It’s time for an annual ritual. Four weeks have rolled by since this year’s Yestival and by now the memories, posts, pictures and thank yous have been shared. Much like avoiding the sports result so so the highlights feel like they’re live, I’ve led a sheltered social media existence since Yestival, with hands over eyes when checking into Facebook.

But now it’s time; highlights time. 

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Icing…on the cake.

For me, one of my favourite Yestival experiences is the build-up. There’s a sense of anticipation as the team slowly grows throughout the week. The tents go up and slowly they’re decorated. We work out problems every hour — how to create a nice flow through the site, from the first walk up the wooded track to reception and onwards, to the campsite and the main tent and the firepit and the sign. 

The build-up days give the team a chance to bond — the core team of five or six is there from Monday to Wednesday and then our volunteers join the fun, swelling the team to around 30 people. Some are totally new faces who volunteered through the Tribe, some we’ve known for a year or two since they first showed up at a campout or YesStories or past Yestival. But every year that team as a whole is different, and working together for a couple of days to create this skeleton for what’s about to happen is really special. It’s an unbeatable feeling, to work with good friends to produce an important outcome, and to do it with barely any stress or tension. Admirable.

And it helps to know that the people who choose to come to Yestival are going to be the right people to hang out with in a field. Holding an outdoors event in mid October isn’t for the faint-of-heart — as we found out last year when Hurricane Brian blew in — BUT we do it on purpose. If you’re the type of person who is happy to risk camping on a cold night and wading around in mud and rain, you’ve got the attitude we want to hang around with! Yestival-goers are hardy, problem solving, we’ll-deal-with-it type of people. 

There are so many great memories being shared that I wasn’t there for. At any given time our Yestival site has four or five different talks or workshops going on, and that parallel experience is part of the magic. Everyone has to make an on-the-spot choice on where to head each time the speakers pitch their story in a 30 second teaser, and for the next half an hour there’s laughter, cheers, tears, silence, yelling, screaming or applause in different corners of the site. 

One of my favourite things to do is wander up to the big SayYesMore sign on the hill and just watch the snakes of people disappear into their chosen tents, and then soak up the emotion and response. 

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There’s such a fine line with creating an event like Yestival — I’m fully aware that from the outside, for someone who hasn’t come along to a SayYesMore event before, that there might be an assumption that this is a hippy thing, overly positive and huggy and even painfully false in its attempt to be optimistic. But the truth is that I can’t think of anything more unappealing! There have been many things I’ve been unsure about as I’ve learned how to lead this community but one thing I’ve always been crystal clear on is that we create an environment for people who approach their actions professionally, with freedom. For me, what sets Yestival apart is that we’ve created an environment where nothing is forced, and where vulnerability is a given. 

Our speakers often have an adventurous experience to share, but they’re almost always emotionally aware and aren’t afraid to share a piece of themselves with a group of strangers. I know Yestival is working when people in the audience are crying or wiping an eye in response to the story and/or emotion and vulnerability shown by the speaker. It’s not because any of them have lost their shit, it’s because they’re human and we need to cry sometimes. And the best bit is that those tears always mingle with laughter. We’re all human and for me, it is real life outside, at work, at home or in the city that doesn’t often allow for an outlet for the deep-rooted build-up of emotion that we all deal with. 

As our ever-faithful Doctor in residence, Steve Blethyn says, “tears are just emotions just coming out of your face.”

Yestival is a laughing, crying, nodding, learning, grateful, vulnerable and hell-yeah environment where accountants and bank managers and freelancers and entrepreneurs and advertisers and the unemployed-by-choice hug because they feel close to stranger or friend, not because they just want a hug. It’s a microcosm of what the everlasting child in us misses as we grow older, fused with the frustration of un-chased dreams that have been beaten out of us in adulthood. Yestival is a fuck-you to doubt, to expectation, to fear and to emotional constipation.

As a kid you’re told to follow your dreams and as an adult you’re told to stop being stupid. SayYesMore is the antidote to society’s ridiculous obsession with shoulda woulda coulda. With opinion based on somebody else’s news. With fear and doubt and generational expectation as quicksand for adventure. We offer a reminder that life is so much better when we’re more fun and carefree than not, that you’re not being stupid when you chase a hunch that takes you on a journey — you’re actually making the most of what it really means to be alive.

