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Bloom Vol 23: Gratitude at The Gorge

This week, musician and mental health advocate Alex Wagner writes about a festival, “Above & Beyond Group Therapy Weekender,” and its advocacy of Emotional Intelligence and well-being to an audience of almost 30,000 people.

At the intersection of 11th and Fir, I refined my definition of what it means to be liberated as I closed the front door on a rental Chevy Tahoe, tinted windows and black paint dusted by the trails we had traversed.

That weekend, I discovered a new source of inspiration to further the excavation of my soul and the connection between us all.

The Gorge Amphitheatre was formed by a natural catastrophe almost 50,000 years ago when an ice dam ruptured in what is regarded today as Canada. 

A rush coursed across plains, eroding the landscape with ferocity and grace that boomed beyond any human-designed tower of speakers.

The natural process of the world carved out a home for what would become known as one of the most beautiful natural venues in North America.

Water into wine, in 1980, hundreds of acres were purchased by a family to begin a vineyard. Charmed by the acoustics of their voices when they stumbled onto a bowl formation by the water, to help them attract more business, they began to bring music acts onto the property.

The seeds they planted bloomed. By the early 1990s, the capacity of the venue had blossomed to 24,000 people.

July 24th, 2022, I stood on the main stage of The Gorge.

I saw the waters of Canada in front of me, as the might of its mist bellowed like the hallowed echos of the Roman Collesiuem when lions encircled the night’s entertainment.

I had seen the head of a Roman statue fall, images breaking traditional norms that had chipped away at our capacity for empathy.

We expect the stage to be reserved for performers, staff, and those who have paid a hefty price for close access.

Anyone could get on the main stage at the Group Therapy Weekender.

All you had to do, was go to the front, wait in a line, and there you were.

They allowed anyone to feel like a star.

What a privilege, a gift, to witness tens of thousands of people connected by a common theme of gratitude, love, and an understanding of all the shapes and forms human emotion and relations can take.

The true star of the night was our emotions.

Stageside access was only one small element of Above & Beyond’s Group Therapy Weekender that compelled me to write about it.

The Weekender was a weekend-long music festival held at The Gorge that primarily surrounds what is regarded as “trance” music. It acted as a label showcase of Above & Beyond’s Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep labels, which have also waded into the realms of progressive house, deep house, and more.

The festival seamlessly combined panels, science, subjectivity, movement, reflection, music, wellness, and high-end production. Like a quilt, they patched multiple elements together to emphasize the importance of being with our emotions.

Its sleek and commercial asthetic constructed a bridge for all to walk across toward a greater appreciation for the tiny moments in life.

The graphic and visual design was simple and recalled color gradients popularized by programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Paint: a metallic sunset, blues, tans, orange, and reds. It felt modern, simple, yet also elegant.

It was as though you were being greeted by the near future: a knowledgeable guide.

The Weekender logo possesses a doorway, a North Star: progress and ascension.

It recalls the essence of Steve Jobs bringing about the iPod and iPhone.

I saw some folks with Anjunabeats logos tattooed on their body like the cross of Christ.

I understand why.

The label has been committed for over 20 years to helping people move through life healthily.

This is a community that has changed lives for the better.

I had always wondered if I would see an event where someone had discovered a way to sell betterment through dance music.

They have done it.

I was handed a bracelet made by a friend that bore the Anjunabeats logo, with a rainbow gradient that said: “gratitude is the attitude.”

Gratitude is the attitude.

I am grateful to come across an event that inspires people to generate products encouraging empathy, creations that communicate a desire for positive mental and emotional development within the self and others.

Like the two years that made The Gorge, there is a natural procession within the events planning and scheduling that could not be ignored. The flow of the weekend was astounding, keeping everyone focused on what the weekend could offer.

Its model is easy to replicate in everyday life, which is critical.

What occurred at the festival can occur in your home.

They emphasized healthy morning routines with Yoga, “self-care” workshops, and more.

They stressed the importance of vulnerable communication with your peers.

The level of commitment to pillars of mental wellbeing was beyond apparent at The Weekender for even signs on fences reminded people of the power of being present.

In Bloom Vol. 22, “Trust,” I briefly touched upon how the world of electronic dance music and live shows facilitated a space for me to explore what it means to be a loving being.

Above & Beyond placed emotions and mental health on their deserved pedestal.

The trance super-trio has enjoyed some humorous descriptions in the past. I can recall when “Sun & Moon” came out, people described their work as “cry-trance.”

At the Gorge, I saw immeasurable joy.

How marvelous was it to watch over a thousand people listening to Jono Grant, one third of Above & Beyond, speak of music’s place as a vehicle to enhance our emotional intelligence.

Grant spoke toward the assumption that nightlife and dance music were tools of avoidance in stating that Above & Beyond aims to position people to work through their feelings.

They strive to show that dance music experiences be a place of maturation, of radical awareness.

During the song “Gratitude” when they performed that weekend, a profound visual came across the screen.

It showed a man and a woman dancing, but then, they began to change.

They would become two men, two women, androgenous, intertwined to a point where all you simply saw was two humans.

Life is better together.

The weekend stripped away limitations, hinderences, closed thinking that is best left for the history books.

There is so much more that could be said about this weekend. I trust this isn’t the last time you’ll read of this wonderful group’s impact in the music community.

I’d like to conclude with the lyrics of the song “Gratitude” by Above & Beyond featuring anamē and Marty Long.

There are moments in the day

When I just lose myself in sorrow and forget

How the sky has been much bluer

And my life just so much sweeter since we met

You make my day with what you say

A world of calm inside your arms

I hope you know

The love you bring, the song you sing

I overflow, I hope you know

I hope you know

My current mood

Is gratitude

At SPIN Impact, we care about those who are moving the needle for meaningful behavioiral change in our world.

The Weekender music festival put forward issues surrounding gender rights, sexuality, women’s rights, the enviroment, and more.

We certainly look forward to the next time they return to The Gorge.

It truly, was gorgeous.



About the Author

Photo: Sumit Dhungel

A dance music producer, singer, and songwriter, Alex Wagner (known by his music project ASW), was called an emerging artist to watch by DJ Mag in September of 2021. His production career includes releases on Atlantic Records, Big Beat Records, and more.

As a crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line and certified peer counselor with the state of Washington, he has organized multiple mental health awareness events called “Grooving for Good” leveraging the power of music and the arts. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on Instagram at @asinglewave.