[You know what they say about hippie sex? It’s in tents…]
In the spirit of Music Festival Season, I’d like to share some insight about music festivals and their greater importance in life. Yes– even greater than the fact that they allow you to drink as much as you want at the shows and not have to worry about how you’re going to get home.
I have an ex-boyfriend who for purpose of this blog and his sanity (and my safety– just kidding…), will be called “Leo”. Leo is actually the one who took (dragged) me to my first Bonnaroo. One of the great gifts Leo gave me was the gift of outdoor music, the festival atmosphere I never previously knew existed.
The first summer we were together, he took (dragged) me to so many Phish shows, they all blend together into one crazy blur of a memory. But I will never forget the first show, and most notably the first Shakedown (parking lot scene), where I realized that there was an actual world of these crazy (in good ways and not so good ways) people who traveled around, “living off the land” in a modern sense, getting by as best they could, and just listening to music that they loved. It was a total inversion of values unlike anything else I had ever witnessed before.
It wasn’t like my life changed overnight, but something inside me switched on. My world had been cracked open just a little bit. Before that, the most I had been exposed to hippies previously was in the high school hallways wearing muckluck slippers inappropriately in Northeastern winter weather and patchwork pants (and Leo).
This was actually about something new; these people were walking the walk, and not just pretending to be unable to shower while they lived in a mansion on the East side of town. I wasn’t able to implement, or even register, everything I learned from those shows right away. But here are some of the tidbits I have gathered, about what music, traveling for music, and living amongst men, albeit for brief periods of time, has shown me.
1. Traveling is a great relationship litmus
Well, if there was ever any indication Leo would become my ex someday, it could have been found pretty easily within the first three minutes on the road. Quite literally, I can see it now, the moment we first started arguing on our first road trip. Wait…I was going to say it was about half a mile away from his house, but now that I realize it, we actually started arguing more like while we were still in the driveway, as we were packing the car, when I was requesting to go to a yoga class before take-off (because I knew he wouldn’t be ready by the time I was, and he needed to have me on call just in case he suddenly woke up ten hours earlier than he usually did, and wanted to leave right away–which he wouldn’t because anyone who knows Leo knows he needs AT LEAST an hour of warm up time, plus TV or some other sort of media, plus coffee, to get going in the morning. Every morning.)
Either way, I loved the guy, but we fought like cats and dogs right out of the starting gate (thank god there’s no room for another cliche in that sentence). Then a few miles in, we’d find some sort of balance between the volume and type of music we were going to be listening to for the next 18 hours, and my incessant need to pee. Then we would be mostly good until tent set up.
I have flashbacks of pretty much every time we set up camp together because it is probably THE most shining example of how truly incompatible we were. Other people scurried around like well-oiled, friendly little teams, while Leo and I would be looking like candidates for the next great divorce battle (I’m surprised that’s not a TV show). Either I would be doing all the work and it would be “too hot” for him (he’d be smoking a cigarette under the nearest shade) or I would want to go pee, make a drink or whatever, and he would be raring to get the tent set up ASAP. We were, in fact, such a mess when it came to setting up and taking things down, I once harbored a crush on his friend merely because he helped me put up and take down the camp one year.
Lesson learned: travel with your mate. Forget about “taking the car for a test drive” (that silly euphemism for sex before you take them off the market); how you travel together is perhaps THE best litmus test for your relationship (but you can go ahead and have sex, too). You are always going to be coming up against unexpected problems, discomforts and nuisances when you take a trip, especially when that trip doesn’t involve a hotel and nice places to eat/pee. It really shows how a person is when they’re out of their element, and how you are with them. So throw caution to the wind and get off the couch once in awhile. However many years later, I still love Leo– and he taught me so much– but I realize now, if you can’t travel with someone (camping is like the holy grail of this test), then you may want to reconsider spending the rest of your life with them. Life is one big trip, so you better have a good (compatible) partner along for the ride.
2. The importance of community
Most of us don’t have this in our day to day lives. After going to music festivals every summer for the last several years, I’ve realized that one of the main reasons people enjoy themselves so much is the real sense of community that is fostered during this short but meaningful time. First of all, everyone is there for relatively similar reasons: to have fun, listen to music, relax, spend time with family and friends, and do some drugs. Just kidding- most people don’t bring their families. 😉
Leo is good at meeting people, and so he was a good host in this way. Even if you’re not with a natural friend-maker, a lot of fellow concert-goers do the work for you. It’s not rare for someone to come up to you and start talking about a band or a show or looking for dru– I mean, their family member… You will have more interactions with more different people in such a short period of time than you probably ever had in your life. It’s a group of really friendly strangers. I’m a relatively keep-to-myself kind of person, and I love it.
