Taste The Rainbow: Rainbow Gathering 2011

Chasing the Rainbow

I have a good friend who makes it his business to be acquainted with every unstable looking person he comes across. One day, he made friends with one of the creepiest people I’ve ever met. I never took note of the dude’s real name because I mentally referred to him as JJ Diving, the name of the company that was written on the side of his van.

My friend introduced himself to JJ as the son of a renowned caterer who was Luciano Pavarotti’s favorite pasta chef. My other friends and I’s introductions were a lot less grand and stupid. After sitting down with us, JJ began to casually share bits and pieces of his back story and recent travels. Complaining first about the immediate change his scrotum and testicles went through on arrival to the Northwest, then telling us about the California sun and how great it was and how the light had caused his testicles to swell up to the size of tennis balls.

He never looked anybody directly in the face and spoke to us like we were some collective entity that he wasn’t quite sure existed. His casual comments on his sex organs became hit topics of conversation for all the present company. People would come visit from another table or come back from a smoke break, hear something about this dude’s scrotum, and were attentively hungry for more. While telling us more about himself, he mentioned that he had recently come up from the Rainbow Gathering. I figured he was a weird dude and that the Rainbow Gathering must have been some equally weird fest. Of course references to the Gathering of The Juggalos music festival were made. He was unaware of the Juggalo Gathering and I.C.P. (which he misheard as I.C. Peef).

The deeper we got into conversation, JJ’s un-association with western human interaction, modern culture and the Gregorian calendar became more and more clear. JJ was more relaxed and oblivious to everyone and anything around him than anyone I had ever met. He looked like a totally normal dude, but after talking to him for less than a minute you’d realize that this dude is one the spaciest people you’d ever meet.

I wanted to hear how others were taking in the situation so I asked a couple of my peeps if they wanted to hear a new song I’d been looping for the past couple days. They were down to listen and so were just about everyone else that was sitting with us. We piled into my friend’s car and turned the volume way too high while JJ smoked outside with some of the people who didn’t feel like squishing into a car. While the music was playing we all took hypothetical bets as to what JJ’s deal was. Was he fucking with us or was he naturally this bizarre? We ended the dispute on his true back story lying somewhere between serial killer and procrastinating terrorist.

We spent a couple more hours with him trying to understand and put into context all of the weird and strange insights he added to the table, while he kept busy drawing cool shit all over anything with a paper surface. As the night wore on he had deduced that most of us were in bands, or enjoyed music in general, and asked a couple of us if we wanted to see the recording studio he had put in his van. That sparked everyone’s interest. Some of us paid for our food and we all followed JJ through the parking lot in a cautious mass-huddle for dramatic effect, exchanging glances of disbelief and completely soaking up the novelty of the situation. This guy had totally lured us all to his creepy, big ass black van. He slid open the back door and looked at us all blankly with what I interpreted as the facial queue of “there it is, check it out.”

We bunched up to the opening to get a better look inside. There was almost no light and no visible recording studio, just a bunch of mysterious black bags and some hanging chains. This brought JJ’s creep factor to a record high.

“Woahhhh. Cool studio dude.”

He drove off and none of us have seen him since.

Later that night, I got a general sense of what the Rainbow Gathering was. About 30+ thousand people meeting miles deep in the national forest with no rules, no cops and no organization. Apparently at the one JJ had just come from, a whole bunch of people had gone missing (which is kind of redundant since a huge chunk of everyone at a Rainbow Gathering are street people and runaways).

This year it took place in southern Washington’s Skookum Meadow, about 20 miles East of Mount St. Helens. The attribute of unofficial and non-formal organization resulted in a variety of poorly made directions on how to get to it. Most of the directions looked like they were Google mapped and translated to blog form. They were all wrong, but close enough. After a few minutes of searching online, some fairly accurate directions were made.

There were a couple more hours left of driving before we reached our destination when we stopped at a gas station in some small town to recoup. While waiting in line, a tall lady dressed like a hippie science teacher with a neck brace asked one of my more eccentrically dressed friends where we were headed. My friend told her we were headed for the Rainbow Gathering and the lady nonchalantly told the tragic story of her brother.

“My brother used to go to those and sell drugs. One of his kids was almost born at one of them. He’s dead now, the drugs killed him.”

The lady wished us well and we headed out.

After deciphering the directions and talking to a few locals we found a small Rainbow camp at the bottom of the trails leading up to the main campgrounds. A really dusty dude came up to the car and said “welcome home,” then admonished us for driving too fast. He then told us where we could park and how to get up to the top. Some friends who came later told us parking around the trails had begun to stretch miles back.

