Evolution Ends 

Esthetic Evolution transformed Boise's EDM and arts communities, now it's coming to an end

For the past decade, Esthetic Evolution has filled the sky above the Boise River valley at Twin Springs with the glow of LEDs and the pulse of electronic dance music. After this year, though, the lights and music will fade. After 10 years, the three-day festival (Friday, June 20-Monday, June 23) is calling it quits--and though this is the final year of the event and attendance is capped at 1,000 people, organizers and participants are finding ways to make this "Final Evolution" (E10, for short) the biggest, most flamboyant, most electric yet.

"People are coming with the expectation that they're bringing the entertainment themselves," said James Most Sharp, who is attached to an art project that won a $1,200 art grant from the festival. "Once you've gone as a consumer, you instantly want to participate yourself."

This is especially evident in the Esthetic Evolution tradition of gifting, in which camps and individual attendees bring presents, food, extra costumes and other items to give to fellow Evolution-goers. Freshman participants, Most Sharp said, typically bring the bare minimum equipment to comfortably camp at the festival, but are surrounded by veterans bearing cookies, coffee, badges and more. The next year, those participants bring gifts of their own to distribute. Since the organizers have no corporate sponsors and have banned commercial sales, gifting has been a central part of Esthetic Evolution's culture and growth.

This year, Most Sharp will be spending his festival with a 40-person camp organized by Celeste Bolin. E10 will be Bolin's fifth Esthetic Evolution and the third in which she has organized a camp. As the festival has grown, so has the elaborateness of camp life, and what began as a loose collective of pup tents and Primus stoves has become a network of big tents, full kitchens and group activities. This year, Bolin's camp will include a beauty bar where revelers can update or augment their costumes, and "Compliment Alley," where camp members compliment other attendees as they walk nearby.

"It's like going car camping, but you're going to need a costume and face jewels," Bolin said.

"If you're putting people in crazy costumes, you're tearing down people's ability to appraise," Most Sharp added.

Beyond costumes and face paint, the festival is known for bringing significant electronic music artists, visual art projects and activities to the scenic river-bend location. Beside Compliment Alley, Bolin will also help set up Altitude Lounge, a three-story tower with a grand view of the festival. She'll also conduct two dance seminars with her husband, Jesse Bolin, aka DJ Psycache.

"It's a mixture between ecstatic dance, yoga, African dance and booty dancing," she said. "It's really fun to teach at a festival because you never know what you're going to get."

Esthetic Evolution has long invested in producing extravagant visual spectacles. Music acts are housed in three large domes provided by Boise-based Mandala Domes. Most will bring monster costumes he helped build for Treefort Music Fest and is collaborating with Sam Johnson on building a small fleet of large, LED-lit dragonflies. In years past, he and Johnson have brought a giant illuminated squid and Boise Feast I grant-winning King Dazbog--a life-size glowing dinosaur puppet. For Most Sharp, the costumes, art and music are part of a mass event in which difference is celebrated and nobody is excluded.

"There's a lot of rigidity in the world. You get to shed a lot of those shackles," he said.

Every Esthetic Evolution has a different theme. E4's theme was the four elements; E10 will be a yearbook-style event featuring a who's who of veteran Esthetic Evolution electronic DJs, including Deafchild, Dopamine and Antix. "Classic" art projects include a flame wall, a ceremonial effigy burning, the "Pink Polly Parade" and a costume boutique where attendees can trade their clothes for elaborate get-ups.

But "Classic" is a complicated term for Esthetic Evolution. The festival began with 150 attendees and was a financial bust. It occupied just one-fifth the area it currently fills. By 2007, the event's finances were in the black and a core group of organizers had developed a workable system in which they could manage what had grown into a popular and sizeable music festival while still having fun.

"It was growing beyond our control a bit. E7 was the first year that all of the partners agreed that this was the festival we wanted it to be," said organizer Dave Hertling.

To better manage their responsibilities, they divided into beats, with Hertling and his wife, Jessa, managing the primary population area--the meadow--while Matt Lay, a nurse by trade, operated the medical tent. Others worked with volunteers on parking and stage setup duties.

Though staff is frequently spread thin at a large-scale music event and far from authority figures, security and attendee safety is rarely an issue. Dave Hertling said that occasionally someone will come up from Boise's downtown bar scene itching for a fight, but festival goers have effectively defused tense situations, contributing to an easygoing environment.

"People are kind to each other. I can count the altercations on one hand," he said.

Over the past decade, Esthetic Evolution has been a springboard for underground electronic dance music acts, arts projects and a burgeoning summer festival community in the Treasure Valley. Organizers said building that community atmosphere was one of the primary goals of the festival; but now, following a 10-year pact to retire the festival, Lay said he will use his free time to travel to Europe with his wife, who hails from Slovakia. The Hertlings will attend other festivals across the West. They said they had no plans to pass the torch and let someone else host E11.

"It wouldn't be Esthetic if we didn't throw it," Jessa Hertling said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Tickets to Esthetic Evolution: The Final Evolution have been sold out.
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