Earthdance strives to make the leap from underground movement to a worldwide, mainstream event.
Peace Puppets, or Earth Giants, wander the landscape during one of the unorthodox events held during Earthdance 2002. Photos by Jeremy
While many people might consider the dream that people around the world might, someday, set aside their differences, join hands, and raise their voices together for love and peace as nothing more than wishful thinking, that has been, for the last six years, the exact goal of the event know as Earthdance.
Born out of the electronica dance community, Earthdance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating one day a year when people around the world join together for a day of dance, music, and peaceful celebration. Using the Internet as the primary communication medium to handle coordination of the event, the first Earthdance festival was held in 1997 and was a relatively modest affair that attracted 50,000 dancers to events held in 22 cities in 18 different countries. Since then, however, the event has grown significantly.
Billed as the world's largest music and dance festival, the 2002 Earthdance was held in October and featured 117 events in 47 countries. This time, there were several-hundred-thousand dancers participating in the events. Millions more watched portions of live webcasts from these events on the organization's website (www.earthdance.org), according to organizers.
The individual events linked together in this “web” ranged from tiny affairs held deep in the Amazon jungle that attracted perhaps a handful of people to more extravagant productions, such as the two-stage concert held in the host city of San Francisco at Golden Gate Park, which attracted thousands. The highlight of the day comes at noon, Greenwich mean time, when event attendees around the globe take a moment to simultaneously recite “The Prayer for Peace,” a message of hope for global unity.
According to event organizers, ticket sales for all the events for Earthdance 2002 raised nearly $500,000 in donations — money distributed to various charities around the globe.
Clearly, Earthdance has moved beyond the electronica community to become more inclusive. For all its growth, however, Earthdance has yet to become a mainstream event capable of attracting mainstream audiences and celebrities. The biggest act at San Francisco last year, for example, was Mick Fleetwood's newly formed Big Mojo band. Organizers, however, are hopeful that might change in 2003.
According to Mike Evans of Carmel Media of Carmel, Calif., Earthdance has hit a critical mass and is poised to make the leap into the big-time world of major sponsorships, famous acts, and television coverage. Indeed, Evans' company was specifically brought on board last summer to help Earthdance make that transition.
Evans talked to SRO about some of the challenges of planning and producing an unorthodox, global event like Earthdance, and the plan currently being implemented to make Earthdance 2003 an even bigger event.
SRO: To start, explain your own background and your relationship to Earthdance.
Evans: I'm the president of Carmel Media, and we do a variety of media-related things from entertainment to producing television to publishing magazines. My background has been in entertainment and productions. I produced about 100 concerts over a 10-year period. Then, in 1996, I stopped producing concerts and concentrated on some publishing and television projects. So Earthdance represents my first foray back into the event planning and production arena.
SRO: Were you brought in because the job of managing Earthdance had become too big for the people who were doing it originally?
Evans: I think the people who were involved in it were perfectly capable of doing what they were doing. But there was a desire to expand outside of what they were already doing, and there just wasn't the time or expertise to take it to a different level. It was really a kind of grassroots event that grew on its own and really started to become very popular as more and more cities began doing events. So they did an excellent job, but to reach outside what they were already doing was a real issue.
SRO: In what ways do you plan to expand Earthdance?
Evans: Bringing in other major talent, going after major sponsors, coordinating other venues to produce Earthdance events at, and just generally developing an overall game plan for the Earthdance model. We'd also like to incorporate a television aspect, so there would be a television event that would be happening at, or near, the time of the live event. And hopefully, we'll be able to tie in some news organizations.
SRO: How is Earthdance different from other events you've produced?
Evans: It's different in the sense that there aren't many events that have international components, where there are individual promoters in different cities around the world that are doing essentially the same kind of event on the same, exact day. First Night is probably the most similar model, where there are First Night events going on around the country, and there is a First Night International office in New York that kind of supplies help and advice to all the various First Night events.
SRO: But First Night is not so much about interconnecting the events, right?
Evans: No, not at all. And that is probably the most unique thing about Earthdance — that all these events are interconnected through the Earthdance website and the live webcast.
SRO: Are there any video screens set up at the events so the audience in one place can see what's happening at other locations around the world?
