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Thirst for Light: A Retrospective

Birch Book | Credit: Jorge Gallo
Birch Book | Credit: Jorge Gallo

Birch Book | Credit: Jorge Gallo

Written by Heimlich

Thirst for Light was an exquisite watershed for North American post-industrial music. Held on the magnificently magical and wild lands of Red Hawk Avalon, the festival was not just about folk and experimental/ambient music; it was a chance to commune with nature, to meet like spirits, and to open a fissure in the veil between the mundane world and the numinous world.

A multitude of magical themes seemed to run through the festival, like golden threads in a living tapestry. As such, it was hard to present a conventional review; this was a total spiritual immersion, not just a musical event. As such, I have tried to condense my account down to four elements: vulnerability, community, positivity, and reverence.


Common Eider, King Eider | Credit: Jorge Gallo

Common Eider, King Eider | Credit: Jorge Gallo

This was the heart of the festival. Vulnerability. Opening ourselves up in our simple, raw, flawed humanity. Vulnerability marked the warmth and love that pulsed in every interaction. It ran hot and vibrant through the near-Bacchanalia of the event’s rituals, both planned and spontaneous. It traced the shapes of many of the performances.

Thus we had Ekstasis singing about the need for each of us to tend to the infinity of the heart–an act of profoundly vulnerable courage. Similarly, Si Matta-Darkwood, one of the festival’s conveners, interrupted his own musical performance to give a speech of gratitude and simple humanity that I somehow feel eclipsed every other set of the festival.

My own performance as Weather Veins was marked by a strange chaos and rawness that broke open into spontaneous compositions and a deeply humbling opportunity to connect with the audience in ways that, for me at least, were radically new. It is an amazing experience to realize that one has helped others claim the chance to embrace their own humanity.

There were technical problems at times: artists struggling with cold-detuned instruments, failing electricity, gear shortages, and other misfortunes. Yet these seeming limitations made the performances all the more brave, passionate, and beautiful. The spirit of the festival imposed its own ideal of perfection on the proceedings, and I really feel that without the challenges that presented themselves the event would have been much less than it was.

What is vulnerability? It is trust and courage. Trust in others, and in the unknown, particularly in an unknown self. It is releasing the hold of the ego, its need for control. The more we are willing to lower our armored facades, the more we give others permission to do the same. This enables each individual to connect to their own spiritual source and inspiration, and the more this happens, the more a positive feedback loop is built.

As a vessel for this feedback loop, the festival’s momentum just grew and grew. By the end of the last night, we sang together around the main fire pit for many hours into the night. We sang for the most part wordlessly, our voices tangling flawlessly, drums and rattles and stringed things stitching the harmonic anarchy into perfect, fleeting wholes.

Someone declared at some point during those final festivities that “now we are all family!” It was true. As performers, volunteers, organizers, vendors, audience members, we all bared our souls to one another in countless small ways. As with many others, I struggled with my vulnerability, but I was willing to trust and to stay with it and not retreat into the illusory safety of cynicism.


The community spirit of the festival was profound. People stepped up to assist with whatever was needed–quickly and eagerly. The site was left as clean as it was when we arrived, no mean feat considering the number of attendees and the requirement that guests remove whatever trash they created. Food was cooked communally and shared freely even among strangers.

Faun Fables | Credit: Jorge Gallo

Faun Fables | Credit: Jorge Gallo

The sense of solidarity extended to the rituals and the performances. Audiences were profoundly respectful and honoring, and the sense of camaraderie during sacred moments was palpable. I heard someone declare, “I don’t know you but I love you anyway;” clumsy as it was, this statement somehow captured the moment. All the same, we did get to know one another; for myself I was able to connect with folks who I hope I will be spending a lot more time with.

For me as a musician the sense of musical community was deeply nourishing. I am profoundly honored to be part of a musical scene composed of such talented, supportive, welcoming, and inspiring souls. It was humbling and enlightening to experience the awesome creative vision of Lasher Keen, the transcendentally earthy onslaught of Waldteufel, the dramatic fierceness of Night Profound. The forest setting was perfect for Noctooa‘s underworldly grandeur, Will ‘O The Wisps‘ delicate beauty, and Medicine Moon‘s enchanting passions.