People actually share with and care for one another when they’re out there. If you have to ask a neighbor for anything, they’ll usually have it and happily lend it. Or they’ll offer it to you without you even asking. I can’t count the number of times our neighbors would offer us drinks they were drinking or food they were cooking. It feels very co-tribal, back to the roots of human civilization before everything fell apart. It sounds so simplistic, but it’s actually kind of profound. To be living near people of all different ages, means, styles, personalities, is really quite fascinating. You can be living next to a millionaire with a really expensive car to your right, and have a band of vagabonds to your left. And the funny thing is, you will usually get to know your neighbors more in those three or four days, than you know the “real” ones you’ve lived next to for years.
One year at a festival in Maine, we were camped next to literally a circus troupe of people from Canada– I still don’t know exactly who or what they were, but I think of them fondly from time to time. All I can tell you for sure, is that they drank Bailey’s 24-7 and at least one of them did a lot of acid, like all the time. And they wore some really cool clothes. Come to think of it, I think they organized a goddamn marching parade during the festival. I have no idea how everyone knew to bring instruments and halloween costumes. (Must have missed the memo) Meanwhile, Leo was asking me to hold an umbrella over his head because it was too hot and there was no shade. (He had no shade, I had no shame…We made it work) But suffice it to say, you will meet the most amazing people that you didn’t even know could exist, and all the divides have been taken down, so you can actually get to know them.
Oh, the other really cool thing is all the stuff you’ll hear as you’re trying to fall asleep. The things going on just feet away from your bed, can be hysterical. Crazy conversations, hi-jinx, whatever people are up to is bound to be pretty entertaining. Just don’t forget ear plugs for when you actually want to fall asleep.
3. Walking is good
Walking is great exercise and I’ve always come back from music festivals feeling a little bit lighter. Whenever I was about to go away, but was attached to a certain work out routine, I would always try to figure out how I could possibly keep it up during the trip. And oh, how I tried. I won’t go into trying to do Bikram yoga in my 110 degree tent in Tennessee with sweat dripping off me so profusely I was afraid to get anywhere near my bed or clean clothes. And the ironic thing is, I didn’t ever stick to my “work out” routine (I think the most I’ve done yoga at a festival has been once, and MAYBE twice) but I always came back feeling in good shape. And that’s just because of all the walking I did!
When you’re at a festival, especially a large one, you do tend to walk– a lot. If you’re lucky enough to be far away from the stage, you’re most likely going to be clocking a few miles (or more) a day, unless you’re one of those people who packs a bag and doesn’t come back till dinner or bed– or if you take a shuttle everywhere. We would come back to the site periodically throughout the day to eat, drink and reset for the next thing. But it felt so good to spend almost the entire day just moving. It wasn’t strenuous, but it really did illustrate for me once and for all the benefits of walking. My legs looked better and I swear I lost weight (also probably because I wasn’t sitting around eating all day).
Also, it’s motivating to move because of all the people you will meet, crazy things you will overhear and see. It’s like a movable fest, but slightly different than Paris. It’s another way I was able to get in touch with my “cave-woman” side. I believe earlier humans walked a lot more than we did, and I could feel and see the benefits of doing that for just a few days.
4. Always bring an extra set of car keys
When traveling, it is always good to have a spare set of car keys with you, preferably kept by someone else in a safe place. But especially at a music festival, where getting locked out apart from losing your wallet with $160 in it, is one of the worst things that can happen to you. Picture this: you’re stuck in a sea of cars, people, and tents. Getting someone (probably trying to drive a large truck) in there to help you would be a nightmare. Not to mention you probably already spent plenty between the ticket and gas just to be there, now you have to pay for the decidedly un-fun bill of a locksmith. (Could have spent that on weed! Just kidding.) It would just be a nightmare, so think ahead.
