wanderlust or bust: IAYB hits the world’s largest yoga & music festival
It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m in my cozy and homey little Montreal apartment. I’m completely happy. My usually pain-riddled body is rested and relaxed, and also strong and stretched. My heart is a little more open than usual. I have survived Wanderlust, the largest traveling yoga and musical festival in the world. I’m trying to process everything that I’ve been through over the past 2.5 days.
I have seen yoga leggings of every colour and pattern: hot pink, fluorescent orange, stripes thick and thin, Aztec designs, the cosmos. I have chanted Sanskrit mantras in unison with 500 people. I have watched people do downward facing dog in unison under a crisp blue morning mountain sky. I have done sun salutations on a standup paddleboard. I have said out loud the sentence: “I don’t want to miss the AcroYoga in front of the d’Om.”
I have seen people walking around in yoga shoes. Like actually walking around in them, on pavement and gravel, even though yoga shoes don’t even have soles. They’re meant to be worn from changeroom to yoga studio, not from the ski resort to the beach.
I have politely refused to let someone put a gold sparkle bindi on my forehead. “That’s cultural appropriation,” I told the 21-year-old girl with long hair, who wore a more elaborate jeweled bindi on her own forehead. “How about the corners of your eyes?” she asked. “Okay, sure!” I love glitter, and as far as I know, sparkling eye corners aren’t appropriated from any colonized culture (though I could be wrong).
I had asked Wanderlust for a press pass for the Mont Tremblant edition in Quebec’s Laurentian mountains, one of six festivals across North America during the summer 2013 season. For some reason, they agreed to give me a pass that included free access to every aspect of the festival: yoga classes, music, outdoor activities. I thought it was very nice of them, considering I’ve never written a good word about the festival and I slammed the opening of their branded studio when it opened in Montreal last winter.
I have a single goal for the weekend: don’t be an asshole. There’s something about large groups of people and a commercialized yoga environment that can bring out my inner asshole. I commit to keeping this in check, while staying true to my authentic self, of course.
The festival opens with a Friday evening bilingual yoga practice on the beach of Lac Tremblant, lead by Elena Brower (English) and Montreal’s Lyne St-Roch (French). Afterwards, my roommates and I skip the post-yoga beach party (with fire dancers and drummers, and booze which I watched being set up during the yoga class) and go for beer and poutine. We then go back to our room in the Lodge de la Montagne and attempt to use the hot tub, which is sadly closed.
I go through the little Wanderlust program and decide what to take the next day. With my press pass, I don’t have to register for classes in advance, I just have to show up 10-15 minutes before they start.
I have an injured shoulder, so my asana practice is limited. I can’t do downward dog or plank, those darlings of modern vinyasa yoga. However, as I go over the schedule, I discover it’s impressively simple to pick a full day of yoga session that aren’t asana-based.
I circle the iRest yoga nidra session, a workshop called “Transformational Breath Journey,” “A Perfect Yoga Hike!” (mainly because of its name), and standup paddleboard yoga at the beach (there are five sessions during the day, although paying attendees can pick a maximum of only three – I select four because with my press pass I can do whatever I want and I want to Do It All). It’s going to be a good day.
A few days before the festival, I received an invitation to a press conference. After the yoga nidra and transformational breath sessions, I go back to the hotel room for lunch (we brought our own food to avoid a weekend diet of ski resort restaurant meals) then head to a room in the conference centre. I’m as excited about the Wanderlust press conference as many festival attendees are about yoga classes with Elena Brower. What could possibly happen at a yoga festival press conference? Who else would be there?
It turns out that there are four of us at the press conference: myself, another blogger, somebody from a health magazine I’ve never heard of, and somebody from the Mont Tremblant area press. We are all healthy, glowing young women, honoured to have the privilege of writing about Wanderlust festival for our various media outlets.
