So You Want to Host a Festival Wedding? by Terri Logan

When my beloved and I sat down to conjure up our dream wedding in 2017, we said we would do it our way, or no way at all.  It had to be representative of us, our love and most importantly our community     

For us, the definition of a festival is more than just a weekend of frolic and merriment, it’s about connection, expression and creativity. It’s about bridging the gap between imagination and reality while engaging all generations in the event. Therefore, a festival wedding involves all of this and a lot of UNITY as well!

My husband and I did not want to reinvent the wheel. Between us, we have 22 Burning Man experience’s, 10+ years of conscious gatherings and additionally, our own skillsets like photography, graphic design and logistical planning to draw from. We used these past adventures and skills to create an outline of how we needed to delegate our resources and how we could personally make the magic happen.

A great place for YOU to begin is to list your strengths as an individual and well as a couple. Do you have a DIY affinity? Is your partner great at spreadsheets and organization?   Is there something from your festival experiences together, like working on an art project, that stands out as a special connection point for you both? These strengths will be the backbone of how you divvy up the responsibilities of running a 5-day festival extravaganza.

Location, location, location. No really. Finding a space that can house not only your Festie Besties, but Grandma, Aunt Gertie, and your Mother-in-law too.  It was important that the space not only have places to gather, but ways to engage. By choosing a place that honors your guests and their abilities, you can create an atmosphere encourages connection.

Locating a caterer for a festival wedding is no easy feat. This is so important because most places that you’ll throw a festival wedding will have limited or improvised culinary options. We got lucky with Mendocino Magic and its brand new outdoor kitchen, but still some of the prep had to be done in our guests’ cottages and a good portion of the meats were cooked on a giant woodfire grill.  Our chef had to have a unique skillset that not only used classic cooking techniques but also creativity and the ability to think on his feet. If you're scratching your head about what to do here, ask the venue for suggestions they would recommend.

We chose a high-country boil for our rehearsal dinner and it was perfect. The crawfish/sausage boil allowed us to not worry about extra plates/napkins to clean-up or additional flatware waste.  It’s no secret that weddings can create a huge carbon footprint. Mendocino Magic has the right mindset when it comes to excessive waste and aligned with us on embodying the “leave no trace" principle.

This is a great time to stop and think about your wedding vision. Does it have a lot of paper products? Cans? Glass? Are you going to reuse any of the items you bought for your big day? Or is it just going to Goodwill, or worse, the dump?  What plan do you have in place for all the décor, the extra liquor (if any) and the unused food? Perhaps there is a local shelter near by or the staff is notified in advance that they are free to take items left on a “gifting table.”

When it came time for the big day, I wanted our guests to join in the fun. In advance my husband and I created a survival guide that told them about the landscape, theme nights, weather, and potential hazards. Creating a survival guide seems daunting task, but start with the basics; food, shelter, and water. Build your guide from those necessities because safety is the most important item for your guests at a festival wedding. Mackenzie was fantastic at knowing if plants like poison oak were present and blooming at Mendocino Magic, and we discussed the different animals in the area, the proximity to hospitals, fire department and even had an evacuation route.  

In the Survival Guide, we also touched on what “radical self-reliance” was and how to maintain that in the space we were inviting them to.  And we discussed our desire for their participation throughout the weekend and ways to express themselves authentically. Some of our guests created a mobile coffee and donut bar. Others created a glam station to get ready at, a lighting structure that went to music, an incredible glow poi dance and, naturally, bubbles galore. By each person contributing, it gave our guests ownership of the entire weekend experience. Creating a survival guide took a few days of Doug and my time, but your guests will feel taken care of and you can rest easy during the event.  

Our wedding day was the most magical ever. Our bridal parties had helped to set-up our reception in the morning using organic elements found on the property and our guests were relaxing on the lake to music pumping through the speaker system we brought. As a unifier for our guests, we asked everyone to dress in festival white. This easy theme helped to bridge our multi-generations participating onsite and create a common denominator that was fun and accessible.

Ask yourself, what are you doing to bring everybody together? Is it a special sage cleansing ceremony? A request to  bring a photo to hang on the family tree? What about hosting a bad-marriage advice box for people to share their “opinions?” we utilized all these to develop a culture of interactivity and unification.

There are many facets to hosting a festival wedding and these are just a few things to think about when embarking on the adventure. The most important thing is continue communicating with your partner and to enjoy the creative journey.