B y M a y a t e y a
TUCSONAN TRACY WILLIAMS says it's the greatest free show on earth, featuring such highlights as men in army boots and negligees, a grand piano and even an elephant. She enjoys it so much that she's seen it seven times in some of the most spectacular forests in the country. And next month, much to her delight, it'll all be happening just a day's drive from Tucson.
It's the Rainbow Gathering, where participants say the prevailing energy is freedom and peace.
The event has kept alive the peace-and-freedom attitudes associated with the much more famous Woodstock. Participants call themselves members of the Rainbow Family, a name they've used since 1972. They gather by the thousands July 1-7 at the national Rainbow Gathering, this year in northern New Mexico. Dozens of smaller regional gatherings occur throughout the year.
In keeping with its hippie traditions, a gathering is more of an experience than an event. A virtual city of what were once called hippies is created and disappears in a week.
Williams describes her first gathering in Arizona in 1979 as, "Wow! Amazement, fun...more fun than I could believe. I knew whatever I was walking into was going to change my life."
Williams remembers the people as "God-like and animal-like." There was education, love, people gathered in circles, a Hari Krishna camp, music, food, and the best psychedelic bus collection she says she has ever seen. She saw Ram Das speaking, former Tucsonan Bob Coons juicing wheat grass, and people walking around in hug patrols.
For most, the highlight of the week occurs July 4. The morning is silent. Slowly, thousands come together around the main circle forming a gigantic circle miles around at noon, when chants of "ohm" begin. Williams calls it a tuning fork of love for the planet.
Bee Freewaters, another Rainbow Family member, describes the ensuing party as an energy explosion. "To be in the center of this circle you feel the earth shake under your feet. It's like a group orgasm."
The party lasts for hours. During last year's joyous bedlam, dozens of watermelons began rolling from the surrounding hills to the main circle. One man passed out hundreds of rainbow-producing prism glasses.
Rainbow Fluff, a Tucsonan and veteran of six nationals, goes to gatherings because he likes the feeling of family created there.
"It's a place where we can live together in harmony," he says. He also appreciates the effort the family makes to pick a beautiful location, and adds he's impressed by the replanting, seeding and recycling that "makes sure the land is not left scarred or burdened."
Yaffa Rosenthal, who has been to eight nationals and dozens of regionals, is so devoted to the gatherings that she once carried two of her babies five miles to get to a Nevada site. A "heartsong" musician, she goes for the ever-present music and the "high vibrations and strong prayers." She says she believes a gathering is "one of the few places where there is almost total acceptance. It has to be that way to be with so many people."
Thinking back to her first event, she remembers being overwhelmed. "I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm a rainbow!' "
Music and the omnipresent drumming circles are gathering trademarks. However, much more goes on. It's the old saw--you get out of it what you put in. There's cooking, pooper digging, cleaning, fire patrolling, workshops and countless other tasks to be done. And not everyone helps. ("Drainbow" is the current term for sluggards.)
The main circle is the place where announcements are made. It's distinguished by a crystal-topped peace pole carried to each gathering. People may talk at the circle by coming to the center and holding a feather. Breakfast and dinner, brought in buckets from various kitchens spread throughout the site, are served at the main circle. Meals are also available on a catch-as-catch-can basis at nearly a dozen kitchens with names like Granola Funk, Tea Time and Lovin' Ovens.
An area is reserved for a trading circle, where one can barter for things like handicrafts, hair tying and massage. Last year a guy had a full library, including hardcover books. There's a kid village with handmade swings, a fairy camp for gays, "A-Camp" for those who drink alcohol (forbidden on site), and a village for buses and RVs.
Finally, there's Chad Stone and Penny Gun. Stone and his dad Rocky traveled from Tucson last year to the Wyoming gathering, the first Rainbow Gathering for both. Penny came from Northern California to Wyoming. It must have been love, because Penny moved in with Chad several months later. So if you see two young beautiful blondes from Tucson playing guitars with big smiles in New Mexico, wish them a happy anniversary.
IF YOU GO:
WHEN: July 1-7, earlier for seed camp, later for cleanup.
WHERE: Carson National Forest. It's 9.3 miles north of Tres Piedras, which is northwest of Taos, New Mexico, on State Route 285. When you get there, take a left (west) on Forest Road 87 and travel 17.9 miles to the main rendezvous point. For more info call the National Rainbow Hotline (202)-797-3625 or Taos info at (505) 758-0768.
BRlNG: Tent, sleeping bag, food, instruments, warm clothes for night, flashlight, basic first aid supplies, rain gear, trade material, good vibes.
DON'T BRlNG: Dogs (too many already), alcohol, weapons (forbidden), electronic devices.
EXPECT: Optional nudity, optional drug use, peace and love.
"It's a place where we can live in harmony," says Rainbow Fluff, who's been to six national gatherings.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm a rainbow!' " remembers Yaffa Rosenthal.
Editor's note: Mayateya is the Rainbow Family name for a Tucson attorney.
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