Anyone who’s been to enough music festivals can likely attest to a few general shortcomings many fests inevitably run into, regardless of how fun they are otherwise. There’s the problem of overlapping set times, which can force concertgoers to choose between two acts they really want to see. Sometimes, the crowds are just way too massive, reducing fans’ favorites artists to specks on the horizon without the aid of huge screens, which they’d still have to crane their necks over hundreds or even thousands of fellow concertgoers to even see.
And even though corporate sponsorship is often the lifeblood of bigger festivals, there are times the branding can be obtrusive, drawing attention away from the music and programming and onto the products brands want to sell. That’s not bad for the brands, who need the attention to thrive, but it can be bad for bands, who need the same, and it can undermine the cool factor of a big fest, which runs counter to the association those brands want to have.
Arizona’s FORM Arcosanti aims to be, if not exactly the opposite, an alternative to such festival experiences. It takes place mostly at a smaller amphitheater in an experimental town in the desert. Arcosanti was founded in the 1970s to demonstrate the impact and efficacy of “combining the social interaction and accessibility of an urban environment with sound environmental principles.” The population is under 200, but the goal of the experiment is to permanently house 5,000 people.
That number is still a fraction of the size of some festivals, yet since FORM’s inception, it has steadily grown, despite remaining largely independent, limiting its attendance to just 2,500, and promoting mainly by word-of-mouth. A turning point for the festival was 2017’s Solange Knowles set, which established the fest as the real deal. While its limited size may suggest a goal of exclusivity, its founders, electronic band Hundred Waters, actually aim for the opposite.
The festival touts a desire to foster collaboration and “meaningful connections in terms of creativity among artists” as part of its mission statement; Performers roam the town as freely as the guests, and the programming promotes mindfulness, wellness, and community. The festival intends to be a one-of-a-kind, special experience for all its attendees, whether they’re performing or perusing. With a diverse lineup including headlining performances from Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals, Florence And The Machine, Kaytranada, and more, there is an experimental vibe to the curation of the event that promotes discovery, a vibe which is aided by set times that never overlap once over the course of the three-day festival. It’s as much a creative retreat as it is a concert, all purposed to be its own, individualistic, “hippy-dippy” thing that can’t be duplicated — or overlooked.
Before attending the fest for the first time this weekend, I spoke via phone with Zach Tetrault, creative director and curator of the festival (and member of Hundred Waters), to get a better feel for what to expect, to learn more about the festival’s goals and its growth, and which of Anderson .Paak’s two albums released in the last few months is his favorite.
One thing I have to ask is does FORM actually stand for anything?
No, it’s not an acronym. But I think it has multiple meanings. As you can imagine there is an architectural connotation, and also, just a good community building, creation level meaning. It’s just a word.
What makes year six different from the previous years?
Every year is an evolution and presents new challenges and new accomplishments. It’s so exciting because we definitely have had the most enthusiasm from the community and our audience. We were actually out of tickets by March 1 or the end February which has never happened to us before. So that’s super exciting and it also presents some new challenges as to how to create a really smooth and enjoyable experience for a larger crowd. We’ve been really digging in on ways enhance the programming and guest flow, our food and beverage experience and everything all around. We always want to “one-up” the experience every year.
I noticed, doing my research, that you told Phoenix New Times that you had some hard decisions to make. Are you able to elaborate on any of those?
We’ve grappled with expanding and adding a new main stage and opening it up to two or three times the capacity that we’ve been at. We definitely had the demand this year to do that. But decided to stay true to the model this year and keep it small [and] keep all the headliners and the artists in the amphitheater, which was a pretty difficult decision because we faced a lot of financial challenges.
What are some of the things that a first timer can look forward to and what are some things that longtime fans that have been going for all five years can look forward to in the sixth year?
I think something that a first timer can look forward to is that sort of freewheeling nature of not having to worry about overlapping sets or choosing one band over the other. We carefully construct our programs so that you can see everything you want to see or everything that is happening at the event and really discover new music or speakers, workshops, and conversations.
For folks who have come multiple years, I think the campgrounds will be a really pleasant experience and will be quite an upgraded experience from years past. We will have a lot more amenities down there and a nicer full grass field that’s flat and beautiful, down in a canyon. I think it is by far going to be our best year on that front.
What exactly goes into that programming? How do you curate that experience? Do you guys have a specific goal in mind or a specific narrative that you want to pursue, or is it just like, ‘Hey, we like this stuff and this is what it is?’
I think it is a little bit of both. We work with a really amazing team of folks on the cultural programming side who bring in ideas and relationships. It’s all stuff that we care about and is programming that is reformed by this site in terms of sustainability, environmentally, and has elevated ways of thinking about the world and how we live in it.
One idea I came across a bunch with regard to FORM is that you have “created a festival in order to foster meaningful connections in terms of creativity among artists.” What are meaningful connections to you and how does FORM foster those connections?
There’s no VIP or special access tickets at the event or different VIP viewing areas, so when an artist gets off stage and wants to see another band playing they are just kind of in the audience. I think there is a really meaningful component to that with all artist themselves being out there many of them choose to stay for a day or two and it really creates and opportunity to form some pretty meaningful connections with other artists. We always have like a recording studio where artists can go and play music and jam in and record 24/7 at the event. We have seen some pretty amazing stuff happen in there. It creates an opportunity for artists and guests to have a more meaningful connection.
As far as the music goes, I have heard of the names, but may not really be familiar with the music. It just really does seem like this really diverse, interesting, cast of characters. But with that said, I have to ask, when it comes to Anderson .Paak: Oxnard or Ventura?
I think it’s Oxnard for me, to be honest. I don’t know, I haven’t gone that far into Ventura. We are pretty busy.