Above & Beyond’s Group Therapy Weekender reunited Anjunafamily at The Gorge for healing and community beyond just the music.
Hauling camping gear to a remote location two hours outside of Seattle to spend a weekend in 95°+ heat would be enough to scare anyone away. Yet, every time Above & Beyond announces a Group Therapy Weekender at The Gorge, we all jump on it with full enthusiasm. Since its inaugural edition in 2019, Weekender has provided an escape for Anjunafamily members outside of the annual milestone events. It gives us a chance to reconnect with longtime friends, enjoy the music we love, and create memories that will last us a lifetime.
This year’s pilgrimage and the third edition took place from July 21- 24. Though initially meant to be a bi-annual event, last year saw the Weekender return after the pandemic, and the quick turnaround for 2023 set the series back on track for odd years. This double hitter may have seemed like a lot, but anyone who’s attended knows that Weekender is not something to miss if you love all things Anjuna. So without hesitation, our group got tickets and camping passes, and we anxiously awaited our return to The Gorge.
Group Therapy Weekender lives up to its name in that it’s transformative and healing in ways that words struggle to capture. The past few years have been difficult, and personally, 2023 has presented unforeseen challenges that tilted the world as I knew it on its axis and forced me to change the way I approach a lot of things. But one thing has always stayed constant; finding solace in Anjuna music and the support from friends I’ve met through our common love of this music. Even with certain cards stacked against me, Weekender was a non-negotiable.
They say it doesn’t matter what you’re doing but who you’re doing it with. In the case of this year’s festivities, both were unbeatable.
Every single person in our camping group or every friend going has an origin story tying back to Above & Beyond or Anjuna in some way. Whether it was happenstance, standing next to each other in the crowd at ABGT250 or at an Anjunabeats San Francisco showcase, and then being introduced to mutual friends that would become permanent members of our traveling crew, these invaluable connections have led to some of my most treasured friendships, and all because of music. On Friday, we loaded up our SUV with all of our bags and set course for The Gorge, not fully understanding the incredible weekend that lay ahead.
The heat is no joke, and handling it all weekend can be taxing. Setting up camp and finding refuge in the shade that you have to create for yourself do make up most of the day, but the payoff is worth it. With many of the daytime activities moved to The Pivot in camp, we could participate and enjoy them without making the trek to the venue in the heat.
Friday night kicked off with sets in The Meadow from Anjuna HQ and Paavo’s P.O.S alias, but the highlight was Gabriel & Dresden going b2b with Tony McGuinness. Not only was their classics set full of massive throwbacks, but it also marked the return of Josh Gabriel to performing a year after his heart attack. We all welcomed him back with open arms as the trio blew our minds with their set.
For the main event on Saturday, I knew we’d be working, but I was looking forward most to the Anjunabeats lineup.
The night prior, we had gotten the chance to talk to some of our favorite artists, and today we’d get to explore the artist area, mingle, and conduct some fun interviews. Standing backstage, admiring the stunning, picturesque setting with an Anjuna-themed drink in hand, I was completely overcome with gratitude. Getting to combine my passion for dance music with writing has changed the trajectory of my life in ways I’d never imagined.
Meeting some of my favorite artists like Andrew Bayer, Gabriel & Dresden, Fatum, and Adrian Alexander, and being in the vicinity of countless others like Seven Lions, Jody Wisternoff, and both Tony and Paavo was surreal. Also, running into artists that I’ve gotten to know in the past, like Arty, Elevven, and ilan Bluestone, always brings me so much joy. Never in my wildest dreams would I think this would be my “work” and it really is true that when you love what you do, it never feels like you’re working.
It goes without saying that the music was top-tier all of Saturday.
From Amy Wiles, who started the festivities, to Sunny Lax to the incredibly fun sets of anamē, ALPHA 9 and ilan Bluestone, I felt so grateful that this year’s lineup featured all of my favorite Anjunabeats artists. This also included rising Anjuna stars Avenue One, Leena Punks, Nourey, and Alex Sonata & TheRio, who all held it down at The Meadow.
Everyone was absolutely blown away and impressed by Kasablanca before Above & Beyond took us to heaven with their two-hour set. Things closed on the mainstage with a surprisingly rousing set from Andrew Bayer. The night was pure bliss and so special for all those there, as the sets were not live-streamed, making the event a moment in time.
With Sunday came the Anjunadeep takeover, which saw Jody Wisternoff and James Grant perform b2b, as well as many other favorites from the label.
For someone who tends to favor Anjunabeats, the sets on Sunday were a pleasant surprise with higher tempos and melodic offerings from the likes of Nicky Elisabeth, Nils Hoffmann, Durante & HANA, and Qrion, who replaced CRi last minute. Simon Doty and Yotto brought the house down, but my overall favorite was Tinlicker, who didn’t miss with a set full of their hits. We opted to stay on the hill for a portion of the night, and even then, I found myself singing along and resisting the urge to jump up and dance, despite being tired from the culmination of the weekend.
I could go on forever about the tracks that took us by surprise, how yoga was a good workout even for seasoned yogis, or how all of the artists delivered. But the true impact of Group Therapy Weekender was forged in the smaller moments.
The laughs at camp, exchanging kandi and gifts we had made for our friends, getting artsy over parasol decorating, searching for our friends with purple fairy lights, telling stories of Weekenders past, connecting and building community with people who share the same love for music. Our bodies were pushed to the limit with the heat and strenuous hills of The Gorge, but our souls were left renewed by the healing power of the Anjunafamily.
If, for one weekend, we can escape our trials and be reunited with our chosen family from all reaches of the world, nothing else matters. It’s hard to fully encapsulate what this past weekend meant to me and my friends, but I implore those curious to attend the next Weekender and discover that magic yourself.