“Do not be afraid to live and smile more. Life is too short.”
“I remember how I felt, and I remember how beautiful everybody was and how I literally had gone from seeing existence as a curse to realizing it’s the most incredible gift that we have.”
It was in this moment at Electric Forest 2012 when Pat Hawco began his mental healing process.
On his final patrol as a minesweeper in Afghanistan, Hawco stepped on a land mine and lost his leg. Like a lot of veterans, he returned home with an anger that surrounded the fact that he would be handicapped for the rest of his life; a hurdle unto itself. While recovering from his injury in Southern California, Hawco had the opportunity to attend a music festival that boasted a lineup with some of the biggest names in electronic music today. From this experience, Hawco ended up falling in love with the electronic scene and the people he met, and he began using this music to replace his anger.
“Even before the military I was an angry person,” Hawco said. “I remember the years leading up to going into the military, I was this rotten angry person and I had never really given myself a chance to smile and be a happy person. There was some kind of block I had towards the ‘it’s better to be positive’ attitude.”
Hawco was still caught up in the mindset of Afghanistan, the ethos of the Marine Corps, and his own resentment when he accepted an invitation to join his friends at Electric Forest in 2012.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I showed up and literally those four days changed my life. It turned the entire idea I had towards humanity on its head. I entered with the anger and hate and left with love and compassion. It also showed me the appreciation for life that I was looking for.”
This self-realization, along with a chance encounter and interview with a reporter the following year at Electric Forest in 2013, opened the doors to the creation of Electric Forest’s Electric Forces Program. A collaborative effort, the Electric Forces Program is inspired and led by veterans with the support of members of the Electric Forest production team and the Electric Forest family. Launched in 2014, the program is a unique onsite festival activation where U.S. Military Veterans and Electric Forest festival-goers shared their stories of transformation and community in music.
When Hawco’s interview started gaining attention and made its way back to the Forest HQ, the team knew they wanted to do more for veterans.
“From the beginning, we got in contact with Pat and asked ‘what can we do?’” explained Electric Forest’s Plug In Program Director Lia Holland. “His reply was that he and his fellow veterans wanted to serve the community, and we were taken aback that they flipped our question on its head and wanted to know what they could do for us! Since then, we’ve been challenging our internal teams to find places for as many veterans as possible to join us to build and run the festival. This is a collaboration – as much as possible, we encourage veterans to speak for and represent themselves in their work on the event with the Electric Forces Story Project.”
The Electric Forces Story Sharing Initiative is returning for its second year and invites the Forest Family to share their tales of change and renewal through the festival experience on camera. This year, StoryCorps, a nonprofit that has created the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered, will make all stories available to be digitally shared with friends, family, and the future. These stories will also be preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The dream of Hawco and StoryCorps is to capture the collective wisdom of humanity through this creation of oral history.
“Last year, it was more about me telling my story. This year, my goal is to let everyone else tell their story,” explained Hawco. “There is this big lesson you can learn from everybody and I want to take those lessons and transfer them to real life.”
While the festival activation itself is based on individuals and their stories, this year, in collaboration with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the program includes two new additional opportunities to involve even more veterans: The Electric Forces Workshop Program and The Electric Forces Veterans Building Crew. The workshop program invites veterans to share the inspirations and interests that have helped them in their healing process. From yoga to sustainable agriculture, a wide variety of interests are combining to offer opportunities for service and learning to all. A team of veterans will be of service behind the scenes of the festival as The Electric Forces Build Crew and they will join the Electric Forest community as builders and creators.
“The program has grown much larger in its first year than we ever imagined,” said Holland. “We received over 100 applications, and our crews scrambled to find more work with the festival so that we could invite every single veteran who applied to join a team. After a huge effort on the part of our operations crew, we sent out job offers to all of the veterans to join everything from the medical staff to campground hosts. During this process, it was jaw dropping how skilled our veteran applicants are – I think we’re going to have the best crew ever this year with them on it!”
