This article was published in Vandala Magazine July/August 2017
Move over Disneyland, your claim to fame as the happiest place on earth is being challenged by Blessed Coast, a 3 day music, yoga and arts festival. This year the gathering took place the weekend of July 28-31 at the foothills of the Tantalus mountain range near the idyllic town of Squamish, BC. More than 30 musical acts converged on the banks of the Cheakamus river to help participants connect with their surroundings, each other and ultimately themselves.
If it’s starting to sound like something more than a music festival, that’s because it is. Blessed Coast (which rhymes with west coast) isn’t even really an event, it’s an experience. Conceived from backyard barbecues among friends, the once low-key get together has now evolved into a three day celebration for thousands of like minded humans.
There is a lot of hugging at Blessed Coast. Real hugging, not the kind where you just lean towards someone with just your upper body while your butt sticks out and you pat each other lightly on the shoulder. I’m talking about the kind of hugging where you stand toe to toe, and use both arms to simultaneously pull the other person closer to you and share each other’s energy. And you don’t do it because it’s an expected social courtesy, you do it because you both want to feel more connected to each other.
At Blessed Coast people embrace… everything. Flowing cotton clothing, tails pinned to backsides, man buns, dudes in dresses, warrior women, brightly colored accessories, chain mail, dreadlocks, essential oils, and nakedness. Not the kind of nakedness that arises out of wardrobe malfunctions or a desire for attention, but simply from the need to change clothing, or to bathe without shame.
And dancing. At Blessed Coast you will find lots and lots of dancing.
During the day the you can split your time between getting your groove on near the stage, shopping, eating, exploring the grounds or at a number of workshops and teachings about yoga, storytelling, indigenous cultures, herbs, sounds and connection. At night the festival morphs into a full on rave atmosphere complete with unicorn pants, headdresses and things that glow in the dark. The stage is usually still going until the wee hours of the morning, so be sure to plan accordingly.
The best way to make the most out of your experience at Blessed Coast is to just let go of whatever it was you thought you were here for, and go with the flow, following wherever your intuition leads you. Mine took me to a Cacao ceremony on Friday evening where I decided to blurt out to the first person that sat next to me that my heart chakra was blocked. I said this as if I had some kind of deep knowledge about chakras and blockages, which I totally do not. Turns out the good natured guy sitting next to me was a fellow writer currently working on a documentary whose working title is “About Love”.
As I followed my intuition from various workshops to the stage, to the banks of the Cheakamus River, I was lucky enough to experience several musical highlights.
Ruwadzano is a musical ensemble from Salt Spring Island made up entirely of marimba, a traditional percussion instrument from Zimbabwe that resembles a xylophone. They would often fill in the time between sets with gloriously orchestrated musical numbers that were every bit as fun to watch as they were to dance to. At any given time between two and six band members would be joyfully pounding out a melodic rhythm on one of the instruments to create a symphony of earthy, resonant sounds reminiscent of cool, jungle rain or rays of sunlight through a thicket of trees.
I got to listen to Daniel, also from Salt Spring Island while he was looking after the stand from Salt Spring Soda Company where I enjoyed more than one refreshing glass of apple kefir. He was quietly strumming his guitar while I sat in the shade next to his cart and was fortunate enough to hear him sing a couple songs he had written. He sang a traveling song in a soft, husky voice…. what can I say, I’ve always had a soft spot for a guy and a guitar.
The Merry Rockers inspired me to dance. More accurately, lead singer Marissa Legoleais demanded that I and the other participants dance. I would be willing to bet that everyone who has seen Marissa and her band perform has found her enthusiasm and joy for being on stage inspirational and infectious. Inspirational because of the obstacles Marissa has had to face in life and infectious because she and the rest of her band mates are clearly having the time of their lives. The Merry Rockers are friends from university, but the gregarious blonde from NYC will encourage anyone who is feeling the rhythm to get up on stage and join her.
Natalie Ramsay’s captivating wail soared over the festival grounds in the middle of Saturday afternoon. Other worldly if you ask me. I was exploring the realm of story telling when I heard her, and though I wasn’t able to make it to the stage to see the mysterious maven sing in person, I dare say that those who did could be telling friends the were lucky enough to see her before she was discovered.
The sweet gentle reggae rock of J. Sun lured me from a workshop I’d spent the entire day waiting for. The workshop was great, but J. Sun was what I needed in that moment and I found myself leaving the shade of a tent for the relaxing vibes emanating from the stage. He sang songs about love and nature, and enjoying good times. That, more than anything else in the weekend seemed to open my heart chakra.
Mapstone got people dancing. Their sound is best described as rootsy tribal folk rock and they are best experienced live. The music of Mapstone tends to take on a life of it’s own, emerging from a steady beat and growing into a full blown, thunderous, foot stomping production that joyfully includes a didgeridoo. I lost myself somewhere in the hypnotic tone of Christopher Mapstone’s voice, and judging by the vibe in front of the stage, I wasn’t the only one. By the end of the set I felt more connected to the time and place I was in than I had all weekend.
And strangely, with that revelation came the realization that I needed to be somewhere other than enjoying a blissful summer day with a few thousand beautiful strangers. And so it was the end for me, I packed up and tore myself away from the sweet sound of Grammy winner Chris Berry before running into the blonde haired film-maker from Friday night. A perfect bookend to the small sampling of what can be experienced at Blessed Coast and a bittersweet way to recognize that there was so much more there to experience. I only barely scratched the surface and it was enough to say that I’m already looking forward to next year.