28 Festivals and 8 Reasons They Can Change Your Life (Plus: Free Burning Man Tickets!)


Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels.

Chip Conley is the founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, which he began at age 26 and built to more than 30 properties in California alone. In 2010, Joie de Vivre was awarded the #1 customer service award in the U.S. by Market Metrix (Upper Upscale hotel category).

Conley has also been named the “Most Innovative CEO” in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times, and I’m proud to call him a friend.

Last year, he decided that he wanted to become the world’s leading expert on festivals.

Why? Because he’d seen his personal and professional lives transformed by places like Bali and Burning Man. Since that decision, he’s traveled to more than two-dozen countries to experience more than three-dozen festivals and launched Fest300.

Why are festivals — one of the mankind’s oldest traditions — most important than ever in a digital world? What are Chip’s favorite festivals and how can they tranform your life?

This post — full of inspirational photographs — answers all of these questions.

Chip is also giving away two free tickets to this month’s sold-out Burning Man, which include drinks with Chip and quite possibly Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man. Deadline for submissions is this Friday! Details at the end of this post.


Enter Chip


1) The more virtual we get, the more ritual we need.

As we become more reliant on our iPhones, and more “connected” through Facebook, we can actually become more disconnected from each other. Real connection is what we crave. Festivals are as old as humanity, but in the digital era there’s a new peak in the magnetic attraction to extraordinary human gatherings. Whole festival genres such as transformational (Jeet Kei Leung TEDx Vancouver) and EDM (Chicago EDM Tribute) have doubled in size over the past decade. There’s an immediacy available when we put down our smart phones and dive into the present moment at a festival. Because what we need are IRL (In Real Life) experiences, while we drown in a sea of URLs.

Digital overload may be a first world problem, and not an immediate matter of life and death. But, on parts of Bali and at Burning Man, cell and wireless connections are rare or nonexistent. Life and death are immediate as they are ritualized in community and in fire – far from anything virtual. My festival transformation was forged in the fires of both.

Bali rekindled my childhood love of festivals, which is why I’ve returned over a dozen times. From birth to death, the Balinese culture is grounded in festivals. The Balinese honor the passing of life during the light of day with public cremations that celebrate the dearly departed while they often lie in full view…


then send them to the heavens in grand funeral pyres…



The community must be present to complete the journey, yet you need not live there to feel right at home. There’s a freedom in facing the inevitability of death together, which provides a sense of meaningful connectedness in this shared theater of life.

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey burned an effigy in his own image on a San Francisco beach to transform his broken heart.

25+ years later, Burning Man’s climactic night of burning “The Man” in the desolate wilderness of Black Rock City’s playa is now the penultimate inferno at this annual event that will host a record 68,000 people in 2013. The final burn is actually that of the Temple…


an enormous temporary structure that acts as a receptacle for words, pictures and totems, ritually deposited during the week with a combustible mixture of laughter and tears.


The Temple burns in an emotional bonfire on Burning Man’s final night…


Anyone who’s experienced this will tell you that, while there’s a lot of fun to be had at this world-renowned festival, there is – perhaps more importantly – a real opportunity to sink deep into connection with others…and with yourself.

2) Festivals redefine “vacation.”

Too many of us “vacate” ourselves during our precious time away from work, trading in the couch and a beer for a beach lounger and a colorful cocktail dressed with a tiny umbrella. We’ve been ritualized into taking vacations that lack discovery because we think the antidote to burnout is passing out by the pool. We need to retire the words “occupation” for our work and “vacation” for our play. Our breaks from daily routine should be transformational. When we’re in our 80s, the peak experiences we’ll remember will be the ones where we checked into new places with a fresh sprig of curiosity in our elixir of life. The truth is, most people in the world see their happiness and victories in the context of the group or village experience – what sociologist Emile Durkheim called “collective effervescence” 100 years ago. Make a pact with yourself to witness and experience some communal joy and attend at least one festival a year. You can take the pledge here. The good news is you don’t have to leap continents to do this. In many cities, there’s an art faire…




or Day of the Dead celebration very close to your own backyard.


The above shots were all taken near my backyard in San Francisco.

An authentic Mexican Dia de los Muertos experience in Oaxaca might be more of a bucket list kind of trip. Till then, seek out one near you this November. Art faires like the Bay Area’s Maker Faire bring together a mash up of DIY enthusiasts who can make just about anything out of a little bit of string, some tape and a vivid imagination. And, Rio’s definitely got some colorful competition at the Mission’s Carnival, which boasts incredible costumes, dancing, food, music and merriment every May. And you won’t find a single pool lounger anywhere in sight.

