Weaving the Festival Fabric: Bicycle Day

Each year on April 19th, in the heart and soul of San Francisco, lies a very special festival that embodies the true origins of festivals and communities, psychedelics. If you haven’t already attended, or know what it means, then allow our wonderful conversation with one of the event producer’s, Josh Pollack, to bring you to the roots of potentially why you attended festivals in the first place….

I’m Rachel, Content and Community Engagement Coordinator with Festisia, and I had the pleasure of speaking with Josh, who like many of us, has an innate passion and understanding for the power and impact of festivals. Bicycle Day embraces a particularly important holiday. Here’s what he had to say:

Rachel: Before we dive into the details, what is your role with Bicycle Day?

Josh: I’ve been one of the event producers since the inception of the event. The first one that we did was in 2012. We took a couple of years off, but it’s been going strong since then – one of these uniquely San Francisco – Bay Area weird, psychedelic, cool yearly events that people start really looking forward to, just one of those favorite gatherings of the year for a lot of the community.

Rachel: Have you always done Bicycle Day at the Midway?

Josh: It’s actually had quite a few different homes over the years. It started off at 1015 Folsom for about 3-4 years, and then we brought it to the Regency. We did one year at the Warfield, and then it’s been at the Midway for the past 5 years. It’s perfect for this kind of event. It’s so art-forward, with a built-in art gallery running through the vein of the venue. We’ve always had to build art galleries at other venues, so it’s kind of nice that kind of infrastructure exists there, and with all the different rooms, different vibes, and a lot of space.

Rachel: The Midway shape shifts all the time.

Josh: And it’s such a great crew that works there. I’ve known those people for a while, and they’re totally on board, they get the vision. They’ve been great partners.

Rachel: What initially inspired Bicycle Day? And what’s the story behind it?

Josh: On April 19th, 1943, is when Albert Hofmann was working on synthesizing LSD and dosed himself for the first time in the lab and rode his bike home. That was the first acid trip. Every year on April 19th is Bicycle Day, and there aren’t really many other places that celebrate it but in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. I’ve been doing it with Alex and Allison Grey, who were doing different festivals and other events and working with their team. They actually had started an event in San Francisco; doing a smaller event which was very lecture-focused. They had some music, but they were really doing it on their own, and we kind of teamed up with them, brought it to 1015 Folsom, and made it into a much bigger event with multiple rooms of music, a bunch more art, performers, basically turning it into a festival in a club environment.

It started off as a very small thing of 100 people or less. Now it is around 2,000. It’s a great size. Over the years, we’ve had some awesome events. The Grey’s were a big part of it for the first handful of years, and then we’ve also featured artists like Android Jones, Mars 1 and always have a really focused energy on the live art piece and the live art galleries. We also have some educational pieces, some talks, and we’ve done different VIP activations. For the past few years, we’ve created like a psychedelic conference as well that goes before Bicycle Day, and it’s called “The Discovery Sessions”, so that’s like a whole new genesis that has been created under the Bicycle Day umbrella, and now we’re kind of positioning that as the go-to psychedelics conference in the Bay Area that spawned off Bicycle Day.

It’s really cool to see all of the support and really being able to carry the torch in a way for the psychedelic community in San Francisco and Northern California, just because the past few years it’s really been lacking in a way with the demographics of the city and how things have developed there. A lot of the weirdness is no longer there, but we’re kind of continuing to do something that’s weird and funky and honoring the history and how important San Francisco was to the psychedelic movement.

It’s turned into a holiday, and even more so in the location where the people have something to look forward to, and something to fall back on when there has been a lot of homogenous development, and how things are trending there, and we’re bringing it back to the roots. I know that San Francisco is going to do this 360 thing where it’s going to come back eventually with the artist community being there again, some of the weird things that made it an awesome place. It’s still an awesome place, but it’s different now. I know it’s typical and it’s really important to continue to provide an event like this for that community and just really keep it going.

Rachel: There are people who clearly feel like-minded and passionate that tend to this event, but do you notice any newcomers that aren’t necessarily attached and familiar and kind of gaining a new awakened experience from this?

Josh: Totally. Just with how psychedelics have become more mainstream in the past few years, there are a lot of people who are curious who might not be as involved in the culture or the scenes of festivals or psychedelia, or the art scene or whatever it is, and people are wanting to learn more. I’m trying to create that foundation for people who are trying to dip their toes in and experience what these events are like and how inspirational they can be. Reaching new people is an important piece, especially the younger demographic of folks who are just coming into, whether it’s festival culture or personal growth; we strive to be a beacon for those folks.

This culture is really a beautiful space, and I was really inspired by it as so many people were before me, and will continue to be, so I just want to continue that potential for inspiration. That’s why I love to do events just in general.

Rachel: Can you walk me through what Bicycle Day is going to look like?

Josh: Like I was saying before, there’s a whole new event that spawned in the past, and it will be the third year that we’re doing actual psychedelic conferences, focusing on different tracks of the culture, science, and therapeutics. The 18th and 19th are going to have conferences. There’s a full robust schedule of offerings and of programming. After the conferences and on the 19th, which is also at the Midway, we turn the room over and the Bicycle Day celebrations start. There will be two rooms of music, a whole art gallery, live painters, different live performers, a whole vending village, and a lot of interactive art and installations. There are two rooms of music: there’s a main room, which has tons of production, LEDs and visuals, and then there’s the whole art gallery space, and the patio is where the vendors are going to be, and it’s just really nice with different zones.