It was a three mile hike up to Skookum Meadow. At every fork in the road there were cardboard signs and rock piles indicating which direction to take. About a quarter way up the trail, we ran into a dude who had lost his water bottle and was wondering where we may have seen it last. His teeth had rotted away to little black and yellow nubs. We ended up seeing a lot more people with teeth just like his. I commented on the guy’s teeth to a friend who retorted “some things are so perceptible that all its witnesses have thought everything there is to think about it and any added discussion would be unnecessary.” A little while later, I overheard some young guy spreading the tenets of triage dentistry, saying that even after a huge chunk of tooth has been rotted away you can still salvage the rest of it and even grow some enamel back.

Rainbow Gathering 2011

*One of the many camps in the forest*

We got to the main entrance and there were a bunch of spray painted hippie buses, RVs and bags of trash. We passed through the main entrance into the shaded forest which was dramatically cooler and still had snow. People had been camping out for weeks. The paths were well treaded, there were makeshift bridges over the streams, and most of the campgrounds were already established. Every time somebody passed by they’d say “welcome home.” I thought it was so goofy for the first few minutes. A girl had slipped and injured her leg when walking down the entrance path and the Rainbow medics were assisting her.

My sister and I (biological sister not rainbow sister) chilled out in the first camp (Medicine Warriors) and waited for the rest of our friends to show up. We got a good view of all the people arriving. It was one of the most eclectic parades of people I’ll probably see in a long time (No, it wasn’t an equal mix of every conceivable ethnicity; White people by far made up the majority). Occasionally a group would come up to us to see if we had any acid for trade.

A guy named Carlos from D.C. decided to chill with us and we talked to him for a while. He gave us a good sense of what Rainbow was going to be like. It had been raining for days and it was one of the first warm afternoons in almost a week (explaining all the clothes we saw drying off on every hang-able surface). Carlos told us he’d been there for a couple weeks and it had been awesome, even amidst his stories of passing out from dehydration, losing and recovering his wallet, the past few days of rainfall and occasionally forgetting to eat. He said he’d spent the whole week super stoned and we had just caught him in a sober moment (even though he acted like he was on acid or ecstasy).

The rest of our friends showed up almost an hour later, just as a west-African drum group was getting started, so we left Carlos flapping his zip lock of tobacco and dancing around like a chicken.

As the sun was setting the meadow was getting cold. Thousands of new arrivals were starting to get a little desperate for a place to put their tent. We walked everywhere and got a good sense of where all the camps were. The fire pits were starting up and the whole meadow was filling with smoke. A nerdy hippie talked to us for a bit while we were pitching our tent. We ended up seeing him a couple days later, furious and covered in mud after getting in a fight with a gargantuan punk from the Ludist Colony.

It wasn’t exactly the kind of festival where you go to staged events and have people entertain you. You definitely had to figure out ways to entertain yourself and make use of your time. It was interesting how a lot of the most homeless looking people did exactly what I see them doing in regular cities: post up in sleeping bags by heavily trafficked areas and fake sleeping while everybody who walks by stares at them.

The whole thing started off super tame. There were a bunch of eccentric looking people but overall, nothing incredibly out of the ordinary other than how chill and casual everyone was. Every day there was a constant stream of new people pouring in. Before I knew it, all the camps were packed.

The market square was super congested and only got busier as the Gathering progressed. You could trade for anything you’d expect: hunting knives, jewelry, camping supplies, trinkets, a lot of junk, lots of candy, and lots and lots of drugs. The only currency I remember my friends bringing to the Gathering was shrooms. The strongest pot smell came from the trading market. Everybody there was smoking copious amounts of weed. One of the coolest things I saw by the market was this hyphy kid sitting on a log, taking a bong rip, with what I guessed was his newly acquired machete chilling on a giant bag of bud.

Eventually the whole Gathering smelled like weed and burnt sage. There was so much free weed it was unbelievable. If you wanted to get high for free, all you had to do was chill out by some people playing music and wait a couple of minutes for the pipe to make its way. The camps became a trip even when you were sober. Tons of people were playing makeshift instruments and wearing the weirdest shit ever, in various states of undress (which made everybody dressed at all normal look really weird).

Shitter Island

There were designated parts of the forest that were labeled “shitter” with hanging pieces of cardboard. As more and more people showed up, the unofficial forest shitters started getting filled up with people’s tents. A couple of the camps had set up outhouses with seats and privacy. Some people told me that behind The Jesus Kitchen was one of the best toilet spots. I wrote it off as a fuck-Christians joke, until I actually saw it and realized it was one of the more pimped-out toilets. The most noticeable of all the spots was Shitter Island, which was a giant hill covered in tall trees and surrounded by marsh. It looked super picturesque (especially in the fog) and it also happened to be the most practical place for people to take a shit.

