As pilgrimage preparations begin for music meccas like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and the Governors Ball, there’s something micro in scale but panoramic in creative scope that’s hijacking a desert in central Arizona.
Over the past three years, the FORM Arcosanti Festival has been etching out its place among the festival titans with a novel model: attending FORM is free but revelers are hand-selected based on their application to attend.
Zach Tetreault, drummer for the band Hundred Waters, created the FORM festival with the idea of curating an audience with as much creative cache as the bands on stage. Disillusioned by the monotony of venue shows while on tour, Tetreault began scouting out alternative environment and was eventually pointed in the direction of Arcosanti, the experimental community founded in the 1970s by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Paolo Soleri as a testament to Soleri’s philosophy of arcology: architecture + ecology.
"The goal is to walk away feeling inspired," Tetreault says. "As cliché as that may sound, we see it as a very realistic goal for you to meet someone who affects you and your work in some way—and that's part of this overarching premise of bringing creators together. Whether you make visual art or sculptures, or you design web apps or make music or films, everybody has this creative bond, and we all have some sort of symbiosis together in this environment. So the goal is to feel renewed with the live music experience and to eliminate any feeling of classes within it."
However, that long-live-the-proletariat attitude halts, to some degree, at the Patron Package. For $2,100, there’s guaranteed entry for two (no application required), weatherproof accommodations, and choice amenities and perks. The Patron Package was designed to help subsidize the free admissions for everyone else, so it does stand to reason that there would need to be some incentives for forking over two grand. Tetreault and his team are also carefully selecting sponsors who can support FORM financially without having to sacrifice the principles Tetreault laid out when he started the festival—principles that are centered around the attendees.
What Tetreault is looking for in an applicant is thoughtfulness, intention, and creativity—an intentionally vague rubric that leaves FORM open to a wide swath of attendees. The number of FORM-goers has steadily risen over the years, but Tetreault is banking on 2016’s cap of around 1,200 to be the sweet spot that won’t make the festival feel too crowded but will allow for a wide enough array of creatives to gel and collaborate.
"It’s a chance for us and like-minded folks to come find some new inspiration and share some inspiration with other people who are dedicated to that practice," says Mike Feinberg, manager of Hundred Waters and co-creator of FORM. "If we create an awesome ripple effect from FORM that extends through other people’s practice, then mission accomplished."
Tetreault isn’t aiming to take down festival staples like Coachella or Bonnaroo—in fact, his band is playing Bonnaroo this year. What Tetreault is hoping is to challenge the staid agenda of what a festival is and what everyone involved should get out of it.
"I consider it a reimagining of what a music festival could be," he says. "Rather than it be this overly branded experience, you won’t find a single brand in your peripheral out here. And it’s really more about putting the art in the focus. We have the ability to finely curate the people who come and without doing that in any elitist way—we’re genuinely trying to bring together the most thoughtful, creative people possible to share this experience."