Kiwis really like to get out there and see the world – especially when it means life turns into one long party! Lotus Belle’s New Zealand owner Jessica Walsh explains how being “festival fabulous” turned into a fulltime career and gives her guide to the globe’s ultimate events.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today…
I can’t recall where this obsession started: probably something to do with my early fascination with music combined with a teenage love of the outdoors and camping. But it has now become so much of a way of life that after nearly (gulp) 18 years on the circuit, the mere mention of the word “festival” has me salivating like Pavlov’s dogs – well at least like Pavlov’s dogs kitted out in bum bag, false eyelashes and a sippy cup*.
I might not remember how it started, but I certainly know where my love for festivals started: the legendary Gathering Festival on Takaka Hill in the stunning north coast of the South Island of New Zealand. As part of a group of 17-year-olds on a first roadtrip adventure from Auckland, we crammed into a Toyota Camry (generously provided by Dad) and spent 12 hours on the open road followed by eight hours in a clogged up single-track queue to have the time of our lives. Was the long-distance travel worth it? Heck yes? Did I want to go back next year? Yes, yes, yes!
That Gathering sowed the seed of what has now grown into Lotus Belle. Wonderful events such as the Green Man in Wales and the Burning man in Nevada taught me what works and what doesn’t – I learnt how to fall asleep while the music still blared; I learnt how to banter, barter and forage for food; I learnt how to wear the same false eyelashes three days in a row and still look good, I learnt how to offset my carbon jandal-print** by turning car-packing into a tetras-like artform so I can transport as many of my beloved festival friends as possible.
And now that I’m immersed in this global festival lifestyle, I’ve learnt how to make a living out of it. Alongside my amazing business partner, Hari, who lives on the other side of the world – we’ve created Lotus Belle. We make tents. We’ve built a great e-commerce business. And we sell our tents all over the world to people who, like us, love to see the world as a giant festival, just waiting to happen. Our customers include everyone from animal rights activists to a top Hollywood studio executive, from a sultan in the Middle East to a leading expert on permaculture and even a well-known American Billionaire. They come from all walks of life, with one goal; to get away from it all.
The never-ending festival
It made no sense to sit at home and hope that Lotus Belle was going to raise itself – so my festival bug gave me the perfect opportunity to spend nine months last year travelling the globe, growing our Lotus Belle family, launching our United States section – and, of course, tasting the best festivals the world has to offer.
The New Year: The first seconds of the new year were spent in glorious Gisborne on the east coast of New Zealand at Rhythm and Vines and the BW Camping festival. This proved the perfect place to trial our tents in a glamping atmosphere – somewhere with history (Rhythm and Vines was founded in 2003), somewhere with a great atmosphere (this is pretty much the largest festival in NZ and makes the most of that great Gizzy sunshine), and somewhere with a bit of attitude (it’s New Year’s Eve after all and can get just a little bit messy).
January 24-27: Next was a quick trip across the Tasman to the Rainbow Serpent Festival just outside of Melbourne. This festival really has it all: from raving dance-fuelled lunatics to amazing workshops led by local elders detailing the Aboriginal history of the area, and from acro-yoga and healing workshops. Despite the madcap crew in the dance fields, a great proportion of the Rainbow Serpent crowd is made up of families attracted by the great selection of food and a huge variety of stalls. Just be aware this is Melbourne’s big festival of the year so the city folk are really letting their hair down and there are a few oddities about the place.
February 14-16: Homeward bound for Splore my absolute favourite kiwi festival and surprisingly the only one I’ve been to, in the world, where you can swim around in the sea and see the main stage! So much love and appreciation for this festie, not just because of the fantastic line-up year in, year out for its commitment to being clean and green. It’s like a big warm hug of a festival.
March 23: Next back to New Zealand for the yoga-fest Wanderlust, which was trialled in 2014 as a one-day event and was so successful that it returned in January this year. It’s a tried and tested model, which started in the US. This festival is all about yoga and all that goes with it, mind body and spirit.
April 11-13 & 18-20: Just like the birds, as the weather starts to grow colder I tend to start looking to venture north. And when you’ve got the mighty Coachella in the United States to aim for, then north looks particularly attractive. Coachella is a real bucket-list festival and attracts more headline music acts than anywhere else on earth (even Glastonbury). It’s so chaotic and the frenzy for tickets is so intense that they mirror the line-up across two weekends so you can choose one weekend or do both and get more bang for your buck. You need a plan of attack in place for this Californian dream, it’s that full-on. I had my heart set on seeing Lorde, but as she took to the stage, I suddenly realised I was being carried with the crowd but my feet weren’t touching the ground. That’s fun for a moment but then becomes really scary. I looked at this perfect stranger (who I’m pretty sure was Nicky Hilton) and yelled out “Are you having fun?” to which she replied “NO, this is awful, what the heck just happened”? “Well at least the bar will be empty,” I ventured. Nicky responded with “You read my mind” and we spent the next hour downing Jameson’s and feeling old. So that became my theme for the rest of Coachella: see all the old acts before they slip off this mortal coil. This method worked perfectly and I got front of stage for The Pixies, Bryan Ferry and The Pet Shop Boys and realised in these crowds, I wasn’t so old. Success!
Secret date: What happened next involved a trip south of the border to a secret festival in Mexico, complete with geo thermic hot pools carved out of the land, blue palm trees (naturally from the sulphur, so I’m told) and a big stone rock that looked like the Madonna (Jesus’s mum, that is, not the singer). Just the most perfect place to test out our Lotus Belle tents in a region a million miles away from New Zealand.
