Kinetic Fire 2013 Review

DSC03784The third annual Kinetic Fire Festival took place from May 16th through May 19th, 2013 in College Corner, OH. Kinetic Fire is put on by the Axis Mundi Collective, which strives to support the growth and development of the Flow-arts community, mainly by putting on fire festivals all over the United States. Other fire events they put on include the Pacific Fire Gathering (Oregon), FireDrums (California), and FLAME Festival (Georgia).

The campground for Kinetic provided ample spacing for the festival goers and the activities that the event had to offer. Many of the attendees parked their vehicles on the inside of the front field, and were able to put their tents up around the perimeter, with additional camping space up one of the hills. A vendors’ area ran between the front field and the Middle Earth main play area, and several other hangout areas were up the hill on the far end. Nine or so designated workshop areas were scattered about throughout the festival grounds, mainly outside in the open.

Fire dancing.

Fire dancing.

Though the temperature was good for a festival during this time of year, the weather was not completely cooperative, as it began pouring rain the first day of the festival. Showers would persist off and on throughout the festival until the final day. Not only did this make scaling up the hilly trails more hazardous with mud, but this also caused the cancellation of various workshops throughout the event. Nonetheless, the positive energy of those in attendance kept the event going strong.

There were various vendors at the festival. Many of them were smaller and newer companies selling original fire products and apparel, though there were several larger and more established companies present such as Flow Toys and Lighttoys (who came all the way from the Czech Republic). A handful of food vendors provided vegan specialties and various sandwiches for hungry festival goers also.

The opening ceremonies started on Thursday evening as many of the attendees gathered into the Middle Earth main play area, the organizers welcomed everyone to Kinetic 2013. They then handed out Sky Lanterns to those in attendance and suggest that festival goers physically write what they wanted to “let go” of on the lanterns. Once that was done, people lit the bottoms, and let them float off into the sky, symbolically releasing their troubles. After that, many people pulled out their props and began manipulating right there in the field, eager to begin the festivities.

Setting off Sky Lanterns the first day.

Setting off Sky Lanterns the first day.

One of the main focal points of Kinetic is learning. This is achieved through around the clock workshops that are held on Friday and Saturday and the more loosely structured skillshares that are held on Thursday and Sunday. While most of the workshops focused on the fire and spinning arts, there were also other workshops that instructed on things like performer promotion, martial arts, and parkour.

Club manipulation workshop.

Club manipulation workshop.

Some of the special guest instructors this year included Kyle Johnson, Noel Yee, and Tank from the Vulcan, who taught various workshops on juggling and poi. Nunchaku expert Ken Hill did several fast paced “hyper style” nunchaku manipulation workshops, despite nursing an arm injury. Scotland’s Keith Marshal provided interesting instruction on club and poi manipulations, which included instruction on unorthodox techniques such as hitting flat throws into a spin mid pattern, and how to do triple slapbacks. Other instructors included Marvin Ong from Master Ong’s Prop Shop, and hooping sensation Brecken.

Though the whole event had a whimsical and free-spirited feel that correlated well with the feeling of the crowd and this type of event, the informal and loosely structured model occasionally became a source of frustration. Due to the rain, many of the workshops were canceled or moved well in advance, but there was no provision put into place to effectively communicate these changes to the crowd. There was also a raffle drawing and a group photo the final day of the festival, though notice of these happenings were lacking, and as a result many people were unaware when and where these were actually taking place.

The burning logo used to light up props.

The burning logo used to light up props.

The biggest event at Kinetic was the late night fire circles. This was held in the Middle Earth main play area. This consisted of an open fire dance in the middle of the clearing, while other festival goers surrounded the area in a circle to hangout, watch, or occasionally jump in themselves. The protocol was fairly straight forward and surprisingly self-regulating. Those interested in burning would first stand in the fuel line. When they got to the front, they would either choose white gas, lamp oil, or a 50/50 mixture. After they dipped their props in, they would then shake the excess fuel off in a giant sheet metal setup for safety purposes, and then they were able to proceed into the fire circle while designated safety volunteers with towels looked on. As their fires began to die down on their props after several minutes, they would extinguish them and exit the circle, making room for more to enter. In a clever and convenient touch, a propane-fueled Kinetic fire logo was constantly burning just outside the circle, which made lighting up very easy and fun for those going in.

While this was happening, various DJs played music to add to the atmosphere and give those spinning something to move to. The music was primarily electronic in nature, and while there were a few stylistic differences between some of the DJs, an overwhelming number of them played dubstep or similar subgenres throughout all the nights.

Inside the fire circle, many fire manipulation skills were on display. Staff, fan, and poi spinning were by far the most popular, though there were other props used such as juggling torches, whips, and even a burning rake.

Occasionally, people would gather to storm the circle in groups. On several occasions, groups of staff spinners would run out into the circle in together, and at one point, a crowd of over a dozen people wearing skull bandanas over their faces ran to the circle with their props ablaze, causing an eerie yet stunning visual to those looking on.

Perhaps one of the biggest structured events came on Saturday with a fire walk, led by certified fire walk instructor Kevin Axtell. Though this activity was free as part of the festival, it required an additional signup in advance for both liability and capacity purposes.

Kevin Axtell speaking at the fire walk.

Kevin Axtell speaking at the fire walk.

Those that signed up gathered around a small fire near the back Court. While people were coming in, a fire tender gauged the fire and periodically smoothed out the burning coals. During this time, Axtell addressed the audience. He spoke about the history of fire walking, his personal background, and provided some philosophical and motivational speaking to get the audience ready to go. Drummers then started playing to further entice the crowd.

Once it began, Axtell spread the coals out to a path of about eight feet long, and the line of people began walking over the coals on his command.

After everyone had their turn, the coal walking area was extended several feet and people were invited to walk again. The event went over very well, and a great deal of people went back to walk three or more times over the hot coals.

In a seemingly cruel twist of fate, the only rainless day came on the final day of the festival when people were packing up to leave. Everyone departed in a very casual manner, and there was a lot of friendliness with those making rounds to say their goodbyes to everyone they had met over the last few days.

The Fire Circle.

The Fire Circle.

It seems that Kinetic is scheduled to return to the same venue for 2014. If this year was any indication, Kinetic, along with The Axis Mundi Collective’s other fire events, certainly have a burning bright future ahead of them.

Nathan Wakefield

Nathan is a juggler from Southeast Michigan. He first learned to juggle in college, and has written for the website Streetjuggling.com. Currently, he is The Chairman of the International Jugglers’ Association. When he is not frantically trying to learn new manipulation skills, he enjoys producing music, acting, and watching horror films.

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