Free Yourself

Written by | Travel

A music and wellness event in Costa Rica invites attendees to reconnect with the essence of their humanity and embrace the power of self-acceptance.

By Megan Venzin

Ten years ago, James Gangemi was invited to attend a wedding in the Costa Rican jungle as a plus one. On the eve of the nuptials, he came out to his best friend Alexa, and he pins that act as the moment he began living his truth.

A decade later, members of that same wedding party continue to convene on the Pacific Coast, in a town called Uvita located in the country’s southern zone. They still gather to celebrate love and unity, but now they are joined by a group of 9,000 friends who similarly embrace their own truths. Together, they make up the family of Envision Festival – a week-long music and wellness event for which Gangemi now serves as the official Marketing Coordinator.

With its large-scale production and dreadlocked crowd, Envision (which took place February 17th-24th at Rancho Le Merced) may, at first, look like a typical destination music festival. But it’s so much more — described as a conscious partier’s paradise with a unique focus on health, spirituality and sustainable practices.

By day, yoga, movement and meditation classes take place inside Yoga Shalas (a gathering place for students of traditional yoga), while thought leaders on topics like permaculture lead mind-opening workshops. At night, the same devoted students descend upon sand-covered dancefloors, finding release to the sounds of world-class musicians like glitch-hop figurehead Tipper and Australian electro-rockers RÜFÜS DU SOL. Until sunrise, heavy bass blasts from sustainable stages, each constructed from regenerative materials like bamboo and driftwood. And the dance moves look different here – there is a primordial element to every shake and shimmy.

It’s a place to nourish both body and soul. Participants indulge in vegan eats wrapped in banana leaves with care. After sipping organic elixirs handcrafted by Envision’s resident coven, the Village Witches, attendees return their cups to a wash-station known as the “dish-coteca,” making the need for plastic water bottles and other single use items completely moot. Should someone feel under the weather, there is an herbal clinic staffed by medical professionals, who administer plant-based treatments and herbal remedies.

In short, Envision provides an ephemeral glimpse of a better, more considerate world – one that’s fueled by the “pura vida” (translation: “simple life”) sentiment that the Costa Rican people view in the same regard as law. Pura vida is about appreciating the little things, practicing acceptance and embracing all the goodness that life has to offer. When we catch up with Gangemi he appears as “pura vida” incarnate, and all smiles while organizing Envision’s second annual Gay Pride Parade.  He lends some insight as to how this popular activity came to fruition. “Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is obviously a very important aspect of my life and my identity, so I wanted to figure out how to weave it into the identity of Envision Festival,” he says warmly. One night, while conversing with Envision Co-Founder and self-proclaimed “contemporary witch”, Sarah Wu, the duo uncovered an opportunity to shine a new light on the festival’s inclusive ethos. “We developed the Envision Pride Parade as an opportunity to blend our rainbow community together,” explains Gangemi.

Much like the event itself, the annual parade’s energy is palpable and infectious. It is a tsunami of positive affirmation for all involved. Just before sunset, dozens of scantily clad community members and allies, take off on foot, waving flags, grooving to a disco-leaning catalogue, and amassing strength in numbers as fellow festival goers join the march. The destination is a high-energy dance party set upon Uvita’s stunning black-sand beaches where Envision attendees otherwise go to soak up some sun or watch the sunrise after a long night of raving beneath the treetops. “Envision was birthed out of love, and this offering is too,” Gangemi says of the Parade. “I want to give people a place to be themselves, a place where they feel welcome.”

The sun begins to kiss the ocean, but even as the vista grows dim, the light emanating from this body glitter-covered group (biodegradable, of course) is undeniable. It’s clear that Gangemi is giving the people of Envision what he found here for the first time so many years ago.

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“[After coming out], I went to that wedding, and the hosts asked me what animal I wanted to be.” Gangemi laughs, reminiscing on his choice of “dolphin.” But the animal he landed on was nothing more exotic than his authentic self. He remembers, “It felt so good for the first time in my life to truly be seen and to not have to wonder if I’d be outcasted or ridiculed for something I never had any control over. Now, I want to create that space for others within Envision, for anyone and everyone so we can all feel free together.”


Visit for more information, and for details on the 2021.

(Photos by Jess Bernstein)

Last modified: May 12, 2020