3) Cultural Curiosity = a more robust life + a more peaceful planet.

In the next 40 years, the world’s population will explode from 7 to 10 billion people. “I need some space” will take on new meaning as personal elbowroom becomes increasingly scarce. The security landscape has changed in the past decade, and the 24/7 barrage of negative media about “the other,” can induce fear at the thought of breaking out of what’s comfortable, or beyond what we know. Festivals are natural barrier disintegrators. At first glance, India’s sacred Kumbh Mela may seem to have little in common with the throngs who flock to Spain each year to run with the bulls. And, within just one country, Turkey’s Whirling Dervishes seem a world away from the modern day gladiators of its Oil Wrestling Championships. But cultural curiosity is a mindset that opens a window into “the other” and into our selves.

I joined the crowd at India’s Maha Kumbh Mela this year. A Kumbh Mela happens every three years, with four cities taking hosting turns. The Maha Kumbh Mela happens every 12 years and an estimated 100 million pilgrims came together in 2013. The international news focused on a train station stampede where 36 devotees lost their lives. Tragic, but not surprising given the numbers. What the reports missed is how this congregation of mass humanity can peacefully coexist for five weeks along the Ganges River. Proof that we humans don’t need as much personal space as perhaps we think.


On the streets of Pamplona, personal space is trumped by survival skills when thousands gather on two legs to escape a powerful few running on four (more on this in reason #4).


Whirling Dervishes have been twirling annually for nearly 750 years since the death of their beloved poet Rumi, and Kirkpinar’s wrestlers have been proudly competing for over six centuries. What I felt in my bones, because I was there in the flesh (I did get a chance to whirl, but only spectated the field games), was a real sense of commonality between these two disparate rituals and my own worldview. Whirling is sacred. There’s an intensity – both physical and psychological – that gets whipped up in the midst of the dance.


The oil wrestlers similarly push themselves to physical and psychological limits in a display of honor and reverence for their community today, and for the ancestors who came before them. Those of us observing are immediately connected by the transcendent energy of the dervishes in the arena and the intensity of the men on the field. In both instances, I became part of something far away from my “safe” little corner of the world. Clearly, I was the curious “other.” Yet, all barriers disappeared and we were merely humans…being.


4) Festivals allow you to push your limits.

For generations, status was defined by how you kept up with the Jones’s: the car in your driveway and the size of your swimming pool. With social media’s “status” updates, we’re seeing a big shift from being material-driven to being more experience-driven. Since we can now share our experiences in an instant, our triumphs are tied less to “tangibles” like a BMW, and more to the intangible IMF (in-the-moment feeling) that can be viewed vicariously by our friends. Some festivals are lively competitions that you can enthusiastically observe and enjoy from the stands (Naadam, Concurs de Castells, Il Palio). But, the greatest transformation factor is found in immersive experiences where you shift from passive spectator to active participant.

Taking part in competitions involves pushing through your own personal fear factor. I had the pure pleasure of spectating the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Competition in Gloucester, UK, witnessing brave – or crazy depending on how you see it – men and women race down an impossible incline risking limb and levity. First-time American winner Kenny Rackers was on a mission to inspire one million people to pursue their dreams…

Observing was the right choice for me, as I’ve nursed a seriously broken ankle before. Still, connecting with the locals and cheering on the racers induced a joyful IMF.

But, in Pamplona, I threw caution to the wind at the Fiesta de San Fermin. Donning the traditional red scarf and an “I Love SF” tee that works for my hometown of San Francisco and for San Fermin, I did more running from the bulls than with them. It was an exhilarating IMF.


Another limit was pushed when I learned more about the fate of the bulls. I honestly hadn’t considered the bullfight at the end of the day. Participating in the run and observing the PETA protests and The Running of the Nudes provided another P.O.V. that transformed my thinking about this festival.


Seeing both sides, without judgment, is not an easy task in life. Being on the ground and experiencing another culture’s rituals forces us to do what cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien reminds when discussing the Latin origin of the word “respect,” which is respetar: to look again.

5) Festivals allow you to connect with new kindred spirits or experience collective effervescence with close friends.

Sure, you can go online 24/7 and find people to chat with about common interests. But that doesn’t compare with the intensity of being with them in person, whether the focus is on yoginis at Wanderlust


or bikers at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally


Stepping outside your comfort zone means exactly that. Most of us are quite fond of our creature comforts and chosen tribe. Festivals can bring out the best and, sometimes, the worst in people. While we may yearn for new experiences and locales, our expectations can get in the way of enjoying what we may find there. Some festivals are inherently magical with serendipitous meetings of new friends and interesting locals at every turn. But, if you’re traveling alone, this may be asking too much of happenstance.

