Symbiosis Gathering embraces Indian summer with the ultimate transformational experience [Event Review]
Transformational festivals are on the rise, thanks to the flourishing West Coast counterculture realm that’s occupied by event predecessors like Lightning in a Bottle, and the penultimate weeklong celebration of Burning Man. Following these events is the recondite version aptly titled Symbiosis Gathering, a four-day final hurrah that closes out festival season and embraces Northern California’s Indian summer. Located just two hours east of San Francisco, Symbiosis presents a metamorphic experience that harmonizes the fun spirit of a large-scale festival with the natural ambiance of a desert-dwelling camping adventure.
For their 11th year, Symbiosis nearly doubled in size, not only in space, but in attendance as well, bringing 20,000 people to stay and play at the Woodward Reservoir Regional Park in Oakdale. This year’s lineup featured an attractive assortment of talent, ranging from the live musical stylings of FKA Twigs and Santigold, to powerhouse performances from Gramatik and RL Grime. Dirtybird Records repped their crew hard with strong attendance from label residents Claude VonStroke, Justin Martin, Christian Martin, Ardalan, Shiba San, and Worthy. The Desert Hearts brigade also fueled the house and techno heat with a family set from Mikey Lion, Lee Reynolds, Deep Jesus, Marbs, and Porkchop.
The lineup was exhaustive enough to draw a crowd, yet Symbiosis provided so much more than the music it hosted. Each year, the event cultivates a well-rounded experience defined by art, speakers, and workshops, all within a micro-world comprised of people from all different walks of life. Though similar events err towards a certain style, with Lightning in a Bottle reaching mainstream prominence and Burning Man catering to an intrinsically niche brand, Symbiosis is the humble halfway point on the spectrum.
Best of all, Symbiosis is surrounded by a lake, offering a completely unique affair with art boats and the sand-docked Swimbiosis stage where attendees can party in the water while listening to their favorite DJs. The hidden gem of Symbiosis is The Atoll, a floating scene complete with an intimidating water slide that people must swim out to in order to experience secret music sets.
Nowadays, many believe that festival popularity has stripped away an elemental core culture, though Symbiosis somehow feels different, like that quintessential spirit is alive and well in an environment that doubles as the transcendent hippie paradise for the young and the old, the new and the experienced. What sets Symbiosis apart from other musically-similar festivals is the homegrown aesthetic that contains no corporate advertising or sponsorships, no VIP areas, and no alcohol-for-purchase, either. At its nucleus, Symbiosis is an event that prioritizes the essence of family, both in an atmospheric and literal sense, with a kid-safe space on-site complete with its own lineup.
Some may view Symbiosis as a concluding decompression for Burning Man, while others live it up like the Spring Break vacation they never took. The typical Symbiosis experience is anything but that, with attendees all gathering for various reasons. However, one overarching theme is very apparent: Symbiosis is a community where free-spirited individuals can break away from their normal lives to convene in the heat and dance in the dust. Staying true to its two-part definition, Symbiosis brings people together in a cordial space where thriving off one another’s energy is not only encouraged, but inevitable
Photos by Michael Drummond for Dancing Astronaut