May 22-26: From Mexico it was back north across the border and back to California for Lightning in a Bottle and another tick off my bucket list. I call it the detox-retox festival because you can climb up one hill and dance till you drop with all the other full-energy, let’s-get-weird ravers, and then climb up another and do yoga, go to workshops about mythical giants who once roamed the earth and join a drumming circle. It had absolutely everything – except unfortunately for a river (Lotus Belle tents look so much better when they’re pitched near water). It was so hot and dusty, but totally worth it.
June 19-22: My last festival in the States before I crossed the Atlantic was What The Festival at Wolf Run Ranch, Oregon. This festival was started by some Burners (people who attend the legendary Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert) and held (apparently) on the site of a 1970s cult. Despite this peculiar history, I found this one of the friendliest, creative experiences of the year so far. And the organisers made two giant splash pools right by the main stage so you could dance and get wet, perfect! The other highlight was the range of workshops and, because I blagged a media pass for this festival, I had to attend at least one, so chose Bob Marley Yoga. If only we could live like this everyday. This was one festival I was really sad to leave.
July 18-21: A week or so later and I’ve done the big hop across The Pond in the big silver bird, touched down in London, and off to a little gem of a festival called GIVE in rural Northamptonshire. This was essentially a big family reunion – the global festival-goer’s festival – and, naturally, because the world is so small, met an amazing soul who knew about 100 of my friends back in Auckland. Only in a field in middle merry olde England, could this happen.
August 14-17: From merry England, it was time to cross the border (only just) into Wales for The Green Man festival set in the rolling hills of the stunning Brecon Beacons, the beautiful Usk Valley and the stunning Glanusk Estate (owned by the parents of Tiggy Legge-Bourke, who’s probably best known as one-time nanny to princes William and Harry). With a musical line-up of indie, rock and folk, amazing stalls, food and art, this festival has always been in a league of its own. Of course, I’d say that, I worked on it for five years and it played a major role in why I’ve ended up with Lotus Belle. Even now as a punter, it still feels like home because – unlike a few other festivals which started up at the same time - they’ve kept a cap on numbers and not allowed it to grow too big. If you find yourself in the northern hemisphere, The Green Man is quite simply a European summer must-do.
August 21 – September 1: Filling the UK summer was simple with business meetings, catching up and working remotely (that’s the truly awesome thing about working for an e-commerse business), but it was soon time to brace myself for the return flight across the Atlantic to California for some craft beer, tacos and a road trip to Nevada for the festival-to-end-all-festivals: Burning Man. A lot of people have pre-conceived notions of this one. I can categorically state, you are not, I repeat not, qualified to say anything until you’ve been and experienced it. The facts are out there for all to see: more than 65,000 people gathered in a desert in Nevada; a nigh-on 30-year history; a 105ft wooden statue burnt to a cinder; and the ritual burning of a temple with eight altars devoted to grace. But Burning Man is not about facts and figures. Even The Simpsons set an episode at Burning Man, making it pretty much a household name and breaking the website with the volume of traffic. But Burning Man is not about cartoons. Burning Man evokes curiosity and it’s this curiosity that makes it so magic. Based on 10 principals – including “radical self-reliance” meaning you must bring everything with you, festival-goers (or Burners) must pack all their water, food and gifts. Yes gifts. Because no money changes hands, you literally barter, share and gift your way through the festival. It’s a wonderful concept and creates a completely new lease on life for everyone who goes through the event. It’s like a master cleanse for the soul and definitely restores your faith in humanity.
Finally Subsonic, Newcastle, Australia, December something,.. By this stage I will admit I’m ready for the year to end but on an absolute high. Another great festival, wonderful friends made and to see 10 Lotus Belle tents set up for glamping, perfectly pitched was a great way to end the year.
My secret guide to being festival fabulous
I can’t lie, I’m a little bit festival fabulous. At times I have had some ‘fans’, many at least 10 years younger than me, asking my advice and wanting to know how I do it.
I get asked this, because, and let’s face it; festivals can be both the best and worst experiences of your life. Its hard enough making a living let alone combining the two!
So how do I do it? How do I survive while travelling the world’s festival circuit?
Here’s my secret.
Festivals (the good ones, that is) are one of the greatest popular culture experiences on this great earth. They also take us back to a time where we once roamed around as nomads and met up and partied. This appeals to us as we have become more and more bogged down by the weight of living in the cities. Festivals give us freedom.
This form of gathering is innate, to our nature.
At festivals, I for one feel we find our tribe, while others - those who follow the beat of a different drum, well they end up finding a different tribe.
So you meet people, you form intense and wonderful relationships, you get encouraged by your festival community and you thrive.
Sometimes, of course, you scream, you yell, you lose the plot, and even occasionally you get to the point where you never want to speak to those who you went to the festival with in the first place. This will happen. But the key thing to remember is that “what goes on tour stays on tour”.
Festivals allow us that sacred opportunity to be completely human. They are the perfect environment to just, be you.
* The sippy cup is a spill-proof drinking cup designed for toddlers but now popular on the festival circuit to promote a more eco friendly way of consuming beverages.
** A jandal-print, for those not fluent in Kiwi, is rather like a thong-print in Australia or a flip-flop-print in the UK and the US.
7 AM Chia Seed Porridge followed by yoga at Wanderlust New Zealand
Partying with The Super Kids at Coachella, Palm Springs, USA
Disco pants at the The Do Lab Stage, Lightening in a Bottle, Bradley, California
Temple Visit, Burning Man, Black Rock City, USA
With Lotus Belle founder and magic maker Harriet Seddon at Green Man Festival, Brecon Beacons, Wales
Catching up with Lotus Belle customer and fan Mookie Moonboots, from Baltimore at Burning Man, Black Rock City, USA