Wanderlust brings mindfulness and movement to Vermont’s Stratton Mountain.
By Kevin O’Connor
Vermonters seeking progressive summer entertainment swear by Bread and Puppet Theater. But will they flock to spiritualist Deepak Chopra? “The Sound Of Sunshine” singer Michael Franti? Oprah Winfrey’s yoga teacher, Rodney Yee?
The organizers of Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza have discovered the answer is yes. They launched a new festival — Wanderlust — at Vermont’s Stratton Mountain Resort in 2011 in hopes of attracting thousands of people each June to a celebration of mindfulness and movement.
“The event’s a little hard to explain at first, but people seem genuinely excited,” co-founder Sean Hoess told locals at the time. “Ultimately I think of it as a festival for people who are interested in quality of life and having fun.”
Sound like the next generation of Woodstock? Wanderlust may promise four days of peace and music, but participants won’t be cooking and camping in mud puddles. Instead, they can sup, sleep and sample the best of the region’s restaurants, hotels and stores.
Seeking to stretch yourself? Participants from easternmost Canada to westernmost California can limber up with the likes of Yee — known among yogis for his signature ponytail and Time magazine title “stud-muffin guru” — who inaugurated the initial event by demonstrating “Backbends into Vulnerability.”
“Take the head and the chest back … back …” Yee prodded. “We’re going to do 108 of them, so don’t push the first 90.”
Rather sit that out? You can listen to musicians, spiritual speakers and teachers such as Kelly Morris, who despite appearing on the cover of New York magazine as one of that city’s “most popular” instructors, has offered a class titled “If Yoga Is About Being Perfect, I Suck.”
“Would you have a calling to seek a spiritual path is everything was just fine?” Morris asked past attendees. “You are going to be in much more challenging circumstances than this pose. It’s all about the state of your mind and what’s happening in your heart.”
AT HOME AT STRATTON
Stratton has a history of hosting summer spectacles, be it the Volvo International tennis tournament that lured the likes of Andre Agassi from 1985 to 1989 or the McCall’s LPGA Classic golf tournament that hooked Nancy Lopez and her peers from 1990 to 1995. When those sporting events moved to larger locations, the resort went looking for another annual warm-weather attraction.
“We like everything about it,” Stratton spokeswoman Myra Foster said upon the start of Wanderlust. “It celebrates active outdoor lifestyles, music and nature, and an entirely new audience will be introduced to Vermont.”
Wanderlust was born in Lake Tahoe, Calif., in 2009, when Hoess and fellow recording executive Jeff Krasno came up with the idea in collaboration with Krasno’s wife, yoga instructor Schuyler Grant.
“We realized this is an unbelievably passionate community that cares about its health but also wants to have a good time,” Hoess said.
The West Coast festival — promising “the rejuvenation of yoga with the swagger of a music festival” — sold so many tickets, it spawned its Green Mountain counterpart just three years later, as well as subsequent additions in Snowshoe, W.Va.; Mont Tremblant, Quebec; and Whistler, British Columbia.
“We’ve become the biggest multi-day yoga event in the world,” Hoess said upon Wanderlust’s arrival in Stratton. “Vermont is a mystical place for a lot of people. It’s the California of the East Coast.”
The Green Mountain ski area that usually hosts SUV drivers toting boots and snowboards is crowded each June with hybrid car-poolers (“DO YOGA” one Ontario license plate has proclaimed) with sandals, sneakers and multicolored yoga mats.
INSPIRATION AND MEDITATION
Unsure whether you belong? Settle onto the lawn or in one of the lofty white tents and you can hear such inspirational speakers as Gabrielle Bernstein, the 37-year-old author and life coach who Oprah Winfrey has deemed a “next-generation thought leader.”
“The world has changed, and we’re feeling that tension,” Bernstein told past attendees. “There’s this sense that we’re living in a pressure cooker. We have to coexist with all the craziness.”
Bernstein wasn’t always able to do so. Once a publicist for New York City nightspots, she fueled herself with alcohol and cocaine before quitting at age 25 to write such books as “Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles” and “The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith.”
“You have the power to bring forth your highest presence in all of your life circumstances,” she has told Wanderlust audiences. “It’s your choice at any given moment to tune into that presence or to just deny that presence and walk through life with your head down, highly caffeinated.”
That said, you don’t have to swim out of the mainstream to participate. Ohio Democrat U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan — not to be confused with Wisconsin colleague and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan — has addressed participants at Stratton, too.
The former high school quarterback grew up in what CBS News calls “a shot-and-a-beer district” that includes Rust Belt neighborhoods in Akron and Youngstown. Raised Catholic with a self-described “appreciation for the contemplative life,” Ryan felt everything change a decade ago when he attended a silent retreat with stress reduction expert Jon Kabat-Zinn.
“I realized you can train your mind to be in the present moment,” the congressman said.
“That’s really where your life is.”
Ryan — who meditates daily — can cite studies proving how sitting in silence can help everyone from leaders to laborers, prisoners to hospital and hospice patients, students with attention deficit disorder to soldiers with post-traumatic stress.
That’s why the co-chairman of the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus has written “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit” and initiated programs for students and soldiers through the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I’m sick and tired of saying the default position is prescription drugs,” Ryan said of his attendance at Wanderlust. “Having personal experience with meditation, I realize what kind of transformation it could bring to the country.”
Wanderlust Stratton — set for June 22-25 with more information at wanderlust.com — hopes to spark that change, one being and breath at a time.
“I’ve seen how this is resonating with a lot of people,” the congressman said. “It’s not as out of the mainstream as some think.”
Experience for yourself
The annual Wanderlust festival is set for June 22-25 at Vermont’s Stratton Mountain Resort.
The four-day event will feature nearly 100 yoga and meditation teachers, spiritual speakers, musicians and artists.
The lineup also is scheduled to include Seamus Mullen, who grew up on a Vermont farm to become an award-winning New York chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and health and wellness expert.
Prices range from $20 for Saturday music concert admission to $95 for a Thursday all-activity ticket to $455 for a four-day pass, with other options and more information available at wanderlust.com.