This is a report on Sunrise Festival from Marion McCartney.
A Taste of the Future?
“Marion how could you?” My mother’s words, heard so often by my younger self, echo round my head, the tone a mixture of exasperation, incomprehension and disapproval. For here I am, having just embarked on a third summer of festivals and camps, a woman nearly 60 years old whose Parkinson’s disease has caused a gain in weight and a loss of mobility. Once I sit down on the ground it takes a huge effort to lever myself back up again. And it’s not like I’m desperate to see big-name bands. I’ve only missed two Glastonbury festivals since 1985 and yet have only seen two performances at the Pyramid stage: surely some kind of record?
So why do I put myself through what are often extreme conditions of weather, crowds etc? Most importantly for me, as for many others, it’s a feeling I get in the Green Fields at Glastonbury, at the Big Green Gathering, and at Sunrise, of being with my extended family, so far from the comforts of home and yet paradoxically completely at home. Can I find a metaphor here, comparing festival and camp life to the sort of future society that would be a best-case scenario after the meltdown which in some form or another seems likely in our future? Thus we won’t always be comfortable, we’ll certainly be more open to the vagaries of the weather, we won’t be able to take mains electricity for granted, we’ll have to face up to where waste of every sort goes (there really is no such place as ‘away’),the food we want won’t always be readily available, and we (and our clothes) won’t always be squeaky clean.
And yet.. and yet.. we will find such joy and delight in celebrating together, dancing, singing, larking around, dressing up, having processions, meeting up with old friends and finding new ones, learning to make things, sharing what we know and learning from others, discussing and debating passionately, with of course the option of just sitting watching it all happen around us. We’ll know that we won’t ask for help in vain, that we can rely on ‘the kindness of strangers’.
So I won’t be giving you a long list of bands I’ve seen, though I did hear the “music-to-move-you” reggae sounds of Onlyjoe wafting across the site, caught the stirring lyrics of “Wise Enough,” my favourite song from Lamb, and danced to Celtech late on Saturday night.
However when I saw that the Green Talks Dome was running a series of workshops called Dream the Future (exactly the same name as the website www.dreamthefuture.org.uk which I’m trying to set up and which I have pledged to talk to as many people as possible about over the summer) I knew my strongest commitment must be to turn up and fully participate each day . There I had the wonderful opportunity to sit with a partner and, speaking from the heart, answer questions like, ‘What is really important to me? What would I love to be doing? What is my life telling me? Which doors are opening and closing?’ Thanks to Mark Standeven for facilitating them, and to Paul for creating a space so full of fascinating speakers and ideas, and at the same time so warm and welcoming.
I wrote about making a commitment to attend a particular workshop because I recognise how difficult it is to do that, however much one intends to. Festivals provide so many distractions: pausing to listen to some music or watch some dancers, suddenly deciding to buy a flag, seeing that a fascinating sounding talk is about to start, or bumping into an old friend. One of my top festival laws (or are they “more like guidelines”?) is that if you set off with a group of five people you’re very unlikely to reach your destination with more than one of them. Another warns against trying to arrange too many meetings with friends, as you may miss seeing a band or hearing a speaker only to find that your friends haven’t been so self-sacrificing. As the third, I recommend following Starhawk’s advice for protest marches: sit down when you can, pee when you can and eat when you can.
The mention of food leads me onto one of my favourite aspects of festivals and camps: the cafes. A really good cafe will be friendly and welcoming, will serve a realistic range of tasty, nutritious food (and please will someone – anyone – offer an alternative to curry as the Saturday night special??). It will have a variety of seating and will play just the right sort of music for the time of day but will also welcome busking musicians. This year’s Sunshine Celebration was a particular delight to me as I managed to track down last year’s winner of my personal Best Festival Cafe award, the Homegrown cafe from Brighton. From behind the counter, Niklas (whose smile could light the whole festival) explained that they have 2 allotments in Brighton, and their aim is to bring food fresh from the ground to the festival site, providing healthy high-energy meals. Festival cooked breakfast (here it’s fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, beans, tomatoes, veggie sausage and a hot roll with a mug of hot strong coffee) is my favourite meal of the day and usually keeps me going until it gets dark. I have a leisurely meal and if I am, as is often the case, on my own, I love to get into conversation with anyone sharing my table. In fact on Sunday I was so engrossed in a fascinating conversation that I missed the first part of the workshop!
I was also pleased to see that the winner of my Best Smoothies award, Pete, the passionate advocate of raw foods, was demonstrating his skills at Sunrise.
