Agricultural land, set aside from development, is like a blank canvass. At least that's how wellness and sustainable lifestyle entrepreneur Cab Spates sees it. Unfortunately, though, what often happens is that canvass is filled with spill-over from the city: development, gentrification, urban mentality. To counter this, Spates has been pushing the idea of development in a different direction. For the past decade, he's thrown Optimysstique, an interconnected exposé of art, music, craft, Do-It-Yourself (DIY), local entrepreneurship and local agriculture on the North Shore of Oʻahu.
“It's a more conscious development, and one that prioritizes diversity and innovation over the usual kind of development that's unhealthy for people and the environment,” says Spates. “Where do you go to get inspired if you live in a rural area? Oftentimes, in rural areas, there's no real hub of information. There's no real gathering place for intelligent, artistic, conscious people to come together on a regular basis and share ideas. So the festival acts as a platform to bring those kinds of people together and showcase their talents and energy to the rest of the world.”
The festival brings together the diversity of a small-scale Burning Man, but places its emphasis on practical, eco-sustainable micro-enterprise and DIY. A musical component reminiscent of a mini-coachella anchors the festival, with spiritual exploration and wellness components a la Bhaktifest, and the eco-consciousness of Bioneers, branching out like spokes. And, of course, all this happens in one of the most beautiful settings in the entire world.
“There weren't a lot of options for people on the North Shore to get together and learn about progressive solutions to local and global issues while having a great time,” says Spates. “There was a definite need for something like this, so I decided to fill the void. I needed something like this to keep me inspired, otherwise the brain turns to mush—and I figured that was probably true for a lot of people up here.”
When Spates first moved to Oʻahu in 1994, he started learning about permaculture techniques and soon began participating in one of the earliest farmer's markets on the island. The farmer's market movement came out of the Save Sunset Beach movement, which was targeted at preventing North Shore construction developments. That later morphed into the Keep The Country Country movement, but Spates felt that movement lacked the inspirational, educational and entertainment components that have become such a big part of Optimysstique.
“But the good news is that a some of the guys I studied these sustainable agricultural techniques with and that came from that effort to save Sunset Beach are still part of the festival, so it's really come full circle,” says Spates. In particular, one of the featured bands—Jungle Rocket—is comprised of community organizers that were active in that movement.
Another featured act will be a group of West African griots, or professional storytellers that utilize traditional modes of communication from their region—singing, dancing, music and poetry. “Griots are born into playing music—it's passed down through the family,” says Spates. Led by the masterful Sékou Camara, the group often travels through Europe sharing the music and culture of West Africa, which is increasingly popular there.
“Another top notch act is Tommy Osura—he played with Buddy Miles, who did music with Hendrix back in the day—he'll be there too. He's been a big help for a long time,” says Spates. Osura is a music teacher on the Windward side of the island who had been recording albums for singer-songwriters Brian von Ahsen and Paul Izak who will both be performing as well. Last year, Osura performed at Optimysstique and realized how much he preferred playing in an open, outdoor environment like the festival.
A local favorite and recent staple of the annual Hallowbaloo event in Chinatown, Quadraphonix, will also headline the event. “There's no surprise there though. The musicians in that group have always gravitated to similar events, like their Tribal Revival gatherings. They were eager to participate in an event that had a more educational, wellness component,” says Spates.
It's important to include and celebrate Hawaiian and Polynesian culture as well. In that spirit, the event will include a plant walk presented by Hoʻolono Natural Remedies, a Polynesian astrological experience and a presentation on navigational principles.
“Tom Penna was hired by the Hō Mai Ka Pono Project to create a map of the watershed system here. And a similar map was created by artist Ilona Hemperly. It's been the vision for more than two decades, and we've always used the map in the farmer's market scene, so it's almost like a physical blueprint of the essence of the festival,” Spates says. “Ilona and Tom connect the indigenous culture of these islands with our modern society through art.”
Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies could become a game-changing reality for groups seeking sovereignty and self-determination, or simply independence from economic or political oppression, and the impact of these new, untethered currencies will likely create new opportunities for divestment from capitalism, neoliberalism and imperialism. Entrepreneur Edward DeLeon Hickman will be presenting on these opportunities, and Spates says it will be a highlight of the event.
Hickman is the CEO & Founder of Hawaiʻi's first (and one of the world’s first) blockchain-focused technology firms and launched Hawaiʻi's first digital token dispenser (a.k.a. a Bitcoin ATM). He created and manages one of the world’s first digital asset funds, designed the world’s first closed-loop economic system based off of blockchain technology and was a founder and initial funding participant in over 32 blockchain-based digital assets.