Through these activations, Electric Forces aims to coordinate community building and bridge the gap between veterans and civilians through healing. “I want to melt the gap between everybody,” Hawco said. “I don’t want there to be anymore groups, especially veterans and nonveterans. I don’t want anyone to think about it like that anymore. I know there is that separation, but I feel like there doesn’t need to be as much as one as there is.”
“With each interaction that takes place between military and non-military Forest Family, so-called ‘veterans issues’ become problems that we share, and that we face together. We want to create as many opportunities for that connection as possible,” Holland explained.
Over the course of the festival weekend, Electric Forces will bring people together from all walks of life. Although these connections, along with all of the other opportunities for veterans and civilians, are the main focuses of the program, something greater is at work here. Beyond these new connections, beyond the collecting of stories, beyond the employment opportunities, this program will not only provide life lessons, but Electric Forces will ultimately change lives.
“The greatest lesson from this program is a lesson that life teaches every time you learn deeply about someone different from you – don’t make assumptions about people, their motivations, or their circumstances. Each person is unique, and what is healing for one may seem strange to another. We all have to find our own paths toward healing and happiness, and embrace our differences on that journey,” shares Holland.
Every single person has their own struggles. We all have our individual paths to walk down and we must find our own ways to discover healing and happiness. Hawco’s mental healing process began and continues at this music festival. It was here that his perspective on life changed and where he began to view his situation as a gift rather than a detriment. His work with Electric Forces has been an outlet for his own personal healing and he shared the insight that, “There is no room for hate when you give back.”
From a person full of anger and rage to an individual that loves life and has compassion, Hawco’s transformative story is one of hope. For anyone still searching for their new beginning in life, Hawco offer’s these simple words, “Do not be afraid to live and smile more. Life is too short.” While this may be easier said than done for some, participation in this year’s Electric Forces has the ability to open the doors to personal healing.
Over the years, many Electric Forest attendees have experienced the pure magic of this festival; they have found comfort, healing, and protection within the Sherwood Forest, they have received unconditional acceptance from the Forest Family, and they have never been freer to be themselves. With Hawco has an incredible example, many who have walked through those festival gates have rediscovered their true selves and have been able to begin their own personal journeys towards healing from their festival experience.
Through her work with the festival, Holland has been fortunate to see how Electric Forest has evolved into not only one of the best music festivals in the country, but a place of healing: “Electric Forest has become a place of healing through the intentions of everyone who is involved with the event. Once a space is created to encourage strangers who share a love of music and art and life to slow down and find each other, relationships blossom. When that seed of connection was planted, and the space was created, the Forest Family itself became the greatest curator of the festival’s capacity to be a place of healing and inspiration. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve had the fortune to see.”
Vinyl Mag would like to take this moment to thank and recognize all who have served our country. We honor the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to preserve our freedom and our way of life.
It all started when a much younger Jackie dove into her parents’ record collection, grabbed that trippy Magical Mystery Tour album, and played “Strawberry Fields” over and over again until it was engrained into her soul. She grew up on the dreams and stories of Simon and Garfunkel, “Bleeker Street” being one of her favorites, the seduction of The Doors, Van Morrison, because “Brown Eyed Girl” is definitely her song, and the likes of Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Jimi Hendrix…you get the picture. It may not show on the outside, but Jackie has a hippie heart, and that reflects in her musical tastes today. While some of her favorites may or may not be jam bands, her taste in music feeds into many genres. From alternative, Brit, and indie rock - OK, maybe all rock - to pop, to rap, to electronic, she loves it all. As a northerner, she thought she would never understand country until she found herself on a Georgia farm in cowboy boots watching Luke Bryan shake it for her- yeah, she got that. She is a chronic wanderluster, she doesn't believe in guilty pleasures, enjoys a great Moscow Mule, and is an absolute music festival fanatic- you’ll find her wherever the music takes her.