The conference is with Wanderlust co-founders Sean Hoess and Jeff Krasno, and the Tremblant producer, Patrick St. Arnaud. They’re all late. We are offered bottles of Coco Libre (coconut water company and Wanderlust sponsor) and Kind granola bars. Jeff Krasno is tanned and lean, wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. Sean Hoess wears a trucker cap with the Wanderlust logo on it, big-framed hipster dork glasses, and Converse All Stars. Patrick St. Arnaud is happy, and visibly excited (not about the press conference, but about what a huge success Wanderlust Tremblant is). Krasno looks tired, and it’s hard to read Hoess’ facial expression, hidden behind the glasses and trucker cap visor.
The conference is casual, a Q&A with a brief introduction. We sit in a circle. Krasno and Hoess explain how the first Wanderlust Festival took place in Squaw Valley, California in 2009. Krasno’s wife, Schuyler Grant is a yoga teacher, and through her, he began to get to know the Brooklyn/NYC yoga community. They became intrigued by the culture of yoga. Both have backgrounds in music industry. They saw that people in the yoga community had a love of travel, music and dance parties, and came up with the idea of a yoga and music festival.
Since that first year, the festival has expanded to include Vermont, Colorado, Whistler, Hawaii and Chili, and there are permanent WL studios in Austin and Montreal. There is a year-round staff of 15 people who work out their Brooklyn headquarters, and each festival employs 80-90 people, with the help of 300 volunteers.
“We hope to produce the event around the world,” says Krasno. “Yoga is a worldwide phenomenon. You can find yoga and mindful living all over the world.”
While there was some concern that Quebec wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about the festival as other locations in North America, the first Wanderlust Tremblant is an enormous success. St. Arndaud tells us that they’re already in discussion with the resort about next year’s event. The festival sold out days before the weekend, with 1,000 people in attendance for Saturday and Sunday. Because it’s a first attempt and they’re working on the relationship with Mont Tremblant, this edition of the festival is a scaled back event. The lineup is more modest, with only two “big name” teachers, and there are no “speakeasies” (talks with experts) or “Farm to Table” event
So why Mont Tremblant? The producers had been wanting to expand the Wanderlust brand into the eastern market (so far only the Vermont festival is the only event in the east). St Arnaud, who has worked for the Mont Tremblant resort and the village of Tremblant, now works as a consultant and is married to a yoga teacher (a running theme with Wanderlust producers, apparently). She had heard of Wanderlust events in other locations and wanted to make it happen in Quebec. Mont Tremblant is know for athletic events, like the Ironman which took place the weekend before, it and brings in a different range of events and festivals. It’s also trying to position itself as a wellness destination.
Wanderlust Tremblant cost $200,000 to produce – the larger festivals on the Wanderlust roster cost $500,000 – $800,000. Mont Tremblant has placed restrictions on food, so attendees have to eat at the resort restaurants and the festival can’t bring in local or healthy food vendors. Wanderlust has also been absorbed into another music event taking place at the mountain at the same time, Les Rhythmes Tremblant. Which explains why this festival is being headlined by Quebecois singer/songwriter, Bobby Bazini, while other Wanderlust festivals feature yoga music staples like MC Yogi and Michael Franti.
This event is the first that they’ve produced in French. They worked hard to find bilingual and French-speaking teachers. The majority of the line-up is Quebec-based, with a few teachers from Toronto and Ottawa, and of course, the two headliners from elsewhere, Elena Brower (NYC) and Eoin Finn (West Coast).
“We try to make sure each festival is rooted in place,” says Hoess. “The language creates a more visible cultural difference.”
When asked about Wanderlust’s eco and environmental initiatives, Hoess tells us that they work with a consulting firm in Boulder, Colorado. At the other events, they power the stages with biodiesel and set up composting facilities. None of these services are available at Wanderlust Tremblant because of the infrastructure of the mountain.
“We know that Wanderlust is a ‘destination event,’” says Krasno. “We’re honest about that, and we’re not going to greenwash it. But we have a strong educational component, and we hope to inspire people to take gems of wisdom and inspiration back to their communities. Our mission is to help people find their best selves.” Wanderlust aims to make yoga cool, accessible and fun. He says there are countless testimonials that the festival transforms people’s lives.
