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7 Wildest Transformational Festivals

From Burning Man to Shambhala Gathering

7 Wildest Transformational Festivals

Photograph by Andrew Jorgensen

In 1990 the founders of Burning Man drew a line on the ground of Nevada's Black Rock Desert and told each other, "On the other side of this line, everything will be different." With its artful chaos and core principles of participation, civic responsibility, radical inclusion and self-reliance, Burning Man has not only lived up to its charter — it's inspired gatherings around the globe. In a 2010 TEDx talk in Vancouver, documentary filmmaker Jeet Kei Leung coined the term "Transformational Festival" to describe this "remarkable cultural phenomenon." These are destinations where anything goes, active participation is encouraged, the weird is wonderful and eye contact, ecstatic dance, long hugs, incense, sacred space and psychedelics permeate the scene. The events tend to take place in a natural setting over multiple days and, according to Leung, all share "the co-creation of an immersive, participant driven reality."

"We may never be able to define a set of characteristics that could guarantee a festival to be transformational," says Leung. "There's no doubt that many participants are having life-altering experiences at festivals and an increasingly coherent culture is emerging that fosters and supports these experiences."

Whether you’re a veteran Burner or a total newbie, here are the world's most exciting transformational festivals right now.


Jess StewartMaize


Where: Tidewater, Oregon

When: August 12th to August 15th

Why go: Held in a stunning coastal forest a few hours south of Portland, Beloved focuses on "presenting a highly curated combination of sacred music and a carefully chosen sequence of artists to tell a continuous story." All of the action takes place on one stage, so "when festival-goers want to jam out, they are all doing so in the same place at the same time, which creates a powerful, unifying force." Beloved's definition of sacred music represents a large swath of ancient, contemporary and futuristic sounds, joined by their ability to incite "deep joy and reverence." From Middle-Eastern chants and obscure instruments to thumping EDM, past lineups showcased artists as diverse as Krishna Daas and the Les Nubians with more traditional EDM DJs like Rob Garza and Cut Chemist. "Part spiritual awakening, part music festival, Beloved is a classic west coast transformational festival," says Chip Conley. "It's not Coachella. It's not superficial. You better be ready to eye-gaze with a few wide-eyed fellow attendees and if sacred ain't your thing, Beloved ain't your festival."

Official website: belovedfestival.com

7 Transformational Festivals

Amy pitner/Flickr

Shambhala Gathering

Where: Salmo, British Columbia, Canada

When: August 5th to August 8th

Why Go: Six stages, 10,000 attendees and 2,000 volunteers make Shambhala the largest EDM festival … in Western Canada. What makes it more than just another music festival, though, is the down-home atmosphere nurtured by the Bundschuh family, who's children founded the festival in 1998 and continue to host it on the family's 500 acre ranch. There's no corporate sponsorship and no booze or other illegal substances allowed on site. A sober transformational festival? "Yes, it exists with this well run, nurturing gathering," says Conley. "Less of the thump thump thump of a typical EDM festival, this event is more lyrical than driven, more dreamy than intense."

There are art installations, painted murals, yoga platforms, meditation nooks and ethical fair trade vendors spread throughout the venue. There's also an organic garden in the middle of the grounds. Shambhala’s trademark stage is Fractal Forest, where DJs play in burnt-out, old growth cedar stumps surrounded by fire breathers, hula-dancers, fairies, and other harder to categorize creatures. The Pagoda is Shambhala's main stage; part-temple, part spaceship, with insane visual effects, it attracts big name acts like Pretty Lights and Griz. This year's headliners include Questlove, Beats Antique, Cut Chemist, Felix da Housecat, Marshmello, Nightmares on Wax, Skratch Bastid, Grandtheft, The Upbeats, Z-Trip and hundreds more.

Official website: shambhalamusicfestival.com