Evans: We don't really have it set up that way because that would require a satellite broadcast to each event, and the cost of doing that would be exorbitant.
SRO: How do you organize an event like this where there are so many venues involved?
Evans: Each Earthdance event has a local promoter, and they are autonomous from the standpoint of creating the whole environment around their Earthdance event. But we coordinate with them through email and the Internet on various things that will be going on, and provide any help they might need. All the promoters are communicating with each other through the Internet to develop ideas. There's a feel of community to the whole process.
SRO: When do you begin work on the next event?
Evans: We are starting now for Earthdance 2003, which will probably be held September 20. That could change, but that's the current plan. The idea is that we will coordinate it with the United Nations International Day of Peace.
SRO: Tell me more about the new things you are trying to implement for Earthdance 2003.
Evans: One thing we're doing is we're looking for companies that control many venues around the world, so we can bring them in as one group. That way, we can maybe add events in 200 to 300 cities all at once. Also, the sponsorship aspect of the event is a big new area for us. Earthdance, up to this point, has had various small sponsors who were providing in-kind services, like bandwidth for the webcasts and things of that sort, but not really any monetary sponsors. So that's an important component. But it's important to bring in the right sponsors that we feel fit the Earthdance model, and can help us to generate more money to give away to charity.
SRO: It sounds like you are hoping to grow Earthdance exponentially this year.
Evans: Exactly. That's the plan. And if we can bring in a television aspect to it, where we can produce a television special — and it may not be live on that day, but could be broadcast in the week following — then the television event itself would be another vehicle to raise money through donations and things of that sort.
Electronic dance DJ’s spin some entertainment at one of the modest events that, combined, make up Earthdance.
SRO: Who are the promoters you use?
Evans: Most of the promoters involved in Earthdance aren't the big guys; they are small, entrepreneurial promoters who are doing musical events that are a little out of the mainstream. But they all are professionals and know what they are doing. They go off and organize it and bring in their own local sponsors, and all the money that's raised at each event stays in their community.
Up until now, most of the promoters have sought us out. This will be the first year we'll be actively pursuing promoter partners. But the partners I'll be pursing this year will be more mainstream. We want to keep this underground element we've developed over the years because it provides this whole different color to Earthdance. But we want to bring the underground and mainstream promoters together, so that we have an event that appeals to a really broad range of people. In the long term, the whole idea is to have Earthdance events that are specific to different genres. So, in the South, we might have an event with a country music theme, and somewhere else an event might be built around ballroom dancing. We are really trying to expand the dance model to include all sorts of music types.
SRO: Are you also hoping to get more participation from mainstream performers?
Evans: Yes. This past year, I contacted over 100 international acts, and that was actually to set the stage for 2003. Schedules for big acts are made way in advance. By the time I was involved last year, there really wasn't much hope in bringing a mainstream artist to San Francisco because they were already committed somewhere else. But for 2003, the plan is to incorporate some major acts.
But rather than bringing them to a central event, we'll go where they are. So, if on that day — I'm just throwing this out, not that they're currently involved — the Rolling Stones were playing in London, then we would contact them and ask if they could make their event that day part of the Earthdance worldwide event. That way, it doesn't require them to change their schedule, and it doesn't cost them anything. It's just making their already scheduled event a part of this worldwide event. That could really help us raise the level of awareness for Earthdance.
SRO: And have you had any interest from TV networks?
Evans: We are just now starting with that. It's kind of a building-block process. First, you have to get the venues involved, then you get a couple of key international artists involved, then bring in a major sponsor, and then take that package to one of the major networks.
SRO: Have there been any special security or insurance issues you've had to get involved with?
Evans: Surprisingly enough, no. I thought there might be because of post-9/11, but there weren't. We had absolutely no security problems. Most of the people who are participating are there because they want to support the various causes. It's not like just going to a concert. There is a consciousness involved that you are there supporting important causes, so from that aspect, the event is really more of a family affair, and in a sense, is just safer.
SRO: If any SRO readers have any suggestions for Earthdance, how would they contact you?
Evans: The opportunities are really kind of immense. If somebody reads this and feels they have something they can offer to the Earthdance global model, they should feel free to contact me via email at email@example.com.
Stephen Porter is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.