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Davis, California

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Behind the scenes of Whole Earth Festival’s planning and preparation process

UC Davis students work hard to plan Davis’ annual three-day music and arts festival


By GRETA FOEHR — features@theaggie.org 


The Whole Earth Festival (WEF), a 55-year-long tradition in Davis, took place May 10 to 12. The festival featured a large variety of art vendors, food booths and two stages with live music playing for the entirety of the event.  

Jackie Allen, a third-year linguistics major who has been involved in managing WEF since their freshman year, emphasized the festival aims to be sustainable.

“We attempt to be as zero waste as we possibly can,” Allen said. “We talked to the food vendors in advance and made sure that they’re okay with using [reusable dishes provided by Segundo Dining Commons and the CoHo]. We reduce waste in that way. We also have compost and recycling stations where we sort all the trash that goes through WEF.”

Allen also said the success of the event relies on a team of students that starts working together in January to put the festival together and organizes the student and community member volunteers. 

“Volunteers make WEF possible,” Allen said. “It’s a welcoming place that really ties the community together, which I think is cool.”

This year, they had somewhere between 600 to 800 volunteers helping set up, take down and run the three-day festival. 

Nola Zimdars, a third-year design major, is a part of the student group in charge of WEF. Specifically, she designs the pamphlet that is passed out at the festival with all the bands, booths and a map of the grounds. 

“Staff is around 35 people and we have hundreds of volunteers,” Zimdars said. “There are so many hands that work together to make everything happen leading up to the festival.”

The staff has weekly meetings in the months leading up to the festival, and everyone has their own role and part of WEF that they are in charge of planning. 

“We are all such a hard working group of people who are so dedicated to cultivating community and an experience for everyone else,” Zimdars said.

For example, some students are in charge of selection, screening and communication with vendors, while others do the same with bands and food booths.

This team of students also decides the theme for WEF. 

“The theme this year is ‘Can you dig it?’ which is just a broad statement that we kind of leave up for interpretation,” Zimdars said. “‘Can you dig the Whole Earth Festival? Can you dig sustainability and community and music and art? Can you dig it?’” 

WEF sets itself apart from other music and arts festivals through its commitment to its core beliefs. Allen resonates with what WEF stands for.

“There are four main values of WEF and those are acceptance, expression, sustainability and community,” Allen said. “And honestly, WEF has been one of the best, most inspiring communities I’ve ever been a part of.”

Nonviolence is another important aspect of the WEF, and everyone who volunteers goes through a nonviolence training put on by the student organizers. 

“[Nonviolence] is an active way to de-escalate situations,” Allen said. “We try to handle uncomfortable scenarios with empathy and with appreciation for who that person is, and with respect to ourselves. [The practice of nonviolence] is de-escalatory and it’s applicable to any situation in life. You can only handle your actions and your reactions, so we just give tools and advice for how to best handle a situation that could be stressful or overwhelming.” 

Another important aspect of WEF’s operation is the transmission of knowledge between past and future members of staff. 

Mike Erickson, a Davis resident, is the sound engineer for the Cedar Stage at WEF. He has always been involved in WEF, and he even skipped his eighth-grade classes to attend the very first festival in 1969. 

“The difficulty of all student organizations has always been transmitting your knowledge,” Erickson said.

The students on staff refer to the older community members who assist them in the planning process as “old weffies.”

“Old weffies help pass along the nature of WEF and maybe the WEF magic,” Zimdars said. “It’s kind of something you have to experience face-to-face in real life. Having them come to meetings once in a while [and] having them help out with the nonviolence meetings is really important because I think otherwise the information wouldn’t be passed on as accurately. Students pass through so quickly, so [old weffies’] legacy and active participation is pretty vital.”

The collaboration and support between long-term WEF volunteers and UC Davis students makes WEF a community-building space. 

“The students planning WEF [receive] an educational value and an art value,” Erickson said. “People are working together as a whole. The community, the collective, the collective people working together.”

Erickson said the festival also challenges students to learn how to be self-sufficient.

“The students come out and use their hands to put together this festival,” Erickson said. “Whole Earth is a build-it-yourself type of thing, and if you’re going to build it yourself, you’ve got to learn how to use hand tools. And people who’ve never learned hand tools, learn how to use them and how to put them together.”

The hands-on process of planning and setting up the festival is a valuable experience for many students. Allen’s favorite part of WEF is setting up and taking down the festival with the help of many volunteers.

“It’s the most beautiful thing because we’re able to create two domes, two stages, a bunch of booths — it’s just magic,” Allen said. 

To make space for the pro-Palestine encampment in the Quad this year, the directors decided to move WEF to Russell Field. 

“Moving a whole festival in two days has been a lot, especially for our directors and logistics directors,” Allen said. “They’ve been working 32 hours, moving everything and making it work. But what is WEF without a little chaos?”

WEF is a unique, student-run, arts and music festival committed to its values, bringing both the local and visiting community together. Erickson expresses some other important learning opportunities that arise from WEF. 

“Whole Earth is an alternative to the mainstream,” Erickson said. “I think that it’s an alternative to what the administration thinks of this campus. There are a lot of students who think this campus is here to train them and prepare them to be middle corporate managers. But there are others who see it as a place to learn, to create alternatives to corporate management.”

WEF brings joy and a sense of belonging to students and community members alike. Allen shared their deep appreciation for the energy the festival creates.

“WEF is just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been a part of, and I feel really grateful and lucky to have gone to Davis and to have walked onto the quad and gotten involved,” Alan said.

Written by: Greta Foehr — features@theaggie.org


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