Picture this, ladies and gentlemen: You’re in a field, with around 300 others. It’s the open market area, and there’s a few people who’ve started up a drum circle in the middle. More drummers hear the music and bring their drums in, adding their own beats to the celebration. You can see the full moon shining clearly through the branches of the lone majestic Gray Box Eucalyptus tree in the center of the market. Suddenly, someone looks up and spots the eclipse starting; that first little corner of the moon is just starting to get dark. He howls at the moon, a sound echoed by several others nearby. The drums hear, and the beat gets louder. The crowd, most of whom are wearing little more than a skirt or kilt, moves to the sound of the drums, dancing as they watch the eclipse grow, as the anticipation grows. It’s a rare moment in nature, and you can feel it in your bones. You look around, and see the billions of stars now visible in the darkening sky – the Southern Cross pointing the way to your right and Orion the Hunter chasing his prey to the left. You watch a shooting star fly by just a few degrees away from the moon, and you make a wish, knowing that the power of this event will carry it through. Then just as the last sliver of moon is about to go into shadow – with no prompting from anyone – the drums stop and everybody sits down and joins a meditative hum to welcome in this Blood Moon. For several minutes uninterrupted, the hum continues, holding steady on its single uniting and penetrating note. As that last sliver of light disappears from Luna, the crowd stands, the drums go wild, and the dancing of the crowd pounds out an energy you’ve rarely felt before in your life. It’s a primal energy, like an instinct that precedes any organized religion, and it’s overwhelming. It is one natural humanity that we all share.
That was my favorite moment at Confest, a festival in the Australian bush from which I just returned. The festival is hard to describe. The website calls it an ‘alternative lifestyle festival’, but that doesn’t really do it justice. If you’ve ever been to Burning Man or one of its regionals, you have an idea, but it’s still different from those. During the day, there are all sorts of workshops on everything from massage, to the Art of Kissing, to Aboriginal Storytelling, to any kind of yoga or meditation you can think of. The evenings are filled with drum circles, guitars and singing, or conversations over chai tea. Or, you can head down to the river and do circuits between the hot tub, the steam sauna, the cool river, and warm fire.
Those of you who’ve been to Burning Man – Confest is like that with fostering very genuine, open-minded, generous, and friendly people. But it’s also:
- More hippies
- More nudity
- More chill
- Smaller (~5000 people total)
- In the woods instead of the desert
- With swimming in a river
- No amplified music (only acoustic)
- Cooler temperatures
- More chill evenings (less structured, no raves, and things die down around 2-3am)
- With limited money transactions allowed (there is a market)
- Drinking water and firewood supplied by the event
And I have to say that I love the fact that the festival was started by a former deputy Prime Minister of Australia. It’s government-sanctioned, folks! The name actually stands for ‘conversation festival’, and its original idea was to facilitate discussions about how society could be changed or improved. It’s held in the middle of the bush (the woods), nowhere near anything, so it’s also one of those magical places where there is no mobile phone reception and so no possible way to worry about the outside world. The festival officially lasts 7 days, but no one kicks you out, so it effectively lasts for a couple weeks – and it only costs $100 per person. That’s cheaper than most developed campsites that don’t have a festival going on around them! Plus, it’s family-friendly and clothing optional! (I know, U.S. folks probably find those two phrases to be mutually exclusive, but most of the rest of the world does not have such stigmas against nudity). Near the beach, it’s bizarre to see someone wearing anything. Away from there, probably two-thirds of people are topless, but only a few remain completely nude. It’s also a small enough festival that you are actually likely to bump into someone you met later on in the festival.
So I went up to this festival with five other CouchSurfers, carpooling up there and back for 5 days. We set up our camp across from the Yoga Space tent – so quiet enough to sleep at night, but still close to most of the best happenings in the Arts village and along the river. I spent my daytime at workshops ranging from identification of local plants, to lessons on giving full-body massages, to the Art of Conscious Touch, to lots of singing kirtans (meditative chants) at the yoga space. And I was told that I brought lots of “positive energy and skill” to the famous Art of Kissing workshop (shameless self-call… 🙂 ). There were some pretty interesting points from the various workshops, a few safe-for-work ones including:
- Almost everybody, when giving hugs, will move toward their left and put their head to the left of the other person’s. Perhaps this is a subtle subconscious thing, putting your heart further away and more protected from the other person. It does feel more intimate if you go the other way, moving toward your right when giving a hug.
- The Maori of New Zealand have a traditional embrace that involves grabbing each other’s right arms, gently pressing your foreheads and noses together, and taking a breath together. It’s a very intimate yet not necessarily romantic greeting – a good one for close friends.
Confest introduced to me perhaps the best possible way to spend an evening – and one of the greatest advantages of Confest over Burning Man, I think: there’s a giant HOT TUB, a STEAM SAUNA, a RIVER, and lots of campfires! Spend your evening doing circuits between them. Chill out in the hot tub with it’s great view to the sky and easy conversations with fellow Confesters in the tub. Then head into the sauna to heat up and get some sweat going. Once you’ve got some heat stored up, jump in the cool river before heading over to one of the several campfires to dry off and warm back up. Repeat for as long as you’d like! I did at least one circuit for all but one night there.
Otherwise, there’s very little structure to the evenings at Confest – I just walked around and inevitably bumped into something awesome every 20 meters. I already mentioned the night of the eclipse up in the market, but I also spent one night joining a large crowd around a bonfire with one (really good!) guitarist, a saxophonist, and a couple other musicians singing classic rock and other songs for a few hours. There was a random comedy show another night, and then a “Eurotrashvision” contest which, I have to say, had better music than the actual Eurovision contest (which Australia, despite its clearly missing the whole “European” qualification, was invited to join this year).
An amazing festival, and a unique one. I met a few people who flew from Perth (the other side of the country), and at least one who flew from Singapore exclusively for Confest! Of course, largely because of nudity, you are required to ask permission of anyone who’s in even the background of any photos you take – which means most of my photos were either at night when you can’t make out people or in some of the less populated areas. The rest is all a fantastic memory!