by Andrew Ross Collins
“[What] we’re trying to cultivate in ourselves and in everyone at the event, [is] the feeling that we are not separate. What emanates from people who are immersed in this feeling is compassion, and in the future. We’re hoping to do more work to inspire ourselves and everyone at the festival to create a more compassionate world.” – Elliot Rasenick, Beloved Founder.
We sat down with YogiTunes head honcho Alex King Harris [aka Rara Avis] and Elliot Rasenick the person behind the legendary Beloved Festival to chat about music, yoga and festival culture. Festivals have a character and aesthetic that make them unique and appeal to a variety of different demographics. Beloved has the reputation of having a certain magic and gentleness and providing a space where people can feel safe to shine.
Elliot – can you tell us a little about what you’ve got planned for Beloved this year?
When new software comes out for my phone or computer, sometimes it’s introducing all these new elements, and sometimes it’s just cleaning up all the old elements to get them exactly the way they’re supposed to be, and this is kind of a clean up year for Beloved.
We’re really refining a lot of the new features we have added over the past few years. We’re cleaning up the central gathering space, deepening our engagement of issues like consent and the examination of power and privilege, refining the way everyone can arrive and get to their camps with ease and grace, and improving the quality of our audio and visual technical production everywhere around the site, and we’re upgrading our reusable dishware program. I’m also really excited about a new composting toilet pilot program. There’s basically nothing that isn’t tweaked or improved in some way from last year.
How many years has Beloved run for, how did the festival come about and what was your intention when you started ?
This is the ninth year of the festival. In the early aughts, I was organizing two different kinds of events, all night dance parties in warehouses and more overtly devotional events in yoga studios. In some ways, there were two different communities engaged in these events, but in other ways, I was struck by the reality that the events and everyone attending them were really similar. Beloved really came about by an attempt to merge those two different ways and communities together through their desire for connection and a passion for the ecstatic.
Alex – what makes Beloved a special event for you?
I too have long been involved in curating and producing underground dance parties and devotional events in yoga studios. I came to a similar realization around the need to merge cultures and Beloved has done that beautifully,
Beloved’s foundational principles are completely inline with ours when it comes to living a conscious, compassionate, humble, beautiful, art filled, low foot print style of life. Many elements contribute to this including the single main stage, gorgeous location, wonderful staff, incredible lineup, considerate attendees and well thought out layout of supporting areas and services.
At the true core, Beloved is about connection. Connection to each other, to the land, and connection to the divine source of love within all life. So to bring YogiTunes to a gathering that reflects, resonates and attracts that on every level is truly inspiring. Every year we come away feeling renewed and inspired to continue living our purpose.
Elliot – tell us about the venue for the festival – what are its attractions and has the festival been here for long?
The festival has been at same site for the entirety of its life. Tidewater Falls is a magical place because it’s in the middle of this stunning forest, yet it’s so close to the ocean that when the wind is right, you can actually smell the sea. It sits in this gorgeous coastal river valley that has about two months of the year where it’s not raining, and Beloved takes place in those two months. It’s like the most beautiful place in the world at the most beautiful time of year.
The site sits on a hilltop nestled in between thousands of acres of public land, so when we’re here, we feel like we are completely protected and alone in the universe. The site is perfect for the festival because it has these little pockets of activity that are all really close together, so we can be in the intimate and more open central gathering area and feel connected, or go to one of the other smaller zones and have a more relaxed and softer experience. It’s truly something special.
Elliot – how and when did you and Alex meet ? You guys go back a while, right?
You know I actually think I met Alex at the first Beloved. He was in the band Desert Dwellers at that time, and they played the first sunrise set in the storied history of epic sunrise sets for the festival. We really did have an instant connection, but I think we didn’t understand how closely connected our vision for the world and the way we were learning to be the men we wanted to be in the world until many years after that. I’m so excited that since that since that first meeting, I’ve had the opportunity to commune deeply with Alex both in our greatest aspirations and our deepest vulnerabilities.
Alex – talk to us about YogiTunes’ involvement at Beloved this year
YogiTunes is really excited and grateful to be curating the Yoga Hall at Beloved for the third year in a row. This includes booking all the teachers, pairing them with the right live or DJ’d music, creating a sequence of class offerings that fits the larger arc of how the festival atmosphere evolves over the weekend, and overseeing production logistics for the yoga area. Many of the teachers and musicians who offer classes are part of the YogiTunes family so we do a lot of facilitating correspondence and logistics leading up to the festival, as well as some integration and wrap up work after the festival is over.
Like Beloved, each year we look to improve from the previous year, so getting feedback and having an open dialogue with teachers, musicians, staff and participants is an important part of what happens during and after the festival.
Elliot – why the emphasis on Yoga? How popular are the classes? Do you think that some people come to the festival mainly for the yoga?
Fundamentally, Beloved is about connection. On the dance floor, we’re asking everyone to remember how deeply they are connected to each other. In the temples, workshops, and experience of the artwork, we’re asking everyone to remember their depth of connection to spirit. In engagement with our composting and greening programs, we’re asking everyone to engage with the depth of their connection with the planet. And, in our yoga program, we’re asking everyone to engage with their connection to their own bodies, with themselves, with other participants in class and with the amazing forested area in and around the Yoga Hall.