There is the outdoor space, the art gallery, a big room, and a smaller room that is a bit more intimate and feels more like an intimate club vibe as opposed to a really big room. It’s nice to have so many different spaces. Starting at 8pm and going until 3am of just continuous music and art, there’s food and beverage on site. It’s going to bring that festival environment to a club and focus on Bay Area or West Coast artists, and also featuring art from all over the world as well.

Rachel: Is the music going to be more clubby, ambient, acid rock, etc.?

Josh: This year, it will be a healthy mix of live bands. There’s some live rock, funk, psychedelia, and then there’s also electronic music steeped in with bass heaviness but also touching a lot of psychedelia and world elements. There’s going to be some more hip-hop live scratching, some more worldly spiritual music. When you think of psychedelic music, there’s a broad spectrum; there’s so much psychedelia from a lot of different genres and make it all cohesive. It’s really going to touch on a wide array of different styles, but also making sure there’s that connective tissue through all of it, and nothing being too abrasive, knowing that the crowd is somewhat medicated. Making sure that everything flows aesthetically, and there’s nothing too jarring to put someone into a dark space, keeping things nice and light, and positive is also a big part of it. The positivity of the gathering is definitely an important piece.

Rachel: To be catering to so many different tastes, but also to have this ‘connective tissue’, is a really cool experience.

Josh: That kind of model seems to work, with a lot of different genres going on. People want to dance and enjoy themselves, so making sure there’s a good dance-y vibe is also really important. We want to have those psychedelic dance parties which are generally the most fun to have.

Rachel: Our bodies and our minds need to work together one way or another. I think that will be great. So, what would you say is one of your favorite, if not favorite, aspects of creating this kind of community?

Josh: Like I was touching on before, it’s continuing to make sure there’s this current psychedelic culture in San Francisco and the Bay Area and Northern California, which is so important because there is so much history there and so much that happened in the past. I think doing these kinds of events currently, paying homage to the people who really paved the way for so much, I think it’s important to have that recognition and that appreciation, I think people really resonate. People who are familiar with the event know, and people who aren’t familiar with the event who come the first time will hopefully understand what kind of event they’re at. That’s really my favorite part is just knowing that I’m part of that in a way. It sounds kind of trying to maintain humility with that, but also just having that awareness that this is the current state of the culture. That’s really an awesome part of being able to do it.

Rachel: When I think of temporary festivals and communities in general, we all embody what festivals are intuitively bringing us: love, positivity, respect, appreciation, and being unified by music and experience, but I feel like at least at major festivals and major music spaces, there is not so much of a recognition of how we got here to begin with. This is exactly what you guys are doing. Psychedelics are a huge part of how any festival has really come to the space today, counterculture and all. So I think this is a very core piece and one of the most valuable.

So, do you see yourself or Bicycle Day expanding to other spaces, or how would it evolve over the years?

Josh: We have done some other events. For example, one year we had Shpongle play at Bicycle Day and then organized an LA show, a New Orleans show, and an Austin show, and that was kind of like a Bicycle Day Shpongle little tour and each show was part of that kind of vibe in a way. We have done things like that before, and I think that evolution with starting the conference is a really big part of that process because that felt really important to be able to touch on a little bit more and bring in scholars, historians, scientists, and therapists and just touch on all of the amazing work that’s being done right now in this region, and across the world.

The conference is bringing in people from across the world, other countries, different states, other lineages and that to me is a really important piece of the evolution, so hopefully that conference can continue to grow and expand and really try to position it as the psychedelic conference in the region. Hopefully that can continue to grow. This is going to be the third year. I’m already seeing this year, more venues and more promoters doing their own Bicycle Day events. It’s really cool because that never used to be the case.

When we started, we never really used to see any other Bicycle Day events. I think that’s definitely part of the evolution on whether this event has any impact. Hopefully, it continues to happen. IF there is another opportunity to do more of these Bicycle Day SF-style events in the future, then definitely would take an opportunity to do that, but no specific plans to do that at this point.

Rachel: I totally see you guys having a stage presence at a festival like Outside Lands. I think that would be so cool.

Josh: An event like that is definitely an inspiration and something I’ve tended to for a while and taking notes for some of the events I do. Thank you for saying that.

Rachel: Are bicycles at all integrated into this event, or is it just used as a symbol for historical relevance?

Josh: It’s more symbolic. We’ve done some light integrations. For example, last year we had this art installation where it was like an LED bicycle-powered heart, and it lit up. There were some bicycles there that, as you were pedaling, created the energy to light up the heart, which was really cool. It was basically an art installation that came right from Burning Man. Kind of working in some of the visual aesthetic, but not really a whole lot of actual bicycle connections, which maybe in the future we’ll play on that a bit more.

Well, there is actually a bike ride through Golden Gate Park, which is its own event, but that’s been going on for a while. One of my good friends organizes that, so that’s just part of the magic of the day. People do this whole bike ride through the park, and that happens before sundown, which is perfect timing because people who do that bike ride will come to the Midway for the next phase of the day and the celebration. It’s uniquely San. Francisco.

Rachel: Are there any artists or musicians you’re excited to see?

I’m excited for all of it, but this year, we’ve had him before; it’s probably been five years, but Ott., he’s from the UK, he’s an older gentleman, but he just really embodies a lot of what music that I was listening to when I was really getting inspired by psychedelic culture, and it’s really enveloping, it’s this audio experience, it’s very well produced. He pulls in a lot of different influences and different sounds, he’s just the nicest guy ever. I’ve been working with him a really long time, and that music to me really embodies the event. He was actually the first one who I booked for this year’s lineup. His music is so good, and does all these visuals, so it’s like a live AV set. It’s just great that he’s still doing it. He’s just this legendary guy, and to book him for this event is really special.

For tickets and more information click here.


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