As people, these musicians are wonderful souls. John and Shannon from Blood of Kvasir (who played a marvelous set) shared gems of pure wisdom with me. The unfettered spirits of Nils and Dawn (Faun Fables) inspired all who spoke with them to have courage to become more alive to life (their music had the same effect). The quiet gravitas of B’ee (Birch Book) and the chaotic tranquility of Preston (Nemo Dog) resonated powerfully.

I could continue with this list but only at the risk of mentioning every performer and performance…and ultimately every person I had the pleasure to spend time with during the course of the festival. Suffice to say that I am honored to be part of a community founded on love, reverence, laughter, and sharing. I should offer special shouts to Susan, our Dutch Fire Valkyrie; Erika, my partner in chanting crime; Joey, star-gazing tattooist extraordinaire; and Leah, whose Elixia chocolates have to be tasted to be believed.


Lasher Keen | Credit: Jorge Gallo

Lasher Keen | Credit: Jorge Gallo

A consistent theme of the festival was that of positivity in word and deed. For a gathering of black-clad, gloomy looking souls, we shared a determination to celebrate, expand, laugh, and create. In that environment, away from the discouraging realities of never-enough that mark the profoundly unjust society in which we live, we collectively had permission to flourish. Celebrating one another’s creative works (musical, artistic, crafty, etc.) and encouraging each other to keep going, to create more, to have the courage to develop, grow, and deepen. This applied for every person there, not just performers or artisans.

As much as the roots of post-industrial music can often be traced to despair, cynicism, and a stark wariness toward the status quo of modernity, I really feel that Thirst for Light went beyond all of this. At some point we all have to turn away from despair, and to create as best we can. I think it is important to shed the trappings of negativity. We are necessarily grounded in darkness, but like trees we can unfold towards the light for which we thirst.

Our willingness to take the leap of believing in ourselves and in one another was palpable at the festival, and I am certain that many of us will take the inspiration we have both created and received and set it toward creating new sources of joy, oases of light in the gloomy terrain of (post)modernity. This kind of positivity isn’t based in denial of the realities of life; it grows instead out of a refusal to be determined by life’s grimmer dimensions.

One of the less explicit hopes of the festival organizers was that new bands and collaborations would emerge, and the event was structured to allow plenty of time and opportunities for individuals to connect and explore personally and musically. I think this was a brilliant idea, and it directly contributed to the wonderful atmosphere of the event to have that time and space. And who knows what new musical formations have been seeded from the event?


The last theme that I would like to touch upon is that of reverence. The sheer respect that attendees had for the natural environment is attested by how clean the location was when everyone had left. This respect extends, naturally enough, to the organizers and volunteers, whose post-event clean up was made that little bit easier.

Weather Veins | Credit: Nate Lore

Weather Veins | Credit: Nate Lore

The sheer gratitude and appreciation that marked the event was palpable. Whether we knew it or not, each of us thirsted for light, thirsted for the music, art, community, and spirit of this event. And I do not think that anyone took the experience–or our marvelous hosts and organizers–for granted.

I think it safe to say that we live in a largely irreverent society. A society built upon disposability, technological quick-fixes, and media spin, in which a sub-1% group of elites have fixed the game of life more and more in their favor. Where is there room for meaning in this barren dimension, founded as it is on distrust, judgment, prejudice, paranoia, and manufactured scarcity?

For me personally, then, I feel that Thirst for Light’s slogan could have been Occupy Heart! It was an epicenter out of which will whirl many bright motes. For each of us who attended, to find what is magical and beautiful in the world right now, as it is. Perhaps the magic we experienced is always there, but we needed this festival to be able to recognize it. I hope that my own part in the festival will help attune me to the light that moves in all things, at all times, between all people, animals, plants, and things.

Reverence is ultimately rooted in a respect for mystery. This whole world is a tapestry of mystery, but it is very hard for us as finite beings to stand in the eye of that understanding. It can be terrifying, yet it is also liberating. The ultimate kind of vulnerability, to accept the vast opening revealed when we cease to accept the illusion of control.

