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.