past a field of rainbow-coloured tents, the warm sounds of summertime reggae lead us over a grassy knoll, by a fresh juice bar and down into the heart of new hippiedom. On a hillside strewn with sunbathing dreads and wide-trousered techies, the OM summer solstice festival is where hippies meet ravers for some earth-friendly consciousness raising and good old-fashioned feet-thumping fun. When a small band of T.O. organizers kicked off the non-profit fest in 1998 with some 700 revellers (including 200 volunteers) in a field of dandelions, OM seemed to have answered the prayers of partiers who preferred their beats with a bit more soul. Going to other outdoor electronic music fests in Ontario, I always cringed at the sea of sequined halter tops, malicious tent slashings and the lack of eats beyond meat on a stick. Now, walking past the Kind Kitchen's free vegetarian tent (which is feeding up to 5,000 expected OMies this year) and making a bee-line for the hemp ice cream booth, I feel my heart skip a beat. I'm home. "Two scoops, please."
This, I think to myself, just might be worth the four-hour early-morning drive to Killaloe (on the eastern edge of Algonquin Park) and the $90 ticket price.
I stroll over to some haystack arches, or the "Gates of H.O.P.E." (Holistically Organizing for Peace, Equity, and the Environment). Schedules on wooden boards lay out everything from yoga and meditation to workshops on knitting, tantra and saving the trees through (of course peaceful) civil disobedience. I feel like a kid in an organic, sugar-free candy shop, unable to pick just one, so I opt to wander and scout out the different vibes.
I pass up a tempting offer to play with clay and head toward the spirituality tent, where "Redhawk" is talking about the mysticism of herbs. "Poisonous plants have an extremely strong energy," she assures one participant perplexed by his attraction to the dangerous greens.
My eye is caught by the sight of bodies rolling in the grass across the dry, sweltering field. I wander over to the "contact dancing" class in progress where mostly men and a few women meld into one another in silence, neck to shoulder, back to back, feet and hands poking out everywhere. "Feel your centre of gravity shift," coos the dance instructor as chants rise up from the yoga tent a few feet away.
For those not so into the granola vibe, OM offers less touchy-feely options like DJ training, do-it-yourself bike repairs and "Make It Feel So Good," a sex weaponry workshop where a spiky blond with a pile of rakes, ropes and mops at her feet smacks a rubber mallet into her palm. "This makes a great slapping sound when wet," says the dom to a small wave of knowing giggles.
OM does draw more than the standard hippie, raver or ever-popular hippie-raver cross-breed. The festival also blends getup-lovers garbed as cowboys and butterflies, clubbers, goths, children and the occasional nudie with your standard small-town and suburban boys and girls, men and women just checking out what the growing fuss it about. It's not always the smoothest blend - a few drunken knuckleheads chuck beer cans about (sacrilege!), and the occasional mullet-man stumbles into a forested enclave of cross-dressing Girl Guides. But overall, people seem to settle into the overwhelming live-and-let-live vibe that OM tries to cultivate, remarking, "It's so great that he's so comfortable with his sexual expression" when a half-naked dude fondles himself for the early dinner crowds.
As the afternoon sun starts to dip, most of the throngs recovering from last night's debauchery trickle out of the shadows, a telltale sign that not everyone is here for the workshops. While OM has always tried to shift the emphasis away from straight-up partying to foster environmental, political and social awareness in an open, creative way, it seems much of the consciousness raising seeps into new and old OMies through less direct means. Cheerful signs ask visitors to scoop wood chips down the earth-friendly loos to keep matters composting. Film canisters are handed out at the entrance to keep butts off the land. And unlike other festivals and raves, where plastic water bottles make promoters a killing, OM organizers ask that you bring your own reusable jugs to fill up as you please at 24-hour taps.
After the mandatory Whoville-style OM circle at sundown (to usher in the summer solstice), the six sound stages kick it up a notch and the beat-thumpin', butt-groovin' side of OM takes over. Still, you know you've come to a weirdly magical Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-Hindi-legend space when a figure - half-man, half-elk - scampers across your dimly lit path in a forest draped with brightly hued scarves.
And for those who tire of the slamming jungle, house or trance sets, festival-goers can always lounge on hammocks or pillows in a number of tucked-away corners and soak in some spoken word, smoke from a hookah, dance with the Krishnas or drum by a bonfire.
OM might not have the big-name DJ lineup touted by mainstream electronic three-days, but as I get down barefoot on the deep woods dance floor beside a hip-wiggling bear and a wee granola babe strapped to its mother's chest, I turn to a fellow reveller and marvel, "I think this may be the first time I've danced to techno with a cup of camomile tea."