As such, vulnerability, community, positivity, and reverence run in a cycle. Each leads to the next. Thirst for Light was a kind of living medicine wheel, with these four themes as the cardinal points. It is my hope that all who gathered for this healing power will continue to let the fourfold magic pervade and transform them.

Concluding Remarks

Credit: Nate Lore

Credit: Nate Lore

The foregoing might seem like an odd account of a music festival, but it is the only authentic way that I can speak to my experience at Thirst for Light. One might say that the music is about more than the music–it is about mystery, magic, hope, acceptance of the dark in balance with the light. This musical community is opening doors to the worlds of spirit, and that is precious, precious work indeed.

I am excited by early reports that the festival will be held again next year, and I know it will be just as successful as its inaugural incarnation. That said, there is one more piece of work to be done: ensuring the 2014 Thirst for Light festival breaks even. The organizers need only modest donations to get across the line and thereby secure the future of the festival for another year.

Give generously, or give just a little, but our community needs to support this (very reasonably priced) festival. Please read organizer Bryan Son-of-Daniel’s short article for more information:

The first annual A Thirst For Light: Cascadian Summer Solstice was an incredible weekend, and I cannot express enough how grateful I am to everyone who shared the experience with us or supported the fest in any way. I have been blown away by how respectful and open people were throughout the weekend, observing new friendships forming, old friendships rekindling, old wounds healing, and so many new projects and learning experiences happening.

There were so many gifts bestowed upon us during those three days, so many signs which confirmed those blessings. Rainbows encircling the sun, bioluminescence throughout the trails, birds singing along perfectly to Birch Book as if pre-recorded, the spirits of old Walville still wandering the railroad track (which by the way is buried beneath that trail that entered the second stage/bar and the large lump in the meadow near the vendors), not to mention every potential moment where the whole thing should have blown up in our faces, but somehow…just somehow, the right person or thing would appear just at the right time.

I have to thank the volunteers and our sound engineers especially for the amount of magic they all worked to help make things run so smoothly, it couldn’t have been possible without them. Also would like to give my biggest thanks to the inhabitants of Red Hawk Avalon, for not only opening their gates to share such beautiful space with all of us, but for being such a huge role in organizing and operating the fest. Because we are so happy with how things worked out, A Thirst For Light will continue as an annual tradition in the northwest.

The fest was rather close to breaking even, though I have put myself quite in debt from all the expenses needed to fly out bands, pay for gas, food, and other supplies. I had to take a month off work to organize the fest, using the small inheritance from my late grandmother to get the ball rolling before tickets were on sale (which added to my emphasis on the importance of ancestry), and have worked an additional 60 hour work week, both prior to, and after the fest, in hopes to make up the lacking funds.

Medicine Moon | Credit: Jorge Gallo

Medicine Moon | Credit: Jorge Gallo

There is much more in store for next year if we can get the assistance in funding beside ticket sales. I will be holding benefit shows throughout the year in Portland and Seattle, as well as starting a donation fund to make next year even better.

If your experience at the fest was worth donating a small contribution for, any bit helps, but we have a suggested donation of $10. Anyone who donates $20 or more will receive a gift in the mail as a token of our appreciation.

Any money that exceeds breaking even from the debt will go towards improvements on next year, as well as guarantee some incredible acts we have discussed adding to the lineup.

These are some of our plans for land improvement by next year: Cob kitchen for communal kitchen space, slightly bigger/less shaky stage, an actual third stage (technical difficulties on opening night sacrificed the third stage), more bathrooms, extra generators for vendors and stages, more sound equipment, better bar, etc.

I look forward to seeing you all lit up with perma-smiles again next year. Remain in touch, don’t forget those bonds that were made, nor let memories fade. Though every festival comes to a close, we walk away with a spark of that fire, with new family, with new stories to tell, new lessons to learn.

Every intention of the fest was met, new projects are forming, artists are collaborating on bigger projects, the community feels stronger, and most importantly of all, ancestors were honored and offerings made, in a safe environment that did not feel contrived or pompous. I sincerely thank everyone who attended for giving me a sense of hope for humanity.

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