“When you’re at a resort,” Hoess adds, “and you see 500 or 800 people in perfect alignment, you can’t help but feel inner peace and satisfaction. It’s beautiful to watch. There aren’t too many things you can do with your commercial and professional life that is inherently good in the way that yoga is. If 100 more people start doing yoga every day, that’s a good thing.”
“People are yearning for connection that’s not on Facebook or Twitter,” says Krasno. “There is a societal thirst to connect with people on a real level. That’s a big part of what makes this event special: community.”
St. Arnaud jumps in and adds that Mont Tremblant also values connection, similar to Wanderlust. “We also value nature and the joie de vivre of Quebec. This is one of many reasons why this festival is such a good fit here.”
By the end of the press conference, I pleased with myself for not saying anything too asshole-ish. In fact, I quite like the trio of producers. They aren’t corporate douchebags just trying to make money with yoga. While clearly they’re pleased that the festival is successful and making money, I’m convinced, like actually convinced, that their intention is good.
I leave the press conference with copious amounts of notes and a couple of bottles of coconut water. It went longer than expected, so I won’t be able to make it to “A Perfect Yoga Hike!” Instead, I wander out of the conference building towards the entrance of the resort, where all the Wanderlust action is.
I immediately bump into a Montreal-based yoga studio owner (who requested anonymity), and he invites me to smoke a joint. It takes a little discussion to find an appropriately discrete spot, and we decide to head out to the parking lot across from the entrance.
“Where’s the marketplace?” he asks. Studio owners like to know this kind of thing.
“This is it!” There are four booths: RISE Kombucha, Coco Libre (coconut water), Yoga Mala Foundation/Naada Yoga (non-profit org and yoga studio) and a booth selling some kind of inflatable solar powered floating things.
“I’m disappointed,” I tell him. “I wanted something to criticize!” I’m also secretly relieved that there is no marketplace. Despite my anti-consumer stance, I always end up buying yoga stuff at these things.
After we get high, my friend heads off on his own adventure and I hang out in front of the Lululemon d’Om, a big sort of igloo-shaped tent, to watch some AcroYoga. A large crowd, mostly Tremblant tourists, has gathered to watch the yoga performance, and I wonder why there are so many tourists at a ski hill in summer. There is also a jewelry-making table. I check out the interior of the d’Om – it’s full of Wanderlust-branded Lululemon merchandise, there is a DJ playing, and I sit in an amazingly comfortable chair and watch people shop.
At the beach yoga practice last night, the girl on the mat in front of me was wearing black leggings and a hot pink Lululemon hoody, both with the Wanderlust logo on them. I thought she had bought them at one of the other festivals, and was just showing her Wanderlust cred. But now it seems that as soon as she arrived on site, she headed to the d’Om to buy some branded souvenir gear, then changed into her new clothes for the beach yoga practice.
From the Lululemon d’Om, a Montreal-based yoga teacher (who also requested anonymity) invites a group of us up to her suite at the Marriott (where the festival set up up her and her family) to swim in the pool. I plan to take a quick dip in the pool, then head down to the Parc Plage (Beach Park) for standup paddleboard yoga. More joints are smoked. I spend the rest of the afternoon in the Marriott hot tub.
As much as I love self-indulgence, relaxation and swanky hotel pools, the whole time that I’ve been at this festival I’ve been hyper aware that I am in a highly privileged space. Ski hill resorts are playgrounds of the affluent. This whole site is corporate space – Mont Tremblant Resort is owned by Intrawest, one of the top three resort development corporations in North America.
One of Wanderlust’s missions is to promote connection to nature. While the festival is technically “in nature,” this setting is hardly natural. The Mont Tremblant resort is built on a slope at the base of the ski hill, with peaked roof bright-coloured buildings and cobblestone streets, which are supposed to give it a European flair. The ski resort is groomed and controlled, with every building, footpath and garden conforming to a dictated aesthetic. The system of employees who pick up garbage, clean rooms and serve food blend into the generic architecture of the faux village – they are rendered invisible so as not to The ski hill itself, hovering above the village, is a clearcut face of a mountain that has to be covered with manufactured snow through the winter ski season.