Traveling alone, I’ve made new friends of all ages, shapes and colors in languages shared and those helped along with interpreters, from the Kumbh Mela festival in India…


to the El Colacho baby-jumping festival in Spain.


If you prefer a traveling companion, kindred spirits can be just a click away. I often reach out to Facebook friends when headed to a festival. Last year, a friend doing business in Pakistan joined me spur of the moment in Turkey for the Mevlana Whirling Dervish festival. And a once virtual friend joined me last minute from the Philippines for a series of village festivals in Bali. Companion reality check: the wrong travel partner can be a real festival buzz kill. Be clear about why you’re going to a festival. If you’re looking for a life-altering transformative experience or just to find a casual hook-up, the best choice you might make is to travel with someone who has a comparable intent.

[TIM NOTE: See my related posts on free international housing in 20+ countries, as well as global volunteering as mini-retirements.]

#6 Festivals bring you face-to-face with the highest expression of the human spirit.

Later in his life, Abraham Maslow expanded on his iconic hierarchy of five human needs: 1. physical (food & shelter); 2. safety; 3. social (belonging); 4. esteem; 5. self-actualization. He added: 6. aesthetics and 7. transcendence. Art transcends cultural barriers. Feeling a part of something bigger than you is palpable at many festivals. Nowhere have I experienced this more deeply than in the midst of tens of thousands of people – from all over the world – writing their hopes and dreams on large paper lamps that become luminescent spiritual torches at Taiwan’s Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival.


The collective effervescence (there’s something about seeing it all together) of releasing these beacons into the sky is awe-inspiring, with a deep sense that our aspirations are all connected.


Seeing art in the every day gives you a new pair of eyes to see the world.

In his TED talk on the arts festival revolution, David Binder shares Australia’s Minto Live Festival and others with utter exuberance. These festivals show how the arts uniquely coalesce the local and the global. Art removes any sense of “the other” especially when the lines between performers and the audience are eliminated.

Two colorful festivals that express the enlightened, exuberant human spirit are at opposite ends of the temperature gauge. China’s Harbin Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival is an awe-inspiring display of artistic craft and superhuman endurance in -30 below freezing temps…

And India’s Holi (which has recently inspired similar festivals across the U.S.) transforms cultural barriers in the heat through a fantastic human rainbow of laughter and connection.


At both, the collective is necessary to inspire…and to be inspired.

7) Sometimes we need an event to facilitate transformation.

Transformation is a subjective term. One person’s metamorphosis might have a hedonistic flavor on an Ibiza dance floor, while another’s might emerge at a mountain monastery pilgrimage. I’ve experienced the gamut…profound moments that shifted big boulders in my life, as well as mind-blowing, in-the-moment connections that were just pure fun and frivolous.


I have also seen momentous shifts in the lives of others. One friend was at the top of his career and financially set, with a beautiful woman at his side. From the outside looking in, he had it all. You probably know someone like this. Or, perhaps it’s you. Are you miserable? My friend was. By the time he arrived at Burning Man, he’d gotten so used to seeing people as walking dollar signs that he’d lost his connection with humanity. What transpired over several days was nothing short of miraculous. By the time he left the playa, he was – and remains to this day – a changed man. What he needed was time, space and a completely new habitat – one based upon the gift economy and not the dog-eat-dog world – where he could let go and take a look at who he was at that particular time in his life…and who he wanted to be.

This could happen for couples who’ve lost their connection – traveling to the Buenos Aires Tango Festival to get their romantic mojo back. Or, someone dealing with a physical illness taking a trip to the World Bodypainting Festival in Austria to reclaim their body in Technicolor.


Or, maybe someone attends an LGBT Pride Festival after living a closeted life for too long.


Timing is everything. Find a festival that will allow you to welcome some transformation into your life. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “The universe is change, life is an opinion.” Maybe it’s time for a little change in your life?

8) The journey to a festival can provide surprising collateral benefits.

Many festivals are located in some of the world’s most fascinating towns or spectacular natural settings. When I traveled to Spain’s wacky baby-jumping festival this summer, I experienced a delightful bonus along the way. El Colacho is held in the small village of Castrillo de Murcia, where brightly hooded “devils” literally jump mattresses topped with infants to save their little souls.



This Catholic/pagan ritual has stood the test of time for four centuries, but as I trained my way from Madrid to northern Spain, I started having second thoughts about traveling so far for a small village festival that attracted lots of YouTube attention, yet scarcely more than a few dozen visitors. But, once I arrived in the charming, car-free, medieval town of Burgos – near the festival – I realized that El Colacho was the appetizer and Spain’s gastronomic capital, Burgos, was the main course…



The same happened while in Siena, Italy for Il Palio



In Fes, Morocco for the Festival of World Sacred Music



And at Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves for Thaipusam



Now I’m imagining that I just might experience some collateral benefits in Tahiti for Heiva. Soon!