One of my friends desperately had to defecate and refused to set foot on Shitter Island alone. I had already been there earlier that day so I was reluctant to go again. The place was pretty much always empty. Even though the only sources of privacy were the mounds of dirt from the deep rectangular poop ditches and tree trunks, you would have plenty of privacy if there weren’t any more than three people on it. We turned a corner and got to one of the marsh bridges and saw that we were shortly behind a wad of people all heading for the island as another group started closing in behind us. When we got there we were sandwiched between two groups and there were two girls at the entrance having a fight. I looked deeper in the woods and could see a bunch more people hanging around. We got in and scoped the good spots. Luckily most of the people were just taking Shitter Island as a shortcut through one of the marshes. While we looked around for promising ditches, one guy lagging behind us decided to speak up. He asked if “they were all fair game” and we told him yeah. As he walked away, our bag of baby wipes must have caught his eye. “Hey, mind if I score a baby wipe?”

My friend opened the bag for him and he daintily grabbed one before he sped off. A half minute later we could hear the guy’s ass sputtering like a mofo. I was glad I had been hardcore pre-gaming it since we left camp, to cut down on the time I spent loitering over the fecal pit with my naked ass out. Midway through bowel relief, a dude walked by with a strained look as he tried to avoid the use of his peripherals. I stared at him as long as I could and he kept that strained look on his face for a couple hundred feet.

I was expecting the island to smell horrid, but it only smelled like a forest. There were coffee cans of white powder that people would shake over the freshly dropped feces to keep the smell down. The forest plants were also really fragrant. My friends rubbed their hands all over a pine branch post sanitizing them and talked me into doing it too. It felt like the branch was exploding with freshness and my hands felt super clean and a little rejuvenated (I think the edibles made the experience a little more memorably profound). I asked how many hippies she thought had rubbed their poopy hands all over the easy to reach pine branches and we left on that note. Coincidently, it was at the same time that the girls at the entrance had reached some sort of catharsis.

Food for thought

All the different kitchens at the Rainbow Gathering are one of its many popular attractions. There were about three, right next to us. The Fat Kids kitchen (named after the giant portions they’d serve), Sushi Land and Instant Soup. We had brought a lot of our own food (and would probably do the same in the future) because we weren’t sure how raided the kitchens were going to get. This year there was always plenty of food to go around. What the kitchens needed most were people to run around collecting firewood and water. Some of our friends were camped at Fairie Camp (which has the reputation of having the best kitchen) and we hung out in its main area a couple of times. One of the best quotes I ever heard was on the way to Fairie Camp when a man in a turban and beard commented that he was “kind of excited to be the guru. I know I won’t get laid, but I’ll be able to get to know their insights and mind.”

One day around dusk it had been drizzling a little bit and a naked couple had come by Fairie Camp to check it out and get something to eat. The guy was very stoned and his girlfriend was babysitting him while he just zoned out and let her drag him around. They were huddled together because it was starting to get pretty cold out. When they got their food, they went straight to the fire to warm up and relax. The boyfriend was spilling his food, and after a couple of minutes warming up by the fire he eventually started to get a boner. His girlfriend laughed a little while he ate a couple more bites, and they ended up bailing before he had a full blown rager. Most everybody there didn’t notice or wasn’t at all fazed, but there were a few people who looked at him while he was walking away like “Is that dude walking around with a boner?”

Bliss Pits

You could pretty much find anything at night depending on which fire pits you scoped out. Most people I know of who have gone or plan on going to Rainbow Gathering are all about freeloading drugs and crazy sex. The easiest place to find that would be at a bliss pit. The coolest bliss pits were made known by reputation, but were never guaranteed to be as cool every night. You could also tell which places were potential bliss pits by stereotyping the groups of people that hung out by them during the day, or by listening to what they were talking about while you passed by. A lot of people told us Fat Kids was one of the best places to chill at night, one dude especially because he said they smoked him out with DMT(a psychedelic drug). It sounded like he got the ass end of whatever they gave him though, plus there was bunk DMT everywhere. Our tents were on the Fat Kids camp site so I ended up walking past its fire pit a bunch during the day. I saw a muddy rubber chicken next to a bunch of trash and, for some reason or other, it erased any desire of ever checking that place out at night.

Spending as much time awake and moving at night was the best way to avoid trying to fall asleep in the freezing cold. Even walking around at night could get pretty cold, so moving to the different fire pits was preferable.

