Contrary to popular belief, Black people do go camping. However, my last time attempting it was as a teenager, so I was game to try the experience at a music festival for the first time. Fortunately, I’d been invited to FORM Arcosanti, a small festival that takes place in the Arizona desert at an experimental town in the middle of nowhere. Getting way outside your comfort zone at the intersection of art, music, sustainability, and nature is the event’s forte, but for me, it was a chance to try sleeping on the ground, in a sleeping bag, in a tent — albeit in an environment I’d never tried before, with entertainment provided by a music and arts festival just a hike away. It was the best of both worlds, minus the Coachella crowds and shower lines.
Beyond the bare bones accommodations, though, the thing that makes the FORM experience really enjoyable and distinctive is the small number of the festival attendees. With fewer than 3,000 people on site, the crowd anxiety I sometimes get covering these sorts of events never materialized, even though intellectually I figured I had to be in more danger 400 miles away from home in the middle of nature than at, say, Camp Flog Gnaw, only a 30-minute Uber ride from my apartment. But there was too much to do to spend much time worrying about wildlife or sunstroke.
Arcosanti, the experimental town that provides the venue for this equally experimental and quirky festival, is a truly fascinating place, a structure carved out of the side of a steep hill (I got my steps in), with a clump of amphitheaters and halls forming something like a half architectural spectacle, half natural wonder. I could have spent the weekend just exploring the nooks and crannies of this odd “town” with its hippie-art-commune-meets-conservational-engineering-experiment vibe.
There was a job to do, too: Take in musical performances — and in that respect, FORM’s curation did truly shine. It would probably be terrifyingly easy for the festival’s organizers to just throw a bunch of money at the usual festival mainstays, have them come out and perform for the 2,000 or so people that fit in Arcosanti’s main amphitheater, and call it a day, but FORM went above and beyond to come up with curious combinations to stimulate the same sense of discovery that the venue itself does. Things may not have always been perfect from a logistical standpoint, including long lines for showers, toilet paper and paper towel shortages at the mobile restrooms, and sometimes disorganized performance set times. But for the most part, the festival ran as smoothly as possible, with the small number of attendees mitigating any potential trouble areas.