Legacy Festivals: A Joyful Gift That Keeps on Giving

Article by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley

Fri October 11, 2013 | 00:00 AM

A good friend of mine lies in a coma today in the Philippines, nearing the end of life as we know it. As I reflect on his life, and my own (which is the case when we face the loss of loved ones), I am flooded with memories of transformational festivals in Ubud that I experienced with Pheonyx last year. And the meaning in what we leave behind.

In Bali with Pheonyx

In Bali with Pheonyx

I had the privilege of spending nine days with my friend in August 2012. Pheonyx is a spiritual healer and gifted shaman who’s touched many lives with his kindness and generosity of spirit. We both love festivals and have experienced what is possible through these life-affirming rituals. In Bali, we traversed from teenage teeth filing rituals to multi-generational “odalan” village ceremonies to an epic regional cremation ceremony. We also met in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year earlier this year. Over the course of these two trips, we had many conversations about how festivals create a kind of living museum that gets passed on through generations.

This reflection led me to think of friends who’ve created festivals that bring joy to themselves – and many more – while they’re here, and after they’ve gone…

Burning Man – Founder Larry Harvey has traversed the balancing beam of creating a festival that’s much bigger than just one man’s vision. He’s fostered a passionate community that’s not only taken on this ever-evolving festival, but also adopted and propagated what’s most precious and pure: Burning Man’s 10 Principles, which are Larry’s legacy.

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Last weekend, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park welcomed home this annual festival. Big-hearted private equity investor Warren Hellman could be a role model to other karmic capitalists on the planet. He created a foundation that helps his passion project entertain hundreds of thousands of people for free each fall, and lives on beyond its benefactor.


How many free music festivals, with this kind of iconoclastic lineup, exist in the world with a foundation to support them?


Life is Beautiful – Later this month, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s inaugural Life is Beautiful festival launches in downtown Las Vegas as part of his legacy to create a vibrant community in an area previously full of sorrow and pity. Like all of the visionaries mentioned in this post, Tony couldn’t do it alone, as there’s an amazing leadership team and cast helping to make this dream a reality. But, Tony’s fingerprints are all over this life-affirming event.


Life is Good – Bert Jacobs, who cofounded the company of the same name, created a legacy with the Life is Good Festival 13 years ago in suburban Boston. The annual event has raised more than $11 million for kids in need.


Soulshine Festival – Musician Michael Franti, who’s performed at Life is Good festivals in the past, and is the founder of the wonderful Soulshine Retreat Center, is hosting the Soulshine Festival in Bali this December 27-28 to benefit the Bumi Sehat Birthing Clinic and Green School scholarship fund. Michael says, “The Soulshine Festival is about coming together to celebrate life – the life of our planet – and the power we all have to make a difference.”

Michael Franti & friends

Michael Franti & friends

Wanderlust - This summer, I had the pleasure of participating at Wanderlust Whistler. Co-founder Jeff Krasno sat down with me while in British Colombia to talk about why he created what has become the largest traveling yoga festival on the planet:

While I haven’t created a festival (yet), I have been fortunate to be able to start a few fundraisers (I like to call them fun-raisers) that continue today and hold a deep sense of meaning for me.

Celebrity Pool Toss – This week, the 21st annual Celebrity Pool Toss was held at my first hotel, The Phoenix, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district (Pheonyx got a kick out of this connection). The event benefits the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation’s Afterschool Program that has helped tens of thousands of kids find a sense of belonging in this hard-edged, inner city community.

Hotel Hero
– In March, San Francisco Hotel Hero celebrated its 10th year, kind of like the Oscars for the silent heroes of the hospitality world, whether they be maids, bartenders, or bellmen. This was my attempt to remind all of us in this noble industry about the fact that hospitality is, at its heart, about being human. So, we decided to celebrate, in almost a formal festival format, those individuals who are amazing at their jobs and amazing human beings.

What legacy can you leave? It doesn’t require starting a festival. It could be volunteering for an existing charitable festival or joining the board of a small, meaningful organization that could put on a festival in your own backyard. Festivals are a form of expressing gratitude, experiencing collective effervescence, and making sure we break out of our cultural cul-de-sacs that can limit us from experiencing the beauty and unity of one another. Be curious. Be culturally curious. Support a festival and start creating your own legacy.