A new discovery for me was the delightful Kate’s Kitchen, where Kate (who “just loves to bake cakes”) and family served tea in china pots and cups (“It just doesn’t taste right any other way,” says Kate) and generous portions of cakes that are both delicious and very reasonably priced. There are only three tables but we managed to get ‘ours’ each day and we agreed that the Kate’s Kitchen fully deserved my first ever Best Afternoon Tea award. It seems a shame that a quirky uncommercial family-run stall may not be able to be there next year as it seemed unlikely that they would cover their costs. I really hope that the organisers will offer them a generous deal so that more people can experience these very civilised delights.
An unforgettable experience for me was the laser guided star tour with Dave Molz late on Friday, a cold clear evening just right for stargazing. I’ve always had difficulty figuring out which dot of light people are showing me, but Dave’s laser pointer made it so easy and by the end of the session I was confidently identifying the Summer Triangle, as well as the Lyra and Cassiopeia constellations.
“Avoid regrets” is, I think, equally good advice for festivals and for life. As you hear other people’s accounts it’s very easy to start feeling envious about how much and what they’ve experienced: the ‘grass is greener’ syndrome. I know someone who at large festivals always half-believes that, just out of sight, people are having an amazing late-night party. The result is that he never stays anywhere for longer than 10 minutes, as he pursues his ‘festival grail quest’. If you decide that you really want to do things differently next time , then write yourself a note on the ‘Festival Packing List’ which I strongly advise you to keep on your computer and revise on your return. Even if you miss a session it’s often possible to make up for it later. For example this year I’d been intrigued by the title “Meet the Sock Mob”, googled it back home on the offchance, and was really impressed by what they do. Find out yourself, via their website or the YouTube video. Similarly, if you haven’t yet heard about softpots, a great recycling craft, ideal for Transition groups, contact Annie Softpot at www.softpot.com
While it’s lovely to experience a festival with a group of friends, in many ways I’ve got the most out of the ones where I’ve turned up on my own, or at least spent a lot of time that way. For a start, I’ve been able to concentrate on what I chose to experience, always a pleasure to a wilful woman like me. It’s also prompted me to observe and experience more intensely, and prompted the idea of filming interviews of varying lengths last summer, which I edited into a 20 minute film, Brief Encounters.
Smaller events are, I think, well suited to solo as well as to new festival-goers. If you’re particularly interested in a wide range of speakers and workshops, then I’d recommend two. The Green Gathering (maximum 5000 tickets), 28-31 July near Chepstow, is organised by many of the same people who ran the Big Green Gathering. Its slogan is “Skill up for Power Down”, and it will have a Transition-focused area. Adult tickets are £90. This will be its first year, and I think it’s worth supporting.
Even smaller (maximum 500 tickets) is Sunrise’s little – and even greener – sister, Sunrise Off-Grid, near Cheddar. I had a fantastic time there last year, even in wet weather, and was really impressed with the range and quality of the speakers and workshops, as well as the great music in the barn, a large guaranteed-dry space. Its slogan is “Switch off and turn on”, and adult tickets are £65-£85.
Another of my festival laws is that events you want to go to always seem to clash, so that on Saturday afternoon I had to miss the Shambhala (or ‘shambolic’ as my Dictate software suggested!) Warriors’ tea party in the Deep Ecology area in order to listen to Theo Simon from Seize The Day talk animatedly about The Heart of Activism. I was also determined to be part of the audience for Seize The Day’s set on Sunday afternoon, a determination which was tested by the steady rain which fell throughout. And yet that just made us in an Agincourt sort of way (“We few, we happy few, we band of hippies”: Shakespeare, Henry V) feel even more impressed at ourselves for being there and in such high spirits. And that turned out to be the finale of the festival for me, as we decided to set off home while the roads were relatively clear.
Sunrise has certainly fulfilled its purpose of recharging my batteries, tapping me into that wonderful tribal energy, connecting me to a network of warm openhearted and generous people..
As I see it, the positive energy, the generosity of spirit, the new ideas and ways of being, the passion for change, and so much more, form the ingredients of a rich brew which swirls around the cauldron of the festival and then like a firework sends its rainbow light out to inspire the world. And if it isn’t true then it ought to be.
How could I, mother? How could I not?
PS And how could I fail to mention the friendly – and now familiar – sight of the Transition Tin Village, with its sofas, design-a-pizza, and a rich programme of workshops. I only made it to one, which attracted me by the mention of social media and storytelling. As a result of that I’ve spent the last few hours writing my first ever blog. And who knows where that will lead…