Beneath our varied exteriors lies a universal human landscape that connects us. Writer E.M. Forster’s humanistic epigraph to Howard’s End says it succinctly: “Only connect.”

Now it’s your turn…


How to Get Free Burning Man 2013 Tickets

Tim and I want to hear how festivals have transformed your life and/or why you are BURNING to go to a festival.

The most compelling story will garner two tickets to Burning Man (August 26 – September 2), and drinks with me (Chip) — and perhaps founder Larry Harvey — at First Camp on the Playa.


A) Entry = post 100 words or fewer in the comments below, telling us how festivals have rocked your world or why you have a burning desire to go to a festival.

B) Deadline = Friday, August 16, 2013 at 12 midnight PST

C) Winner = Announced Monday, August 19, 2013

D) Prize = 2 Burning Man Tickets sent overnight to your door + First Camp drinks

Look forward to hearing from you!

Posted on: August 15, 2013.

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272 comments on “28 Festivals and 8 Reasons They Can Change Your Life (Plus: Free Burning Man Tickets!)

  1. I’ve been doing art for so long it doesn’t seem exciting to me any more. When I went to SXSW last year – it was like receiving a shot of pure inspiration again.


  2. I am burning to go to a festival because I need some inspiration in my life. I’ve backpacked 4 different countries in my life and each time it lifted me out of my rut. Colombia was transforming because I met some of the most inspiring and interesting people. I have heard amazing things about burning man and would love to go. I’m at a career crossroad and need some introspection. I live in Vancouver, BC and would love the road trip!


  3. I’ve never been to a festival, but I constantly see friends come back from festivals with a renewed sense of purpose.

    In my own life, I’ve sought out transformational vacations, but there has always been something missing from just ‘vacating’ to another country, even if it’s an amazing trip by most standards.

    Working in a big city can quickly cause you to lose focus on what’s important. Having the chance to experience Burning Man is exactly what I need to refocus on what’s really important in life, as I’ve seen so many of my friends do from similar experiences.


  4. My desire to go to BM is simple. I have not had the experience you talk of. In fact, I have had the opposite. As someone that used to live for Grateful Dead gatherings and thought humanity was one of the coolest things ever. Even going into the field of psychology and healing. I have found the opposite and it saddens me. I would love to have the humanity connecting. “Eyes of a child” experience that you speak of.


  5. The festivals that I have been to, which involve music, art, creativity, have meant more than anything connection. Connection to other humans sharing life on the planet at the same point in time! We rarely speak of this, because we probably don’t think about it in this way, but I believe that is what is happening – the core essence. Also festivals force us to put aside the mundane day to day and live in the moment with strangers and in those moments we feel all the best of humanity (and sometimes a little of the worse), which is life affirming.


  6. When I was in high school, i travelled to France. The small town we were in happened to be having a Gay Pride Parade. It was the most fun participating i the parade, they were so welcoming to us annoying American teenagers! It gave me a taste of subcultures and found they were some of the best ways toget to know a place. On any trip now i like to seek out the subcultures and have found that one of the best ways to do so is attending festivals.


  7. I love connecting with people and am fascinated by community, startups, fire, art, and kindness.

    I’m really not sure how I have not found my way to Burning Man yet but my life seems ripe for the opportunity and I’m willing to invest in the shared experience and myself enough to partake and share what I have learned.


  8. I’m a sceptic. I always have been. I am scared of letting go, and being someone whom I’ve never met before. But travel is in my blood, and moving to San Francisco from overseas (Australia by way of Canada), because I fell in love, has been the catalyst for my foray into self-expression and risk-taking. I don’t understand ‘burners and hippies’ but more than anything I think it’s because, deep-down, I know that I’m one of them. I want to close my eyes, look deep into my soul, feel self-acceptance and appreciation, and then open my eyes again to a whole new wonderous world. That, to me, is what I think Burning Man would be like.


  9. In 2003 I was 25 years old, 355lbs, in a Metal band called “Bass Fist”. I was mad, sad, alone and confused about EVERYTHING. Then in the summer of 2003 I went to a Music Festival. The band playing was called “Phish”. The 2nd song they played changed my life forever. For the first time in my life, I was dancing! I went from feeling separate from everyone to “one” with everything. It was enlightenment. Everything started to make sense. All of my relationships dramatically improved. I lost 180lbs in 14 months. Festivals/Group events change lives, I am living proof!


