Each May, about 70 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona, something special takes place.

It’s hard to explain if you haven’t been there.  It’s like walking into a movie set or landing on another planet, a desert oasis that transforms into a beautiful collective of art, music, technology and ideas.

The first time I attended FORM Arcosanti three years ago, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  Hundred Waters, a band with whom I shared many mutual friends that was formed in my college town of Gainesville, Florida, was coming out with a new album and wanted to host a release party somewhere unique.  A couple of friends and I rented a car and made the 13-hour drive from San Francisco to the small community, which is based on the theory of Arcology (architecture + ecology) developed by its architect, Paolo Soleri.

We arrived after the sun had set, and people were dancing in a large, open dome area painted with colorful shapes and lines.

“Where are you from?” I asked one dancing stranger.

“I live here,” he answered, and I thought he was joking.

It turns out, people do live in this mysterious micro-city.  People who prefer to live their lives with environmental accountability, compassion, mostly off-the-grid and in peace, away from (but near enough to) civilization.  Workshops take place year-round to promote experiential learning, and I saw posters plastered on the walls of its oddly-shaped buildings advertising events like Italian Night, Jazz festivals and Shakespeare.

It seemed to me that this community is familiar with hosting events both large and intimate.  But I don’t think it had ever seen anything the likes of which FORM brought to its doorstep.

In the years since I first entered that unusual dome, FORM has evolved into a pseudo-music festival that redefines the term.  I’ve been to my share of large festivals all over the world: Bonnaroo in Tennesee, Sasquatch in Washington, Coachella in California, and I even caught a few shows at SXSW in Austin when planning my company’s annual client party.

While these are all impressive events, none of them compares to the grassroots, “startup” feel of FORM.

I asked myself – what is makes it so different?  A few things come to mind: It’s new, only in its third year; the acts are all curated by one band, so the music has a distinct, intimate vibe; it’s a free event you must apply to be able to attend, so there’s the exclusivity factor.

But what I really think makes it stand out among the large-scale festivals I’ve attended is identified right in its name: Arcosanti, the venue, a special place that is home to up to 150 people.

Growing up, you’re taught to treat someone’s home with respect.  Take your shoes off, say please and thank you, don’t overstay your welcome, clean up after yourself.  Arcosanti is no exception to these rules.  (Well, you can wear your shoes.)  Because it is technically a town in which people live, the event has an atmosphere of regard for the venue that is often absent from larger festivals taking place in giant fields and public parks.  Also, the fact that one has to be chosen to attend this free event (another first for me) made it feel all the more special.

The Arcosanti experience doesn’t end at its gorgeous architecture, tall cypress trees and placement among orange-tinted mountains.  Your sense of hearing is also captivated by the soft chimes of bells in almost every crevice of the place.  Arcosanti is mostly funded by the production of its bronze and ceramic windbells.  The first time I attended FORM, an entire portion of the event was dedicated to witnessing the casting of some of these works of art.

This community was welcoming all of us into its way of life for three magical days, which gave birth to an immensely unique experience I’m confident none of its attendees will forget.

I’m not saying it’s easy to host events at venues as exceptional as Arcosanti; imagine having a tech conference in a desert far from an Apple store, should a lightning cable break!  Horror.  But the last few years of FORM have really drilled the importance of this aspect when planning an event.  Often, it’s okay to keep things as simple as possible, if you let the venue tell a story.

Check out pictures from this year’s Arcosanti below, featuring its gorgeous landscape and some of the intricate details I loved.

Main stage at daytime.
Main stage at nighttime.
Photo opportunity (see more on this in my last post from Mexico).
Domed side stage.

After hours stage in the nearby gorge.
Arcosanti from the other side.