Now in its 20th year, the Lotus Festival is arguably the town’s most cherished event. For one weekend each fall, downtown Bloomington is transformed into a global village thrumming with creative energy. The main draw is the music, of course—seven venues filled with the world’s best musicians representing a wild array of approaches and styles.

It’s not just the Friday and Saturday night lineups that reflect the appeal of Lotus, though—nor any of the other festival components that include free offerings such as a parade, a Lotus in the Park concert with kids’ activities, and a downtown Arts Village filled with colorful multimedia spectacles.

There’s something else that seems to happen during Lotus—something no one can define but everyone can feel. Lotus is not just a festival, or even an atmosphere, but something more akin to a cosmic occurrence. James Combs, one of the festival’s founders, likens it to an eclipse, which for a short period shifts the borders between night and day. Lotus, he says, also dissolves borders, bringing people from around the globe closer together.

“All this culture descends in one place,” he says. “The world’s most extraordinary musicians hit you with their best stuff and you’re left in an ecstatic state. There are so many ideas and you become aware of how music is alive all over the world.”

LuAnne Holladay, marketing and communications director for Lotus, calls the festival “intense and intimate.” Shahyar Daneshgar, a Lotus performer and founder, says, “There is nothing more pleasant” than what the festival offers. Local musician Robert Meitus says, “I am rarely as inspired as I am at Lotus. It’s one of the best things about Bloomington.”

Though insiders and attendees speak of the event in glowing terms, they all give the same caveat to their descriptions: “I can’t put it into words,” they say. “It’s just something you have to experience.”

This text originally appeared in our feature story from August/September 2012.

We will post more photos from the festival, so be sure to check back!