Envision Festival co-founder and CEO delve into curating a boutique experience in Costa Rica’s jungle paradise [Interview]
With 2019’s festival circuit taking shape, we’re starting to see a shift in the landscape that largely began last year, where middle-of-the-pack festivals began to drop by the wayside. The events pool reached a point of dilution where there weren’t enough ticket buyers to go around, and this year, what remains are the established power players like Coachella and Lollapalooza and smaller, curated boutique experiences that rely on setting, intimacy, aesthetics, and talent to draw in a calculated crowd of a much more manageable scale. Envision Festival, now preparing for its ninth edition, takes place the heart of Costa Rica’s jungle paradise each year — and at a critical point in the aging process of a festival, amid an otherwise tenuous and unsustainable atmosphere stateside, Envision’s roots seem firmer than ever.
The key ingredient that differentiates Envision isn’t just a focus on sustainability and eco-friendliness — its the way in which Envision’s Co-founder and Production Director Josh Wendel and CEO Reuben Walker weave those characteristics into every granular aspect of the event. The attendee essentially gets to choose their own adventure. Ahead of Envision Festival’s ninth weekend, running from February 28 – March 3, Wendel and Walker sat down with Dancing Astronaut to delve into the how the brains and braun behind a continually growing and evolving boutique festival experience in Costa Rica manage to stand out in new ways each year.
“Envision is not about a specific concept. It is about you, the festival goer,” emphasizes Wendel. The Envision co-founder continues, “It is about you discovering what you ‘Envision;’ for your life, for your business, for health and making sure that you are following your own highest path. We implore our audience to come to Envision with an open mind and experience something new, whether it be music, performance, workshops, yoga, diet or just walking around nature barefoot.”
“We aim to create an environment that sheds the ego and opens each person up to true connection and self discovery.”
The type of sustainable outlook that fuels Envision’s longevity hasn’t just been on a weekend-by-weekend basis once a year for the last decade. The thought process runs much deeper than that, and ultimately it only works as well as is does when paired with a genuine year-round care for the festival’s host community. Reuben Walker elaborates on Wendel’s thought, clarifying, “Sustainability is a process. It isn’t as if a festival is sustainable or not, It is a journey of figuring out what things can be done better and taking the steps to put those concepts into practice. Now, with a new operating baseline, the event can re-assess and identify even more conscious goals than before. It is a practice that is embodied in the Calling, or Mission Statement, of Envision: Awaken the self to a higher consciousness in alignment with the natural harmony.”
It has been nearly a decade of trial and error, planning, and building a year-over-year effort to harmoniously provide a moment of breathtaking escapism to festival goers while also lifting up the community where the event takes place. Walker continues, “It sounds like this grand and massive challenge but really it is a slow and gradual process that requires taking one step at a time. Sometimes the strides aren’t as long as we like, but the important thing is to keep moving forward. Personally, I’m focused on supporting our internal team to be as synced up as possible so that they’re able to deliver an event that is as curated, minute-to-minute, as can be.”
Walker speaks passionately about Envision’s inextricable tie to Uvita and how an event that draws an international crowd with the likes of GRiZ, Tycho, Lee Burridge and more, manages to bring such a concerted, localized effort to uplift its community. “We are constantly looking for ways to support the local community. [One] group we try and support each year are local farmers. We go directly to these hard working local people and submit very large orders that provide secured work for the next few months allowing for them to have the security of those large purchases and we benefit from having such well cared for food and happy relationships. We have a full roll out of beach clean ups up and down the coast which has become more important than ever as more trash is finding its way ashore,” says Walker.
“We put a lot of attention into listening to the local community to understand how they want to be supported, not just rolling in with what we think is best for them.”
