Envision Festival Co-Founder Josh Wendel Takes Us Behind the Scenes

Josh Wendel Envision Festival
Photo Credit: Brittany No Fomo

As Envision Festival gears up for 2022, we sat down with co-founder and CEO Josh Wendel to learn about how they’re prepping for the post-COVID world.

Lush natural forestry acting as a canopy for your afternoon snooze, a tranquil sunrise swim on an untouched beach, Funktion 1 sound vibrating through your body… this ecological music paradise being described is none other than the annual Envision Festival which takes place on the coast of Costa Rica. Because of its unwavering commitment to impeccable stage productions, music-first lineups, and environmentalist principles, Envision has become a beacon of light for sustainable music festival programming.

Envision was one of the only festivals that were able to carry out their 2020 edition, though it was not immune to the effects of COVID which rendered all of 2021 essentially event-less. Yet, with vaccines rolling out across the United States and the rest of the world, a return to safely attending music festivals seems to finally be within grasp, and the leaders of Envision Festival are heeding that call. What music festivals will look like in this post-COVID world has been up for much debate and scrutiny. Will we return to complete normalcy? Will there be “vaccine passport” concepts at play? Is everyone going to make you sanitize your hands before giving you a high five?

Moreover, what new protocols will festival organizers need to contemplate to ensure a safe event? Surely, issues like sanitation and hygiene will occupy the forefront of consideration that they have never occupied before. But also things like mental health and spatial awareness. Perhaps events will have to reconsider the capacity sizes of the stages built, or how camping is laid out so that lost individuals are not so overwhelmed after a year of being indoors and only going between the living room and kitchen.

Looking to gain insight on how this sustainable festival is gearing up, we reached out to discuss and had the privilege of sitting down with Envision Festival CEO and founder Josh Wendel. Read on to learn about how his team is preparing to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Envision 2022, and head over to their website for more details on the upcoming edition.

Check out the Official Trailer for Envision Festival 2022 on YouTube:

Hi Josh! Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with us. You’re the CEO of Envision Festival, in Costa Rica. Can you tell us a little more about your background and how that led you to be part of the team that created this magical-feeling space?  

Ever since I was young, I had a vision of living in a community and off of the land in a tropical paradise. I didn’t know that would be my life path or how to initiate that journey, but over the years of studying natural medicine, gardening, event planning, and a long stint in the natural food industry, it set the stage (pun intended) take all of these passions, team up with others with a similar vision and launch Envision Festival 11 years ago. 

I was very passionate about changing the world and having a positive social and environmental impact and committed to doing that by means of creating a positive experience that tells the story, instead of having to tell people how they should or shouldn’t live. Envision was born as an example of something I was actively creating, not just a festival interlaced with sustainable ideas. It is a platform of what can actually work; sustainable living in an environment that is suitable for us to live in. 

The festival takes place 15 minutes away from my sustainable permaculture farm, which we are proud to say, will be tying into our future Envision projects, which we will be launching in the coming months. It has been a long road of setting our intentions and holding tightly onto our ethos to prioritize creating a place that is a celebration, platform for education, and able to maintain an open-hearted safe container for everyone to share a collective experience to reconnect to nature and themselves.

While Envision was one of the few festivals that was able to carry out its 2020 edition, the next one has been announced for February 2022. During the last year, was your team able to learn lessons about how it will return in the post-COVID era?

We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate, being that we were able to produce Envision 2020, before that we had an understanding of how covid would impact the planet. By the time that Envision 2022 will take place, it will have been approximately two years since Costa Rica had shut down large events. 

At this point in time, there is no “easy” way to host mass gatherings, and the industry is constantly evolving and growing, as is our understanding of the virus and how to safely return to the “normal” we all remember. We pay very close attention to changing guidelines and have always been a leader in Costa Rica, according to the local health department guidelines, oftentimes helping set the nationwide standard. We are committed to an event that our attendees will feel safe and continue to be leaders in creating solutions for what is possible.  

Envision Festival 2018
Photo Credit: Manuel Pinto

As your team has approached planning the 2022 edition of Envision, what were some of the most notable differences in thinking and process that you had to implement? Did you notice any new considerations that initially seemed out of left field for you?

Quite frankly the whole event industry is entering uncharted waters and we are all learning from each other. We have been very deliberate with our ticket policies to ensure that they are fair to the attendees and, us, as the event producers. There were a lot of upset festival-goers and a lot of devastated artists and production companies when the pandemic blindsided the world.  This has given us time to consider what seems to be the fairest approach to all sides. 

On a positive note, there is one thing that rings true to most of the world, people are ready for something to look forward to. We all want to live a healthier life, cultivate a more inspired life, further integrate into nature, and reintegrate into the community. We believe Envision represents the aspects of what a good majority of what our souls yearn for during these times.  We will navigate these challenging times together, focus on unifying and continue to inspire new forms of living, and focus on compassion and love, as we transition out of a traumatic time that we will all need to heal from.  

How might some of those considerations have affected the practical planning? For example, did you have to discuss, say, whether people will be less comfortable in crowds, even in a safely vaccinated world, after months of isolation and small group gatherings?

