As you make your way up a mile-and-a-half-long muddy road in a secluded part of northern Wisconsin, you will come across various sights — from a line of parked vehicles that have been driven there from multiple states to a woman walking with her daughter, a bearded man with a horse, and a shirtless man playing the guitar. You will be greeted by almost every passerby on your way towards the gathering site.
There is an inscription “Town of Delta — Welcome home” on a sheet that flutters in the mild breeze. You can see it as you walk along the trail and hear the words as spoken by Rick Schwichtenberg of Madison.
He said that the members of his family and he himself thought of the community as their true home. According to his words, they return to the site to heal, regenerate energy, and discover their true selves.
The Rainbow Family Gathering is an annual event. It takes place in a secluded part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and lasts for a week.
By the opening on Monday, approximately 5,000 people had arrived at the site to participate in the event. It was expected to be at its peak on July 4 when the attendants gather in a circle to meditate and pray for peace.
Camping, the Sound of Drums, and the Smell of Incense
The event has a counterculture-of-the-20th-century vibe to it. The first one took place in 1972 in the state of Colorado. It offers an experience of returning to the country and features camping, drumming, community kitchens, talking circles, spontaneous jam sessions, and the smell of incense.
Nudity is also not uncommon as well as the smoke of something other than tobacco.
According to Barry Adams, nicknamed “Plunker,” everyone who has ever taken part in a gathering had the same goal — to change. Adams is one of the founders of this annual event. He himself has settled in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960s.
Adams, who is now in his 70s, has become somewhat of a Rainbow guru. He can be seen playing an improvised string instrument while singing: “No matter what you see here, we’re human beings.”
These gatherings can be on the regional, national, and international level.
As you might assume, law enforcement monitors the festival.
They remain alert following the Rainbow Family Gathering of 2018. Joseph Capstraw was charged with murder for supposedly killing Amber Robinson, an 18-year-old girl from Florida. Capstraw and Robinson allegedly met each other at a gathering in Georgia. They hitchhiked together to Kentucky, where Capstraw confessed to committing the murder, according to authorities. However, Capstraw pleaded innocent in court.
Hilary Markin, a spokeswoman with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, stated that the purpose of the law enforcement’s presence was to protect all the attendees and look out for their safety and health. She added that they had been collaborating with other agencies in order to make sure everyone was safe.
Among those agencies are the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin State Patrol, and the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Office.
On Tuesday, Paul Susienka, the Bayfield County Sheriff, stated in an email that everything seemed to be in order.
As claimed by him, around 25 criminal cases have been handed over to the district attorney. Among them, there are four felony drug charges, whereas the majority of other ones are misdemeanor drug charges.
Gathering Without Permission
The event is happening in spite of the fact that the Rainbow Family, existing without leadership, refuses to obtain a special authorization for gatherings that comprise more than 75 people. The Rainbow Family members have been known to disagree with the National Forest Service.
In this game of cat and mouse, as one may call it, the Rainbow Family chose the location for this year’s event last month, which was quite late.
Markin said that the Rainbow Family had been summoned multiple times for not obtaining a permit. As claimed by him, they are trying to come to an agreement with the members of the group and come up with a resource protection plan. According to Markin, the protection of natural resources during gatherings is essential.
The assembled people make an effort not to leave any trace on the land. Furthermore, a cleanup group is planned to work for a few weeks following the gathering to make sure the land is in the same condition as it had been prior to their arrival.
A 51-year-old farmer from the state of Washington, known as Domino Calypso, has already spent several weeks at the site. He will also be a member of the group of people responsible for cleaning it up.
Calypso is a member of Montana Mud, a cooperative kitchen that was established back in 1994 with a single coffee pot. The founder of the said kitchen is a man named Jimbo.
Calypso is in charge of keeping an eye on all fires, and he started to keep thirty gallons of water, ready for making soups, tea, and coffee.
Along with other members of the community, Calypso improvised a system for purifying water. The system uses a car battery to work.
Over the years, he has stated that although places, names, and faces have changed, the Rainbow Gathering has kept its spirit. According to his words, the community aims to heal the world through compassion and love.
Karin Zirk from San Diego has been a regular attendant at the gatherings for over three decades. Since she started attending the event in the early 1980s, she is now a veteran, and as such, she welcomes people arriving at the site along with other Rainbow veterans.
Zirk, like so many other people, has a home and a mortgage, according to her own claims.
She appreciates the gatherings, as she gets to keep in touch with her old friends and enjoy the tranquillity and contemplation of the Fourth of July.
She claims that one can only hear the sounds of children and dogs at the site.
Jackie Betz from Florida has also been a regular since the 1980s.
She described it as unique, stating that it differs from events such as rock festivals. She admits that it has an edgy vibe to it. Nevertheless, she points out that everybody is welcome.
Rainbow Family members have changed over the years. However, the gatherings keep fascinating new generations.
Jade from St. Louis, aged 23, said that her reasons for attending the gathering were family, love, and the possibility of getting to know each other.
25-year-old Alvaro Hurtado from Philadelphia compared the Rainbow Family to the Grateful Dead, by stating that asking young people what about the gatherings appealed to them was the same as asking why would a 25-year-old living in 2019 be keen on the band.
In his opinion, the tradition will continue for as long as people are alive and willing to attend the gatherings.