I always try to remember to bring two sets of keys. Also then if someone wants to go back to the site and the other person wants to stay out at the music, they can get into the car without a problem. It’s much easier that way. You don’t want to miss Mumford because you locked your damn keys in the trunk while making a peanut butter and fluff, so do it right the first time and bring that darn spare! And speaking of fluff…
5. Ants love fluff
Yeah, believe it or not, I hate to burst your bubble (I’m certain you were planning on bringing fluff to the show–weren’t you?!) it may not be the best festival food to bring. Being the lazy campers that we are, and not wanting to deal with the hassle and clean up of cooking, we were always trying to short-cut our food needs. We brought peanut butter and fluff to almost every festival. Both don’t require refrigeration (you will understand the importance of that if you know the cost of keeping a cooler stocked with ice in the middle of the summer) and it’s an easy and filling kind-of meal. I guess you could always leave out the fluff, but Leo seemed to need just a little bit of disgustingly sweet food every day. In fact, he used to have a really bad Coke problem. There were always several half-empty cans littering our campsite at any given time. (Oh, what did you think I meant?)
One night I got up to make something to eat, and Leo was out at the late-night music. I couldn’t find a flashlight, or more likely we just hadn’t brought one, so I attempted to make a PB and fluff in the dark. I felt a bit of a strange tingling sensation on my hands, but I thought it was just the cold night air making me feel pins-and-needly. I brought my sandwich back to the tent, ate it sleepily, and then got back into bed. I felt like little ants were crawling over my body, but I figured that was also just my body responding to the cold night air versus being back in the sleeping bag, or something equally less likely to be true. When I got up the next morning, Leo said as if one of our dear friends had dramatically passed in the night, “Fluff’s done for”.
“What do you mean?”
“Go see for yourself.”
He had left it on the ground by the car. It was swarming with ants.
So much for my phantom ant syndrome. I’m pretty sure I got some extra protein in my sandwich that night.
6. You don’t need to drink to have fun (this isn’t a public service announcement…)
The second Bonnaroo we went to was amazing. It was literally the best time of my life, and I never say that about anything. But it was. Being able to re-experience, and then surpass the amount of fun I’d had at the first one sealed the deal for me. It seems in life I have fun doing something, but then whenever I’d try to go back and “repeat the experience”, it just totally paled in comparison. Not so with Bonnaroo. It just seemed to keep getting better and better each time (please excuse my hyperbolic statements regarding Bonnaroo and “all the times” I’ve been. To clarify, it’s more than one but less than three).
But that second time I went, I didn’t drink or do one drug. Not one puff of pot, not one sip of beer. And it was fantastic. In fact, I’d go out on a limb to say it was better than any shows I’d been to while drinking or otherwise impaired.
I used to be the type of person who didn’t drink very often, but when they drank, they drank like a professional (minus the clothes and corporate suicidal-depression). If I was drinking, I wasn’t going to eat and I was going to make sure I drank as much as my heart desired. But that year, I had gotten really into hot yoga, especially Bikram, and so I was all into this detox thing. I pretty much just ate fresh fruit the entire time and lucky for me, some coconut water company was having a promotion that year in which they gave out free coconut water all the time. It was an especially funny coincidence because I’d just paid $100 to have a bunch of it shipped to my house and here they were, giving them out like candy at Halloween. So I was thriving on that. I was just about mainlining coconut water. One morning I got up early and did yoga (and then I think I slept in the rest of them). I was feeling good, and even though our neighbors woke up with beer like most people do with coffee, and Leo was doing this thing, whatever it was at the time, I felt no need to indulge. I’m sure our neighbors felt we were the most square people they had ever encountered, but they were still nice to us.
I knew it was the greatest moment of my life on the first night on the main stage. Arcade Fire. I have never felt that type of energy come over me at a show. It was pure bliss. I was dancing so hard, even though I had never considered myself a “concert dancer”. I don’t know what came over me. It was almost like an out of body experience. Their energy was just beyond words, and I felt so lifted. It showed me unequivocally that feeling good and taking drugs were not mutually inclusive.
In fact, it was the type of high you don’t have to come down or be hungover from, which was even better. It opened up a whole new world for me, mentally, to be able to be that happy and free and in the moment with absolutely no special substance in my body. It had been awhile since I’d gone to a show completely sober. At some point in our lives, most people just start drinking at concerts and never look back. They don’t give it a second thought, or imagine that it’s possible we don’t actually need alcohol, or anything else, as a clutch to truly enjoy ourselves. This was a very important lesson for me. I have a flashback in my mind of at one point glancing at Leo. He had the biggest grin on his face I have maybe ever seen. I like to think it was one of the best shows of his life, too.