The first night there we heard a bunch of drumming and cheering from the other side of the Gathering. I figured that whatever was going on over there had to be a lot cooler than what we were doing (which was nothing). Navigating through the campgrounds at night was a totally different experience. The forest trails were pitch-black, except for people’s forehead lights .We would walk past campfires and overhear more ridiculous conversations than usual. The bridges were more congested at night for sure, with weed vultures on both ends directing traffic.

“Hey! Best bud contest. Who at Rainbow Gathering’s got the best bud!?”

The main fire pit was huge, bright, and next to the Montana Mud Kitchen (probably the largest and most freeloaded of all the kitchens). The people helping with the Montana Mud Kitchen would yell at people passing by that the kitchen was low on ingredients.

It was fucking cold out, so all the people at the main fire pit who weren’t dancing were creeping closer and closer, squishing the drummers and pushing the dancers almost into the fire. About every 20 minutes an old hippy dude with an instrument, or a sober person in the crowd, would yell at everybody to step back.

Joints and edibles and other get-high-shits were in constant rotation (only about half the crowd partook). There was a cool looking, dirty, four foot tall beardo in a huge flannel passing around joints. He said something quiet to me and my friends while he packed a bowl and chilled for a moment before he made his way through the crowd. A little while later, a lady came up from behind and told us that the beardo was from the Leprechaun crew and if we told him “Phantasmagoria” he’d grant us a free hit of something (for some reason I bet they would prefer it spelled “Fantasmagoria”).

Getting right up with the drummers was ideal if you weren’t going to dance. Not only were you kept warm from the fire, but you also had a clear view of what was going on (which would probably bore or depress most people I know, but I thought it was cool). Half the scantily clad dancers could have been any overactive person, the other half consisted of tatted and jeweled shamanistic dudes trying to get with bare-chested female hotties (at first I got a little depressed when the thought occurred to me that this could be the only time of the year these hardcore shaman looking dudes got any booty, but the depression later diminished when I noticed a lot of these dudes had a girlfriend, if not girlfriends). One night I looked across the other end of the meadow, and saw two naked girls with black eye paint flipping over each other and twirling fire-sticks in a crowded pitch-black meadow.

On the way back from the main fire pit, we would stop in this mini rave dome that had people relaxing and trying to stay warm. One night when we were in the dome we saw a clown named Gizmo who was walking around asking all the girls if they wanted to start a massage trade. After he noticed a slightly obese young woman wearing tons of makeup, costume lingerie, and accessories to a furry costume, he spent the next hour shaking his clown horn like it was her cat toy.

Clown and Kitty by Lora Fritsche

by Lora Fritsche

We hung out for a little bit at the Dream Reality campfire because it was right next to us and we had talked to one of the people that kind of ran it. He was an older hippy with a super hilarious voice that sounded like a mix between Dom DeLuise and Joey Diaz, who had been going to Rainbow Gatherings since the beginning. This was his first time back in a couple of years. He said his name was Glowing Feather and quickly inferred that it was cooler to call him Glow. Glow was trying to host some sort of a variety show, so different people were coming up and doing whatever live performance act they wanted to do. Glow’s jester getup and passion for variety shows reminded me of a carny bootleg of Wavy Gravy. One older hippy guy went up and started telling the audience about a conspiracy theory he was really into that involved using the words “we” and “it” in almost every sentence. I had run into him earlier that day and already heard the whole theory, not to mention a mouthful of collarbone hair when he concluded it with a group hug. Glow and his friend tried to get him to hurry up or stop when he was getting to the part about everybody exploding into light at the Rainbow Gathering during a mass meditation. Glow concluded his hosted event saying Rainbow Gatherings were very addicting and that everyday life outside of the Gathering was just a commercial.

My time at the Rainbow Gathering was hardly as wild as I had expected it to be. While passing through towns on the way home, I saw street people and hippies on their way back from the Gathering. I noticed how much stigma they held in ordinary social settings. Before leaving the Gathering I wondered what re-acclimating to regular life was going to be like. But Falling back into the day to day motion of things was second nature. A lot of my friends were excited and curious after I told them I had just come back from the Rainbow Gathering. They wanted to hear about all the sensational and taboo stuff that had built up the Gathering’s reputation, like drugs and weird naked stories. The only problem is the novelty of drugs and a bunch of naked people wears off really fast, especially when you retell it to your friends.

This year some had predicted the fest to max out at somewhere around 30,000 people. It was bigger than the years before it and next year is predicted to be even bigger. Drugs will be all over the place. Law enforcement will stay the hell away. All in preparation for the strangest welcome home party you’ll ever experience.

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