  10. The Get In Gear Now! Entrepreneur Experience is designed to, inspire, empower, and motivate millions of youth and young adults to follow their passions, dreams, and goals. I am writing to hopefully win the tickets for two of our staff (speakers/instructors). Festivals allow the opportunity to meet people of vast backgrounds and experiences, which allow for a BIGGER DREAM. Our mission is to spark an entrepreneurial revolution among young and ambitious urban youth to DREAM BIG, and have the passion to win. Festivals are a way to see a bigger picture and decide to “Live the Dream”.


  11. The base desire of humanity is connection: to be loved, to be touched, to be held.

    At 17, I had a heart-wrenching breakup that prompted me to quit 3rd year university, move to Bangkok, and become a trophy girlfriend for a wealthy man twice my age.

    Long story short, I was headed on a sharp spiral downhill until 1) I had an encounter with prostitutes in Cebu 2) I found yoga.

    This is where (yoga) festivals come in: The community of love channeled into me changed everything. I was loved until I could love myself.

    I will spread this love.


  12. My life was transformed while serving in the Army and on a trip to Egypt. The power of their rituals stirred something so primal and ethereal I knew I would never be the same. I’m transforming myself yet again and ready to expand my mind at the BURN!


  13. At the beginning of January this year, I was in Goa, India, participating at one of the full-moon festival, maybe the biggest Full Moon Festival on the planet, because I love psychedelic trance music… who doesn’t!? I was there with who has become my girlfriend, and it was needed to reconcile with India, in which I was living… I have heard about Burning Man since loooong ago, I haven’t been there yet for the fact that I live in Europe, and doing a lot of things at the same time, and now it’s finally time to burn :D


  14. I started going to raves and festivals in 1995 when I was 15. Home life wasn’t that great, but my negative feelings disappeared once I got to the party.

    Call it what you want, but the music takes over and gives all different types of people a common energy and vibration to relate to. I clearly remember my inhibitions, ego, and insecurities disappearing and just being happy to connect with others. It changed my life.

    I’m 32 now, and overdue for a reminder. Burning man is the mecca I’ve wanted to attend. This year’s been tough, but WINNING WOULD CHANGE THAT!


  15. As I get older, I love to use the energy from festivals is a source of uplift and rejuvenation. Get my ass off the couch to hang out at Bumbershoot, Fremont Fair, Hempfest, SAM Re-Mix provides me and my family with amazing opportunity to get exposed to new music, food, art and, best of all, rubbing shoulders with humanity. Especially awesome when my kids to go to festivals and I see their eyes light up when they hear fresh music, see crazy dressed dudes walking around on stilts as they get out of their cellophane Disney watching existence.


  16. Coachella music festival 2011 and 2012: I’ve always gone to one genre music festivals and Coachella was a first for me where all sorts of music was presented. Funny as it sounds, it opened me up to the idea that we don’t have to divide ourselves by our musical preferences. The indie rock kids, the hip hop heads, the ravers, etc… we can all hang out together and learn that we aren’t all that different. Diversity is beautiful.

    Now if we could broaden that type of thinking to the world and replace music genres with countries, race, sexual orientation…


  17. I recently went to EDC Las Vegas and had my mind absolutely blown! The amount of people in one place enjoying the music together was incredible! I wish I would have taken more pictures and videos but I was too busy enjoying my time there! I hope to go again sometime.


  18. I attended a decompression and it completely changed my life. I had never seen the values of Burning Man lived out in real time and knew them only abstractly. There is a spiritual openness and consciousness that comes along with the experience, I constantly work on how to spread that awareness and kindness in the world outside the festival scene. It has helped me overcome many personal problems and I feel that it allows me to give more back to society, also it’s also a spectacular party of course I am burning to go!


  19. As a native Argentinean living in NYC, the Northeast feels a bit stiff sometimes. Festivals are a wonderful change of order to routine. The spectacle, interconnection, music, smiles, laughs, and holy hell are they hilarious, the sheer diversity of it all, are what I live for. And I have yet to do Burning Man, the grandest, the most mythical. Burning Man! I lost my job recently, and while I am hustling new things, I am free to go to Burning Man. If I win tickets, I’ll consider it a wonderful omen, and do my duties and spread the karma :).


  20. I have a desire to go to Burning Man because I have been walking through life like a zombie, raised to focus on the material (career, money, power) and I want that to change. I want to embrace the unfamiliar instead of distrust it.

    Recently, I found my cousin who was the black sheep of the family and I fell in love with his lifestyle. He traveled, went to Burning Man, had little material and only wanted what was needed. It was because of him that I want to see this lifestyle and wake up for the first time.