Of course, food is the glue that binds a community together, and food will naturally be a big part of the event. “That's always the unifying soul of the festival because it all comes down to perpetuating a responsible way of using the land. And, for me, that means creating nourishment for my community,” says Spates. “So we'll be growing some food on site, and we'll be harvesting food from my farm and we'll have the Interactive Food Party and cooking class—so we'll have people bring their own produce from their harvests and then bring that to the festival so people can make food together. This allows people to recognize the abundance of the land because they're actually using what's available, but also gives them an idea of how much labor and time is needed to create the real thing.”
Spates has an B.A. in Economics, with emphasis on efficiency and a philosophical rooting in Taoism. Spates now applies the principles he learned in school to wellness, as he performs shiatsu massage and teaches yoga. Spates grows organic produce on his farm and has developed healthy recipes that utilize the ingredients he grows. He’s created a small healing center attached to a sustainable food forest, where healing, education, wellness and sustainable living converge. “My day-to-day is just like the Optimysstique festival, only on a smaller scale,” he chuckles.
Currently, most of the festival participants are Oʻahu residents, but Spates has been steadily building up a neighbor island following and is hoping to have visitors from the outer islands comprise a larger portion of festival attendance. “There's always a surprise with special guests and visitors coming from out of town. You never know who will turn up,” he says.
“We really want the off-islanders to attend because we know that they'll take the three days to really soak up the experience,” says Spates. “And we encourage people who live on-island to take the extra time to really get inspired and reconnect with their highest self.”
As we go through our lives, day-in and day-out, we can sometimes get too comfortable with our own surroundings, which prevents us from actively looking for new ways to improve ourselves and our way of life. “The good news is artists and visionaries are always creating; always looking for an outlet, platform and venue. Optimysstique serves that purpose. We already live in a great environment, but it could be improved further through conscious gatherings and interaction,” Spates says. “But then the question is ‘how?’ How do we create jobs and infrastructure without turning it into suburbia and following that kind of template? And that's a global problem. This is a kind of seminar for rural areas that seeks to provide some answers to that question at the local level.”
This is where Spates incorporates ideas about fair trade and high-quality, craft products for export that can provide a wage that will allow these artisans to continue producing their goods and to function in the world of commerce.
“It's a challenge, because we're not in San Francisco where there's a larger market,” says Spates. “We're in a rural area creating the sustainable 'hip' and 'sexy’ that can change the world. Wood carving, fashion, all these talented people with limited exposure because there's no outlet for them to wave their freak flag. There's malls and there's festivals—where would you rather spend your time? This festival allows you to experience the process of creation and to connect with the creator in a much deeper way than you would purchasing something at Ala Moana. People want to hear the story behind a product. Not a marketing campaign.”
Spates grew up surfing and traveling around the world and he has first hand experience with rural, economically depressed regions of the world and the hardship that people living there experience on a daily basis. It's one of the primary drivers of his “think global, act local” mentality.
“Hawaiʻi presents some really unique opportunities, because it has this climate and other attributes that make it similar to tropical, rural, third-world countries, but there's a larger economy and other assets here that we can use to test out ideas and models for cleaner, more sustainable alternatives that can then, perhaps, be exported and replicated in those third-world countries to great effect,” he says. “What can we do that provides livelihood without relying on industrial, or military-industrial models of development? That's what we're trying to get people to think about.”
Spates especially wants people who might not normally attend a “burning man-esque” festival to give Optimysstique a chance because, he says, those are often the people who stand to gain the most from an experience like this.
“Two years ago we held the event at the Weinberg Center, and we had U.S. Army Major Arnold Strong give a workshop on how to deal with PTSD. There was a man that came with his daughter, and he thought it was going to be a hippy-festival, and then he meets the major and it totally changed his life. He'd been dealing with PTSD for something like 30 years and this talk changed his whole perspective on it,” Spates relates.
“As we enter a new era of political change, community solidarity will help bring like-minded people together. Optimysstique is the venue and the vehicle for local and global transformation in education, sustainability, the arts, commerce and trade,” says Spates. “It provides an inclusive vision of a holistic, positive future.”
The event lasts three days, from noon on Saturday to noon on Tuesday. Three tiers of tickets are available: a full three day festival pass, a day pass with food included, and a day pass sans food.