7. Keep your eye on the ground (especially at a Phish show)
I don’t know what it is about Phish fans, but they are the craziest group of people you will ever meet. I mean that in a good way. They are SO dedicated to the band, the anthology of music, and many of them follow Phish around the country on tour. One other thing I can say about Phish is that when they play a music festival (like the Bonnaroo they played) it is like a regular Phish show, x 1,000 in terms of madness. I’ve never been an intense Phish fan, but Leo dragged, I mean– brought– me to enough shows that summer to where I built up a healthy respect and appreciation for the band and its followers. Like I said, I’ve seen nothing like it.
One dubious way in which Phish fans stand out is that for some “unknown reason” they tend to lose their wallets. Like, all the time. A few weeks ago my dad went to a Phish show and found a wallet, found the person who lost the wallet, lost his own wallet, and found his wallet all within a twelve hour period. Then, because he hadn’t returned the wallet when he met the person who’s wallet was lost (he didn’t know how to produce the wallet without feeling awkward) he lost the guy again, and had to mail it back to his mom. Haha.
So Phish, being my first big music festival, set me up for what would become a sort of obsession of mine: finding stuff on the ground. At that one show, we found multiple bills (dollars, fives, tens, a twenty) as well as a wallet with about $160 in it.
*Tip, if you find someone’s wallet, try to return it. It’s good karma. We found a brand new Blackberry back when Blackberries were still awesome and we returned it to the owner, which was fun. At another show we found a new iPhone and did the same thing. When you find a wallet, it can be a little trickier. You see, we wanted to return it to the owner (he lived in Australia) but we didn’t want to just hand over $160 bucks to the people running the tent. We knew where that would end up: most likely not with the original owner. So we wrote him a note with our name and address and phone number and said if he got his wallet back, to get in touch with us and we would send him his money. So we took the money out, hid the note inside, and handed it over to the people at the lost and found tent. What’s the first thing they did when they thought we weren’t looking? Flipped it open to check for cash. Then they tossed it aside.
We never heard back from the guy, so I’m sorry to say he must have lost his wallet for good. And he’s probably bummed he never got to become one with any of those fun-shaped pills he had stashed in there, too. I will leave you to imagine whether we left those in it or not…
Anyway, the moral of the story is that at music festivals, you will invariably find something cool on the ground. Actually after our first festival being so successful on “ground scores”, Leo invested in a head lamp for other shows. We would sometimes spend the sets wandering the grounds with flashlights, seeing what we could find.
Sometimes you come up with some really random and cool things. I found a utility knife that was covered in peanut butter and fluff (no kidding) that someone must have just not felt like cleaning, but I took it home and sparkled it up and it’s a great thing. I wish I could remember where I put it. I have an awesome cotton throw blanket that I found, took home, washed and use all the time. Also a Whole Foods canvas grocery bag that someone apparently just got sick of. I found an awesome congo drum, which I still have and love (it was on a trip where I had been in debate the whole time about whether or not to spring for a drum, and then on the last day, someone just left it). I think last year we found a roll of toilet paper, still wrapped, that we took back to our apartment and used. Oh, just all sorts of random things that people throw away that aren’t actually garbage. That’s one thing Leo and I could always bond over– garbage picking. What else is romance for? There are plenty of other random things.
The number one rule of ground scores is: if you can return it, do. The second rule is, if you can’t return it, enjoy it. And the third is, if you’re willing to pay a little attention, you can find some really cool things. Also, since those shows, we have become pretty good about finding things on the ground around town. We’ve found skate backpacks full of Easter candy, wallets, a drunken girl who passed on on the lawn, and many other things that we either took home and enjoyed or helped find their way back home. To be clear, the girl belonged to the latter group.
On the flip side, we have lost some things in traveling, walking around, and at concerts. The one rule that this ultimately applies to is the rule of non attachment. Easy come, easy go. We may have had to give up that awesome utility knife at a car check at another show, and we’ve both lost some things along the way that we’d rather have kept (obviously) but when you’re finding other people’s stuff, and you know how fun that can be, you also hope that someone is finding your stuff and loving it just as much. Ultimately, none of that stuff really does matter and it’s all just a little fun game of distraction in the scheme of life… Just like money and things in real life, but it’s a little easier to see with ground-scores. Also, it seems to nicely illustrate the cycle of karma. We’ve returned some expensive phones to their owners, but last year we also had a lady walk up to us and say, “Oh you look like a nice couple, my husband and I have to leave early, would you like our VIP passes?” and we’ve also gotten gifted free tickets to shows. One time we got our own box seats. A man just walked up to us on the street and handed them to us. We’ve gotten free tickets to quite a few shows and some great deals when we actually did have to pay. It has shown me that what goes around really does come around.
