Beyond the music: Symbiosis Gathering reinvents the festival experience in 2015

Symbiosis Gathering 2015Photos by Nik Crossman, Jamie Rosenberg & John Felix // Written by Nik Crossman & Brett Ruffenach //

Symbiosis Gathering //
Woodward Reservoir – Oakdale, CA
September 17th-20th, 2015 //

Floating 100 miles east of San Francisco, Symbiosis Gathering brought more than 12,000 incredible humans together to celebrate the power of music, art, education and love at Woodward Reservoir. Symbiosis is leading a paradigm shift in the festival world, and the 10 Year Re:Union proved to be their largest gathering yet.

The recipe for Symbiosis is simple. Start with a conventional music festival — Coachella, FYF Fest or Sasquatch! — and throw in some Burning Man essentials like sustainability, alchemy, yoga and education. Now, sprinkle elements specific to the venue of choice (ahem, art boats and water stages), remove all the corporate sponsorship and alcohol sales, and wrap it up in a community of love and consciousness. The result is the next generation of festival experience — a gathering, not a production.


With minimal funding, an international family of volunteers and festivalgoers come together to make Symbiosis possible. Extending beyond the “everyone contributes” mentality of Burning Man, the gathering curates and organizes many, but not all, of its attractions. The community encourages everyone to contribute to the already stellar experience of Symbiosis. Distributed throughout the 24-hour festival grounds, earth and water art installations provide interactive spaces to create, climb, lounge and float. The spinning balls of fire proved to be a solid meeting place throughout the night and presented some beautiful photo opportunities.

The flagship amenity, aptly named “Swymbiosis”, was a Copacabana-meets-Hippy-Hill drum circle/beach party at the lakeshore. Each afternoon, festivalgoers grabbed their flotation device of choice (a pink flamingo named Karen, an inflatable pizza slice, etc.) and drifted in the sunshine while listening to an impressive lineup through the festival’s Funktion-One sound system. From Raja Ram of Shpongle to Ooah and Edit of The Glitch Mob, “Swymbiosis” offered one of the most unique and fun live music experiences imaginable.


With an impressive, internationally influenced lineup, “Swymbiosis” certainly wasn’t the only noteworthy stage performance. Thursday night kicked off the festival with five hours of house music from the Desert Hearts crew, followed by Eprom’s extraordinary bass. Well into Day 2, The Polish Ambassador’s high-octane set had everyone moving and shaking at The Big Island. Despite some sound issues, G Jones and Minnesota managed to deliver seamless, back-to-back sets, satiating Friday night’s appetite for bass. Spilling into dawn, Four Tet opened a gorgeous, three-hour set with “Digital Arpeggios” from his Percussions alias and closed with “Morning Side”.


From Bob Moses to Nicolas Jaar, Saturday came through with more stellar acts to accompany the transformational journey that was unfolding. Sylvan Esso demonstrated noteworthy growth on stage with a spectacular set, complete with an encore that lit up the crowd in dance. Of course, no 2015 festival experience would be complete without a secret sunrise performance by Tipper, and Symbiosis delivered with a magical welcoming of Sunday morning set to the British producer’s dreamy electro grooves.

Beyond music, Symbiosis offered a myriad of attractions to stimulate the mind, body and soul. Encouraging personal growth and awareness, it created a warm environment to foster deep bonds with friends, lovers and strangers alike. Partner yoga classes and Tantric workshops demonstrated the beauty and strength derived from a connection between two humans.

Symbiosis Gathering 2015

With talks and workshops ranging from government surveillance and overcoming addiction to the culture of tea, Symbiosis offered much more than the usual “escape from real life” presented by most festivals. Don’t get us wrong — things like the DeLorean hovercraft and Tipper’s secret sunrise set put Symbiosis closer to Neverland than the real world. It’s the underlying focus on consciousness and personal development that engages beyond the typical music festival and makes Symbiosis the poster child for what festivals can and ultimately should represent.

We don’t burn … we swym! Symbiosis is not another Burning Man pretending to be a music festival

Symbiosis Gathering 2015Written by Nik Crossman //

Symbiosis Gathering //
Woodward Reservoir – Oakdale, CA
September 17th-20th, 2015 //

As the “Burners” venture back to a reality absent of playa-dust bikinis and Mad Max gear, another breed of community-driven enthusiasts get ready for one of the world’s most unique music festivals: Symbiosis Gathering 10 Year Re:Union.

Since its inception in 2005, Symbiosis Gathering has brought together individuals from all over the world to celebrate the power of music, art and education. With humble beginnings that saw less than 1,000 people attend the festival, the enlightening success of the first Gathering set the stage for years to come. 2015 marks the 10-year Re:Union of The Gathering, and as co-producer Kevin KoChen explains, “Nobody is prepared to witness what happens. And when it does, it makes all the planning worth it.”

Symbiosis is not another music festival, and it’s not another Burning Man. Similar to Lightning in a Bottle (read our review of this year’s festival here) now based in Central California, it’s something in between. With community contributions from chocolatiers, astrologers and nutritionists as well as yogis hosting a variety of talks and workshops, The Gathering aims to educate just as much as entertain over four days at Oakdale’s Woodward Reservoir. Symbiosis, furthermore, intends to gather many facets of the counter-culture movement and provide a collective environment to foster symbiotic relationships among those who wouldn’t normally cross paths.

Beyond a stellar music lineup (pictured below) impressively influenced by international trends, Symbiosis offers a variety of shenanigans ranging from the popular shows like Tourettes Without Regrets and Chaos Karaoke to Kidzbiosis, which are focused workshops dedicated to children.

Alas, no music festival/Burning Man hybrid would be complete without the presence of some mind-blowing art installations. For its 10th year, The Gathering sets itself apart even more by leveraging the sandy beaches and cooling waters of Woodward Reservoir and introducing art boat installations. From stationary sculptures to human- and wind-powered cruising vessels to motor-powered ferries, the art boats at Symbiosis will be as diverse as the attendees. In the traditional “Contribute to the Community” mentality, The Gathering encourages everyone to build and bring their own art boat with them, presenting participants with an interactive, aquatic escapade not seen at any other music festival. It’s just another reason why Symbiosis is one of our eight California music festivals you won’t want to miss before the end of 2015.

Experience Passes are still available online for $280 and at participating ticket vendors. Festival walk-in camping is included and car camping passes are also available for purchase.

2015 Symbiosis Gathering lineup