Create Your Woodstock: Celebrate life

This is the second installment to the five-part series that helps you create an intentional mindset to experience the vibrancy of live events. Missed the intro to the series? Check it out before you continue.

Katie O'Connell
Oct 1, 2019 · 7 min read

I’ve been following along, semi-religiously, with the new release of Bon Iver’s album, “i,i.” Justin Vernon, the frontman of the techno, electronic-infused indie, folk band, has cultivated a collaborative community of multidimensional musicians, artists, and human beings in the creation of the new album. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Vernon spoke about the final track on the album, “RABi.”

“Well, it’s all just scared of dying

But isn’t this just a beach?”

The line screams something to the effect of, “hello…we are here now. What is this idea of heaven? We are here on this earth together. Now. Let’s celebrate life.”

There are many adversities people face in day to day life and tension in the heat of the current political climate we are living in. I’m not denying that. But, these lyrics seem to be a battle cry to the mentality we so easily can fall in, thinking that is all that is happening in our world. The message reminds us that life is pretty beautiful when you acknowledge the fact that each day you have the opportunity to interact with another human being. It’s like we are all scared of loss but we are not there yet, we are here together. Each interaction invites us to connect, to feel, and to be apart of something bigger. So do we sit around in this fear and wait to form human connections in heaven or someplace beyond our earthly existence?

The album title, “i,i” leaves room for interpretation and space to attach personal meaning. In the interview, Loew shares his interpretation-it’s like one person, the first “i,” can stand alone, be their own individual, and that is self-fulfilling. But, when you bring another person into the picture, the second “i,” you have to face each other and whatever is going on. Vernon adds on saying, “you have a brand new responsibility when you bring others into the equation.”

The art that is “i,i” has no ceilings, no walls. It does have a simple guiding principle — Vernon saying that in the creation process the “only goal in life is to make the song better.”

At the Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas they did just that, but not just through a traditional, audio medium. They brought in dancers, painters, and visual artists mixing mediums that brought new life to the project. This translates into the final product, the 13 track album. Fans can now participate in an immersive, online listening experience via the Visualizer or catch the band on their uniquely designed stadium tour.

Each day we have a choice of what we say, what we do, and with whom we surround ourselves. Vernon quite intentionally challenges the status quo and tradition of being a 21st century, Grammy award-winning musician in his choice of collaborations and creation process. He brings many, diverse voices to the table in an eclectic mix of mediums and sounds. Beyond that, he challenges what it means to be a member of our current society in his partnerships and lyrics.

How might one say that Bon Iver celebrates life and art? Vernon seems to know the rules so he can break them.

“We are all just scared of dying, but isn’t this just a beach?” In the lyrics of “RABi,” it’s important to note the use of “we.” As a society, I think a mainstream “we” emerges, a term that throws an ambiguously collective into a group with a set of expectations.

We go to these types of jobs.

We live in these types of places.

We socialize in these types of ways.

In an interview with Jillian Richardson, author of Unlonely Planet and founder of New York City’s Joy List, she shared her experience at an adult, digital-detox camp that stripped her and fellow campers of these sorts of labels that can feel identify defining.

“Prepare to step off the grid,” the sign reads as campers roll into Camp Grounded, an alternative universe nestled in Cold Springs, New York. There are a few rules at camp. No bedtimes for these adults but instead no phones, no computers, no digital technology, no booze or drugs, no talk of age, and absolutely no talk of work.

Email inboxes are replaced with old school mailboxes that campers fill with handwritten notes and trinkets they create. Google is replayed by the “Human Powered Search Engine,” a wall with campers pressing questions scribbled on scratch paper that community members respond to. Keyboards and touch screens are replayed by typewriters that remind campers that some writing is best left unedited, whatever you put out is part of the creative process.

“People do not have the chance to say ‘what am I’ if I’m not what I do,” founder Levi Felix remarked on how we are all our own personal brands and tiny corporations as our digital identities created via social media define our real-life interactions in a 2014 interview with Forbes. Adult identity has become defined by work. Levi designed Camp Grounded to be a place where campers create an alter ego, a nickname for the weekend, and are recognized for who they are in the present moment. For some, that means they are “King of Capture the Flag” and for others a talented artist named “Starlight” or wherever they find their niche among fifty plus activities.

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For three days Jillian was immersed in this happy go lucky, yet vulnerable and intentional world. “It opened my eyes to what is possible in the community,” she says. “I got closer with people in those three days than people I have known for years.”

But once it was over, the question was, “where do you go from here?”

Jillian distinctly remembers thinking, “it was an awesome weekend but this is just going to be another one of those times where you had a great weekend and you say you are going to talk to these people, but then you never talk to them again and life goes back to being exactly the same.”

But, Jillian found this wasn’t the case. The fellow New York City dwellers she met that weekend wanted to take the culture of Camp Grounded back to their home base. They met up at a bar a week after camp, shut down their devices, threw them in a basket, and forgot about them for the evening. They channeled their alter-ego and played games, inviting their new barstool buddies to play with them.

Jillian paints back the day as if it were yesterday saying, “we were being these total weirdos at this outdoor bar just asking to paint strangers faces and trying to get the whole bar to do the wave with us. It was this culture of playfulness that we had through the weekend, we actually brought back to our lives. I realize how rare that is and it only happened because the culture of that event is so strong and meant so much to all of us.”

If you celebrate, others will follow.

Jillian and her camper friends are the perfect examples in the New York bar. That is what Levi envisioned back home, a movement of play, mindfulness, and connectivity back home where people “use their devices and screens to stay in contact, but organize in public spaces to celebrate life.” In 2017 when Levi passed away, many mourned the loss of this man who offered friends and strangers alike a key to their most authentic selves.

The celebratory tone was set at Camp Grounded with the rules laid out before the group even meets. If you open an event to anyone, then you get the masses and unclear expectations. However, with rules and clear expectations, the right people end up in the room. They know why they are there and what they have in common with other event-goers.

In celebrating life and art, Camp Grounded and Bon Iver create their own rules. It’s in knowing the rules, the expectations blindly placed on us, that we learn how to break them.

What unwritten rules do you follow as you enter a live event? What do you wear? How do you act? With whom do you attend? Who decided those things? Why? Is it because you want to or it seems like something you should do?

We are here on this earth together, now. Are you going to follow the rules of the status-quo or write your own?

Download the worksheet.

This post is from a series of experts come from Live LIVE! Creating Community in Music Experiences. Over 5 installments, a guide to the way you experience live events emerges, putting the focus back on the people in the room. Missed the intro? Check it out here. If you like what you read and want to join me in this discussion, please feel free to email me at or connect with me here on LinkedIn. Looking for more ways to “Create Your Woodstock,” grab a copy of my book on Amazon.

Originally published at

Katie O'Connell

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I am on a purposeful adventure and sharing stories along the way. Learn more about my experience and projects at

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