Ashland's new 'destination festival'

Drum circles. Blessings. Lava lamps. Tea ceremonies. Raw and living food. Light shows. Fire dancers. Didgeridoos. Raw superfood smoothies. Dreadlocks below the knees. Spontaneous jam sessions. Folks walking around in their birthday suits. An emphasis on community and spirituality.

The Mystic Garden Party returned to the Jackson Wellsprings for the third year, bringing with it more festival-goers and an even larger array of all things "hippie."

The four-day event, which ran through Sunday, drew an estimated 2,500 people to the hot springs spa located about a mile and a half outside of town off Highway 99.

Been putting off that trip to the spirit dream interpretive center? Need to see an alchemist? Sat at a nice kava bar lately? Ever wonder how to make no-bean hummus? Can't find a Tibetan crystal scepter? How about a Nepalese psychic dagger? Some locally produced conscious clothing? A handmade contrabass hammered dulcimer?

"All these festivals are like mini Burning Mans," said Felicia Renaud, an artist from Sebastopol, Calif., who purchased a vendor space to sell mood lights, hand-painted bulbs that project mosaic-like images. She said the past two years she's attended the Burning Man Festival, an annual gathering in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada and the pre-eminent festival of its kind.

Renaud said she's made her living for the past 12 years selling almost exclusively at retail shows, but chose to pay extra to rent the less-profitable space at the music show because, "There are just so many beautiful, amazing, creative people that are inspiring at these festivals."

Many festival-goers camped throughout the weekend, with tents and vehicles dotting the 30-acre property in nearly every imaginable spot.

"It's huge this year compared to last year," said Coral Jacobson, an Ashland clothing artist who purchased a vendor spot. "I'm seeing more people here that go to the other (Northwest music and art) festivals. Last year, it was more local."

Unlike the first two years it was held, the festival was professionally produced. Many who attended in years past said they noticed improvement in the organization of the event.

"It feels like we joined the West Coast festival circuit," said Chris Decker of Ashland-based production company Earthdance, which produces a similar but larger festival in Northern California held in September.

"This is the standard," said Decker, who also performed with the music group Medicine Drum. "We've raised the bar. Ashland's holding its own as a destination festival."

"We've been getting a lot of positive feedback from Ashlanders," he added. "They're really happy to see a professionally run festival in Ashland."

There were musical performances on four stages, internationally known speakers, workshops and dozens of vendors pedaling exotic imports, "eco-friendly" wares and other artisan products. Food booth offerings were exclusively raw and organic.

Featured guests included Dr. Masaru Emoto, best-selling author of "Messages From Water;" visionary artist Alex Grey; Southern Oregon spiritual leader Agnes Pilgrim, the oldest surviving member of her tribe, the Takelma Indians; and activist, writer and poet Julia Butterfly Hill, who became known for her 738-day protest in a Northern California redwood tree.

There was a family feel during morning and daytime hours. Many small children ran about and enjoyed entertainment geared toward them. They played and cooled off in a muddy area near the main stage.

The Wellsprings has a clothing-optional-after-dark policy, but clothing was optional at all times during the festival. Body painting was especially popular among women who went topless.

Those who kept their clothes on offered plenty of creativity in their fashion, making for a nearly constant stream of walking art.

The festival took on a decidedly different look at night, with mostly dim lighting throughout the grounds. But it was the darkness that set the stage for venues like the open-air devotional domes, with their glowing light poles and sparkling shrines. Most of the festival remained open until 4 in the morning.

"It's a whole different show for sure (at night)," said Ashland resident Tyler Riopelle, a performance artist who used purple lasers attached to his fingertips to create a light show. He said he performed earlier this month at the Oregon Country Fair and has worked as the lighting designer at the Historic Ashland Armory since it became a performance venue in 1999.

"At nighttime, it definitely gets more psychedelic," he said.

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