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Recreational Utopias: Temporary Paradise in a Complicated World

For centuries, people have dreamed up, written about, and even attempted to create utopia. The possibility of a perfect society has inspired great literary works including Plato's Republic and Sir Thomas More's Utopia, and similar visions have fueled social experiments ranging from hippie communes to Soviet Communism. Despite all of these enduringly lofty ambitions, life seems to grow more complicated and less idyllic all the time. Utopia eludes us as a permanent and practical reality, but in its stead flourish annual recreational utopias: Mass gatherings that offer participants a temporary escape from the rules, struggles, and restrictions of real life. Life is hard. Utopia shouldn't be. Here are a few of the biggest and best from around the world.

Name: Burning Man

An art event and temporary utopia based on "radical self-expression and self-reliance," Burning Man is held annually in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Tens of thousands of pilgrims spend a week freely frolicking amongst Geodesic domes, light installations, temporary temples, and the like. Although Burning Man is a recreational Utopian community largely built and run by its participants, the event isn't entirely unhinged from reality: Organizers implement a long list of rules and restrictions with the help of volunteer Black Rock Rangers and police, who patrol the event, enforcing both state and federal laws.

This year's theme is the American Dream, and will occur August 25 – September 1

Case for: The ultimate opportunity to let your inner-artist out.
Case against: Brutal winds, dust storms, filth, broiling temperatures, sunburn, dehydration.

Further Reading: This is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground

Name: Rainbow Gathering

Held annually in the first week of July, this hippie lovefest was originally envisioned and initiated as a one time gathering in 1972. The event was such a hit that it's been held in the U.S. every year since, and gatherings have even spread to Europe. Organized as an opportunity to pray for peace and celebrate life, the "Rainbow Family" congregates in national forests, and gatherings tend to draw anywhere from 10 to 25,000 people. Although participants are always encouraged to leave drugs and alcohol at home, and to be "safe and legal," police are known to harass the Rainbow Family at gatherings.

The 2008 assembly will happen July 1 – 7 in Wyoming.

Case for: Free love and the ultimate vacation from the urban rat race.
Case against: Patchouli, body hair, B.O.

Further Reading: People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia

Name: Love Parade

Striving to be "the most peaceful and cleanest and fairest open-air festival in the world," Love Parade is a hugely popular celebration—and arguably the biggest dance party in the world. While its roots are in Berlin—where the first Love Parade took place in 1989, just four months before the fall of the wall—the event has caught on and spread all over the world. Love Parade 2008 will happen on July 19 in Dortmund, Germany. If you're stateside and can't make it all the way to Germany, there's always the West Coast spin-off: San Francisco LoveFest.

Case for: Dance, dance, dance, kiss, dance.
Case against: Really loud and really crowded.
Further Listening: Love Parade: Love Is Everywhere, Die Compilation, 2007

Name: Symbiosis Gathering

Established a few years ago in Northern California as a social experiment attempting to bring together people from "various subculture and fringe communities," Symbiosis Gathering was inspired as much by the colorful wanderings of Deadheads as it was by the enormous outdoor gatherings of the global psytrance community. It quickly turned into an annual, weekend-long affair, with the last two events occurring at Angels Camp in late September and early October. Described as "a synaesthesia of art, music, transformational learning, and sustainable living integrated into an unparalleled extravaganza of fun," the gathering attracts international campersand occurs in an eco-conscious temporary utopia that includes recycling and composing, green vending, community education workshops, MycoRemediation, and eco-art installations.

Case for: Gorgeous location, small, laid back crowd, all kinds of music, diverse vegetarian vendor food.
Case against: Treacherous roads in, dust if it's dry, mud if it rains, poison oak, lack of water, and some international acts have been no-shows due to visa problems.

Name: Fusion Festival

Germany's legendary Fusion Festival takes place each June outside of Berlin, on an abandoned Soviet military air base that was once home to jet fighters. After the Russians pulled out of the area, a handful of young, idealistic Germans promptly took over, and they've held a multicultural celebration on the former airfields every year since. The fusion fest motto? "Four days of holiday communism," which feature "music of all kinds, theatre, performance and cinema," not to mention a whole mess of people "free of boundaries and prejudice" who are "looking for a better world."

This year's Fusion Fest will take place from June 26 – 29.

Case for: Burning Man meets Woodstock. Hugely idealistic and truly alternative, no sponsors, no advertisements, no intense security.
Case against: Mud and, um, four days of holiday communism.

Name: Sziget

One of the best-known festivals in Europe, Sziget takes place on an island in the middle of the Danube in the middle of Budapest. The incredible location allows visitors to leave their temporary utopia and make visits to the city whenever they choose. Hundreds of thousands of people flock from around the world, though the majority of attendees are from Western Europe. Sziget pretty much takes everything fun and crams it into one week: Expect international campers, all kinds of music ranging from alt rock and pop to hip hop and electronic, film, dance, theater, tattooing, sports, bungee jumping, and even the opportunity to play life-size foosball.

The 2008 Sziget Festival will happen August 12 – 18.

Case for:

Fun for just about everyone from the hard rocker to the fratty foosball player.

Case against:

Hugely popular and growing fast, Sziget can be a tad too crowded for those partial to festival gemütlichkeit.


Name: EarthDance

Last but not least is the world's largest simultaneous dance festival for peace. EarthDance gatherings strive to promote peace and unity while supporting humanitarian causes through activities like live music, dancing, meditation, and yoga. The global dance festival culminates with a simultaneous link up, when every event across the world plays the Prayer for Peace: One profound Utopian moment that unifies global intentions for World peace and healing.

The prayer goes:

"We are one global family All colors, All races One world united. We dance for peace and the healing of our planet Earth Peace for all nations. Peace for our communities. And peace within ourselves. As we join all dance floors across the world, let us connect heart to heart. Through our diversity we recognize Unity. Through our compassion we recognize Peace. Our love is the power to transform our world Let us send it out NOW…"

This year's Prayer for Peace will take place on Saturday, September 13, 2008, at 4pm Pacific Daylight Time.

Case for: You can participate in EarthDance anywhere.
Case against: None whatsoever.

Further Listening: EarthDance Prayer for Peace

Participated in one of these? Loved one we missed? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

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