At first glance, a peace, love and music festival might seem like an odd fit in the Cowboy Capital of the World.
But organizers of the weekend-long Serenity Gathering at Woodward Reservoir said the setting couldn't be more perfect. In fact, they hope to make the venue its permanent home for the next five years. The festival concludes Sunday with a full day of music, workshops, crafts and more.
Mother-and-son event organizers and owners Mimi and Brandon Beebe said they are working with county and reservoir officials to sign a five-year contract to return. In fact, it was representatives from Woodward who first reached out to them about 10 months ago about moving their event there.
"That was a big feature in our choice, that the community wanted us here," Mimi Beebe said. "The site is absolutely gorgeous. You get a serious feeling of utopia from the weekend."
The festival, which is billed as "a conscious gathering focused on creating an environment of positive collaboration among like-minded individuals specifically geared towards art and music," drew a few thousand attendees, most who camped at Woodward as part of the experience.
This is the second music festival to be hosted by Woodward, the first being the much larger Symbiosis Gathering in 2013 and 2016, which drew just under 20,000 people. But, much like Symbiosis, the event features multiple stages of music, yoga and meditation workshops, open-air arts and crafts and various vendors.
This year's event is the fifth for Serenity, which has previously been held in places like Joshua Tree National Park and the La Jolla Indian Reservation. Brandon Beebe said the combination of the parklike setting, plentiful campsites and the water drew them to Woodward.
"We're committed to finding ways to make things work not only for the attendees, but also the people who live here," he said.
He said Woodward makes an ideal location for events like this, and could become a "premier event venue" in California.
For performer Zach Morton, of the duo Shiiva out of Santa Cruz, Woodward has been ideal. "We've been blown away by it, it's pretty awesome here," he said. "The vibe has been super chill."
The event hired its own security, and Stanislaus County sheriff's deputies patrolled the grounds as well.
Rachel Suero from Santa Cruz had been to Woodward for Symbiosis. When she heard about Serenity coming to the reservoir as well, she knew she wanted to return.
"This is the best venue, there aren't too many people," she said.
The Beebes said attendees and artists come from across 25 states and 16 countries. The festival features more than 200 musicians, primarily playing EDM dance and world music. There are also more than 75 dance performers and 55 live artists taking part.
"We are about connecting truly inspired and talented artists of all different kinds and creating that environment of positive transformation that leads to magic," Brandon Beebe said.
Serenity is the second but not last festival that has eyed Woodward. Last fall, country supervisors approved the All Day I Dream music festival for this May, which was expected to draw no more than 5,000 people. But the venue is not listed on the All Day I Dream or Woodward calendars currently, so it is unclear whether it is proceeding.
The Serenity Gathering is also permitted for 5,000 people. For attendee Nyah Guynup, who came down from Portland with friends, Serenity provided exactly what she was looking for.
"It's like a break from reality," she said.