[INDUSTRY INTERVIEW] Sacred Acre Directors Shed Light On Forging Their Immersive And Eco-Positive Festival In Alaska

Sacred Acre

| September 03, 2023

Touching down at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska, from Friday, September 8th, to Sunday, September 10th, Sacred Acre will return for its second highly-anticipated festival edition. This unrivaled experience goes way beyond its stacked lineup of gifted artists; Sacred Acre also encompasses dazzling laser and digital art displays, thrilling excursions, and a conservationist mission that connects attendees with the natural world around them.

Directors Chris Miller and Hannah Stearns, the driving forces behind Sacred Acre, are passionately illuminating the destructive impact of trawling in Alaska's oceans. They leverage their backgrounds in the seafood industry to advocate for sustainable practices while curating a festival that showcases both music and the state's beautiful landscape. Their vision extends to establishing a non-profit to combat factory trawling, underlining their unwavering commitment to preserving Alaska's indigenous communities and aquatic ecosystems.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Chris and Hannah on making Sacred Acre a powerful primer for change, along with plenty of other insights into the forthcoming experience.

Check out iEDM's exclusive interview with Sacred Acre's Director Chris Miller and Assistant Director Hannah Stearns below. 

iEDM: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind starting Sacred Acre and how it aligns with your mission of connecting people with the environment?

Chris and Hannah: Sacred Acre has been a culmination of passion, inspiration, and the desire to invoke change within our state and communities. Casting Sacred Space is written by Ivo Dominguez, and discusses the magical space between high and low tide, where the spirits and beings of the ocean and the land are able to come together in a uniquely powerful and tethering way. Alaska has over 46,000 miles of coastline alone, and so the connection between the state and this space is generational, deep, and compelling. 

Casting Sacred SpaceWhat truly makes this space unique? One precious element, water. Water is the proverbial blood to the state of Alaska’s heartbeat. The Alaskan way of life is closely tied to it in all forms; oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, rain, ice, snow…. The heart, the life force, the center, and the ocean is one of the deepest connections. Living in the state, it is undeniable how much each and every person has some amount of connection to one of those forms of fluidity. 

 

iEDM: What were the key factors that led to the decision of focusing on environmental awareness, particularly highlighting the issue of trawling, as one of Sacred Acre's objectives?

Hannah: Owner and Director Chris Miller had deep roots in the underground rave scene from the late nineties and early 2000s when he lived in the lower 48 (what us Alaskan’s call the contiguous United States). Chris’s life took a turn when he took a job with a well known grocery store chain and he got up close and personal with what is pitched as ‘sustainable’ harvest for seafood, particularly around factory trawling practices. 

After leaving that corporate job and moving from Colorado to Alaska with his family in 2018, Chris quickly realized that he had been given massive amounts of misinformation about sustainable fishing practices and felt compelled to do what he could to bring attention to that spread of misinformation. Just shortly after Chris moved to Alaska, his wife Jess was reading from Ivo Dominguez’ writings that spoke of ‘the sacred acre,’ a magical space between the marks of the high and low tides.

Chris had seen success with another local event Salmonfest, that had coupled the power of music to precipitate real change for environmental issues within the state. That's when it clicked and Sacred Acre was born. 

Sacred AcreiEDM: How does Sacred Acre use its platforms to educate and inform festival patrons about ocean destruction and ways to combat it?

Chris and Hannah: We feel that knowledge is power, the more that we talk about the trawling industry and bring light to the devastation, the more likely it is to be regulated – or better yet, stopped completely. Many, if not most, people worldwide have no idea what trawling or bycatch is. This must be changed. The longer people don’t know about the devastation, the longer it can continue to happen. 

We utilize our social media platforms to post information about what is factory trawling, what is bycatch, and how it is affecting our local communities directly. We are building relationships with Native Alaskan individuals, non-profit organizations, and other locals that are impacted by and/or focusing on the issues of the factory trawling industry. 

Also, talking about food insecurity, the direct effects of overfishing and lack of returns for salmon for their communities, and the real time effects of the decline in the fishing industry here in the state. We hope to continue to broaden the conversation and connections as the festival grows year to year. 

iEDM: The lineup for this year's festival is extremely diverse and exciting. Could you share how you selected artists like Of The Trees, Boogie T, and Daily Bread to be part of the event?

Chris and Hannah: We felt that these three acts specifically have been waiting for their individual opportunities to be able to headline a major festival. We pride ourselves in having vision for the scene as a whole and wanted to be one of the first events to give them that platform on this level. 

Beyond that, we believe strongly that the modern electronic dance landscape has multiple faces, both live electronic and true CDJ/Vinyl DJs. We wanted our lineup to reflect that. From Of The Trees, to Manic Focus Live Band, Jason Leech and Phyphr’s Duet, Slynk on the turntables and everything in between, we are trying to do our best to represent not only the current electronic scene but the future of it. 

Sacred AcreiEDM: The combination of music, art, and environmental activism is unique to Sacred Acre. How do you ensure that these elements seamlessly blend to create a cohesive festival experience?