From what I observe of the Wanderlust demographic, it’s primarily white, female, young and fit. There is more diversity in yoga leggings than there is in ethnicities. I could count on both hands the number of non-white people I saw. Despite the organizers claim to make the event accessible, it’s clearly not accessed by more than a certain homogenous demographic.
But I didn’t come to Wanderlust to sit in a hot tub contemplating privilege and the politics of ski resorts! I came here for a good time, which is what Wanderlust is all about. I put these thoughts to the back of my mind and focus on the task at hand.
I get some potato chip cravings and so it’s time to leave the Marriott pool. I return to my room to drink wine and eat food with my roommates.
In the Lodge de la Montagne hot tub (which isn’t as big as the Marriott hot tub, and the jets aren’t as strong), I meet a couple from Massachusettes who drove up just for the festival.
“We went to Wanderlust Vermont last year and it was AMAZING,” the woman tells me. I ask what made it so amazing.
“Just everything. You know there’s just one hula hoop jam at this festival?” It was at 5pm and I wanted to go, but I lost track of time poolside at the Marriott. “In Vermont, there was hula hooping all the all the time. There were two fields of hula hoopers.”
Fields of hula hoopers!
“There was also a full marketplace and lots of little artisans selling things. And there was wine tasting. I know this is the first one at this mountain,” she continued. “But it’s just kind of… meh.” I share some of the privileged information I learned in the press conference, and she is a little more sympathetic, but still not convinced.
By this time, it’s almost 8pm and I haven’t done any Wanderlust-sanctioned activities since the press conference (which barely counts). All afternoon and evening, there has been music at Place St Bernard, the central outdoor location of the Mont Tremblant resort. It’s a large outdoor space flanked by restaurants and bars, where the giant stage for bands and rock star yoga teachers is set up.
I’m determined to make it to Sarah Neufeld’s performance. I fill a flask with whiskey, my roomies load up water bottles with wine and we head out to find the venue, La Chappelle. Even though I know “la chappelle” is the French word for “chapel,” I’m still surprised when we end up at the little church I’d walked past when I go lost looking for the Friday evening beach yoga class.
The church is small and smells musty. There is no volunteer at the door checking wrist bands, and apparently anybody could just walk in off the road and see Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire play at a ski resort church on a Saturday evening.
While Neufeld is a yoga practitioner and sufficiently cool enough to be on the Wanderlust lineup, I had to wonder how many yoga people would have been familiar with her solo violin music, which is experimental, minimalist and challenging. The church is filled up at about three quarters of capacity (50 people, maybe, but I’m bad at numbers).
The performance is intense and powerful. Neufeld makes a joke about the atmosphere being “austere,” perhaps because we’re all in a church. But really, it feels reverent and deeply attentive.
After Neufeld’s performance, I bump into Wanderlust teachers David Good and Yasmin Fudokowska-Gow, who have just come from the private Lululemon dinner for faculty. “What are you doing here?” Yasmin asks. “You hate this stuff.”
She’s the only person to ask me this question all weekend, and I love her for it. I reply that I am here because I love adventure. I’m here to write about Wanderlust because, for better or worse, it is yoga culture. Perhaps the penultimate of yoga culture. I’m not sure.
The day before Wanderlust started, I saw a reminder on Twitter to pack white clothes to wear under the black lights at the Saturday night party. After the Sarah Neufeld show, we leave La Chappelle in search of the all-white party at Le Shack, a steakhouse that sits on the edge of Place St Bernard, about a 10 minute walk away.
We catch the tail end of headliner Bobby Bazini on the mainstage, where several hundred people are gathered, rocking out. The all-white party has only just begun when we arrive. I feel like I’m at a corporate work party, people standing around looking awkward, waiting for things to start. Many people are wearing white. There are no black lights. I am not wearing white because I don’t own a single item of white clothing.
