Symbiosis successful but noncommittal on Woodward return

09/22/2013 8:33 PM

09/23/2013 3:45 PM

Thousands of mellow campers soaking in a cornucopia of yoga, throbbing music and vegan fare shrugged off a bit of weekend rain and embraced the sun when it emerged Sunday as the five-day Symbiosis Gathering wrapped up.

The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department reported no arrests and no major incidents from the massive music and arts festival north of Oakdale, which some participants referred to as “Burning Man Light” or “Junior Burning Man.” Some said the friendly shores of Woodward Reservoir offered the best venue ever for such a holistic social experiment.

“People all harmonizing with each other — one mind, one consciousness — like it should be,” said “Magi,” whose birth name in New Orleans was Henry. The Berkeley resident sat smiling in a funky tent making colorful bead necklaces, wearing a few dozen as well as a crownlike headdress in an impromptu village constructed of fabric from Indonesia, India and Morocco and lumber from Home Depot.

“This is the most amazing, incredible consciousness party,” said Kaia Shine, who traveled from Kauai, Hawaii, for the ecocentric event. “I come to be inspired. This festival has a special type of magic. It’s so much more than just a hippie drug fest.”

Will it be back?

Karen KoChen said she and other Symbiosis producers were thrilled with this year’s success. Their county permit allowed up to 10,000 bodies, and they lured about 8,000, of which some 6,000 were paying attendees and the rest were staff, vendors, security, musicians and such. But they only advertised three or four months for an event that can take a year to plan, and locals seemed so nice and accommodating, she said.

“Overall, we’re very pleased,” KoChen said. The event has adopted something of a migratory spirit, she said, wandering among the Santa Cruz Mountains, Angels Camp, Camp Mather near Yosemite National Park and Pyramid Lake before picking Woodward, perhaps a surprising spot near a conservative cowboy town for a liberal, anything-goes gathering.

Symbiosis might want to keep people guessing to keep things fresh. On the other hand, KoChen said, organizers have moved around partly because they have not yet found the perfect spot — and she wouldn’t quite say whether Woodward is it.

The reservoir is closer to Symbiosis’ core Bay Area following than some mountain venues and isn’t terribly far from Southern California. Its undeveloped east end offers almost limitless space, and organizers chose a huge peninsula nearly surrounded by water — perfect for a dip and providing an island feel, some participants said.

A small village of organic food vendors did not include alcohol, helping to keep behavior in check despite high revelry, publicist Karin Conn noted, and porta-potties were plentiful.

A private security firm thoroughly searched cars, removing all glass bottles. Symbiosis also paid for crews of medical personnel, firefighters and the Sheriff’s Department to staff a mobile command center with four or five deputies around the clock, some of whom monitored the giant party from patrol boats. No emergency action was reported in daily security briefings, Sgt. Hector Longoria said.

“They’re pretty much self-sufficient,” Longoria said. “Their whole attitude is not to use local government resources, and so far, they’ve done a pretty darned good job.”

KoChen said people hunkered together in shelters when rain dumped down Saturday afternoon, then emerged to a cleansed feeling and a rainbow.

“You know what the rain does?” Shine said. “It brings everyone together and then makes everyone appreciate the sun so much more.”

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