Live review: Gratifly Festival, Westminster, S.C. (7/24-7/27/2014)



Gratifly Music & Arts Festival
July 24-27, 2014
Westminster, South Carolina

  • Papadosio

Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and imagine a field of green grass surrounded on each side by the depths of a forest. Now, allow your mind to stretch even further as you hear the melodic beats of music, smell the mouthwatering scent of tacos, pizza and various ethnic foods and see a multitude of people swaying to the music, laughing and embracing.

From a first read, this might seem like a depiction of just about every music festival around. But Gratifly Music & Arts Festival was so much more; it was something special that can’t be explained by even the best of sensory descriptions.

This past weekend, the small festival held on the grounds of Avalon in Westminster, South Carolina, celebrated its second year with four days full of action and accountability, community and love. I could likely write until my heart explodes and my computer combusts about how inspirational this past weekend was, but for now, I’ll just share a few of my favorite parts.

1) The beautiful grounds of Avalon — Snoozing in an eno under a canopy of tall trees made for the best possible festival sleeping experience. I’ve been to my share of music festivals, and while this might be possible elsewhere, it’s certainly never been as simple as it was as Gratifly. Here, you could set up camp directly in the woods and easily find places to hang your hammock. If you’ve been to a festival, you’ve likely grown to have a much greater appreciation for shade. I can’t even recall how many times I’ve been woken up far too early at a festival by the angry heat of the sun as it rises, but plenty of trees provided a natural shelter from the blazing rays. Avalon’s allure did not stop there. A babbling river ran through the land, lending its cool water to cleanse and refresh in the heat of the afternoon.

2) Night two of Papadosio — Granted, this jamtronica quintet has quickly become one of my favorites since seeing them play at The Orange Peel in Asheville (their home turf and arguably one of my favorite cities in the Southeast). But on this magical night, Gratifly attendees had the privilege of hearing “The Elephant I Presume” — a song the band rarely plays. Dosio’s energy then became a blissful shade of blue with their breathtaking rendition of “We Are Water.” At one point, a huge group of people huddled together on the left side of the stage. Admittedly, my first thoughts were negative. Did a dehydrated fan pass out? Had a fight broken out? But my negativity was quickly destructed by the realization that people were instead joining together in a giant group hug. This unification of such a unique assortment of souls was more than enough to paint my body in chills.

3) Onesie-ing it up with The Polish Ambassador — This guy is a wizard, and he rocks a jumpsuit like no other. His tinkling electronic sounds and undeniably groovy beats created a sense of pure euphoria among the crowd and inspired the wackiest of dance moves. It’s a pretty indescribable feeling when you can actually feel the happiness radiating off of those around you. A surprise appearance by Lafa Taylor, one of the artists featured on TPA’s newest album, Pushing Through the Pavement, made for a special treat. If his music isn’t enough to make you fall in love, just check out what he stands for. He’s using his fall tour as a permaculture action tour, utilizing a team of experts to inspire projects in the local communities he’ll be playing in.

4) Saturday night’s random dance party in the Vision Lab — I wandered around aimlessly in between shows and stumbled upon the Vision Lab — a wonderful dome whose walls were covered with artwork. When I ventured over to check it out, I realized the tent was blasting Outkast, and everyone inside was getting down to “Ms. Jackson.” It was a moment filled with laughter and a bonding experience for those involved. If you’ve never had a spontaneous dance party with a bunch of strangers, you’re missing out.

5) The astounding sense of artistry and community — Sure, it seems fairly generalizable, but it really can’t be left out. After spending the long weekend at Gratifly, I discovered you were bound to encounter two things on any given day: art and genuinely kind people. From the countless workshops where people meditated, did yoga and enhanced their natural artistic abilities, to the canvasses and murals painted by the talented visual artists, to the continual sharing of ideas and creations, it was evident that art consumed the weekend. Each day as I sat with friends around our campsite, a variety of people stopped by to share, converse and create with us. Some stopped to share their handiwork, while others stopped just to exchange a kind word. One even came over to share his poetry — a deeply intimate moment that touched us all more than we expected. Not only did people openly respect each other, but people also respected the Earth and held each other accountable. I continuously saw people asking others to pick up trash if they dropped it. Not only is this a huge step in the right direction, but it is also a characteristic of this festival that made it far different from any other I’ve ever been to.

What we all yearn for is a sense of place, a sense of connectivity, a sense of community. We want to feel like there is somewhere out there where we fit in; where we can express ourselves and interact with like-minded individuals without experiencing the judgment and hatred that seems ever present in today’s society.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to Gratifly for creating a space where this was possible. As one of my friends said over the weekend, life can easily get monotonous. Sometimes we need experiences like this to remind us of what is truly important. Too often I feel like we place emphasis on all of the wrong things. If we don’t go out and make a conscious effort to enjoy life, we might fall victim to unhappiness and uniformity.

I’m not suggesting giving up work or school or any other formal obligation. Not at all. I’m merely stressing the importance of being unique and happy. Enjoy good music. Make new friends. Laugh a lot. Respect the people around you and the land we live on. Even if music isn’t something you’re interested in, take my experiences and what Gratifly has taught me to help inspire you to make the most of each day.

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