by Mario Miotti


What is a music festival?

Type in Music Festival in Wikipedia and you get this definition, “A music festival is a festival oriented towards music that is sometimes presented with a theme such as musical genre, nationality, locality of musicians, or holiday. They are commonly held outdoors and are often inclusive of other attractions such as food and merchandise vending, performance art, and social activities. Many festivals are annual or repeat at some other interval. Some festivals are organized as for-profit concerts and others are benefits for a specific cause. Another type of music festival is the educative type, organized annually in local communities, regionally, or nationally, for the benefit of amateur musicians of all ages and grades of achievement.”

Type in Transformational Festival in Wikipedia and you get this definition, “A transformational festival is a counterculture festival that espouses a community-building ethic, and a value system that celebrates life, personal growth, social responsibility, healthy living, and creative expression. Transformational alludes both to personal transformation (self-realization) and steering the transformation of culture toward sustainability. Some transformational festivals resemble music festivals but are distinguished by such features as seminars, classes, drum circles, ceremonies, installation art (or other visual art), the availability of whole food and bodywork, and a Leave No Trace policy. Transformational festivals are held outdoors, often in remote locations, and are co-created by the participants. The events are psychedelic inspired, involving visionary art, speakers on topics of entheogenic substances, as well as audio and visual entertainment intended to amplify psychedelic experiences…. Many attendees disengage conservative social norms and identify as an “evolved culture”—a worldview influenced by millenarian archetypes of planetary transcendence and the evolution of consciousness.”

The term “festival” first showed up in the English language in the middle of the 16th century, derived from “feast” and most often centered around the harvest. Throughout history, music has played an important role at these mass cultural gatherings. For example: The Pythian Games at Delphi may be one of the earliest festivals known around 6th century BC, that featured competitions of musical ability in addition to the physical feats for which they are primarily remembered.

Held on a dairy farm in Bethel, NY, 1969’s Woodstock Festival was called “An Aquarian Exposition.” Age of Aquarius (1940) is an astrological epoch that is supposed to have begun in the 1960s, embodying the traits of this sign and characterized by world peace and human brotherhood. The term and the concept probably got a boost in popular culture due it’s use in this festival.

The three-day event featured 32 acts including The Grateful Dead, Canned Heat, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. Although organizers planned for around 50,000 people, around 200,000 tickets were sold and when over 500,000 people showed up, they were forced to remove the fence and turn it into a free concert. As the most famous festival of all time, it left a legacy that captures the free-love spirit of that decade.

“It could be argued, though, that Woodstock was the moment that “counterculture” became trademarked and entered the mainstream conscious. Corporate interests realized the financial gain presented by festival culture, thus setting off a chain of simulacra that would eventually water down the hippie movement into a caricature of itself. If anything, this should reiterate key lessons set forth in the festival idealism: Everything changes, joy is ephemeral, and we should always live in the moment.” Writes Patrick Chamberlain in A (Brief) 1,000 Year History of Music Festivals for Everfest.

On a beach in San Francisco in 1986, a few friends burned a nine-foot effigy of a man in the name of radical self-expression. They didn’t know it then, but the act set off a chain of events that would change festival culture, even society at large, forever. Four years later, on a dry lake bed in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, Burning Man was founded as an expression of a “Dadaist temporary autonomous zone,” a free-form expression of community and creativity manifested through music, art, installations, social experiments and good ol’ fashioned revelry.”

So, if the alternative, counterculture spirit of festivals has evolved into more mainstream, all-encompassing events, what were they in the time frame between counterculture and the musical competitions of the Middle Ages? Because clearly, although 1969’s Woodstock may be the most talked-about music festival in history- and its evolutionary successor in Burning man following suit-  those certainly weren’t the first of their kind.

Patrick writes, “Celtic and Gaelic cultures held cultural fairs from as far back as the year 1000 AD, named Mods in Scotland and Feis in Ireland, of which dance competitions were major aspects. People gathered en masse throughout Europe for renditions of classical music, although these events were often reserved for the upper crust.”

The two longest (continuously running) music festivals in the world still in existence are Pinkpop in the Netherlands (1970) and The Oregon County Fair (1969) in the USA. By sheer coincidence they represent the opposite ethos’ of festivals: corporate ‘multi-concert’ music festival and ‘transformational’ non-profit, charitable, educational music festival, respectively. However, neither of those are ‘true’ camping music festivals, nor are they best examples of the ‘transformational music festivals’ that we are interested in here at Sparked.

