Photos via Facebook
Festivals are often scoffed at for the capitalization of that late ’60s Woodstock free spirit—something that culture has actively attempted to revive and reimagine for decades since. These weekend-long musical gatherings are loaded with warm, nostalgic imagery—peace signs, costumed attendees and technicolor branding—making for an experience that feels like a consciously curated escape from reality.
For the cynic, this warrants inevitable criticism, as an event that’s perhaps forced and disingenuous. But for others, and probably most, this recreation of music’s heyday is just fine, allowing them to fully slip away from the stress of everyday living.
At Bestival 2016, which Toronto adopted for a second year, the boutique music festival rolled through Canada June 11-12 like a mega-carnival overflowing with updated Woodstock allusions. The slogan, “Increase the Peace,” grounded Bestival’s entire experience, which upon first impression, drove me closer to the cynic’s perspective. Wrapped into a cute rhyme, the phrase was smart, though “peace” has nearly lost all meaning today. During the ’60s, it had a certain fortitude that’s been replaced with empty aesthetic value, trading effective calls to action for fleeting Instagram posts.
Has peace distilled to hula hoopers, blow-up wedding chapels and expensive beers? Does this high level of escapism serve a greater purpose? I couldn’t help but think about the undercurrents of Bestival’s marketing.
But immediately after the night of Bestival’s opening, a peaceful early morning in Orlando shifted dramatically when gunman Omar Mateen shot 49 dead and injured another 53 in Pulse nightclub. A record-breaking hate crime against the LGBTQ community, this news completely shifted my perspective entering day two.
Though I was lost inside a melancholic cloud of mourning for my brothers and sisters, the Toronto park grounds’ colorful displays certainly helped ease the shock of scrolling through news about the unfathomable massacre. This was all before #WeAreOrlando became a global mark of solidarity, so being in a foreign, untouched place when your native country’s in pain is a feeling I’ll never forget.
When I bought drinks from a woman whose smile looked permanent, she gushed about her love for Toronto—an incredibly diverse city she said welcomes all walks of life and this year even extended its annual Pride festivities to last an entire month. The sun caused her glitter eyeshadow to flicker, and I became overwhelmed by the difference between my immediate environment and what I knew was taking place down in Florida. “We’re all really welcoming here,” she assured, as I thought about the gunshots of an American man who wanted hundreds of LGBTQ people dead.
Looking around, the Bestival grounds were brimming with love—not just for live music, but love for one other, their differences, their similarities. We were all happily coddled inside the festival’s magical utopia, where hate was seemingly nonexistent despite it overwhelming my immediate conscience. “Increase the Peace” was printed in giant letters across the top of the main stage, as I watched The Cure close out day two. Just 24 hours before, those three words felt empty to me, but now I latched onto them all dearly.
“Increase the Peace.”
A parade of festival-goers danced by waving flags with giant yellow smiley faces, some patterned with big red hearts; strangers bonded in the pit over The Cure, one simple thing they found in common; gender identities were proudly flaunted and accepted, sexualities were fully liberated and races in the crowd were as colorful as the flags that dotted Bestival’s grounds. “This is how things should be everywhere,” I thought, finding comfort in a space where love and unity trumped hate and segregation.
It’s too easy to criticize the intentions of a festival that promotes inclusivity for the sake of ticket sales—a festival that commodifies Woodstock’s core values that were first developed without money-hungry motivations. But in a time of extreme sorrow surrounding Orlando’s unfolding events, Bestival’s storybook escapism was the temporary distraction I needed.
Yes, they’re right—we must absolutely “Increase the Peace,” and hopefully one day this rose-tinted ideal, which has lost much of its meaning in today’s fast-paced culture, will move beyond the walls of a utopian festival and into the streets where it belongs.
“Increase the Peace.”