Chris and Hannah: It is a fine line to balance. We want the information to be readily accessible to folks that are looking to gain more knowledge and understanding for our mission, but not forced upon anyone just looking to simply enjoy the music side of the festival. We feel extremely passionately about our mission, but we also are extremely passionate about deepening and expanding the Alaskan electronic music scene. It's a constant conversation within the admin team on how best to balance both aspects, and we are learning and growing as we move forward. 

We try to have a healthy balance of mission-based informational and festival-focused posts throughout our feeds, while having speakers talk at the event about the effects of overfishing. Additionally, there will be Alaskan Native storytellers, videos about factory trawling, and scannable QR codes around the site that lead to pertinent petitions around the state, coupled with our stunning laser displays and high-class lineup.  

The mission-based options at the festival are all focused in the earlier portions of the day, within our Stillwater reflection space, as well as our Abyss Stage, where speakers and information videos are displayed. This transitions into our late night stage, where national talents like Maddy O’Neal and Late Night Radio will perform from midnight to 5 AM. Over the next few years, there will be developments to keep deepening the interest and engagement towards the blend of environmental activism and art.

 

iEDM: Could you elaborate on the various non-music activities and adventure excursions that attendees can experience, and how these activities contribute to the festival atmosphere?

Chris and Hannah: The destination and excursion experience of Sacred Acre is a huge portion of what makes our festival so special. We want to showcase our beautiful state in real, unique, and even life changing ways. How better to do that than directly connect them with Alaskans here that are already hosting the most amazing experiences? 

The Kenai Peninsula is endearingly nicknamed ‘Alaska’s playground,’ even within the incredible state, it's notable how unique and diverse the available activities are surrounding Ninilchik. We want folks visiting from out of state to not only experience Sacred Acre as a festival, but the feeling of connectedness with the gorgeous state around them. It is truly a full scale vacation experience, not just a music festival. 

iEDM: The Stillwater Reflection Center supplies a wide range of wellness activities. How do you see them giving attendees a platform for self-discovery and an enhanced weekend?

Chris and Hannah: Our Stillwater Reflection Center is our way of allowing the energy of the sacred acre to flow freely through the festival site. Ivo Dominguez references a pilgrimage to the sacred acre, this journey is about being connected to the natural world around you and being thankful and appreciative of all nature has to offer. 

We feel that the implementation of these words is important to the true representation of the festival’s messaging. Having sound healing, breath work, yoga, ecstatic dance, cacao ceremonies, and other wonderful workshops allow those who are looking to reconnect with or connect deeper with themselves. 

iEDM: The commitment to a PLUR culture and environmental consciousness is evident in Sacred Acre. Could you discuss how these values are woven into the festival's foundation and operations?

Chris and Hannah: We are truly a grassroots organization, almost everyone in our organization is located here in Alaska, or has very close ties here to the state. Our organization functions as a family, we emphasize the importance of symbiotic relationships and a hive mind mindset through our team. We feel that is what truly carries that energy to our patrons. 

Because Alaska is our home, we are involved in these pressing environmental issues on a day-to-day basis. It is natural to carry that important conversation through our work at Sacred Acre. We have heard from many attendees that they felt that true care and connectedness when attending Sacred Acre year one, and they now feel that it will become a PLUR family reunion of sorts. 

As the festival grows, the family will continue to as well. We have a beautiful festival site with 35+ acres of onsite camping, allowing patrons to create special group atmospheres, as well as connect with new friends. 

Sacred AcreiEDM: Becoming a zero plastic event is an ambitious goal. What steps have you taken to reduce plastic usage? What challenges have you encountered along the way and how have you overcome them?

Chris and Hannah: We definitely agree that becoming a zero plastic event is a lofty goal, but we feel that incrementally it will become more and more possible. We started already with only using reusable steel tumbler cups to serve all drinks from our onsite taverns. All of our vendors are required to use compostable and reusable wares to serve. 

As an event as a whole, we prioritize purchasing through eco-conscious companies and prioritizing local businesses where we can. We also work with a local compost diversion group where all food scraps from the kitchens and vendors go to local farms to feed animals. 

Obviously, living in Alaska there are massive amounts of hurdles from moving the waste, to limiting the amount total we are producing. However, we feel with a specific limited capacity to grow within our festival site, we will be able to hopefully manage and improve our mitigation efforts as the festival grows.

 

iEDM: In regard to VIP and camping packages, can you share some details about what attendees can expect? What components across these add-ons make them an unrivaled journey for participants?

Chris and Hannah: Our VIP packages are a one click adventure experience. It can be stressful planning and curating a whole trip, especially when it comes to transportation, accommodations, and knowing what the right excursions are, or what's even available around where you are traveling. We cover all the bases, with shuttle passes to from the Anchorage airport, to curated one-of-a-kind Alaskan experiences, and even a preset campsite you can arrive at. 

