7 Ways FORM Arcosanti Is the Most Unique, Progressive Festival in the US

Article by: Brittany NO FOMO|@brittanynofomo

Tue May 15, 2018 | 12:10 PM

If you were to ask me what my favorite genre of music was or the best U.S. festival experience I'd ever had, my answers would be completely different than if I hadn't attended FORM Arcosanti this past weekend. You see, I've been running around for years in a mainly white-washed festival world with thrills delivered by mostly familiar, run-of-the-mill artists offering familiar performances, mixed some level of intoxication. And while I still maintain that a great festival is one in which you can run freely and commune with strangers while being thoroughly entertained, my new outlook on festivals is now undeniably influenced by FORM, a rising festival phenomenon that breaks the mold of what a festival experience can and should entail.

I've always praised performers of any genre whose live shows present their artistic vision in festival settings that amplify the mood and vibe for an all-encompassing experience. I also thrive as an attendee when a performer is so moved on stage to the point of tears…those are the festival moments that stick with me forever. And, idealistically, I've always felt that festivals should challenge the way we view and think about life. Isn't that why music festivals like Monterey Pop and Woodstock were created in the first place?

But to witness all of these components - and more - come to life at once? Such pure, special moments of this kind occurred over and over at FORM, which takes place on top of a mountainous, desert area in Arcosanti, Arizona at 3,732 feet above sea level. Never before have I seen so many eclectic performances, such stunning architecture, and so many ethnicities and genders represented in one place - a full representation of an entire community. Everyone who participated in this gathering showed a deep curiosity and willingness to learn, create, absorb, and experience together, making this micro-festival a guaranteed way to inspire your mind and warm your heart.

Form Arcosanti 2018 Matt Lief Anderson

On Friday evening, Jeff Stein, Executive Director of Program Development and Fundraising for the Cosanti Foundation, gave his iconic welcome speech that served to bring us all together and set the intention for the weekend. He challenged us to go beyond simply enjoying ourselves and partying, and encouraged us to gather learning and inspiration from this place to "become better citizens" when we leave and go our separate ways. I think other festivals have a common goal of inspiring positive change as people enter back into the "real world," but it has never been spoken so clearly and persuasively as it was at FORM's opening ceremony.

Under millions of twinkling stars in the coolness of three desert nights, in the heat of the West Coast sun peppered with plenty of dusty breezes, FORM sparkled with enough uniqueness to redefine how festivals should be curated and what they should aim to achieve.

Below are seven ways FORM sets itself apart from the rest in intention and execution.

It Was Birthed with Intention

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A view of artist Jim Denevan’s “Mandala of Lights” installation in the field by patron camping. Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

Many larger, commercialized festivals fall into the trap of booking artists who have millions of YouTube views or Spotify plays instead of welcoming artists with who bring meaningful messages or daring artistic ideals with their performances. At these types of fests, you can practically taste the staleness in the air as you run from one massive stage to the other, passing branded booths along the way, in hopes to be able to just barely see the headliners' silhouettes.

FORM, on the other hand, was birthed with intention from the get-go; it's also supported by the people living at Arcosanti and practiced thoroughly by the artists who are invited to perform every year. Touring band Hundred Waters, comprised of Nicole Miglis, Trayer Tryon, and Zach Tetreault, felt a need in the music community to create a festival with a "deeper sense of personal connection, creative inspiration, community and collaboration." In its fifth year, the festival has maintained this core value thanks to mindful curation, purposeful location, and planned slow growth.

It's a Festival in an Experimental Eco-City

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Main Amphitheater, Arcosanti. Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

We're all familiar with festivals either taking place in an empty field somewhere far off or in the heart of one of America's urban centers, but have you ever festivaled in someone's home?

The real question that we all had going into this weekend was, "What is Arcosanti?" A self-defined "urban laboratory," the small eco-city began in the 1970s as the experiment of architect Paolo Soleri's concept of a compact city design inspired by the hybrid term "ARCOLOGY" (ARChitecture and ecOLOGY). It is now home to 70 permanent residents aged 7 to 70 (and welcomes hundreds of workshop participants and interns each year), and operates under an ethos of efficiency, sustainability, and improving the quality of life for all.

The experimental idealism with which Arcosanti was created, along with its mission of existing as an "urban laboratory," is the perfect place to stage a festival with similar goals. Arcosanti's year-round community is welcoming to anyone with an open mind and encourages artistic expression, making it easy for this mindful gathering to reach those goals and respect the spaces in which FORM is held.

The Eclectic Lineup is Unlike Any Other You'll Find at a Festival

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Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

If the festival were to be graded on how diverse and unique its lineup is, it would get an A+. Most of these acts are ones I've never seen on a festival lineup before (which made me ecstatic), and the flow of the daily schedule was impeccable, curating the right sounds for each hour of the day. FORM did its research and booked a roster of music that became spellbinding amidst the apses of Arcosanti's architecture. Each act felt as if it was created and performed solely to be heard and seen under these artistically sculpted domes and dreamworld lights.

