Gaia Flux 2015
Families explore water at runoff in Cadron Creek at the Gaia Flux music festival during the daytime on April 11 before local musical acts take the stage. Gaia Flux is the first installment in a series of outdoor music festivals aimed at provoking a family-friendly creative space for the central Arkansas community.
Enter the dimension of Flux.
Approximately 500 organic-cotton and crystal toting central Arkansas people transformed Cadron Creek Outfitters into a hub of counterculture during this year’s first installment in a series of outdoor collective-consciousness music and art gatherings, Gaia Flux.
When organizer Nick Sumbles hosted his first Flux festival in 2013, he didn’t predict that it would become a destination for alternative-lifestyle communities in central Arkansas— but he sure hoped so.
Growing up as a child, Sumbles was diagnosed with Asperger’s disease, which meant he was subject to social exclusion and a daily regimen of medications to lessen his spontaneous and over-expressive behavior. He said that growing up, he never felt he could completely release his creative spirit and that he didn’t feel secure in himself.
That all changed when he joined the online community, Newgrounds, and began contributing voice acting to series of online flash videos and games. The community forum encouraged collaboration and experimentation for the website’s content. Due to the practically-anonymous nature of the site, Sumbles was not afraid to contribute himself to projects. He felt at home when he was online.
After his time on the site, he explored another online community called Ectoplasm, which was like Newgrounds in the way it focused on creative collaboration, but it held a distinctly psychedelic flavor. The sense of unlimited judgement-free expression and creativity he felt on these sites was something that he wanted to create for his own community through a series of music festivals.
His vision for the festival was a space where people could feely express themselves through various forms of dance, flow arts, painting and music without fear of judgment, in a safe, secure and responsible space. Sumbles said he wanted the festival to attract local vendors, artists and music acts to synthesize a kind of flow-filled other-world where festival goers could discover exactly “who they are, what they are and where they are.”
“A lot of people try to form a new reality because the reality they have isn’t good enough,” Sumbles said. “But we’re trying to take the everyday and turn it into something beautiful.”
One night, while scouting locations for shows at the now-closed 8-Bit Tap Room in Little Rock, Ark., he met Catherine Hicks. She had experience hosting music festivals in the area and realized how difficult Sumble’s vision would be to actualize, so she volunteered to help. Later that fall they hosted their first festival, called Quantum Flux, in a friend’s backyard.
With the success of Quantum still fresh and the impending winter weather quickly approaching, they scrambled to find new venues to host their festivals. The festival toured around Little Rock to Enjoy Skate Warehouse, ReCreation Studios and Juanita’s Cantina before it traveled to its now permanent home at Cadron Creek Outfitters in Greenbrier, Ark.
The trio, which comprises of Sumbles on promotion and ticketing, Hicks on booking and volunteer organization and Ryan Brown on production and, have planned five events for 2015. Gaia Flux, on April 10-12, inaugurated 2015’s season.
“We do these things multiple times a year so it’s not just a blowout,” Hicks said. “It’s a constant reminder of this type sustainable version of society that people can take home and use to create something new.”
Attendance has steadily risen with each event and Hicks said the growth rate has been just right for their production. She said they’ve been able to keep up with the influx of attendees and maintain their original vision for the festivals.
“Our purpose is to bring people together in this flow and in this artistic form,” Sumbles said. “They can be themselves, express themselves and party on. As long as all these people keep on coming and it keeps getting bigger and bigger, that flow will become much more fluent.”
Welcome to the family.
Most music festivals are littered with troops of young people, whose minds are loaded with plethora of psychoactive chemicals, music that is entirely too loud and fields where campsites are packed in like sardines. Flux gatherings are not that kind of festival.
Sumbles and his team encourage attendees to contribute themselves to a family-friendly environment that focuses on community collaboration, rather than distraction, and Hicks said that Flux festival-goers can sense that when they enter the space.
“Flux, unlike a lot of other festivals, is not this weekend escapism kind of thing,” Hicks said. “It’s more so creating a space so people can explore things that are kind of counter-culture—to have this space to explore themselves and really focus on creation rather than escape.”
Stephanie Duncan brought her son to Gaia Flux, but said she wouldn’t have considered taking her to a larger festival like Wakarusa or Bonaroo. For her, the Flux festivals are a space where she feels safe bringing her child, largely in part to the kinds of people who are present in the space.
Parents at Gaia Flux hosted a donation-based kitchen and ran a trade circle for children’s supplies and encouraged the kids to socialize around the festival. On Saturday, a little girl named Mary Jane traded me a piece of bubblegum in exchange for a joke.
Her father, who called himself Cory Stardust, said the intention and involvement present at the Flux festivals provided his family “a truly unique experience that doesn’t exist anywhere else in central Arkansas.”
“It’s more than just a party, it’s a community of people and it becomes really family oriented,” Duncan said. Everybody here becomes part of your extended family, which I don’t feel like you can get anywhere else.”
That sense of family extended to multiple faucets of the festival, where people at campsites were sharing beer and food, artists were collaborating on music and art, and attendees volunteered their time to festival staff.
Blake Rogers was managing admission when I entered the gate. Him and the four other people checking IDs and taking money had volunteered their time in exchange for free admission to the festival. He said this involvement from Flux festival goers distinguished the weekend from his past experience at large music festivals.
“It draws more of the volunteer crowd,” Rogers said. “I can walk up to any of these campsites and ask someone to help chops up some firewood so we can have a badass fire. At a larger festival, half of the people wouldn’t give you a hug if you asked for one because they’re just there to enjoy themselves.”
The volunteerism even extended to an afternoon music performance on the main stage. A band scheduled to perform at 5 p.m. cancelled the morning of the festival, leaving an hour-long gap in the lineup. The festival team rushed through the campgrounds and found people who brought instruments with them to the festival and ended up gathering 9 musicians to improvise a jam session on stage during the gap.
Other local musicians and a handful of nationally known acts occupied the stage during the other sets and provided a backdrop of music that gradually evolved from reggae to psytrance electronica. Hicks primarily scouts artists for the festival within her own community.
Sumbles said involvement from the people who attend his team’s events is part of the experience of their festival and that the experience sticks with those who spend a weekend at Flux.
"Flux is about the flow of expression, discovery and culture,” Sumbles said. “No matter who comes into our gates, they learn something.”