Words and photos by Mallory Hemerlein
Wanderlust Festival: rain drenched and patchouli stenched. Not actually, but that was the fear as I drove 8 hours north to the festival. A rapidly growing number of yogis and musicians are gravitating towards one another, the ideal union of poses and power chords manifested beautifully in Vermont. The brainchild of three New York college chums: Velour Music Group co-creators Sean Hoess and Jeff Krasno collaborated with the founder of Kula Yoga Project, Schuyler Grant (Jeff’s wife). After previous iterations in Lake Tahoe and Miami, this year the festival added lovely Stratton, Vermont to it’s repertoire.
I spent 4 full days soaked in non-stop torrential rain knowing behind the dark clouds lurked the lush Green Mountains. Running between buildings and emergency-rain-tents to see music, take yoga classes, and listen in on Speakeasies, I can report there’s no doubt Wanderlust’s vision of unity between these two cultures will continue to attract mass crowds.
If you were skeptical of a festival with a bunch of granola mountain yogis Namaste-ing all day, worry not, there were refreshingly diverse amounts of people and things to do. Wanderlust’s goal to include non-yoga activities and free beer! ensured not only yogis showed up.
“The goal of Wanderlust is to provide a transformative experience” says Jeff, co-founder. Their solution was world-renowned lecturer and best selling author Deepak Chopra’s hour+ lecture on the molecular connectivity of the planet (we share 97% of the same molecules as bananas; Sarah Palin’s brain an astonishing 100%). The most captivating part of Deepak’s presentation was the 300+ person 30-minute meditation. Strangely providing a cohesive opening act for the always-impressive musical styling’s of Andrew Bird.
The group meditation added an awareness and sensitivity to the soulful plucks of a solo Bird. His virtuosic looping included whistling, singing, violin, guitar and glockenspiel– which actualized an atmosphere pregnant with creativity. Magic.
Night came with the choice of midnight yoga class or Burlesque show. When given an option of boobs or backbends, one chooses boobs, I think? Good choice, as I saw my first pregnant burlesque dancer..…
Saturday’s headliner, Michael Franti and Spearhead, played an impressively long, dynamic set. Keeping a rain soaked, yoga sore, ecstatic crowd in continual state of euphoria.
Other festival amusements included: constant music, juggling lessons, avant-garde performances, organized hikes, lecture series, acrobatics, acro-yoga (wanna hang upside-down from someone’s feet?) and classes by yogi rock stars: John Friend (creator of Anusara Yoga), Desiree Rumbaugh, Bryan Kest, Elena Brower, Sean Corn and Sofi Dillof (the ex-wife of Phish’s Page McConnell)
If you’re so inclined: Wanderlust Festival will continue to expand hearts and melt minds on July 28-31st at their embryonic destination in Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe with musical line-up: GIRL TALK, Michael Franti and Spearhead, The Whalers and MC Yogi. And Yoga Line-up: John Friend, Amy Ippoliti, Shiva Rea, Sianna Sherman and more.
Below is the full pre-festival interview conducted with co-creator Jeff Krasno.
Interview with Jeff Krasno
1. First, would you mind giving me a little bit about your background; with art, music, festivals (an impact they have had on your life, other festivals you’ve used as templates or influences) and yoga (do you practice? What form? What merit you see in it? Impact it’s had on your life?)
We’ve both played music for all our lives, including a stint together in a less-than-famous bluegrass band. We founded a record label & artist management company (Velour Music Group) back in the late 90s, and in our early days promoted a number underground shows in lower Manhattan with Velour artists and often, Daptone artists like the Sugarman Three, Lee Fields and Sharon Jones.
The yoga merged into the music much later — Jeff’s wife, Schuyler, went deep with her practice and started a successful yoga studio, Kula Yoga Project, above our offices. We gradually became part of her scene, and even more gradually, started practicing. I still consider myself a beginner, but ironically, yoga has become a means of fighting back the stress of being in the music and yoga business.
2. I’d love to know more about the evolution of the festivals inception?
a. What’s the history, the first meeting and collaborations of the powers behind the Wanderlust.
We developed the idea in summer 2008 and pitched it to Universal, who at that time was the distributor of our record label. Surprisingly, they were very interested — no one wants to be in the record business, it seems — and it quickly went up the flagpole and was approved. However, in November 2008 there was this tiny little economic crisis, and by December Universal apparently had decided that they needed to pull back from any adventures, like investing in yoga & music festivals. This left us in a rather tough place — we had spent considerable money getting ready to launch, and had a site agreement at Squaw Valley. Our lawyer set up a meeting with Coran Capshaw (co-owner of Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Mile High, etc, and manager of Dave Matthews, Phish and many others). We had met Coran a few times when our artist Soulive opened for Dave Matthews, and he was very interested in the concept for Wanderlust. From there, a deal came together quickly between Velour, Starr Hill (Coran’s festival company) and Charlie Walker at C3 Presents (Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, etc). It continues to be a great partnership today, though I don’t believe we’ve converted either of them into yogis.
b. Where did the idea of combining music and yoga for a festival come from?