Julie Byrne's soft voice and harp playing gently filled the air of the amphitheater as the fest's signature green and yellow shade structure flowed in the breeze overhead. Flying Lotus's 3D effects filled hearts and minds in the intimate setting. Blood Orange's cascading music sent us into a deep state of calm, and Dream Machine tripped us out as we laid on the floor, taking in its sporadic soundbites and visuals.

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Julie Byrne. Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

"FORM gave a stage to many artists and groups whose work I had not experienced and others I was excited for," David Marquez, of local band Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra , told Everfest. "I feel a greater understanding of the curators', Hundred Waters', mindset and love of art and music, and how that can push the human paradigm of understanding to the next level."

When was the last time you felt as though you were learning and being inspired to be a better human by a musical performance?

Women Were Represented Everywhere

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Kelsey Lu performing at FORM. Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

Should I be in such shock that a festival's roster is 50% female/female-identifying? Ideally, no, but given the current state of gender representation at music festivals, the answer is yes. Let's all give a standing ovation to FORM's efforts to curate an all-inclusive and undivided lineup. When festival organizers shrug and make excuses that male artists have larger followings or will sell more tickets, they're neglecting an entire community boasting its own powerful and beautiful voices.

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Aja Monet at FORM. Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

Beyond the music, even the panel discussions were extremely women-focused. The women's movement and topics affecting women of color were omnipresent, such as at SheSaid.So's panel by Guillermo E. Brown and Charlotte Braithwaite, which explored the relationship between bee colony extinction and the global black experience… just sit on that for a minute. Spoken word was also at the forefront of FORM's programming, giving a stage to voices like poet Aja Monet who demanded attention on issues like inequality. It was refreshing to see poetry tied into a festival schedule.

Diversity, Diversity, Diversity

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Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

Several times I cried happy tears when I looked out into the audience at FORM. Why? Because I've never seen so many races and ethnicities sitting together appreciating the same live acts before, all with the same twinkle in their eyes. Even when other festivals book artists from different backgrounds and genres, for a mix of reasons, the crowds are still predominantly white. The fact that FORM can cut down boundaries that limit a culturally blended audience from enjoying its programming is a major feat and simply a beautiful situation in which to find oneself.

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The crowd dancing during Charli XCX. Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

I saw interracial couples holding hands and singing along to Daniel Caesar. I saw groups of friends in the LBGTQ community go ham during Charli XCX songs. And I, as a white woman, danced to Afro-inspired beats played by a band with members from all different origins who poured their souls into their performance. Everyone was represented. Everyone was accepted. This is how it should be.

Artists Genuinely Enjoy Being There

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Fleet Foxes performing at FORM. Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

When you can hear the disappointment in a performer's voice when he looks over the crowd and sincerely says with a sigh, "Wish we could stay, but we have to hit the road to Albuquerque. This is a magical place," such as we did when Robin Pecknold spoke at the end of his band Fleet Foxes' set, you know this festival is just as special to the performers as it is to the participants. Maybe it's because the festival is founded by artists in part for artists, or maybe it's due to the sincere energy and idealism that Arcosanti emanates, but there was a consensus that this was an extremely enjoyable and authentic festival for everyone who performed - it sure didn't seem like anyone did it for the money or recognition.

Many artists were so moved by the love they felt in this space that they cried tears of happiness during their performances, including Kelsey Lu, Daniel Caesar, and Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra.

Year After Year, Its Authenticity Consistently Remains Pure

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Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

After talking to a few festival-goers who noted that it was their second or third FORM experience, they shared that there is no fear that the festival will be overexposed or turn corporate. I thought about this fact during Bombino's set and realized how rare this sentiment is. Every time I attend a festival, I always admittedly say that "last year" or "my first year" was better because, let's face it, every year most festivals try to expand, but usually not in ways that keep the core experience consistent.

In its first year, FORM was invite-only, encouraging people to attend solo in order to curate a guest list of people all seeking connection. The only notable change since then is that the gathering is now open to the public, no longer in an application or raffle system like Burning Man, so that anyone who is intrigued can (reasonably) pay their way in. Other than that, the small growth has been intentional, mimicking Acrosanti's example to self-sustainability and mindful, community vibe.

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Photo by: Brittany NO FOMO

So what is the refined definition of a "festival"? FORM challenges the notion that festivals are simply parties or gatherings of people looking for a good time. FORM shows us what festivals can be: Intentional. Motivational. Thought-provoking. Inspiring. Inclusive. Stress-free. Intimate. And… most of all, moving.

I'll leave you all with this statement that really struck a cord with me and echoes Jeff Stein's (of the Cosanti Foundation) emphasis on learning from a festival experience in order to become better citizens. Paraphrasing what a festival-goer said during a panel discussion: "Let us all not be mirrors just reflecting what's around us, but let us be prisms, shining newer and brighter colors into the world for positive growth and change."

All festivals can do this. All festivals should do this. Let FORM light the way.