So, what is a festival to us now? and specifically a modern camping music festival? One brings to mind the music, the dancing, the art, the community, the opening up of your mind to non-conformist views as tools to live your life.

In a book titled ‘Music Festivals and the Politics of Participation,’ Roxy Robinson writes about hundreds of ’boutique’ gatherings that have popped up in the UK and all over the world, drawing hundreds of thousands of festival-goers into the fields. Why has this happened? In her richly detailed study, Dr. Roxy Robinson uncovers the dynamics that have led to the formation and evolution of the modern festival scene. Tracing the history of the culture as far back as the fifties, her book examines the tensions between authenticity and commerce as festivals grew into a widespread, professionalized industry.

At Everfest, they created a Fest Test tool to help them decide if an event is merely that — an event, or if it is something greater: a festival. These are not absolute criteria that would apply in every case, but rather philosophical qualities that are representative in most, and certainly the best, festivals.

The Everfest Fest Test rules are …

1) Festivals have an ethos of discovery and are about having fun.

2) Festivals are multi-dimensional, encourage participation, and offer various types of activities and stimuli.

3) Festivals can include anyone with the means to attend.
They may charge for admission but should not discriminate by race, age, gender, religion, or otherwise be private clubs.

4) Festivals physically occur in the real world.
They remind us that there is a human social network where we meet old and new friends.

5) Festivals should be celebrations worthy of the test of time.
They should recur or intend to recur.

George McKay, Professor of Cultural Studies at Salford University, said, “Festivals are deeply rooted in the carnival tradition, which is to invert everyday expectations of normal behavior. Historically, carnivals would have a ‘lord of misrule’ who oversaw the revelries and subversion of the ordinary rules of life. Music festivals continue to be places where we can escape reality and subvert the rules – whatever age we happen to be.

The best festivals take it to a new level. They are here not just to entertain you, but to heal you, to teach you, to inspire you, to give you the framework to unleash your curiosity and adventure. You can attend numerous workshops and talks by the best gurus in the world. You can learn how to eat better, how to use essential oils, and what organic really means. You can learn about the advances in bio science, spirituality, sex and intimacy. You can work on your physical being and enjoy any one of the amazing disciplines of yoga on offer. And when you want to be the ‘lord of misrule’, no one will say anything about it.

A music festival in the 20th century is a school of life, for young or old, where we learn from each other in a fluid and symbiotic manner. Festival culture is now an integral part of many people’s lives, from the teenagers of the world to the more discerning boutique festival goers. From parties held in the British countryside to raves in Belgium, to gatherings in the desert of Nevada, to concerts held on cruise ships in the Caribbean, the history of the music festivals has really just begun.

By Mario Miotti

Founder of Sparked Magazine

(all photography by Mario Miotti)

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Fairy Tale Worlds by Mercedes Knapp

Mercedes Joy Knapp an illustrator, painter, designer and activist from Michigan, who paintings caught our eye at several festivals. We had to find out who she was …

Who are you Mercedes Knapp?

I am a visual artist from Michigan. I create anything from whimsical colored pencil drawings, to oil paintings, to high-vibration gemstone jewelry, to sculptures. As a meditation on the beauty of the Earth, and the spirit that moves through everything inhabiting it, my work creates a magnificent celebration from every buoyant hue and springing line.

While working towards my BFA at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, I found that my love for color and interconnection which I depict in my work, also translated into various music events around the Twin Cities. This inspired me to take my natural state of creation and contemplation into the public realm. I now enjoy expressing myself at these events through the visual medium, hoping to inspire others to see the festivity in all parts of life. My work depicts inner life, fueled by imagination, emotions, and an unending curiosity about how “alive” we can really be. The delicate, whimsical scenarios in my pictures discover what seems to be otherworldly and bring glimpses of it to this reality; they are a celebration of the imagination and soul.

State of Spiritual Affairs

Colored pencil on 24″x 19″ bristol, 2016

Where have you spent most of your life? Where you born there?

I was born and grew up in a tiny town in mid-Michigan, but I went to college in Minneapolis and I’d say that’s where I really grew up.

What question do you hate to answer?

