If you told me five years ago that I would dedicate most of my free time to traveling and attending festivals, there is no way I ever would’ve believed you.
My origin story doesn’t involve radioactive spiders, orphaned aliens, or billionaire inheritance. I don’t have any special powers or secret tech that might have made this journey to 100 festivals any easier. Instead, this path first started as a simple opportunity and as more opportunities arose I became more and more open to them. After dedicating years of my life to organizations, boards of directors, and becoming a legal guardian, it was a chance to finally focus on finding myself outside of my involvement.
I will forever be grateful to my younger brother David for first inviting me to the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. It started as a nonchalant invitation. The year was 2014 and my ward had just moved out. The teenager I had been responsible for had grown up and I felt like I suddenly didn’t have any direction. I was floating by on obligation and work. He asked what plans I had for that summer and nothing really came to mind so he said I should just come to Vegas.
He sent me YouTube videos and hundreds of songs from producers of every genre and yet I still couldn’t grasp what it was I would be attending.
EDC Las Vegas 2014 completely changed my life and opened me up in ways that I couldn’t imagine. It was a trial by fire, aside from Husker football games I had never attended an event so large. There was something electric about the energy of the crowd. It was like there was static in the air and my presence breathed life into it. It was scary and exhilarating all at the same time.
Looking back at our text messages, this one really gets me laughing: “I really like Audien but I don’t see them on the lineup… Not a huge fan of Protohype.” I didn’t know any names, I didn’t know any tracks, all of the music sounded similar. In hindsight, I realize I wasn’t very open to understanding the art of electronic music. I think a part of me didn’t classify EDM as art or self-expression, so I couldn’t understand sounds and rhythms, beats that move your body, as pieces that could be open to interpretation.
Growing up with manic depression means that I am constantly at war with myself.
Every day is an internal battle but somehow this music transcends the inner turmoil. It’s like waving a white flag and allowing yourself to just be surrounded in the moment. An entire ocean of peace fills me up and I can let go of my thoughts. I have always felt a connection to music, but there was something about the community and the songs themselves that elevated this into a type of therapy.
I found a home built in this foundation of Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect.
It was like finally having a word for the way I lived my life. I was relieved to finally feel like I belonged. I never really knew there were so many people that could be so kind, generous, and accepting. It was the first time I finally realized the difference between tolerance and acceptance. While that may seem really obvious in terms of words, it’s actually very hard to see when you live on the outskirts of that distinction.
The whole of EDC is a bit of a blur. I remember the artists we saw because everyone was so hyped about each set. Since I didn’t really know anyone, I wouldn’t understand the hype until much later. I got to see an unreal amount of artists including Kaskade, Avicii, Armin Van Burren, Calvin Harris, Eric Prydz, and my personal favorite, Martin Garrix among others. In retrospect, I’m shocked that I was fortunate enough to experience so many legends before I even really knew who they were.
Every night we stayed until sunrise, a tradition I still do today, six years later.
I needed every second, every moment, to exist in a world that finally felt like home. I became obsessed with these little breaks from reality and wanted to attend everything I could. I used to be the guy that lined up at midnight for the next video game console, I spent way too much money on shoes and computer parts but now I primarily spend my money on festivals, traveling, and visiting the family that I’ve made.
Each festival brought me deeper into the community, connected me with my soulmates, and began breaking down the barriers I had so carefully built around myself.
For EDCLV 2015 we rented a house and 15 of us stayed there. The following year we rented a house and filled it with 31 of us. That same year at Nocturnal Wonderland my rave family was born and given a name: The UniSquad. At Dancefestopia I rode the rail watching Timmy Trumpet and Porter Robinson for the first time. I met a girl, Kelsey, who adopted me and took me back to her friends – where I met Cassey.
“You don’t post on Facebook very often, but when you do it’s really eloquent. Have you ever thought about writing?”
Her text message surprised me and I wasn’t really sure what to say. I asked, “write about what?” She said it seemed like I enjoyed going to festivals and that maybe I should write about that. I needed time to think about it. Coincidentally enough a college friend writing for Mashable at the time posted an open invitation to attend TomorrowWorld in Atlanta, GA on a media guest pass. I didn’t want to pass a chance like this up and I got to see a festival from an entirely new perspective.
My friend wrote the viral article featuring two girls sleeping on pizza boxes in the Georgia forest and watching his article blow up from the hotel room really inspired me. I wanted to share my experiences of this community and music, share what I had fallen in love with. Cassey asked me for a writing sample and I sent her a piece entitled, “What We Can All Learn from Raves.” She said she would talk to her Editor, Grant, and that I would get a phone call sometime in the next couple of weeks.
I thought I was going to be interviewed, but instead, I just heard, “Oh yeah, this is Carlos, he’s our newest writer.”
It was a snowball that turned into an avalanche at this point. I went from 7 festivals in 2014, 10 in 2015, to 24 in 2016. In 2017 I realized that what I was writing about wasn’t reflected in the photographs we were getting from the event photographers. My experience revolved around connections and I didn’t see that in the photos. Since I’d always been a fan of photography, I took a chance and bought a camera. I did 25 festivals that year and half of them built my photography portfolio.
By the time 2018 hit, I knew I needed to cut back, but still ended up going to 22 festivals.
As I looked forward to this year, I was more dedicated to the idea of reducing my festival attendance and chose 10 events as a top priority. It was mid-summer that I realized I was on track to hit 100 by Hard Summer. It was a surreal realization. There was so much to reflect on and so much had changed within me.
I wasn’t the same person compared to when I attended my first festival. I had grown so much in music taste, in my empathy, my relationships, and my openness. My photography from even just two years shows an incredible difference that I didn’t really understand until I looked at photos from the first event I shot.
Many people have asked me what my favorite festival is after having attended so many and the answer is never really as simple as they expect.
There are different festivals for different things. I love the production and artist lineups of EDC (especially the fireworks), the art and performers at Life is Beautiful, the wide variety of non-electronic music of Coachella, and the small community feels of Desert Hearts and Dirtybird Campout. Each festival has something to offer but lately, it has been the friend lineup that gets me the most. Don’t get me wrong, I still go because I love the music, but it’s the community connection and shared love that keeps me thriving.
All of my closest friends come from festivals and they are a group that I connect with on a deeper level than I have with anyone else.
They give me strength when I think I have none, they surround me with love when I feel lonely. They all say way too many nice things about me to their other friends. There aren’t enough ways to express my gratitude or to express how much each of them has meant to me. They have saved my life more times than they could ever really understand or know. I have been blessed and so fortunate to have these moments that have shaped so much of my life these past five years.
Reaching 100 festivals came with its own accomplishments and rewards.
I attended the first marriage within my rave family this year and got asked to officiate another next year. I finally got to attend a festival with my son. He finally understood why these events have been so important to me and was genuinely in awe of the friendships and love I had found along the way.
Culminating in a type of capstone I was finally able to attend Shambhala Music Festival in Canada. Early on in my festival journey, I had heard about this festival. It sounded like a legend and everyone I came across highly recommended it. So it was very fitting to commemorate this milestone by finally becoming a part of The Farmily.
Thousands of pictures, hundreds of articles, and countless memories have been made throughout this journey and it isn’t ending anytime soon.
I’ve learned to push myself out beyond my comfort zone even when I thought I was already uncomfortable. I’ve shared more of myself than I ever wanted to or thought was possible. It truly has been a wild ride so far and I think most about how much I owe to everyone that has made it all possible.
I would love to give a shout out to everyone but you all know who are you. Thank you, for being a part of my story, for saving me, for helping me grow and truly enhancing the core of who I am, the person you know and love today.