Symbiosis Gathering will return to Woodward Reservoir

Final Day at Symbiosis Gathering

The final day of the Symbiosis Gathering at Woodward Lake reservoir in Oakdale California on September 20, 2015. (John Westberg/
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The final day of the Symbiosis Gathering at Woodward Lake reservoir in Oakdale California on September 20, 2015. (John Westberg/

Four days of music, art and dusty revelers are coming back to Oakdale’s Woodward Reservoir this fall.

The Symbiosis Gathering, which was held at the recreation area in 2013 and 2015, will return Sept. 22-25. Last year’s festival was the first-ever sellout in its 10-year history. Some 15,000 people attended the four-day event, which includes live music, interactive art, public performances, holistic workshops and more.

This is also the first time the festival has returned to the Oakdale location in consecutive years. But organizers have already announced that it will move again in 2017, this time to a site in Oregon to coincide with that year’s solar eclipse in late August.

The county collected $222,000 in revenue from the festival last year from fees and reimbursements, said Stanislaus County Director of Environmental Resources Jami Aggers. That’s more than initial estimates, which put the county’s take from hosting the event at Woodward at $87,000 to $134,000. The county took in $75,000 in 2013. Aggers said increased attendance, which had initially been expected to be about 10,000, accounted for the windfall last year.

Symbiosis organizers have praised the Woodward location for its easy water access and open landscape. Last year, participants were able to swim and enjoy entertainment on the new Swimbiois Stage. This year’s event will have six stages of music, one fewer than the previous gathering. The event, dubbed Symbiosis Gathering: Family Tree, will also offer hundreds of talks, workshops and yoga sessions.

“Last year was an amazing confluence of creators and community and we were overwhelmed by feedback that urged us to continue. Woodward is a wonderful opportunity to build a relationship with the local community and host a myriad of artists from the Bay Area and beyond,” said event producer Kevin KoChen.

As in years past, the interactive art installations are among the event’s biggest draws. Large climbable sculptures dotted the festival footprint last year. Most of the art and venues were illuminated at night, creating a neon panorama. Festivalgoers camp on site throughout the duration of the event.

Last year, organizers addressed sound concerns from residents living near Woodward Reservoir. The 2013 event generated many complaints about the noise levels of the electronic dance music, or EDM, that thumped on late into the evening hours from its live stages.

For the 2015 event, sound barriers were erected and stage locations moved. Aggers said last year’s sound complaints were “a fraction” of those in 2013. The same decibel-level restrictions will be in place for this year.

In October 2014, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approved the Symbiosis Gathering for 2015 and gave Aggers’ office the authority to approve a 2016 festival if the previous year was successful. Aggers said the county is in the early stages of the permitting process with the event organizers. Depending on attendance, she said she expects the county to bring in about the same amount from the event this year.

Over the years, the Symbiosis Gathering traveled from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Angels Camp and Camp Mather outside Yosemite to Pyramid Lake in Nevada. In 2013, the festival rolled into Woodward Reservoir for the first time, attracting some 8,000 revelers. Organizers took a year off in 2014.

Festival tickets have not gone on sale yet. For more information, visit

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland

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