“How do you feel?” Haha, I’m scared of the vulnerability that comes with answering that.

What have you always wanted? Did you ever get it?

I always wanted a passionate,deeper-than-the-sea romantic relationship. I absolutely got my wish, and now I can learn from that experience that maybe next time I’d add “committed to growth and respect” onto that wish!

If you could change something about the world, what would that be?

I’d make sure everyone had the energy to care about and take action on the things they want to change themselves! I think apathy is half physical.

Would you rather regret doing something, or not doing it at all?

I’m still figuring out the answer to that! I’m a Scorpio so I don’t recycle experiences well; they kind of stain my soul. So, if I’m not careful I can really get messed up by something. But I have Sagittarius rising so I definitely do things more than not- in the spirit of them being opportunities!

At a festival oron the road, how many days have you gone without showering?

I was on this caravan called UpToUs back in July 2016, where we went to the Democratic National Convention to send some love and see how the political system really works, and I must’ve not showered the whole week except using deodorant wipes. It was so hot we were just sweating all day. I remember sitting on the ground on the last morning with tiny gnats flying around my pits and I was like, “This is it. This is the dankest I’ve ever been.” I went nine days without a shower at Standing Rock, I counted. That was fine because everyone hid under winter coats, but it wasn’t fine because I didn’t get to properly rinse off a mace attack and the following milk antidote.


19″ x 24″ in colored pencil on bristol, 2015

How many people do you fall in love with every day?

Currently I’m in hibernation mode at my family’s place so the max is five (there are six of us). But when I’m out in the world it’s like my soul’s hemorrhaging.

What’s the worst part about dating?

Not being on the same page!

If the world was going to end and you knew it, what 3 things …?

Would I do? Reach out to my estranged exes and see how they’re doing, gather up all my friends and have beach parties in Costa Rica, and eat all the really delicious fresh food I can get my hands on.

What website do you check every day?

Facebook. So much going on!

What super power do you dream of having?

Talking to animals. Still working on it!

What is your favorite kind of cookie?

Quadruple chocolate chunk. Just stuff as much chocolate in it as you can!


22″ x 30″ colored pencil on paper

At what age did you become an adult?

Probably like 19.

The best part of waking up is?

The chance to do something you love!

What do you miss most about being a kid?

Someone carting me around everywhere, definitely! Baha!

What is the one thing you are truly passionate about?


Favorite food?

Tom Yum; it’s like the chicken noodle soup of Southeast Asia!

You’re first job?

Condensing old medical records at a hospital. It was a temp gig.

Tea or coffee?


Morning or night person?



Colored pencil on 24″x 19″ bristol, 2017

Favorite music to dance to?

World music or EDM!

Indoor or outdoor type?


Spontaneous or like things planned?


What drives you nuts?

People who just don’t care!

What makes you happy?

Loving friends

Bad boys or good boys?


Favorite fashion magazine?


Hike or bike?


Half-empty or half-full?

Put the glass down!

One thing you will never do again?

Loan anything and expect it back

Most favorite word?


Least favorite word?


Who knows you the best?


What do you think cats dream about?


Happy Thoughts
12″ x 16″ colored pencil on bristol paper, 2014

What’s the hardest part about creating? And what’s the easiest?

The hardest part can be feeling good enough. Like your work is worthy of existing.The easiest is feeling like it should exist.

What influenced what you paint today?

Mycreations are a meditation on goodness and beauty. All the horror and fear inthe world is a result of human creation, and when we plant a garden or smile ata stranger or paint something beautiful we are creating the reality that wewant our children to have. So, I’m definitely influenced by a need to yell fromthe rooftops, “THE WORLD IS BEAUTIFUL!” but also to actually prove it tosomeone.

How would youexplain your style?

Well,of course it’s very idyllic and whimsical, which got me in trouble in art school sometimes because people would dumb it down to not really having anything important or heavy to say. But I struggled deeply with feelings of despair as a teenager that still arise often in my adult life and the color and brightness is an important part of maintaining a strong connection to spirit. I try to be elegant in the struggle so maybe that’s why it goes under the radar, but I think it’s important to acknowledge.

Thank you, Mercedes!

Mercedes Joy Knapp, enthusiastic bird, activist and artist.

Mercedes’s work can be seen on her website HERE.

Follow her on Instagram HERE.

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