The World's Best Festivals

From celebrations of music, film and food to rituals of the sacred, silly and profane,
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Coachella 2014

The first weekend of Coachella 2014 was a brute collision of the biggest names in music, the most beautiful people in the country and the most tenacious brands, who sought to wedge themselves “authentically” into the festival scene. 

But what is that scene?

Coachella begins (though event producer Goldenvoice would never admit to it) with the countless poolside soirees where radio stations, magazines and fashion brands keep the cups filled and the burgers flipped for tastemakers and party hoppers in-the-know. For better or for worse, this scene has escalated in the last 5 years and pool parties now flank the festival in all directions from as far away as 20 miles. This is the see-and-be-seen of Coachella.

Of course, we haven’t even entered the festival grounds yet. During Coachella, the campgrounds become a temporary tent village, housing a large cadre of hyper enthused, neon-wielding youth. Due to the heat conditions of the desert and the profoundly stacked lineup, the campgrounds are mostly used for quick wardrobe changes and disco naps, though a few after-parties, most notably “The Jive Joint,” raged on into the wee hours. 

Then there are the grounds of Coachella proper. Essentially the same as years past, the festival sprawls across the Empire Polo Field, where the five main stages rise up like mountains amidst countless large-scale art installations. Throughout these mountain ranges and valleys, flocks of beautiful, under-dressed and over-privileged creatures wander, often face down in their mobile device, creating a psychedelic migration of flesh and flash that moves until the final Sunday night performances wrap. 

In the most notable landscape change of the year, world-renowned event producers The Do LaB had their prized center-of-the-grounds stage moved to a more remote location at the south end of the field. What they lost in centrality they gained in additional real estate, increased autonomy and deeper loyalty from devotees who made the slightly longer trek to the tent. The fervor of those who congregated at The Do LaB stage was thankfully not diminished by the new location, proving that although The Do LaB is no longer at the center of Coachella, it is arguably still the heart.

And if The Do LaB is the heart of Coachella, Lucent Dossier Experience is the soul. LDE headlined the Gobi Stage Sunday night in a wildly anticipated official headlining slot. Lead fearlessly by front woman Dream Rockwell and buttressed by caravan of profoundly talented (and flexible) performers, LDE is akin to a more sultry Cirque Du Soleil, viewed on acid, performed by jewel thieves, trained by gypsies—then lit on fire. 

With The Do LaB now adjacent to the Sahara Tent, where EDM royals Skrillex and Zedd played to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands, there is now a polarizing reality at Coachella. The guitar-laden rock of the main Coachella Stage artists at one end of the field were unintentionally pitted against the bass-steeped, electronic music DJs at the other end. Will the cell telophase? Will the teeter-totter one day snap? Ever since that fateful moment when Bob Dylan struck the opening lick on an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, we knew this day would come. 

Read on. [Words and images by The Confluence]

Songkran

April 13 - 15, 2014

Super Soakers, water balloons and virtually any sort of spray bottle become weapons of water during Thailand’s Songkran Festival, April 13-15. Although the roots of this festival are spiritual, with water dousing representing a purification ritual to wash away evil spirits in anticipation of the Thai New Year, it’s now become an enormous countrywide water fight. Thais spend three brutally hot days soaking their fellow citizens and everyone else in what amounts to the biggest party of the year.

The date of April 13 as the traditional Thai New Year and the pinnacle of Songkran was set firmly around 1940. Before that, the date floated according to a lunar calendar. It’s something of an anachronism to consider this date “the new year” because Thailand recognizes the Gregorian calendar and the year beginning on January 1, but Songkran is still celebrated vigorously as a national holiday.

The spiritual aspects of the festival live on through observant Buddhists who douse statues of the Buddha in scented water. Many fast, pray and give thanks to elders and monks, focusing on welcoming positive energy and spirituality for the beginning of the new year. They build small sandcastle pagodas outside temples. In cities like Chiang Mai, enormous ornate floats carry statues of the Buddha through town, which people pelt with water in the name of renewal and cleansing.

