Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Birth of a "Frendly" Movement

I sit down at a tall table near the back of the Red Fox Inn and Tavern with Jack Mitrani, pro-snowboarder and entrepreneur extraordinaire.  These are Jack’s stomping grounds and just getting to our table takes a fair amount of time, as everyone wants to greet him, talk to him, hear of his latest adventures. As always, Jack takes the time to attend to each of them, equally happy to share in a moment of connection.  I find quickly that this is why we are meeting today. Connection.

It is written in Jack’s earnest expression, in his exuberance as the topic opens up in our conversation, as he opens his laptop and we begin perusing the schedule for his upcoming Frendly Gathering. Jack is all about it: connection. The Frendly Gathering is in its third year. A three-day festival of people connecting with one another…through music, hiking, yoga, food and fun. The thing is evolving before my eyes, and Jack’s grow wider and more alive as we discuss how he can cultivate what is already blooming through this visionary event. It is an event that seems to be spilling out into a Movement of sorts. I find that this was always the intention.

Jack opens a document on his computer screen. It is the Frendly Manifesto, a four-page statement containing the ten core values of the Movement, the biographies of the four individuals who have dreamed this thing into being, and an articulation of their vision. Their vision is simple but ambitious: draw people together in love and “frendship” and promote human connection globally. Jack’s cohorts are equally impressive:  pro snowboarders Danny Davis, Kevin Pearce and his own brother, Luke Mitrani. They are the “Frends” who started the headphone company that has become a wild corporate success but more importantly, together these young men have formed a union that involves a contagious kind of camaraderie. “There’s no ‘I’ in Frends” is their motto propounding selflessness and inclusivity.  Looking at Jack’s computer screen, I notice that these words are an integral part of the articulation of the Frendly value system.

And then there’s Jack. Somehow, this twenty-four year old rock-star athlete and public personality sees a bigger picture…and his place in it. We begin to talk about this connection and its role in the Frendly Movement—people talking with one another; sharing through language, sound, revelry; people truly listening to one another, to their words and their music, and connecting in a meaningful way. We talk about what often hinders this kind of connection: judgment, exclusivity, fear. These obstacles can be diminished, we agree, through uniting people in mindfulness and friendship, and this is what the Movement is all about.

Yes, he nods and laughs, because we are connecting through our shared desire to foster this kind of experience in the world. We talk about technology and social media as the tools that can enable this kind of connection but which are often mistaken for the connections themselves. No, we agree, people connect face to face. In real time. In real places. They laugh together; they touch, whether that’s a handshake or a hug; and if the music is playing, they dance. Enter the band lineup. Wow.  From the electronic menagerie of Paper Diamond and Conspirator to the folksy hometown heroes of Twiddle and Gold Town, to the amazing Kat Wright and her Indomitable Soul Band, the artists who will be performing at this event run the gamut.

Jack and the boys have put together a music lineup that has something for everyone. Using multiple stages and rotating the crowd from hour to hour, the Frends crew have choreographed the revelry of the many “frends” who will gather that weekend to connect over the course of three days and nights. As one band finishes on the main stage, the people cheer and gather their blankets and coolers to move to the woods stage. There is happy chatter and a palpable buzz of fun and camaraderie as they make their way to the next venue. And of course there is the DJ Nest perched high in a tree and sending moving lights along the wooded dance floor into the wee hours. It really is visionary.

I point out that Jack and his Frends are in a unique position to truly have an impact on the world—their generation in particular, but certainly their scope of influence does not end there. Jack is already nodding his assent; he seems to know intuitively the responsibility and yes, the opportunity that is inherent in being in this position. Perhaps the most endearing quality in Jack is his humility, also a Frendly value, and combined with his charisma, there is no limit to what he and his cohorts can do. 

People listen to these guys. They watch their hilarious antics on Frends Vision, they watch them competing or hear them announcing at elite pro-snowboarding events, they follow Frends on every manner of social media, and when Jack and Danny put out a Tweet that “some of us are meeting up for a game of kickball in Burlington,” they show up to play!

The result of our meeting is an agreement, and I know without asking that this is the business Jack is in right now…going around and making agreements with one and all who share in this vision. Making agreements to cultivate this fabulous garden of “Frendship” that is already growing. Agreements to tend that garden lovingly, whether it is by offering time, energy, resources or talent. They are agreements to hold sacred space for the Frendly Movement, which already has a foothold here in Southern Vermont. It was born in the gorgeous green hills of Timber Ridge, and its stewardship is led by four extraordinary individuals.  I’m in, I say, and I, like so many others who share those values with Jack and “Frends” will be there…at the Gathering and for the long haul, because this is where the healing of the planet and its people begins: human connection. 

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