Jeff had a brainstorm one day after watching his wife lead yet another successful yoga retreat to Costa Rica. The yoga community is just so passionate about their practice that they’d follow a teacher to the ends of the earth, into the jungle — and at great expense — just to be part of it. I think that passion exists for a few bands in music, and maybe a few music festivals, but we wanted to create something that combined the adventure and wonder of an exotic retreat with some amazing music (which is something that retreats generally lack).
c. Had you started with smaller gatherings first? And moved up to a large festival?
Back in the late 90s, Jeff and I founded a company, Velour Music Group, that manages musical artists and produces records and live musical events. A few years later, Jeff’s wife Schuyler founded a yoga studio, Kula Yoga Project, that operated right above our office and introduced us to the world of yoga. Jeff came up with the idea of Wanderlust in 2008 from observing how dedicated, curious, passionate and involved the yoga community is, and wondering why there was no large scale gatherings for them. At the same time, both of us had gotten increasingly disenchanted with large scale music festivals, places where you get herded from stage to stage, far removed from the artists you love, and baking in the sun. We asked ourselves whether the yoga community wouldn’t enjoy an event that combined the fun, community and excitement of a music festival, but still offered world-class yoga instruction. And we thought the music community would enjoy seeing bands in stunningly beautiful setting, where they could get up close and personal with the artists they love — and maybe do a little yoga too. Wanderlust was born in 2009 and grew nearly 4 times from ’09 to ’10. We’re on pace to do that again.
3. Why did you choose Wanderlust (the strong desire to travel) as the name? Are you speaking about the demographic you’re drawing to the festival, those full of Wanderlust? Or are you using it metaphorically as a desire to travel within one’s own experience or being (connectivity of mind, body, spirit, universe). Are there other ways to interpret the name?
I think it’s both. The concept was to combine a retreat — a place to get away from the mundane, explore, trek, and wander — with a music festival, and place it all in an epic natural setting. When you set that up, and you bring together a bunch of conscious people dedicated to an ancient physical / philosophical tradition, the other forms of wanderlust — internal travel, connectivity, etc. — follow pretty naturally.
4. Can you describe the feeling and experience of past Wanderlusts?
Wanderlust promotes the collective experience creating an atmosphere of positive reinforcement and trust. Within this environment, people feel secure to challenge themselves and take risks. Attendees experience the best in yoga, music, local and organic foods, tastings of sustainable wines, lectures and speakeasies held by inspirational and motivational leaders, group activities such as hikes or rafting, and personal time in meditation and spa treatments. Whether you pick Wanderlust California, nestled in the breathtaking Sierra Mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, or Wanderlust Vermont, set in the rolling Green Mountains of Vermont, a shared experience will no doubt solidify and amplify bonds
5. What is the larger goal or vision of Wanderlust (besides an all around rad! event?)?
a. What are you trying to achieve by bringing these two art forms together on a large and notable scale?
We want to provide a transformative experience. You could view it as stripping away the negative parts of a traditional music festival — the hangover, if you will — while adding an ecstatic, external communal component to a yoga retreat (the experience of dancing with thousands of people to a band you love). The goal is for people to leave Wanderlust feeling enriched, healthy, and rejuvenated — but to do that without sacrificing the fun.
b. How has the previous year changed or enhanced this year’s festival?
We’re constantly learning from the mistakes of past years, and we’re also incessantly trying to add to the experience. This year, we’ve expanded the Speakeasy lecture series and have booked an extremely high profile speaker, Deepak Chopra. The opportunity to hear Deepak speak and then watch Andrew Bird play is the type of unusual experience that one can only find at Wanderlust. We continue to develop the food and wine program at Wanderlust, and have planned several farm-to-table dinners as well as a new wine tasting series. We’re constantly tweaking the venues and the mix between music and yoga, because there’s sometimes a fine line between offering amazing choices and overwhelming our attendees. We want to create a curated experience with choice, rather than, say, a diner menu of options. In fact, I’m currently trying to enforce an “ideas moratorium” until we actually produce the 2011 events — we have many more good ideas for expanding the festival than we have people capable of actually executing them!
6. I use yoga as a form of artistically expressing my intrinsic truth, much like a musician’s artistic drive to create and express their truth. Are the musicians that you’ve brought to the festival also connected to the practice of yoga/meditation?
a. How did you choose the musicians who will perform? For example, throughout Moby’s career he has been quite political and socially active using the fame he’s attained from his music to bring more consciousness to the way people interact with the world (i.e. he’s an outspoken vegan). How integral has he (and other participating musicians/artists) been to the continued vision of Wanderlust?
