I had heard the epic stories of Costa Rica’s Envision Festival long before I decided to check it out for myself. Truth be told, I was a bit skeptical as to whether I was going to enjoy it, as I consider myself a music fan, and tend to gravitate toward more traditional music festivals with high-profile jam bands and rock ‘n roll lineups. Sure, I was intrigued by the concept of a festival on a beach, in the jungle, two miles from where I just recently decided to relocate abroad, but I wasn’t sure I was fully ready to embrace all the non-musical “alternative elements” of Envision that I had heard so much about. These elements, combined with a culturally eclectic audience and common social commitment to the planet, really sets this festival apart from many others. It is truly a unique experience.
For the past seven years, the small town of Uvita, Costa Rica triples in population on the final weekend in February. It becomes the temporary home to roughly 6,000 artists, musicians, staff and “Envisionaries” from all over the world. Organizers refer to it as a “celebration dedicated to awakening our human potential.” The festival’s mission is to provide a platform for different cultures to co-exist in sustainable community, and inspire one another through art, spirituality, yoga, music, dance, performance, education, sustainability and our fundamental connection with nature.
Photo: Eric Allen
To say that Envision has something for everyone would be a gross understatement. If you want to attempt aerial acrobatics at an acro-yoga session with some of the most world-renowned yoga instructors, be hypnotized by fire spinners on the beach while taking in the Costa Rican sunset, peruse paintings, sculptures and murals from one of the featured international artists, or take a surf break from dancing, to catch a few waves before sitting in on a lecture about tropical reforestation. All of this is possible at Envision.
The incredible diversity of people, food, art and nearly every other aspect of the thoughtfully designed festival fascinated me, however, it was the music that was my true focus. While the majority of Envisionaries seemed to be drawn by the impressive lineup of DJs and electronic artists from around the world, including Autograf, Opiuo and Papadosio, I was particularly excited to see artists like Zach Deputy, who rocked his Calypso-reggae looping styling for two sets over the weekend, and headliner Rising Appalachia, whose leading ladies had the entire crowd mesmerized by their tight harmonies, politically-inspired storytelling and extraordinary world-folk musicianship.
Personal musical highlights for me, included the full-band set by Envision veteran, and Charleston native, JamiSun, and local ex-pat favorite, Drew LaPlante & Friends. In addition to an acoustic opening set for Zach Deputy on Sunday night, JamiSun joined forces with Dangermuffin percussionist, Steve Sandifer, and harmonica wizard Kenny Gilmore on Saturday night. The power combo left the packed crowd at the small Village Stage ravenous for more of JamiSun’s signature positivity and encores of his addictive sing-a-long single “Gratitude.” Drew LaPlante & Friends kicked off the musical portion of the festival with one of the first sets on Thursday evening. Through his simple yet infectious acoustic beach vibes, and in partnership with percussionist, Jacob Weigandt, Drew has an innate ability to connect to his audience on a personal level. The unbridled love, joy, and passion that he brings to his music are truly palpable.
While I was pleasantly surprised by everything at Envision, the most impressive element of the festival wasn’t the music, the elaborate jungle pyrotechnics, the A-list seminar speakers, or even the seemingly superhuman performance artists. It was the Envision creators’ relentless commitment to producing a world-class festival through an environmentally responsible and sustainable approach. The creators’ dedication to proving it is possible to offset the ecological impact of an event this size, is truly remarkable and should be commended. Sure, there are many festivals out there that claim they are ‘green’ and scatter a few recycling bins around the venue, but at Envision they take things to the next level. You won’t find disposable silverware, single-use cups, or plastic straws filling up the trashcans, nor will you find a vendor that isn’t organic or responsibly sourced, or be blinded by generator-powered flood lights drowning out the stars and polluting the air with gasoline fumes. Every element of this festival has been thought through with consciousness, care, and creativity.
Photo: Jacob Avanzato
To anyone who is like me, intrigued by the idea of Envision, but not entirely sure that it’s ‘your thing,’ I would encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone, put your hippie pants on, and book your ticket to Costa Rica for next year’s festival. The people who attend this event, and those who make it possible, have created a unique utopia, and are no doubt making the world a better place. I can confidently say that Envision transcended what I thought a 4-day jungle beach party would be, and I am walking away from this experience with a whole new perspective on alternative destination festivals, and my own role on this planet.
Photo: Eric Allen