Visitors to the massive Symbiosis festival provide a taste of what took place at the event

LON AUSTIN - Music lovers fill the area in front of the moon stage as a DJ and light show play late Thursday night.

Hints of what the Symbiosis eclipse and music festival was all about began to trickle into Prineville last Tuesday.

Some began to notice unique and colorful vehicles with out-of-state plates roll into town. A lavender passenger bus, SUVs sporting intricate and vibrant paint jobs that seemingly took many hours to complete.

People wearing long dreadlocks and multi-colored garments that harkened back to the '60s hippie movement began to camp out in the larger parking lots along Third Street — their homes as close as California and Washington and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Tuesday was only the beginning, residents learned, as an explosion of more colorful visitors on Wednesday entered and left Prineville. The highway that passes east to west through the community — U.S. Highway 26 — found itself bursting at the seams. A line of cars had astounding stretched nearly 40 miles from the entrance to the festival on Big Summit Prairie to the east edge of town forcing local authorities to close the highway eastbound traffic for several hours in favor of an alternate route through Paulina.

Once the traffic dissipated early Friday, some residents learned about what was going on inside the Symbiosis gates through Facebook posts and word-of-mouth. Photos and videos filtered out of the event showing numerous, and highly colorful events celebrating art, music and many forms of free expression. Clothing, many were told, was optional and use of mind-altering substances reportedly took place throughout the festival.

Others, meanwhile, made it inside the gate and experienced the increasingly hyped event for themselves, whether visiting for the day or camping several nights. Reports from those who saw it first-hand left amazed by the event and all it offered the senses.

Inside the gate

A 60-page program distributed to visitors of the Symbiosis festival touts the Oregon eclipse as "an event decades and even billions of years in the making."

"We embrace the opportunity to collaborate on a global scale, to witness the most amazing phenomena in the solar system," it read.

Visitors came to the Crook County festival site came from literally all over the world, more than 30 countries throughout six continents, including a large contingent of Australians.

The weeklong festival that officially launched last Thursday and concluded Wednesday afternoon featured eight music stages, bearing such names as Moon, Sun, Earth, Sky and, of course, Eclipse. Each stage, spread throughout the festival compound, featured multiple performances throughout every day of the event.

Joining the musical performance were numerous live art exhibits and dance events, a series of lectures on science and other topics and wellness presentations. Envision Village Witches offered "an array of educational opportunities about traditional and alternative healing practices." The Nourishment Lab "celebrates the future of food and intelligent diet design with cooking classes, interactive workshops and demonstrations."

Visitors could check out the Dance Shala. "From pop n' locking to pirouetting, booty bouncing to belly dancing, flow to flaunting and freestylin, each day of Oregon Eclipse is packed with dance offering to get you in gear for all-night-long dance floors and beyond," its description stated.

Symbiosis even offered something for the youngsters. Kidzbiosis Dream Village.

"Join us in the music fireside drum circles, gypsy walkabouts, rainbow circus training camps, crystal tree art installations, fly high moonbeam family yoga, indigenous vision questing and taste the yummiest smoothies of all of galactic times," the description boasts.

A play zone, meanwhile, taught aerial arts, juggling and circus hooping or discover the art of mime or clowning.

Other zones included the Sym-bi-oat, a haunted Dixie boat lost in the Louisiana Bayou during the eclipse of 1868, Roadkill Saloon, Sound Immersion Experience and Emerald Eden Greenhouses.

Visitor reactions

Symbiosis earned many rave reviews from people who converged on Big Summit Prairie from different states, countries and continents. Katie Egan, of Providence, Rhode Island, was reminded by the event what she likes about attending festivals.

"It's by far the best festival I've ever gone to," she said. "I like that it's a full immersive week that you can afford to take an early night and not be afraid to miss music because there are going to be six more nights of beautiful music. There is literally whatever you are into — you can find something you love. I love it all, it's the best. It's rural and it reminds me of Burning Man a little bit because of the dust and the altitude, but I love it, I think when you are faced with the elements it makes a whole different dynamic."

Chloe Douglis-Mozdonold lives on the west coast of Australia. She looked forward to spending an amazing week with like-minded people in a beautiful setting — "being an adult in the bush with a couple thousand people sharing an experience of play and being covered in glitter, dancing and just enjoying the fact that there is an eclipse on."

"I am having an amazing time," she gushed. "Just thank you so much to the Oregon community and the people on this side of the world that have managed to give us such an amazing experience and playground to enjoy."

Also enamored with Oregon was Joel Sjostrand, who is a DJ and has attended a lot of festivals since his teens.

"Oregon is amazing," he said, noting it was his first visit to the Beaver state. "I like the people and the environment both for sure."

Tokyo native Eri Ferguson kept his summary of the Symbiosis experience short and sweet.

"Festival? Awesome. Solar eclipse? Amazing."

Population explosion

Local officials knew the Symbiosis festival would bring a lot of people to the private Big Summit Prairie land owned by Crook County resident Craig Woodward. Crook County initially approved a mass gathering permit for up to 15,000 people, but by April the applicants asked to double that threshold to 30,000 and by mid-summer when the event neared, local leaders said they expected around 35,000 people to show.

During the week of the festival, rumors began to emerge that festival had opened its gate to between 60,000 and 100,000 or more visitors. Thus far, the exact count is not known, but Crook County Assistant Planning Director Ann Beier said they intend to find out as county officials debrief in the next week or two.

While the amount of visitors is still unknown, the traffic impact is difficult to dispute.

The line of cars not only caught the attention of many locals, but news agencies throughout the Pacific Northwest as well as the websites for U.S. News and World Report and Time magazine, and Good Morning America.

Managing emergencies

Much of the traffic management, as well as response to whatever emergencies arose, fell to the Prineville Police Department in town and the Crook County Sheriff's Office. Despite dealing with a festival population at least triple the size of Prineville, local officials faced relatively few emergency situations. One situation reported involved a man riding on top of a van fell off the vehicle, requiring an air ambulance. Also, a man ran over the corners of a couple tents with his vehicle causing non-life-threatening injuries.

Several reports of missing persons emerged during the week as well, but all but one incident that was reported was resolved before the event concluded.

"We prepared our community ahead of time, and it's just been a really great experience for visitors and residents and businesses. It's gone really well," said Crook County Emergency Manager Michael Ryan. "Overall, the law enforcement agencies have worked side by side and helped to mitigate any of the challenges that we would face here in this community."

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