The yoga classes at Beloved are wildly popular. We work really hard every year to respond to the demand for yoga by increasing the floor space and the amount of classes, but it seems like no matter what we do, the classes always fill the space.
Alex: – to the uninitiated – can you tell us how different the various yoga classes are ? What makes a successful yoga teacher ? some of these people are globetrotting headliners…
We have a wide variety of classes that are just as colorful, fun and engaging as the people who attend the festival. Hatha and kundalini yoga, classes that incorporate acrobatic elements, ritual experiences, sound healing, partner massage, and the gentle, restorative side which includes yin yoga, qi gong and tai chi.
We also have an amazing array of live musicians and great DJ’s accompanying classes, which brings an extra special feel to each offering.
There are many things that create a great yoga teacher. The depth of their own practice, their ability to think relate to all levels of student, and their relationship to the roots of yoga. How long they’ve been both practicing and teaching for and whether they have a deep understanding of the role a teacher plays as a guide and facilitator while remaining human, vulnerable and in touch with their humility, But to me, if I were to boil it all down I would say that to be a successful yoga teacher you need to become a fantastic listener. Listening to the flow of your own breath and voice as you teach, listening to the people you are teaching, listening to the teachings themselves but most importantly listening to the space, the emptiness and to Spirit. That is what creates the master teacher, one that emulates the foundations of yoga but can improvise and bring their own unique light to the equation.
Both of you – when it comes to Yoga and Music, what does Beloved do right that other festivals could learn from?
Elliot: Because Alex has this passion, wisdom, and experience supporting teachers to have the right music for the right class, and to be the soundtrack to their classes support the flow rather than take away from it, the yoga program feels like it’s connected to the careful curation of our music lineup. It doesn’t feel like a separate part of the festival. Instead of it being like you’re leaving the festival to go to a yoga class, it’s like you’re just engaging the festival more deeply through your personal practice.
Alex: I want to echo and expand on what Elliot just said. Music is not restricted to what’s going on during a performance, music is the constant, entire expression of our reality. There really is no separation unless we choose to fracture our reality by projecting our belief that we are separate from life. As humans, we have been gifted with the ability to envision, organize, transmit and conduct harmony in everything we do. To merge effortlessly and beautifully with our surroundings. Beloved is an intentionally planned symphonic movement of love from start to finish, from the months before and after the festival, from the year round vision that is held which creates a space where harmony prevails. That is the soundtrack for our hearts that we all yearn for, and Beloved in this way strives to be (and succeeds at being) a finely tuned orchestra.
To Both – We often hear people use the word “intentional” to describe events or gatherings – what does this word mean to you?
Elliot: It’s critical that we all cultivate more clarity around our objectives for everything that we do. I really struggle with the use of the word “intentional” because it’s often used to disguise the reality that people don’t actually have one. So in this way, the word “intentional” has come to be synonymous with confusion, evasion, and dishonesty…
Though Beloved is often considered like the greatest example of “intentional gatherings,” I really want to understand us as something different. We’ve been very clear in many places that we’re pursuing specific objectives and working to enunciate these objectives clearly.
Alex: What we lack as a culture is accepted and accessible practices of self-awareness when gathering in large groups. Personal self-awareness is one thing, but the level of consciousness reflected by larger gatherings of people is indicative of the container in which people are interacting. Beloved goes a long way to creating a great container so that people’s self awareness is enhanced by their surroundings.
That to me is because there is an underlying intention that Beloved’s creator(s) weave into everything they do. By bringing their collective intention together, and the intention of participants to co-create a loving, safe, inspired space in which to exist, the overall level of self and collective awareness is amplified in a very positive way. This is something our world desperately needs if it is to transform out of it’s current container of fear, aggression, distrust, greed and isolation. In this way, certain festivals and gatherings to intentionally create a different and more healing way of coming together, the effects of which ripple back out into the world.
Alex – musically who is playing this year that you are stoked to see?
I’m really stoked that East Forest is blessing us at the Yoga Hall – he’s one of my faves. On main stage, the lineup is incredible this year – Fatouma Diawara, King Sunny Ade, Chris Berry, Trevor Hall, Rising Appalaicha, Beautiful Chorus, Ott and his full band, Clozee, Dirtwire, Jpod, Atyya… dang – what an amazing group of musical magicians!
Elliot – fast forward five years; where is Beloved at and how has it changed ? Can you share any ambitious long term plans with us?
For me, at the core of my original inspiration for producing a festival, was the way it would be organized and built as much as it was for the experience for the attendees. My dream for the future is that the work of building the festival site each year is connected to the work of building a village.
Also, engaging social justice and understanding power and privilege and the reality of sexual violence in our world is not separate from learning about love and being connected to spirit, it’s actually a required course. Every big feature and every little detail of the event is designed to provoke this realization: there’s really only one of us here.
With division and separation and violence and oppression, becoming more and more pervasive, we all need to learn to express compassion in a broader way than our personal lives.
So in this way, we’re trying to cultivate in ourselves and in everyone at the event, the feeling that we are not separate. What emanates from people who are immersed in this feeling is compassion, and in the future. We’re hoping to do more work to inspire ourselves and everyone at the festival to create a more compassionate world.
For more information about Beloved, please visit their website.