A mini Burning Man coming to Paradise foothills
Come this weekend, one of the quiet, isolated buttes rising up from the dry, yellow valley fields southeast of Chico promises to be the bustling center-of-everything for a community of musicians, artists, dancers, environmentalists, weekend campers, new-agers and party people of all ages. High atop one particular plateau between Durham and Paradise, the Cognitive Awakening, an ambitious three-day festival will spread out across 90 wild acres.
Make no mistake though, even if you haven’t yet heard of this first-time event, this is not your typical slapped-together Butte County hippie fest, with rotating bands jamming away the day on a rented stage. Think: Burning Man, with its kinetic art, near-constant electronic music and commitment to community-building, then add to that some DIY skill-sharing, a spiritual retreat, mind-and-body workshops and even a dash of Cal WorldFest worldliness.
“Cognitive Awakening is an event created with focused intention to provide a fertile ground for growth and transformation, encouraging all to share the wisdom and magic they carry.” That’s the gist of the ambitious, new-agey description from the fest website that was running through my head as I drove to the top of Good View Drive, the dusty main road on the festival grounds.
Just past the giant windmill and a huge clear bowl filled with water that I would later find out was the “Fire Cauldron” (a bubbling, kinetic fire sculpture to be on display during the fest) was the compound’s main house, where I was greeted by the creative minds behind the festival—husband and wife Sophia and Nick Battaglia and childhood friend, artist Erin Banwell (creator of the “Fire Cauldron”), co-founder of the well-known Burning Man art camp, Nexus.
The three grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains together, and have reconvened here on these 90 acres of Battaglia family property to realize a vision that includes not only the festival, but also the building of The Cognitive Awakening Center, a proposed community center to be housed in a 13,000-square-foot inflatable building on the grounds.
“We actually have the inflatable building already,” said the genial, gravelly voiced Banwell. “Our aim is to raise the money to get the permanent use permits in order to build the facility,” he added.
“Basically what we’re doing is we’re providing a safe space for our community to come in and utilize a center that has space for actors, artists, musicians, dancers, inventors and live culinary artists and gardens to grow from,” Sophie explained.
She went on to emphasize that the ultimate goal is to create a cooperative hub of self-sustaining creation and education in various disciplines, which was something that was first envisioned for the property by Nick’s father, Dennis, before he passed away in 2002.
“He was a drug counselor for a lot of years, and we ran a halfway house,” the soft-spoken Nick said. “He was big in the community with helping people out. He basically wanted to create a space where there was a learning facility that was fully sustainable with gardens and orchards and stuff to facilitate it. … It was something that he had planned to do here. So, we’re kind of just following through with it and putting some of our own light to it as well.”
And looking at the packed schedule of music, art and workshops, theirs is one bright light. Starting at the northeast end of the property is the Vista Stage (overlooking the canyon), situated near a kid’s zone, food vendors, free well water, a slip-and-slide, and a family camping area. This is the quieter side of the fest, where the music will end early and where most of the non-electronic musicians will perform—including more representatives from the Battaglia clan: Alli Battaglia and the Musical Brewing Co., and Mary and Chris Battaglia and their hip-hop crew, Twisted Strategies.
There will be more camping spread across the middle of the grounds, along with various spaces and domes for art-making and workshops (everything from yoga to “Glitch- and Bass-infused Hooping,” a hoop-skills workshop), vendors, art installations and a hands-on music-making area hosted by S.F. experimenters LoveTech.
The Main and Mid stages on the opposite end of the butte is where the mostly electronic-based dance acts—from big name touring acts like S.F. producer Random Rab and local heavy-hitter Billy the Robot— will hold fort until 6 a.m. each day.
“A lot of the locals are excited about it,”Banwell said, “Because it seems the attitude is, ‘Oh sweet, there’s something going on in my back yard,’ as opposed to having to go further away for a good, big music festival.”