Symbiosis music festival may return to Oakdale in May

Festivalgoers gather atop a floating wooden structure near the Cove stage at the Symbiosis gathering held at Woodward Reservoir just north of Oakdale on Sept. 22.
Festivalgoers gather atop a floating wooden structure near the Cove stage at the Symbiosis gathering held at Woodward Reservoir just north of Oakdale on Sept. 22. Modesto Bee file

Symbiosis, a five-day art and music gathering with no regular schedule that drew 8,000 free spirits to Woodward Reservoir in September, could shed its reputation for wandering and return.

Stanislaus County officials who fielded complaints from some neighbors about loud noise hope to avoid problems with tighter restrictions on music volume and nighttime quiet hours.

The county’s approach will feature a sound test sometime from Monday through Thursday, and neighbors are invited to say what they think.

Officials won’t pinpoint the day or time of the sound test. Feedback will be more genuine, county parks director Jami Aggers said, if people don’t know exactly when the test is coming.

A Symbiosis publicist did not respond to requests for information Friday, but indicated details could be available this week.

“We absolutely love this site,” producer Karen KoChen told The Modesto Bee near the event’s close in September. She hesitated at the time when asked if Symbiosis might return, noting that the irregularly held encampment had adopted something of a migratory spirit, wandering from the Santa Cruz mountains to Angels Camp to Yosemite National Park to Pyramid Lake. The gatherings have been held during different months, including September, September-October, November and May.

A Symbiosis website suggests that no such gathering, which can take a year to plan, has been staged since Woodward in September, and none is listed in the near future.

Keith Boggs, a county assistant executive officer in charge of promoting tourism and economic development, and Aggers said Symbiosis’ interest in Woodward is solid.

Boggs and Symbiosis representatives met twice with upset neighbors, in October and March, to find common ground. An initial move: declaring that thumping, throbbing music must end at 2 a.m. instead of 3 on the second and third nights, and at midnight on the first and fourth nights, or Thursday and Sunday.

The county last year hired a sound engineer to suggest adjustments that will be tried during the coming sound test. It will feature Symbiosis genre music at full volume, but not at 2 a.m., as some people feared after receiving the county’s letter.

It was sent to 6,500 owners of property within a 5-mile radius of the lake – a much broader reach than Symbiosis’ mailings last year to people within 3 miles.

“People are thanking us for taking this proactive step,” Aggers said.

The county received about $75,000 from last year’s event – less than the $108,000 original estimate because it did not draw the expected 10,000 revelers. Supporters raved about the venue, however – a peninsula nearly surrounded by water, lending an island feel, almost in the middle of nowhere but relatively close to Southern California and the Bay Area.

Symbiosis bills itself as a peaceful “fusion of nightly art and music mixed with daytime workshops for mind, body and beyond.” Last year’s village featured dozens of food, arts and crafts booths and hundreds of tents.

Boggs said advertising regional parks to lure large events is “a common-sense economic development driver.”

“But we’re very sensitive to the community and rural area that surrounds the reservoir, and we will continue to keep that line of communication open,” Boggs continued.

Aggers’ letter invites people to call (209) 652-1139 with comments.

Ultimately, the county’s five elected supervisors will decide whether Symbiosis may return. That vote could come sometime next month, Aggers said.

For more information on Symbiosis, go to www.symbiosisevents.com.

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