Here's the first thing you need to know about the Wild Goose Festival: it's hot. As in temperature-hot. This is to be expected when you host an event in the heart of North Carolina at the end of June. It's going to be steamy.
Here's the second thing you need to know about the Wild Goose festival: it's a Christian festival, but not that kind of Christian festival. Taking its name from a Celtic symbol for unpredictability, beauty and grace, the Wild Goose Festival describes itself on its website as "a community creating a festival at the intersection of justice, spirituality and art." Think Woodstock for Christian hippies without the drug use and with clothing.
And here's the third thing you need to know about the Wild Goose Festival, as stated by one of the organizer in their welcome Thursday (and I'm paraphrasing here): "If you are here because you know the truth and you want to make sure everyone else knows the same truth you do, then we want to encourage you to use this festival as your own personal retreat of solitude and silence." This was met, incidentally, with wild applause. At the Wild Goose Festval, you learn quickly that personal agendas and soapboxes are left at the Shakori Hills entrance, and open dialogue and mutual respect and love take their place.
I had heard about the Wild Goose Festival from some family friends who went last year and absolutely loved it. A few months ago I was asked to play music for one of the noon "Sacred Space" worship services at the festival, and the family decided to tag along. We camped out one night and enjoyed a solid 24+ hours of the Wild Goose experience - more than enough to whet our appetite for next year.
So, what goes on at the Wild Goose? A number of things. Great music, everywhere, all the time. On stage (David Lamotte and Derek Webb were two that I saw) and all around Shakori Hills under the shade of trees, people jamming away. Wonderful speakers; folks whose books I'd been reading for years. Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis - just to name a very few. Booths all over the grounds for everything from seminaries and colleges and book publishers to the group against torture, the organization promoting clean water (very appropriate given our state's current flirtation with fracking), racial equality, world missions - you pretty much name it, it was there. All while camping with the family under the shade of a cluster of trees, and with some former Mount Airy friends we hadn't hung out with in years.
The cool thing about the Wild Goose Festival is that everyone just kind of hangs out with each other, including the speakers and musicians. There are no walls separating the "names" from the masses, and that's exactly the point. So it was nothing to see Brian McLaren "emerge" from his tent just a few campspots away from yours, or Phyllis Tickle chatting it up over a cup of cool lemonade with a young couple holding their two-year old daughter, or Derek Webb discussing favorite bands with the guy at the seminary booth. It's what community should be about.
You never know what might happen when you throw a bunch of free-thinking spiritual types together in a confined space for five scorching days (did I mention it was hot?), but everyone behaved and was kind and courteous. Just in the small taste my family and I got of it, there was an air of excitement and engagement over what God was doing there - a sense that Christianity does not have to be so narrowly defined by a certain segment of society that wants to describe it in negative terms and make it about a single set of issues. I think that's what attracted me to it the most - a freedom to embrace a more comprehensive and complete view of the faith. It's the kind of Christianity I wish others could see more often.
Here's a few pictures I took of the event, just to give you a taste of what my family's experience was like. The video that follows will cast the net a little wider. You should make plans to go next year. I'm pretty sure we'll be there again.