Cultivating the Soul: Beloved Festival Builds Community with Powerful Sounds, Movement, and Conversations
Forests think in decades, not hours. Beloved Festival, the annual gathering uniting eclectic music and ecstatic experience, thinks similarly, building community and building soil in the middle of the boreal rainforests of Oregon. Every year, the festival seeks out artists and movement teachers from around the world whose work speaks across boundaries, who can bridge broad divides yet keep an incisive edge. It hosts art that reveals all we have to learn from one another, in a space that mixes playfulness and thoughtfulness.
Past acts have included everything from Sufi devotional music to deep house, from West African desert blues to alt-Latin or Yemeni indie rock, all performing on a single stage to ensure focus and foster a unifying experience.Highlights include artists as diverse as Odesza, Beats Antique, Karshe Kale, Rising Appalachia, Les Nubians, Amadou & Miriam, Bombino, Vieux Farka Toure, DakhaBrakha, and King Sunny Ade.
“Beloved stands in between spirit and soul,” explains festival founder and artistic director Elliot Rasenick. “We try to create space for ecstatic, spiritual connection. We want to make this experience open for everyone, no matter where you’re from, and a festival setting is a great way to give people this opportunity.”
The festival stays true to this original mission, with substantial yoga and other spirit-centering practices and with electronic dance and world music designed to take listeners higher.
Beloved also hosts nationally and internationally renowned yoga teachers and other revered teachers of other spiritual disciplines and practices. They conduct workshops and sessions in stunning custom tents with a top-notch production and live music or DJ sets. All serves to elevate and expand, to heal and connect via the spirit.
Yet explorationation of spiritual heights is insufficient on its own. For Beloved and the community it has fostered over more than ten years have realized they need to address the soul, the deeper core of each person must be in contact with the depths of the struggles of humanity. “In its earlier years, Beloved focused explicitly on spirit, on ecstacy. However, as the festival has matured, it has been asked to be made whole and to get in touch with soul,” Rasenick says. “We’re choosing to go deeper, to be willing to have difficult conversations and to be engaged in the world. Spirit may not talk about rape or about gender and sexual violence. There is a spiritual plane where white supremacy and the painful inequities of a racist country get overlooked; and to make things whole in the world or in our own lives, we have to be in touch with soul, and to face the pain in the world..”
The festival stops programming at the very height of the excitement to address some of these issues of power and privilege, striving to create a safer space for people of all backgrounds. It asks the audience what it can do to foster more diversity and inclusion. It offers explicit food for thought about consent and white supremacy, hoping to help festival goers connect their personal experiences to the greater conversation on social justice and social justice movements.
For Beloved, the dedication to the soul doesn’t stop with the festival. “Outside of the festival, there’s a big opportunity to foster stronger relationships and trust between communities of color regarding our programming,” explains Dez Ramirez, Beloved Community Manager. “Part of Beloved taking a stance with social justice work is reaching out to these communities that are scared,angry, and hurt. We are working to let these communities know we are here to support them, and that we are working to do better in making our festival a safer, more inclusive space.”
Transforming values into action has become a central part of Beloved, beyond the excellent programming. The festival has banned single-use containers and utensils, coming up with a unique system to manage durables for food vendors. They have also found a way to compost all organic waste, from food scraps to poop, in a multi-year process that promises to return organic matter to the soil of the festival site, which was brutally clear cut several decades ago. “We’re rebuilding the soil in the forest, as we rebuild our connection to something beyond our everyday lives,” says Rasenick.
The multi-year arc of natural processes is mirrored in how Beloved sees its community. “We’ve worked to build out our perspective and to be a bit more clear on things like diversity, equity and inclusion” says Ramirez. “A goal going forward is to make Beloved more accessible to marginalized folks that appreciate the festival world, or have a curiosity about it but don’t always feel comfortable in it. We’re working to address the why behind these issues.”
“Our festival has always been an experiment,” adds Rasenick, who first created Beloved to unite the global music and electronic dance music communities. “It’s a spiritual experiment and if some people feel they can’t participate fully, then the experiment fails. We want everyone involved. That, for us, is a successful festival.”