This has been a major topic at the top of my head for a while now. We can only speculate what sort of logistics and requirements will be the right answer, as the event is about one year away, but what we can focus on, is how we can heal and learn from this collective experience. There is a lot of division in the world right now, a lot of fear and trauma that need to be brought to the surface and healed, and quite frankly the world is very “charged”. 

As we focus on the health and safety of the attendees, there will also be a major focus on how we can collectively learn, love, grow and create a “new normal”, one that ideally allows an even greater chance of sustainability on the planet and a reprioritization of what is important in our individual lives. We will get through this as a community, while we figure out how to embrace each other, whether it be a hug or an elbow bump.  

How has the emergent importance of digital and streaming affected your team’s process? It seems like Envision is focusing on making sure the live events themselves are ready to go once there’s the global green light, but do you think you will start folding streaming more into your operations as well?

It is only natural, that a lot of music, education, and the community that we all dearly miss seeks to connect online. We have been working on a way to bring education and entertainment from Envision to the world. We are being very strategic about this shift, as it is not simply a way to replace the in-person experience. 

There is nothing that could emulate being barefoot in the jungle, listening to your favorite sunrise set with howler monkeys overhead. There is definitely a way to share the content though. The message is still the same, whether that acha moment comes from an in-person moment or through a zoom class that gets you to step out of your comfort zone and find your own purpose. We are excited to share more on that soon, in the meantime, we will be dropping lots of nuggets of edutainment throughout our socials in the coming months. 

Envision Festival - Luna Stage - Jess Bernstein
Photo Credit: Jess Bernstein

Of course we can’t not mention Envision’s amazing ecological program – it is still the only festival I’ve attended with zero one-time-use plastics, which is amazing! Should we expect larger innovations for 2022 and what might that look like?

Sustainability is a goal never obtained, but that we will always strive to improve upon. Every year we look towards new ways to not only minimize the impact of hosting an international event but also how to create a positive impact. Last year we set a goal that we are just about to announce the completion of, 10,000 trees planted for our 10 year anniversary. This was done with our new foundation, Somos El Cambio, which has also helped with major donations during Covid to hospitals and communities that have easy to reach food sources. 

Our next project is to create monkey bridges, which are basically hammocks that cross the highway above the powerlines to allow monkeys to pass the main road with ever-increasing traffic.  Working with such a team of dreamers and environmentalists, we never stop striving to create sustainable solutions. 

The most exciting aspect of sustainability is the impact that we can have on the people since it might just be that one powerful CEO that awakens to the fact that a financial bottom line isn’t all that matters. And that small seed that was planted for them at Envision could affect the planet on a much more global level than we could ever imagine. Aside from us creating much further-reaching online education principles around these very concepts and creating a permanent village, the festival itself will always act as a spark, a ripple that can turn into a wave, and that is immeasurable.  

At Envision 2021 I worked as the Artist Relations Check-In Lead, and having worked on many productions, I noticed that the organization and communications behind the scenes were incredibly efficient. What do you credit for your team’s success in working internally together so well?

Well, to say the least, we have to tame the wild. There are so many moving parts in our remote jungle. It’s not easy to just order more infrastructure that will show up the next day. Improper planning causes more stress than taking the time to create systems of checks and balances. This has taken a lot of time and curating a team of experts that are far greater than myself in building and managing systems. 

We also strive for another type of sustainability, one that serves our team, which serves our talent, and which obviously reflects into the audience. Creating a clear process and efficient roles in an organization is the top priority. We are trying to break the MO that just because you work a festival, you need to work 25 hours a day. We want efficient, smooth-running, clear communication and measurable deliverables. Empowered team members to run their department and be ready for as many unforeseen wild things that may arise in this untamed paradise.  

Finally, what else can we expect to see from the Envision team in the lead-up to Envision Festival 2022?

As with any Envision Festival, we always aim to create an even more special container, improve upon the guest experience, maintain the highest standards of health and safety, and of course realign our community and celebrate this new age we are entering.  Regarding other Envision projects, this time off has allowed us the opportunity to take the same team that builds a city once a year to start to build a permanent village and an online education platform.  We move forward with a lot of compassion for all of the challenges in the world right now, and are honored to be a part of a potential solution!

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A slave to the rave for nearly a decade now, Jennifer's passion for electronic music originally stemmed from her roots as a basshead and has since spread to all genres that make up the scene. In particular, she is drawn to styles of music with grittier basslines, textured sonic elements, and clean production. Inspired by her diverse exposure to dance music culture spanning from her first Coachella, Southern California desert parties, events in Berlin and Amsterdam superclubs, and highly regarded international festivals such as Dimensions Festival (Croatia) and Bass Coast (Canada), she brings a nuanced and critical perspective to all things electronic music and events. An attorney by day with a specialization in music business issues and a recent JD from Harvard Law, she can also be found in and around the Los Angeles nightlife scene - running sound and lighting for events through her production company, curating local showcases and spinning signature sets under her moniker "Party Fowl".