Other events are starting to place a heavier emphasis on the where, the how, and the why — so to speak. Creating a truly impactful event experience has outgrown the confines of a decent talent roster and carnival rides in a big open field, or worse, some parking lot. Wendel, who directs the annual four-day production, posits, “I am always the most excited to see how fast our dreams become a reality; from spreadsheets and pencil marks on paper, to elaborate fire breathing structures with world class sound. Every year amazes me more than the last, as we turn fantasies into reality.” Wendel and Walker can create this escapism for their attendees because ultimately, they’ve found the best way to rise above the noise, enveloping themselves in Costa Rican culture between iterations of Envision. “We have the unique advantage of being based in one of the most lush places in the world, with an abundance of natural resources. It’s easier to build a stage out of natural materials in Costa Rica, we don’t have to ship water in and we even have a wealth of food growing right on the land. Most other festivals don’t have that advantage. That’s also why we live here. It makes it easy to speak about the message of sustainability, permaculture and natural building in a place where you can thrive in the natural environment.”
“It feels good to be a human in Costa Rica. It just feels right. Locals call it ‘Pura Vida’ and it’s one of the most important awakenings people have when they come here.”
Fans want more, and festivals’ survival depends on intentional, thoughtful programming and ultimately its committal to safety and accountability. “I certainly hope that Envision can inspire other event producers to implement more sustainable practices and stick closer to their ethos and values. That is the beauty of when you view profitability not just in terms of financial, but environmental and social impacts as well. We are happy to share that wealth and are always looking to other like minded events for inspiration on how we can do our job better,” says Wendel.
Now, that’s not to say that a lineup isn’t important to the average festival goer nowadays. It just means that the overall festival experience relies more heavily on atmosphere than it may have before. Wendel’s admiration for the programming side of the festival is clear in the way he talks about billing this year’s lineup — one of Envision’s most diverse, and ambitious billings to date. This year’s lineup includes some risks, and even potentially some unknown curveballs, according to Wendel. Envision’s 2019 lineup also places a special emphasis on Latin American sounds, representing the festival’s hosting region in with a blend of bass, techno, electro, and more. Wendel explains, “There are so many factors to consider when booking a lineup, but we always prioritize the experience. It has to fit into the story that we are trying to tell. We obviously consider headliners that turn heads but the most exciting [thing] to me is how we introduce new artists or sounds to an audience that doesn’t know them. There are a lot of different styles of music that we bring, including a lot of genres that are relatively unknown. The fun part is how do we present them to our audience.”
This year’s billing includes acts like CloZee, The Floozies, Electric Mantis, Bedouin, and more. Walker, the festival’s CEO gushes, “Many of these artists are coming to Envision for their first time and seeing these favorites of mine out here in the jungle is going to be a highlight of my year.” Bottom line, in terms of event programming the pair seem to genuinely view the festival’s music offerings as merely the vehicle for human interaction on the beaches of Uvita. Walker expresses,
“Festivals have far greater potential as cultural cultivators than we’re currently seeing and as events continue to explore these frontiers we’ll find that we’ve only just begun to benefit from these celebrations of art, creativity, and the human spirit.”
As the final weeks of preparation begin ahead of Envision’s early spring kickoff and fans plot their returns to Uvita come early March, Walker and Wendel are primed for what they believe will be Envision’s most vibrant and impactful iteration yet. When asked for a word of advice to the incoming festival goer this year, each responded in kind with messages of open mindedness and compassion. “More than just a sustainable experience at a festival, let’s be a bit more ambitious than that. Be conscious in each action you take. Whether that is packing your bag and thinking about what goes into it or deciding how you’ll make that final leg of the journey. Are you creating a lot of waste in your wake? What steps can you take to whittle away at that? Are you being efficient with the resources that you’re using to accomplish your journey? Do I do this all the time? Absolutely not,” concedes Walker, “but it’s a process and the more we work at it, like all things, the better we get.” Wendel completes his counterpart’s thought, emphasizing the idea of sustainability outside of just travel or festival practices. “I’d say, make an effort to implement small things you can do everyday. Whether it’s water or trash or another resource, I’ve found keeping a practice of considering the lifelong journey of waste in the ecosystem and who it impacts along the way to be a sort of compass at festivals as well as in life.”
Envision brings the party to paradise with real intention and purpose, without having to compromise in any direction. See the full lineup and purchase your tickets to Envision Festival here.