This is a core part of the Wanderlust vision for music. While not every artist we book is connected to the practice of yoga or the broader concept we call the “mindful life”, we do try to select artists that walk the talk. Moby is a great example of this, and we were thrilled to have someone who could give an intelligent, insightful talk on veganism, perform an intimate and moving acoustic set, then blow everyone’s mind on the main stage. Michael Franti is another guy who embodies this spiritual and intellectual broadness — a lifelong yogi, political activist, and incredible performer. We also book a lot of artists that are directly connected to the conscious scene — MC Yogi, The Mayapuris, Garth Stevenson, etc.
7. Its my understanding that Wanderlust is unofficially (or officially) influenced by Anusara Yoga in particular- could you speak a bit about Anusara, how it’s presence has influenced the festival?
Wanderlust is non-denominational, but we enjoy a deep relationship with Anusara. There are many reasons for that, but one philosophical reason is that our event, and Anusara’s philosophy of yoga, is Tantric — our experience is ecstatic, communal, life affirming, expressive and physical. We’re not trying to restrict the outside world — we embrace it.
a. How integral or influential has John Friend been to the inception and actualization of the festival?
John Friend is an inspiring and fascinating figure who combines an incredible practice with great philosophical depth. He’s one of a small number of teachers who can go beyond being a “yoga teacher” and can truly speak to everyone, yogi or non-yogi. John also was kind enough to support us from the inception of our event.
b. What about Anusara – or the Tantric philosophy of which Anusara is based – has made an impact on the festival, the artists involved, and the attracted demographic?
8. What is your market demographic? Is there an age range you’re looking for by booking musicians with a younger audience, such as Girl Talk and Andrew Bird?
Wanderlust caters not only to the yoga community but also those who just want to better their health. This year, we expect our audience to consist of young adults and middle-aged adults who feel young. All classes can be participated in at different levels – that’s the beauty of yoga, and Wanderlust.
a. Are you open to suggestions for future artists that may bring a youthful, edgier art scene demographic, more avant-garde musicians and visual artists, with lesser notoriety on a commercial level?
Sure. I think we will always have a “headliner” — as long as we can find someone who fits our philosophy and ideals — but we’re just as interested in presenting unusual, interesting and avant-garde experiences to our audience. We want to provide a mix of the known and unknown, and hopefully people discover that the unknown is just as compelling — or more so — than the known.
9. It’s no secret the festival is growing in notoriety- and expanding rapidly. Now with three festivals/happenings this year, how did you decide on adding Miami and Vermont? Why did you choose those locations? Where will you be going next year?
· After our success last year, we looked around at other communities and locations that we believed would support the Wanderlust experience. The criteria is natural beauty and a supportive local community that will embrace the event and its underlying values. There is no doubt that there is a growing culture for yoga, organics, the arts – so we’re just meeting that demand in different places around the country. When Wanderlust goes to Kansas – that’s when you know that America is really progressing.
· Why Vermont? Vermont offers an epic New England summer-green backdrop. Gondola rides; canoe and kayak tours, fly-fishing tours and instruction, hiking golfing and even paint balling abound in the vicinity. We had a lot of east coasters flying into Wanderlust California, and wants to feed the local New England demand, highlight local music and yoga talent, and create a flagship East Coast festival.
· Why Miami? Miami is one of the top 5 markets for yoga in the United States and a breathtaking stage for practice. There is an active and athletic community of people who care about health and wellness. It’s also a great getaway for those of us suffering from a seemingly endless winter.
a. Is there a tipping point for how large you will allow the festival to become? In order to preserve it’s quaint charm, unique experience and who is drawn to it?
Yes, we don’t want to get any bigger than 3,000 yogis per day. The idea always has been to do more intimate events rather than a huge, mass event. To be blunt, this isn’t the smartest approach from a financial perspective, but it’s necessary to preserve the vibe and culture of Wanderlust.
10. How has the previous festival exceeded or disappointed your own expectations and ultimate vision of what the festival is and will be?
a. What are some of the learning curves you’ve come across with the festival?
This entire experience is a learning curve. The biggest one was the realization that this is a yoga festival with great music, rather than a music and yoga festival. The difference is subtle, but we realized that we are a boutique event geared primarily at a yoga audience, though we embrace and welcome the “music only” crowd who comes at night. This is very different than adding yoga to a music festival, which a lot of other festivals have tried (and not really succeeded at). The yoga experience comes first at Wanderlust.
b. Is there anything you’d like to change, either in or out of your control?
I wish we had more flat space at our mountain resorts — it’s hard to build quality yoga spaces on a slope. I wish I could track down every last bug in our scheduling system (we’re trying). I wish we had camping.
11. What does the future of Wanderlust look like? Will you expand internationally?
We’re actually looking at a few locations in Europe right now. Stay tuned.