A unique yoga and arts festival co-founded by the creator of Woodstock thrives on its own spirit of engagement.
By Steve Houk
When you think of Woodstock, the seminal 1969 Music and Arts Festival that symbolized a generation, immediate visions come to mind. Max Yasgur’s lush farmlands blanketed with half a million strong, Santana’s jams & Richie’s Freedom & Janis’ Summertime & Country Joe askin’ what are we fightin’ for, and alot of rain and love and mind-altering and mud. And it all ends with Hendrix waking up the sleepy sodden survivors at dawn with a mind-blowing Star Spangled Banner.
But lo, there was alot more going on up on that stage, and out in that field, and over in those woods. Amidst the stunning magnitude of all that was happening at Woodstock was the presence of the wondrous and mystical practices and disciplines of yoga, which had already been providing both a meditative and spiritual core to millions since the 5th Century, and was here, now, shining on the children of the Summer Of Love. On that farm in Bethel, amidst the soggy crowds, the presence of yoga was certainly part of Woodstock’s soul and spirit.
So with the huge influence that those “three days of love and music” would have on so much popular culture, it’s no surprise at all that Woodstock co-creator Michael Lang is the co-founder — along with new age/world beat musician/producer Wynne Paris and event director Kim Maddox — of the 3rd annual Lovelight Yoga and Arts Festival, which hits the also-lush farmlands of Reisterstown, Maryland from September 21st thru the 24th. Lang’s involvement seems like a no-brainer, considering he not only basically helped invent the ‘music and arts festival’ concept, but a sort of ‘yoga and arts festival’ concept back then as well.
“You know, we got involved with yoga way back in 1969, so at Woodstock, we sort of introduced it in a way,” a oft-busy Lang, now 73, said as he was likely shuffling off to another meeting. “We had been practicing yoga from the stage, and had yoga practices all in the crowd there. It’s always been something I’ve been interested in. So Wynne suggested that we try and start this festival idea. So we started a couple of years ago, and it’s growing very slowly, but that’s kind of how we like it. And it seems like everybody really has a great time, and gets a lot out of it.”
Lang’s involvement has clearly been a wonderful bonus to the other founders and attendees of the Lovelight festival, given not only his event acumen, but also for his lifelong “community” philosophy that has resonated for decades.
“It really has been super special,” said Maddox, “because (Michael) helps us keep alive the spirit of what he had done at Woodstock. It’s so neat to see how it manifests. Of course we try to have fire spinners and really ‘neat, shiny’ things, but really what people love is the spirit of the people that are there. There are so many different paths that people are walking, and what they really enjoy is just being with other people who are living in the spirit of peace and love. We couldn’t have bottled that, and we really think that’s Michael’s influence.”
“I think it’s all about community,” Lang added. “You know, it’s about people sharing the experience. And a yoga lifestyle’s a very healthy lifestyle. It goes to the food you eat, and the kind of exercise you do, and your mindset. So we help people find each other, find like-minded people to share these experiences with. That’s really the hope. That it continues in their daily life, and that they engage in those activities throughout the year, and get a chance to come together with their community at these events.”
As far as the heavy Yoga emphasis at Lovelight — the founders are certainly proud and aware of it being front and center — there are also a slew of other self-enhancing and entertaining facets Lovelight offers, to enable it’s attendees to take some different journeys than they otherwise might, and to share experiences with loved ones that they otherwise may find difficult to, what with life’s incessant demands.
“What is really super great about Lovelight,” Maddox said enthusiastically, “is that yes, it’s home for Yogis, so you’ll find lots of that, but it’s also home for the people who love Yogis but who aren’t Yogis. We found that was really kind of missing, that families got split, because on Saturday morning, someone would go off to Yoga and…you know. So we have things for other folks too, one is a zip-line, or if they want to try stand up paddle boarding, or want to do an interactive art exhibit, or have an interactive art experience. It really is for people who walk many different paths. We’ve also got goddesses, we have a whole goddess village. We also have a martial arts program. There’s just, really, truly, a little bit of everything.”
“We think of it like a three ring circus,” Paris adds, “and yoga’s like the center tent, but we have the whole hippie slash … I don’t know what to call it … original ‘sixties vibe’ going, with a lot of sixties-era people. About 25 percent of our audience is over fifty-five, which is unusual for festival culture now.”
It certainly wouldn’t be a Lang/Paris-inspired festival without music, and even the musical offerings at Lovelight set this festival apart, as does the mantra of no drugs or alcohol. Even a familiar musical “family” with Woodstock ties — the Grateful Dead — is also making its way into the fibre of the event with one new musical addition in particular, Dead and Ratdog guitarist Mark Karan, who has his own stunning, spiritually healing backstory.
“We have a lot of music,” Paris said. “We have a whole stage that’s devoted to Kirtan, or Indian chanting, but in a Western way, the way that George Harrison used to do it. We also have main stage performers, with a little nod to Woodstock, some psychedelic bands and a blues rock band. Plus I’m starting a group that’s gonna debut at the show, and my partner in that is Mark Karan, who was, post-Jerry Garcia, one of the Dead’s lead guitar players. Mark had his own profound healing experience, when he got stage four cancer, and I believe it was the Dhali Lama’s personal healer that he gives a lot of credit to for bringing him back. So we’re starting to bring in part of the Grateful Dead family, part by part.”
And how does the man who co-invented Woodstock think Lovelight differentiates itself from the endless droves of festivals out there for the taking?
“I think that some of the festivals are a little more commercial than what we’re doing,” Lang said. “But I think we share a lot of the same things, certainly, we share this concept of community. And I just love the idea of doing something smaller and intensive, and something that could have a positive effect on the people who take part in it.”
“People have a lot going on in their lives,” adds Maddox, “and Lovelight is a kind of a place where they can come together and reflect, have a little break, be around the Lovelighters, people who understand what their daily path is, and also learn from one another about what works, in all of their different approaches.”
The 2018 Lovelight Yoga and Arts Festival takes place Fri Sept 21st thru Monday Sept 24th at Pearlstone Center, 5425 Mt. Gilead Road, Reisterstown, MD 21136. For tickets, click here.