With the second annual Wild Goose Festival — a 4-day gathering of thousands of progressive Christians and others in the woods of North Carolina celebrating justice, spirituality, music and art — just a month away, we checked in with festival executive director Gareth Higgins to find out what’s new this year, what he’s most excited about, and why all of us should be there.
(And should you need any more incentive for attending after reading Gareth’s beautiful responses, Patheos is running a special 15% off promotion this week: Go to the Wild Goose website here http://wildgoosefestival.eventbrite.com/ and click the reddish “Enter Promotional Code” link. When prompted, enter PATHEOS to receive your discount on your full weekend ticket. Patheos will be there – we hope you will be too!)
Gareth, the Wild Goose Festival is just a month away! What are you most excited about this year?
So, there’s music and there are speakers and there’s social justice advocacy and there’s great conversations… and that’s all wonderful… but that’s not what i’m most looking forward to. What i’m most looking forward to is the feeling of community on the site, people living together for 4 days who want to promote the common good and who become more than the sum of the parts. Perhaps my favorite element of that is bringing a lot of people together from a lot of different backgrounds, and perhaps especially when you get quite well- known public figures in a space with the rest of us, just being the same and relating equally with another. Last year we had Oscar winners and Grammy winners and NYT best-selling authors in the same space with people who haven’t yet got a recording contract or are struggling to get published, yet there was no ego in the room. Just a sense of at this intersection of justice, spirituality and art, we all want many of the same things. We want to learn and experience a deeper love of God, neighbor, and self.
What new plans do you have for this year’s festival?
The biggest change is that the festival will run through Sunday night. Last year it ended at noon on Sunday; this year we have a full afternoon & evening planned (for the same price). It’s going to have a more relaxed vibe. Sunday evening we have three of our most amazing musical acts of the weekend: Over the Rhine, Gungor and David Crowder.
The second thing is that we’ll have more unstructured space. We wanted more space for people to just be together and have their own conversations. The third thing is, if you have something you want to talk about, you can sign up for an opportunity to give a talk, or host a converation. Or you can sign up and request a topic to be talked about and we’ll try to find soemone to host that converastion.
What are some of the speakers and musicians you’re most excited about showcasing this year?
Dave Andrews from Australia is someone I admire and enjoy a lot; Cathleen Falsani, who will do some stuff about spirituality and friendship; Nelson and Joyce Johnson who are distinguished civil rights activists from Greensboro, who were involved in the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission that happened in the US regarding a civil rights march that took place in 1979 where the KKK killed 5 of the marchers. Other speakers I’m excited about: Alexia Salvatierra, an immigration rights activist and Lutheran minister; Aljosie Knight, an activist and poetic thinker around the role that women can play in shaping the beloved community; and Vincent Harding, elder statesman of the civil rights movement, a deeply humble man, a man who understands democracy and part the role ordinary peole need to play to make American what it can be. He’s a man in his 80s who’s seen it all, and still has a vision of hope.
Musically, Phil Madeira is coming who just did an amazing collaborative album called Mercyland with artists like Emmy Lou Harris, Dave Perkins, and Civil Wars. He’s coming with some pretty famous musicians he worked with on that album. Naomi Shelton and The Gospel Queens, a Brooklyn-based gospel band. And Michelle Shocked, a festival favorite.
Our film program has also expanded this year and we’ll be premiering a surprise new film. We’ll also have an on-going arts program, and stuff for kids and youth. We invite people to treat the festival as a choose-your-own adventure book. People can get overwhelmed when they see the program, there’s so much stuff. But you don’t have to go to everything. Just navigate according to how your spirit leads. And if all you do all weekend is hang out at the coffee bar or beer tent, you’re going to have a great experience anyway.
So if someone’s still sitting on the fence about coming to the Festival, what would you say to get them off the fence and buy their tickets?
I think there’s nothing like this in the United States. A festival at the intersecton of justice, spirituality, and art that is still small enough to have a conversational experience with people they would never otherwise meet, and that invites participation from the people who come. It’s not a conference. There are no Madonna mikes here. It’s an interactive space, it’s a community and it’s still embryonic, so if you want to shape something, this is a place wthere you can do that.
What are your ultimate hopes for the Wild Goose Festival?
We are really striving to invite, work with and collaborate with marginalized voices, particulary women, people of color and LGBTQ people. We’re not going to get that perfectly right – the Beloved community is our goal, it’s not our starting point, otherwise, it wouldn’t be a goal. It’s become clear that this festival is stewarded and planned by people, most of whom have had experiences of marginalization in the church. It’s not just important to bring them to the table — first of all, there’s a problem with the use of the word ‘them;” this is “us.” It’s important to ask whose table is it, what shape is the table and who gets to determine the shape of the table, and to recognize that multi-culturalism and diversity and the kaleidescope of God’s creation is the point, it’s not just a topic or an option, it’s the point of what we’re doing. I’m hesitant to say that because I know we won’t acheive it now, or the next year, or the year after, and I know that it can sound arrogant or presumptuous. So all I can say is that it’s a humble offering. We are trying to be attentive to the spirit of God, and feel that is where the spirit is leading us.
Some people have asked us “What does the Wild Goose Festival believe?” It’s an unusual question becaue I’m not sure a festival can ‘believe’ anything. But what we’ve done is written up something called the Wild Goose “Invitation”. It’s not a doctrinal statement or a set of beliefs. It’s an invitation to build a a particular kind of community. We’re not saying we’ve got this right, we’re saying this is what we’re dreaming of. You don’t have to endorse or fully believe or accept anything on that statement, but if you have a vision for beloved community, and have an interest in justice, spirituality and art, then come and be involved in shaping this thing … as long as you know the key value we’re promoting is God, neighbor and self.
One last question — yesterday, you announced a second festival site near Portland this coming Labor Day Weekend! Why did you choose Oregon and what are the plans?
The United States is a really big country! And there were a number of people from the Northwest who came to North Carolina last year and expressed to us a desire to do something like this on the West Coast. So, we’re trying a different kind of experiment. We’re not going in and imposing on the Portland/Seattle region; we’ve been invited to collaborate with a steering committe of local people. You know, there’s just a thirst for this universal spirituality, justice and art space, and for a fresh hearing of the teachings of Jesus, whether you’re a Christian or not, whether you have a religious commitment or not. I’m really excited we’re doing this — i’m just really excited to share this festival with more people.