Summerland was my first festival five years ago. Back then, it felt like coming home, being with people I loved and respected, and simply being respected for who I am. There was no pressure to be someone at Summerland. Everyone simply was who they were, and nothing more. It is still like that today.
Summerland is run by 6th Night Grove, ADF, a Grove that has mothered (in some way or another) nearly every Grove in the Heartland Region. Being a part of 6th Night for a few years might be part of why I always feel so at home, but it certainly isn't all of it. 6th Night continues to set a standard for excellence with Summerland that I haven't yet seen exceeded.
The workshop lineup at Summerland is usually one of the best in ADF. This year was no exception. Skip Ellison, Ian Corrigan, Errach of Pittsburgh, Jenni Hunt, Diana Paar, Selene Tawney, Nuggie and Rowana Starshine all gave workshops, making the presenter line-up second to none in this festival season. Unfortunately, due to ritual setup and takedown, I was not privileged to attend as many workshops as I would have liked, but I was able to attend a few, and also able to see the faces of people leaving workshops (some of which were so good that they ran a half-hour over due to questions and discussion!), and the faces said it all: "We've just been to a great workshop! You shoulda been there!"
The band this year was a change from the previous years. Anam Cara was this year's headliner, and they played a good show (with many people finding their way to the open bar or catching a mead bottle as it passed from one hand to the next). There was much dancing and relaxing, and lots of time to talk with old friends and make new ones.
On Friday night was the (in)famous Buffett Ritual. With cheeseburgers and margaritas, the Gods were worshiped in a somewhat new manner, but the omens showed no complaints. Apparently, even the Kindred need a party once in a while.
Just before the main rite on Saturday, the skies opened up, and a deluge poured from the sky. We stood for a while in the pavilion, waiting for the rains to die down a bit, and we laughed and talked and joked amongst ourselves. This turned out to be better than any amount of grounding and centering I have ever experienced, as there was so much fellowship and closeness that one couldn't help but be ready for a ritual. Leave it to 6th Night to turn a thunderstorm into a spiritual experience.
Of course, one of the best things about Summerland is the number of Groves that are represented every year. All but two of the nine Groves in the Heartland Region were represented, and several Groves from outside the Heartland Region were represented, as well.
In short, when I'm asked about a festival by other Pagans, I point out Summerland for all these reasons. I plan my festival season around it, rather than fitting it in, and every year it pays off better than the year before.
I'm already looking forward to next year.