Read More. [Images: Tourism Authority of Thailand]

Semana Santa

April 6 - 13, 2014

You don’t have to be religious to experience Semana Santa. The Holy Week leading up to Easter casts a violet-colored veil over Antigua, Guatemala, celebrating the transformation, Passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the elaborately made carpets to the float processions, Semana Santa will make a believer out of you, even if it’s only in the magic of festivals.

Semana Santa celebrations take place annually the week before Easter, the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The festival typically commences on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, and goes through the week until Good Friday, when devotees remember the Passion of Christ, the suffering Jesus endured on the cross and the solemn anniversary of his death. Most Holy Weeks end on Holy Saturday, a day of vigil in anticipation of the resurrection.

Semana Santa celebrations are predominantly Catholic and celebrated in Latin countries that almost exclusively identify with this religion. In Guatemala, there are many fusions between local beliefs, the Mayans and Catholicism, and the farther you travel into the mountains, the more you’ll see the mix. Outside of Guatemala there are several big Semana Santa celebrations. Perhaps the most famous is in Trapani, Italy, where The Procession of the Mysteries of Trapani is one the oldest-running religious ceremonies of Europe. This reenactment of the Passion of Christ uses large wooden floats and can go on for more than 16 hours. In Spain, Seville has the most memorable celebration with purple-robed penitents carrying life-sized plaster sculptures through the streets. Cuzco, Peru is another hot spot.

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Kanamara Matsuri

April 6, 2014

There is no stronger celebration of the Japanese joystick than Kawasaki’s Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Iron Phallus). Despite smirks and giggles from Westerners, this is no Fantasy Fest: it’s an ancient tradition that serves as a celebration of (and prayer for) fertility, long marriages and healthy births, and a way to promote awareness about sexually transmitted diseases, most importantly HIV.

The story goes that in the 1600s, during Japan’s Edo period, local prostitutes would congregate at the Kanamara Shinto shrine in Kawasaki, where they’d pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. A more fantastic tale lies in the fabled “vagina dentata,” or toothed vagina, which supposedly castrated several poor young men on their wedding nights. The woman cursed with the toothed vagina (most likely a metaphor for syphilis, which was common then) went to see a blacksmith, who forged her an iron dildo in order to break the teeth of her inner demon, thus protecting the penis of her future suitor. The Kanamara shrine is dedicated to the blacksmith, and over the centuries sex workers have paid pilgrimage to the shrine to seek its powers of protection.

While this festival has a deeper meaning, it’s still a penis festival—and you won’t be disappointed if that’s what you came to see (though they won’t be the real deal). There are penis hats, penis puppets, penis floats, penis costumes and penis lollipops, and since nobody here shies away from sex or the sex organs, you’ll see elderly Japanese alongside young couples seeking cures for impotence and infertility. Penis icons are not in short supply, with all shapes and sizes made from iron, wood and inflatable plastic. Even the most modest among us will barely blush by the end of it all. It may be hard for outsiders to understand why the Japanese, a typically reserved people, go all out with the male sexual organ on this day, but as far as self-expression goes, this culture is all about one big release as opposed to lots of little ones.

Read More.

Ultra Music Festival

March 28 - 30, 2014

Ultra Music Fest is an electronic music festival featuring hundreds of acts over two weekends in downtown Miami, Florida. Though it’s not just Miami, the Ultra franchise can now be found around the world, including São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Ibiza, Spain. Originally the purely electronic music lineup boasted DJs and techno tastemakers from around the world including the likes of Justice and Deadmau5. The musical offerings have recently been expanded to include live acts such as The Black Eyed Peas and Crystal Castles. 2014 features live headliners including Dizzee Rascal, MGMT, and Empire of the Sun. DJ headliners are always the top draw featuring Tiësto, Diplo, and Carl Cox, among numerous others. But it’s not just the music but the audience, spectacle and immersion of this world class dance party.

Despite other festivals that focus on live music acts, UMF has maintained it’s EDM roots, presenting the aesthetics, lineups, and production value of European electronic music festivals. The lack of an identity crisis has led to steady rises in attendance annually, from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands.

Read More [Images: Jonathan Piccolo Creative Commons]