delivered a tremendous hip-hop medley that celebrated some of the great west coast artists and tracks. His DJ was phenomenal as well. He kept the crowd on its feet. He played for an hour and the scene was electric. He delivered a message of love and of hope. He inspired the crowd, including this non-yogi. (Yes, I realized this weekend that the bear I grew up loving isn’t the only “yogi” in the world…..hey boo boo).
After Common’s show, we headed to the “fire & ice” dinner. This featured various chefs from the region. The food and the spread were spectacular. The dinner was on a terrace over looking the mountains as the sun set on a wonderful day. As I ate my dinner I felt as if I had gotten my money’s worth and then some. In my mind the day was coming to an end. Boy, was I wrong.
As the evening got into full swing the crowd gathered at the lower stage to see Girl Talk. This guy is amazing and perhaps has the best job in music. He takes the greatest hooks from the greatest songs, lays down a few extra beats, ties them all together and brings it hard. I stood there and watched as they let about a hundred people up on stage to dance as the DJ delivered the goods. Here I am standing there watching all of these ‘yogi’s” dance their heads off. The entire crowd was going nuts. Part of his show includes people holding what appeared to be leaf blowers with rolls of toilet paper attached to the end. They start them up and the TP begins to fly. I haven’t seen this much TP in the air since I hit my brother Alex’s house the first day he moved in to it. Picture the scene, the DJ rocking the house, yogi’s (and non-yogi’s) dancing, the night sky filled with flying streams of Charmin. It was hysterical and highly entertaining all at once.
The Girl Talk show comes to an end. The happy people and their happiness are at a peak. I am observing, thinking that this place is happier than Disney World and their Main Street Parade. I stand back with my friends Jeff & Sean and watch as the crowd dissipates. I am thinking its time for bed. I am exhausted and am assuming that everyone else is as well. Well, surprise. The night isn’t over yet. The crowd moves to the main yoga tent for a session of “midnight twister”. Yep, you heard me right. The old Milton & Bradley game we’ve all played a million times. So as I thought my near perfect day was coming to an end and that I’d been exposed to all the festival had to give me – I was surprised yet once again. And, I learned quickly that a non-yogi has no right stepping on the multi-colored bubble Twister floor. Nope. This is a form of Twister that is not for the weak of heart. I stood back and watched as the enormous floor filled with 50 or so people. The game began and the yogi’s contorted themselves into places and positions that are just not natural. As the competition unfolded each competitor who failed a maneuver was squirted with a water bottle and excused from the floor. Yes, they are even nice when asking you to leave the game. The competition pressed on with head stands, standing on one leg with an arm touching a colored bubble 3 feet away. It hurt just to watch but boy was it impressive (and funny). In the end, Schyuler (one of the organizers and founders of the event) wins the prize. Jeff, her husband, whispers to me that she is also 4 months pregnant with their third daughter. They are both pretty happy at this very moment. The moon and the stars are aligned for them. It makes me happy for my friend.
So, the midnight twister event was the culmination of my day of fun in the sun. As I started to walk home Jeff reminded me of the late night VIP party on the mountain. Some DJ I had never heard of was playing and the party was sure to be a blast. I just waved and walked back to my hotel. As I walked back I couldn’t help to smile. I’d just attended a wonderful event, put on by people who took the time and energy to do it right. They may (or may not ) have lost money in this endeavor. It takes time for ideas like this to grow. The seeds have been planted and I am sure that with the love and attention of this team that it is sure to grow into something wonderful, lasting, and very necessary.
So, throw out your preconceived ideas about the yoga lifestyle. These people start their day with yoga, rock & roll, hip-hop, dance, and then end their day with a session of midnight twister. And they do this while making a non-yogi feel at home with his new friends.
I’ll be back next year. I’ll be back with my wife Allie and my two daughters Abby & Claire. This is something they need to see. If you get the chance, its something you should see too.
Thanks Kraz, Sean, & Schyleur.