Wanderlust 2014: A Festival for All of Your Senses
By Linda Lenhoff
The word for this year’s Wanderlust Festival? Thunderous. If you were there, you know what I mean, given the roar of applause after classes, speakers and performers; and of course, the roar of the skies. So yes, on the first day, Thursday, I got caught in a huge downpour accompanied by thunder, lightning, and doughnut-hole-size hail, which actually hurts a little in a way that I suspect regular doughnut holes wouldn’t, were they to land all over your shoulders.
But it was Wanderlust: It was all part of the magic. From hiding in a clothing-seller’s booth to being directed to take shelter under the parking garage, because the weather report called for lightning (Get out now! we were commanded from an official-looking guy running through hail), to dodging the rainstorm as I ran (with many others) to take cover in my car, it was all fun, magical, invigorating. And there was a rainbow, as you might expect.
Also thunderous, in case you missed it, was Garth Stevenson on the stand-up double bass. Look him up on You-Tube and iTunes. Stevenson played in the little pavilion just out front of Starbucks, and treated us to his innovative music, including a three-part song that reinvented the singing of whales. A composer and film scorer, Stevenson had taken his 150-year-old double-bass to Antarctica to create music for a film. On his website (garthstevenson.com), Stevenson discusses how he reinterpreted the music of whales: “I spent a few weeks prior to the trip learning to adapt whale calls on my bass by playing along with Roger [Payne]’s Songs of the Humpback Whales, recording the same way I used to play along with jazz albums. One evening, in the middle of a four-day open sea crossing between South Georgia and Antarctica, I gave a concert at sunset on the bow of our ship. I was improvising and creating layers with my loop pedal then started imitating whale calls on the bass. A few minutes later twelve sei whales came and swam next to our vessel!”
The piece also imagined the sound of a large iceberg, and it was mesmerizing, as were the two or three other works he played for us. Stevenson also led hikes and classes with his double bass, which you have to catch if the opportunity arises at next year’s Wanderlust. Check out his album, Flying. Critics compare his sound to Brian Eno, Sigur Rós, and David Sylvian. I was a little surprised that he didn’t have CDs to sell us, only a little sign we could take a picture of to remember the title, but the sublime music was one of the highlights of the fest for me, and for the others who sat or stood or danced, taking in some very cool sounds. Let’s hope for thoroughly sunny skies next year, so we can all go along on one of his hikes and hear the double bass high in the mountains.
And just a repeat mention from last year, but if you haven’t tried a So Delicious chocolate-covered nondairy ice-cream bar, I beg you again to do so. Try to enjoy it slowly because it’s really something and deserves your complete attention, and I should say, meditation.
Speaking of, the meditation classes were wild and varied this year. I got to attend the Gong Meditation, and I was pretty nervous about this. What exactly would we be asked to do, and how large a gong are we talking about? Large enough to work wonders, it turns out. It seems the gong blocks out your thinking, your dwelling on your problems, your monkey thoughts, your nagging to-do list. Our instructor, Gurushabd, said we had to work to get to the gong part of the meditation, and he took us through about 40 minutes of meditative exercises, including one that was semi-aerobic, involving fast arm movements repeated and repeated and repeated (something like 11 minutes’ worth), till you got your rhythm (and really tired arms, just as you’d think). Following this he showed us a meditation that involved sitting normally, legs crossed, placing your left palm down on your leg and covering that hand with your right. It blocks thoughts and lets you meditate. It really honestly does. I can’t explain it, but I’m delighted to know about it. But go for the gong. If you see the class next year, it’s worth any amount of arm exercising to get to the gong part, I promise.
Maybe the hardest part of Wanderlust (besides dodging those hail balls, although there’s kind of a rhythm to that, too) is appreciating it all. As Molly Dahl told us in her meditation class: Slow Down. You’ve heard it before (and know you need to hear it again, often). Slow down, establish a meditative practice every day. To do this, she advised you take that time when you’re waiting in line at the store. You know you get impatient, and you know that’s your time to breathe, deeply. We all know this. We just don’t all do this. So the next time you’re at [pick one: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Best Buy, the USPS] really do it. Catch yourself at the end of the day, and breathe the day in, Dahl says. When you see the traffic signal turn red, Dahl says, rejoice having the chance to stop. Tell your brain it’s a good thing, and breathe.
Because it’s your day. It’s your festival, sudden thunder strikes and all. How great to be in Squaw Valley, breathing in the mountain air, listening to the enveloping sounds of the double bass, eating ice cream and kefir and those fake gluten-free chicken strips (really tasty). I’m sorry if you missed it, but there’s always next year, and the other Wanderlust festivals around the country. The festivities don’t end with the setting sun, but I’ll let you discover nighttime Wanderlust yourself. I’m not sure if what happens at Wanderlust stays at Wanderlust, but I hope not, as I need to put on some of the double bass whale songs, since I’m not likely to find a gong easily on iTunes. Or can I?