Stanislaus reservoirs become beacon for music festivals; next one slated for fall

Festival campers relax in the water during the final day of the Symbiosis Gathering at Woodward Lake reservoir in Oakdale California on September 20, 2015.
Festival campers relax in the water during the final day of the Symbiosis Gathering at Woodward Lake reservoir in Oakdale California on September 20, 2015. jwestberg@modbee.com

Stanislaus County’s reservoirs have long been known by locals as a place to escape the summer heat in nature that’s not too far from home. Now they’re becoming known for another reason — national music festivals that bring thousands from across the country to dance and party.

The organizers of the Dirtybird Campout and representatives from Modesto Reservoir are finalizing plans for the three-day adult summer camp to come to the region the first weekend in October. The independent music label Dirtybird started the campouts in 2015 and now holds them annually on the west and east coasts.

The event joins the Symbiosis Gathering and Serenity Gathering, which both came to the nearby Woodward Reservoir in recent years, in looking to the county’s lakes as a new homebase.

The Dirtybird Campout would be the first such large-scale music festival to come to Modesto Reservoir, said Jami Aggers, the director of the county’s Environmental Resources and Parks and Recreation. While tickets for the event are already on sale, the final approval is expected to go to the county Board of Supervisors within a month.

“We believe it’s a good use of the reservoirs,” Aggers said. “Typically, whatever the nearest community is also sees an increase in revenue, as do retail facilities and that sort of thing.”

Aggers said a community meeting about the festival was held earlier this month and no concerns were raised by area residents. After the first Symbiosis Gathering in 2013, several noise complaints were filed by people who live near Woodward. When it returned in 2015 and 2016, county officials and festival organizers worked to reduce the sound issues and complaints have tapered off.

“There’s been no problem or push back at all,” said Merry Mayhew, the county’s assistant director for Environmental Resources and Parks and Recreation, about plans for Dirtybird.

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Festival goers head back to camp after playing in the water of Woodward Reservoir during the Symbiosis gathering in Oakdale Calif., on Thursday, September, 17, 2015. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

Symbiosis, which attracted some 15,000 to 20,000 people to Woodward each outing, has been the largest of the festivals. By comparison, the Serenity Gathering, held at the reservoir this April, brought out around 2,500 people. Past Dirtybird Campouts have drawn anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 people.

All those people means real green for the county. Aggers said the last Symbiosis Gathering in 2016 paid the reservoir $320,000, as well as paying for fire, sheriff and other county services. Officials are in talks with Serenity to make Woodward its home venue for the next few years. Aggers said it has also fielded interest from other groups and festivals about coming to the reservoir in the future.

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Attendees listen to the music of Entoptic during the Serenity Gathering at Woodward Reservoir in Oakdale, Calif., Saturday, April 28, 2018. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

The Dirtybird Campout is expected to draw a counter-culture crowd similar to Symbiosis and Serenity. The campout will feature a slate of more than 50 artists spinning largely house and techno dance music. This was the first year the festival launched an East Coast version, held in Florida this past February.

Besides the music, the campout is known for its sleep-away camp-style activities. That includes games like tug-o-war, gunny sack races, dodge ball and archery. According to the Dirtybird website, last year’s West Coast event drew campers from all 50 states and 40 other nations.

The Dirtybird Campout is a 21-and-over event that will run Oct. 5 to 7 at the Modesto Reservoir. Three-day festival passes are available for $225, and VIP passes, which include food and other amenities, sell for $385. For more information, visit www.dirtybirdcampout.com/west.

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