I look around and wonder, Who are these people? Have I really just spent 24 hours festivaling with these people? I don’t recognize a single face, other than the Really Attractive Couple that I followed down to the beach yoga class on Friday evening. They are both wearing white and look composed and attractive.
I do my best to get into the spirit of things. Then it hits me: I am dancing to “Blurred Lines” in a ski resort steakhouse with a bunch of yoga people, most of whom are wearing white. A woman bumps into me on the dancefloor. She pats my arm, apologizes, hugs me, then pats my arm and apologizes again. I tell her to fuck off. I didn’t mean to, it just came out, the apologizing and hugging is excessive. Maybe she’s feeling all connected after a day full of yoga, but I don’t have the patience for overbearing connection. I think she mishears me, or is just incredibly forgiving, as she places her hands together and mouths, “Namaste.”
This is my only asshole moment of the whole weekend. Not bad. The steakhouse is starting to fill up but I’m not feeling this party. It’s time to leave – when I’m bored my inner asshole is more likely to emerge. We return to our room in the Lodge de la Montagne.
I realize that I didn’t do a single yoga pose all day (other than a combined 1.5 hours in savasana in this morning’s two sessions). I also realize that I forgot my iPad in La Chappelle. This is a church at a yoga festival on a ski hill, likely locked until people start going to church the next morning (if it is indeed an operating church that people attend on Sunday mornings, or just some kind of special church reserved for occasions like ski resort weddings). My iPad has to be safe, but I worry about it anyway.
When I get home on Sunday afternoon, I look at pictures of the festival on Wanderlust’s Facebook page. Huge asana classes under a bright sun, Eoin Finn teaching a class with a live band behind him, girls with sparkling bindis and oms painted on their faces, group hula hooping. This is the festival I just spent my weekend at? Who are these people? I get tagged in a photo from the beach yoga class. The Really Attractive Couple are in the foreground, the woman’s cosmos-patterned leggings, their attractive faces serene and content. I’m sitting cross-legged, looking yogic.
The photo captures how I felt for most of the weekend: blurry and in the background.
After the whole Wanderlust experience, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I feel like I’ve been on a yoga retreat at Euro Disneyland. I definitely had fun, I definitely opened something in some way. The surly blogger in me wants to denounce Wanderlust as overhyped, contrived, detrimental to the state of yoga in the west. But I can’t quite do it. I get Wanderlust. I get why it’s charmed the North American yoga scene so much.
I expected Wanderlust to be a supposedly fun thing I’d never do again. Instead, it turned out to be a totally fun thing I would possibly do again, provided I could get another press pass. There were moments when I wished everyday was Wanderlust. I considered becoming the official Wanderlust blogger and spending my summers traveling around to every festival. And there were moments where I felt so privileged and overindulged and disconnected from the world that I felt guilty and disgusted with myself.
I know this thirst for connection of which Wanderlust co-founder Jeff Krasno spoke in the press conference. I feel it on a daily basis, as I generally walk through my life feeling alienated and alone. The word “community” is used a lot at Wanderlust, but I get the feeling that it may be defined as “a whole bunch of people doing the same thing at the same time.” In my experience, community is cultivated in the space I inhabit day-to-day, with faces that I see on a regular basis, over conversation and a shared sense of purpose. I believe community is about co-creation, rather than consumption. It’s about showing up, and doing it again and again, even if you don’t feel like it, and things get messy, and disagreements happen.
Yet, I’m sure there were many people at Wanderlust Tremblant who experienced a sense of community, who felt connected to something bigger, who came out of the weekend transformed.
What I really know at the end of the Wanderlust experience is that I’m certain I prefer my yoga at street-level. I need a yoga that confronts the world, rather than removes itself from the world, enclosed in the safe, corporate, controlled space of a ski resort. I like my yoga to be a little gritty, uncomfortable, rough around the edges.
All photos by Ali Kaukas, via Facebook.