What It’s Like At Zen Awakening Festival

By Michael Fritz

With festivals like EDC Orlando and Okeechobee in the area, the large scale productions can be incredible, but overwhelming due to the crowds. With Zen Awakening, it’s the perfect amount of people and nearly all of them smile and hug to greet one another. When speaking to Zen Awakening founder Niekko Chin before the festival, he warned me, “One of the things that it’s really important people know about Zen, is that it’s not a music festival, it’s a transformational festival first and foremost.”

     While everyone’s festival experience will vary, the opportunities for transformation were boundless. With multiple yoga workshops, chakra alignments, classes on the law of attraction as well as many other unique workshops. People were teaching flow art workshops, a temple was set up that help spiritual and Sikh workshops/ceremonies, and 1Nation Earth set up a camp that had traditional Native American ceremonies and workshops.

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     While a lot of festivals have comparable ground sizes, the 100 acre grounds monster truck/dirt bike course it full of thickets of trees and winding paths. Because of this, after a dark trek through the woods or dirt hills, you could find yourself at a pow wow or in a fairy sanctuary. Zen Awakening’s long list of themed camps as well as multiple stages makes it where any spot you happen upon will be thoroughly intimate. For instance, you could spend your time dancing like an animal at the Incendia fire stage (complete with multiple flame throwers and a line of fire across the DJ booth,) or you could catch a reading at The PoeTree (a literary haven in Goddess Grove.) Heady.Made.Weird had a triangular, black lit stage with a constant stream of DJs and a lot of art. Or if Kirtan music is more of your thing, the Bhakti House was a stage featuring Kirtan music at most hours. Sometimes the acts would take to traveling the grounds playing their spiritual incantations, sometimes accompanied by a live sacred cow. These traveling bands would sometimes travel through the mural maze in the Artmosphere or stop in the dance floor of the main stage, Middle Earth, when no bands were playing.

     The cultural blend of Zen adds a layer of beauty that few other festivals can claim. On top of this, the artist area known as the Atmosphere had an incredible mix of some of the most psychedelic and experimental artists the festival scene has to offer. The mural maze transformed throughout the festival as artists added onto their pieces and worked together to make some mind blowing pieces.

     The Middle Earth stage played host to some of the festivals bigger acts, including Yheti, Random Rab, Jade Cicada, and Ott. Either side of the stage featured a raised platform for fire performers and specialized flow artists. Since Zen Awakening is put on by Cirque USA, who provides most of the performers for festivals like Imagine, aerialists and other unique acts can be found all round the grounds. Kreaturez was also there with their delightfully strange and elaborate costumes, so half human creatures were walking around the grounds and dancing at stages like it was nothing out of the ordinary.

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     At Zen there are some of the strangest and most spectacular people you can meet in Florida. One of my personal favorites, back from last year, is the man with ankle length dreads who camps next to his truck full of coconuts he grows himself. You can buy one for $3 and he chops both sides with a machete in front of you and gives you a straw. Other favorites are festival staple “Nobody,” who sleeps in an LED soaked school bus that usually doubles as a hangout/smoke spot. Nobody wears tutus and lots of glitter and has some of the strangest dancing and interactions of most attendees. He is a treasure.  

     The festival ended as it does each year, with a large effigy burn. This year, festival founder Niekko said, “A lot of people lost people this past year, friends, family, pets,” and the temple was decorated with things and names that reminded people of those lost. At around 8PM Sunday night, the large wooden temple was burned to the ground in a ceremony that left many in tears. As the structure melted in flames, people hugged and encouraged one another and the night carried on into the closing acts. As we left the grounds, we felt clearer headed and enlightened, not only to new cultures, but as to how life could be and how interactions between people should be. Zen is a festival not to miss and one we at FestivalFolks will continue to cover year after year.

 

P.S. Toadface melted the already flaming Incendia stage. Look for him in future festival lineups.