The experiences we have curated are world-class, led by cutting edge professionals in each of their individual fields. We feel this takes away some of those travel jitters and gives people confidence launching to adventure in the wild last frontier! 

iEDM: Sacred Acre aims to connect attendees with nature. How do you ensure that this connection is fostered throughout the festival, considering the of such events?

Chris and Hannah: Our amazing location has a huge amount to do with our immersiveness. Ninilchik is a beautiful location in itself, a village 800 strong year-round. Past that, ARCHES Alaska, our property hosts, have developed a world-class amphitheater nestled in a wooded valley, next to the rolling waves of the Cook Inlet, with endless views of oceans framed with three awe-inspiring volcanoes. 

41 acres of rolling meadowland accommodates nearly all of our festival campers, with dozens of other lovely camping options located in the general vicinity of the festival site. The festival offers shuttles to and from a lot of these locations as well. Besides our location, our excursion options lead you a bit deeper into the Alaskan wilderness, showing you how truly vast the nature that surrounds us here in the state is.  

iEDM: Could you provide insights into the efforts made to incorporate local and national performers, live artists, and unique vendors into Sacred Acre?

Chris and Hannah: We utilize slots throughout the weekend that are best given to our locals based on how they represent themselves and the Alaskan community. These slots are handpicked by locals, for locals. We build our after-hours stages around our locals, allowing them to support major national acts. Additionally, we let one of Alaska’s best kick-off our mainstage each day! 

One of the activations where we are merging locals and national talent is VJs (video jockeys – specialize in visuals). We are bringing up Actualize who is at the forefront of his industry and he is collaborating with our two local VJs (Aaron and Robert). These two are talented beyond their years and it his been exciting to bring them to the table with Actualize. He is someone who can help give them knowledge that can take them to larger platforms to represent our creative community. 

Additionally, we have nearly 50 vendors, local artists, jewelry makers, fun festie gear, face painters, and much more. We also have a variety of fantastic local food vendors serving local produce, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options available. 

 

iEDM: Alaskan native plant foraging and underwater spearfishing are intriguing activities offered at the festival. How do these experiences showcase the cultural and environmental aspects of the region?

Chris and Hannah: The amazing renewable resources we have in Alaska is one of the state's superpowers. The surrounding land provides abundance and we want to show those who are experiencing Alaska for the first time, as well as those who have lived here for many years, to experience that abundance up close and personal. 

Our native plants foraging tour and underwater spearfishing are two remarkable examples of sustainable renewable resources. Our native plants expert teaches of fall abundance, from medicinal mushrooms and berries, to healing roots and plants. 

Spearfishing is one of the most sustainable forms of fishing, with a single shot there is very little room to accidentally harvest the wrong fish incorrectly. We feel by highlighting these forms of sustainable harvesting practices, we are helping cultivate environmental consciousness and create a direct connection to the land that provides those resources. 

iEDM: Transportation options to and from the festival are essential for attendees. Could you explain the logistics of the shuttle service and how it contributes to the overall convenience of attending Sacred Acre?

Chris and Hannah: Our shuttles run to and from the Ted Stevens international airport, we have two shuttles that leave Thursday before the event, and on the morning of opening day, arriving before gates open. Returning, we have two shuttles leaving Monday morning after the event. $50 each direction, saves the cost and logistical challenges of renting a vehicle. We also have discounts for walk-in tent campers who choose to take the shuttle.  

iEDM: As you prepare for the second annual edition of Sacred Acre, what lessons did you learn from the inaugural event that have influenced your planning and improvements for this year?

Chris and Hannah: Operationally and artistically, we feel like we had an amazing success for the first year and we plan to continue to bring that level of production and professionalism to future events. We knew heading into the first year how important the emphasis on statewide connection was, but this year we have really delved into making those connections with the statewide community a lot deeper. The longevity of Sacred Acre’s success is dependent on support of our state as a whole. 

iEDM: Whether it is a specific artist, activity, or excursion, what are each of you most looking forward to for Sacred Acre?

Chris and Hannah: As organizers, the most exciting part of the festival is seeing the fruits of our year-long efforts coming together to create a magical weekend. People from all over the state, country, and hopefully eventually all over the world, collectively create a euphoric and immersive experience to come back to year after year. The joy of watching others experience what we work so hard to create, and the excitement of connections new and old coming together after the pilgrimage to the Sacred Acre, is what makes the event so special. 

 Photos courtesy of Sacred Acre.

 

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CONNOR PHILLIPS

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Fueled by his passion for EDM, Connor’s life revolves around dance music and its ability to bring people together. Raised in upstate New York, Connor was deprived of festivals and raves until he attended Florida State University, where he was instantly hooked. Fast-forward to today and Connor has become a house and melodic techno DJ, an avid EDM-based interviewer and writer, and has worked PR for the likes of Matroda, Bleu Clair, and other new-wave house icons.

Outside of music, Connor loves pretty much any sport (huge Knicks, Yankees, and NY Giants fan), going on hikes, traveling, and food. Based in Florida, there’s a good chance you will eventually run into Connor at one of the popular festivals and clubs throughout the state.

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