I walked into Envision for the first time around 2:00 pm on the opening Thursday. I was wearing floral fuzzy shorts and an army-green and maroon fishing vest but I was still dripping in sweat. In the vest, I had several scraps of paper, some pens, a bag of mixed nuts, some Costa Rican colones, a Samsung voice recorder and a dozen smiley face slinkys.
Envision is a small festival with a lot packed into it. There are four stages – Sol Stage, Luna Stage, Lapa Stage and the Village Stage – each of which had its own distinctive aesthetic and feel. The Sol stage was high, large, intricately lit and was garnished with a psychedelic, colour-morphing tableau of two birds perched at each of its top corners. This was the “main” stage, playing host to several headlining acts. The Sol Stage’s size and open-concept set-up made it particularly accommodating to multi-piece bands.
The Luna Stage was adorned with a large bamboo performers shrine and other impressive floral-and-fauna inspired wood carvings. The Lapa Stage was an elevated booth near the apex of a large, hollowed out wooden triangle with entangled masses of vines hanging off. The Lapa Stage conjured up images of the monumental trees one tends to see when hiking the mountainous Costa Rican jungle.
The final, most modest stage was the Village Stage – a small, ground level platform which sat in the heart of the Envision Village, nestled between a long line of food stands, several patches of hammock groupings, and the entrance to the festival campgrounds. Folks generally stayed seated around the Village Stage, relaxing with a bite to eat or a morning coffee as they were treated to inspirational and informative speeches or calming acoustic sets.
The Village was the lead instrument in enabling Envision to become a community and not just a party. In addition to the stage, hammock and food stalls, The Village had a tea room, yoga lounges, a Wiccan healing center, and vendors selling t-shirts, tchotchkes, trinkets, tapestries, carvings, baubles, embroideries and other such things. I spent the vast majority of my time at Envision bouncing between the Sol, Luna, and Lapa stages, unleashing the dancing beast within, but several of my most peaceful and powerful moments came in the village midst. As I lay on the floor of the tea lounge with my Tori and Ellie, I didn’t care that I was missing an incredible set. The tea lounge (and other such village amenities) offered festival goers a calm place to meditate, be mindful and form deep, personal connections.
The first performer I saw at Envision 2017 was Funka, a young man from San José, Costa Rica, who spun bassy funk tunes from his perch at the Lapa Stage and variously rapped, sang, and played guitar over his mix. He was epic. I danced like I had a bee in my bonnet and tried to mirror the energy of the skilled performer who stood behind the decks, far above my bobbing head. He was followed by Bunny Wabbit, who played a less bassy, slightly more funky set. Funka joined Mr. Wabbit onstage for a few songs, singing and rapping, but he was in the crowd, dancing right next to me, for a far longer stretch. I struck up a conversation, thanked him for his work, and arranged an interview for later on.
Funka first attended Envision Festival in 2012, knowing nothing of electronic music. Funka was already a musician, but he overhauled his sound in response to the influx of new styles to which he was exposed at his first Envision. Over the next four years, he returned to Envision, and continued to catalog, absorb and develop his sound. This year, Funka was finally able to step into the boots of the performer.
To local artists, Envision 2017 is more than just a music festival. Envision is a showcase of Costa Rica as a living, breathing, dynamic thing with an essential character that cannot be reproduced on a postcard or, dare I say, in a brief review. Funka exemplifies this dynamism; he has grown up alongside this festival and, after several years, has finally become a part of it in a brand new way.
“It’s about giving back to the scene, the people of Costa Rica and the international people, the people that make Envision what it is,” Funka told me. “I used to come here with my friends to hear the music, and now I’m a part of that, shaping the culture and the sound… it’s been huge for the music scene in Costa Rica… for the people selling art.”
Enter JamiSun, a local expat from California who played a Deadhead-esque acoustic set for us at the Village Stage on Saturday. I was steered his way by the wife of a member of the Envision executive team, and a close friend of JamiSuns. Upon hearing that I had never tried the festival’s vaunted vegan ice cream, her delightful children ran off to buy my a chocolate choco chip vegan ice cream and proceeded to send me on my way.
JamiSun and his band played a good, clean, unspectacular show. The musical highlight was a formidable, weaving harmonica solo – of which JamiSun himself was not the source – that wrapped up the final song of the set, but the real highlight, to me, was something JamiSun said afterward, as he was thanking the small, seated crowd that had gathered.
“I live for this, you guys. This is my life.”
A festival is defined by its artists and attendees, but only for as long as they are actively engaged in defining it. Some stay for years; others come for just one night, never to return again.
From the adorable children gleefully romping, frolicking, or nodding off next to Opiuo, to the total enthusiasm with which the artists like Funka, the boys of Autograf, and the crooning, revelatory belles of Rising Appalachia immersed themselves in the festival, the overwhelming sense I got was that Envision is a festival of stayers. Every single person I connected with at Envision was either on their second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth festival or was a rookie, like me, with plans to return and develop into an Envision veteran.
Envision is not primarily a music festival, or a yoga festival, or a music yoga permaculture hippie festival. Envision is a community in which the lines between artists, performers, organizers, press, media, volunteers, food vendors, security, bar workers, and paying guests, the people, the consumers and creators and facilitators of culture, all blend together into a beautiful collective.
Down the road, I’m sure that certain folk will lament the loss of “the true” Envision, but they will be painting an inaccurate, or, at the very least, incomplete version of things. Envision can only be defined by its active participants. The “true Envision”, then, is what it is and what it is made to be at any given point in time.
I can’t wait for next year.