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Even for those new to the YesTribe, there are familiarities that grow throughout Yestival. The Big Yes is our main tent where everyone gathers each evening, and this year we opted for a central stage with the audience all around which was a bit daunting and confusing for the speakers but also a lovely, story-in-the-middle environment. Everyone was facing each other rather than the standard blank-wall behind the stage. We have no screens — so stories are told from the heart without pausing between slide-changes. Pretty fast, the main tent becomes home for the evening.

There’s the perfect timing of Mabel, who is the YesTribe’s familiar ever wise, adventurous canine who never fails to bark in response to her owner Ian’s whisper of “squirrel!” 

The open-mics, where anyone has the opportunity to share an anecdote or dream or ask-for-help before the fateful 60-seconds-are-up leprechaun ushers you off stage. And of course, some people, most notably this year our 60-something tiger-ones’ied Wendy, who completely flouted the rules and held the mic for 6 minutes and had everyone in stitches and amazement with a story that didn’t have a beginning, middle or end. It was so good that I was boo’d, twice, for pressing the buzzer to end her slot. #wendyforpresident has become a familiar social media hashtag since.

Two of my favourite sessions were in the Pacific Tent. Dan Keeley has grown so much as a speaker in the two years since he last came to Yestival. He’s matured as a man, too, and holy crap, the boy can hold a tune! He ended an emotional talk by pulling on his wife Georgie’s raincoat and led a repetition of Freddie Mercury’s famous call-and-echo at Live Aid. Just brilliant.

And the next day, Emma Fairey, who gave so much energy earlier this year to running our five-month Waterbike Collective campaign, held a beautifully personal discussion around how we respond to that familiar daily question, “how are you?” There’s a time and a place to be honest with that answer, but knowing when to say more than “I’m fine” can be the difference between helplessness and strength.

The funniest bits of Yestival are hard to translate unless you were there. Fran from Seize Your Adventure on the Sunday morning, giving everyone a clear outline of how to deal with someone suffering from an epileptic seizure and accidentally forgetting the “L” in the sentence “get your clock out to time the seizure”. Slowly, ripples of laughter brought light to a hard yet important lecture. 

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And over the course of a couple of days one young man went from a quiet, barely-a-word welcome hug to standing up on the main stage and delivering a heartfelt message that had everyone silent and holding back the tears. Mohammed was a Sudanese refugee in Calais, when Nikki Golland drove out of Yestival 2016 with a van full of camping gear and headed straight to France. She ended up adopting Mohammed, who now lives with her in the UK, and bringing him to Yestival was a full-circle moment. He’s a terrific guy with so much to offer, and Nikki is the epitome of a YesTriber. She wasn’t afraid to make a difference, and made a brave decision that has given someone else more than hope. She’s given Mohammed a life. I think I can speak on behalf of everyone on our team and who attended Yestival when I say thanks to both of them for bringing some perspective to all of us.

We typically become a mirror of the five people you hang out with most, and the YesTribe is a pool of people who tend to hang out. So many of my friendship group is from this community, and they’re certainly the people I spend the most time with. Hell, I even met my wife through the YesTribe!

I’m ever-grateful for anyone who chooses to come to a SayYesMore event, it would be just as easy not to, but those who do tend to be the humans we need in this world. Folks who take a positive angle over making change rather than build a viewpoint on negativity. They’re role models who aren’t afraid to be bold with their uniqueness and weirdness — and we’re all unique and weird, it’s the best thing about us. 

To see what the people of Yestival had to say about this year’s event I’ve compiled literally hundreds of snapshots from social media on and for hundreds of photos thanks to our three photographers Tanya Noble, Raphael Rychetsky and Jessie Leong, click here.

If you haven’t already, join the YesTribe on Facebook, it’s free!

And do consider the YesBus as a venue for your next work event, or simply a weekend of country time in 2019.

Finally get involved on your social media channel of choice:

The SayYesMore Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

The YesBus | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Say yes more , make life memorable