8. You don’t need as much as you think you do
Speaking of stuff, I have to point out that one of the best things about music festivals is that it strips you down to only the essentials. Just as with other types of camping, you don’t get to bring the kitchen sink. So you have to really look at your wants and your needs, and bring them down to the lowest common denominator.
I’ve noticed before that the more I feel the need to bring, the more insecure I am in life. Packing for me has always been a really useful indicator of how I’m feeling at that point in time. The types of things you bring, or think you need to bring, are sometimes really ridiculous (funny at best, a hindrance at worst). At the first Bonnaroo, we met a character I may never forget. Jeff from Florida. He drove a very expensive SUV that was either beautiful pearl white or black, I can’t remember which one. He had a surf board and a campsite that was literally strewn with mangoes (but I’m pretty sure he had no tent). We dubbed him “mango guy” and he was unreal. Also for a few other reasons I won’t elaborate upon here. But the point is, he brought a surfboard and a hundred mangoes… to a farm in the middle of Tennessee. It was just the best example I could think of in terms of packing things you don’t need. Well, the mangoes are fine. But the surfboard probably went unused.
Usually with camping, when you’re forced to leave things you consider “essential” at home, you realize that they weren’t really essentials at all. One thing I love about festivals is that you don’t have to be attached to your phone, you don’t have to worry about work calling, or anything else. If someone wants to talk to you, that’s cool but you’re a million miles from home and about to go see a great band, so it can wait. You’re in the moment and off the map. It’s total freedom. It’s freedom from household chores, from being overwhelmed with the smallest things that make up modern daily living that are, for all intents and purposes, absolutely useless. You’re not going shopping, you’re not carrying your entire closet around. You have one or two pairs of sensible shoes. You’re probably not surfing the internet and you’re almost definitely not watching TV. You realize how few outfits you need, maybe you need less food than you thought. Air conditioning isn’t necessary to survive. Maybe you don’t shower for half a week. You’re still breathing! (Although you will realize baby wipes are pretty much indispensable). It feels so good to be rid of all the trappings of modern day life.
Ever since I was young, I’ve considered it my goal to be the best packer I can be. I always want to bring it down as low as I can, without sacrificing too much comfort. After a few trips of packing a fashion shoot’s worth of clothes, and yet I wore the same tee shirt and shorts for five days straight, I got smart about what really mattered. And I learned I’d rather wear whatever’s comfortable than try to impress my neighbors (the same ones waking up with beer instead of coffee).
9. You can understand timelessness
At a music festival, the only thing that time matters for is getting to the next show you want to see. You aren’t tied down to a schedule, you can come and go as you please. Living life in such a flow is one of the most addicting things I’ve found with music festivals. In fact this is the first summer I may not get to a music festival, and I think the only reason I’m halfway okay with it is that I’ve finally begun living my life in this very same flow. Once you experience that sort of wild freedom, there is really nothing like it and it may be hard to go back. In fact, pretty much every time it’s come time for me to re-integrate into society (especially that very first “appointment” I have made for when I get back) I freak out in varying degrees.
By the way, one of the worst things you can do is schedule yourself to work the day you get back from a festival. Doubly so if you’re driving a long way and you just spent the night (or longer) in a car. Give yourself a day or more, if you’re so blessed as to be able to, in between. It really can be tough going back to the “real world” of time and professional clothing (I’ll save my post on professional clothing for another day).
10. You can experience a RARE phenomenon
(Hippie-drum-circle-roll please): Nature!
Now I know, music festivals are sometimes in the middle of a huge field, or maybe even a parking lot. They’re rarely a chance to get to the bottom of “does a bear shit in the woods”-type philosophical deepness. Nor are they usually your best bet for bird watching, whale watching, or any other kind of “watching” that is the means by which most people would constitute being in nature. But it IS a chance for you to witness something just as great, and just as wild: yourself.
Living out doors, even if you a block away from a neighborhood or you can see a hotel from your tent (or you wake up to what seems like an earth-quake because you’ve camped in your car next to a train track) puts you in contact with yourself in a way you just can’t understand when you’re cushy inside without a care in the world besides where your next bowl of ice cream is coming from (seriously, who’s going to get that for me?). For instance, we were at a festival one year where it was the record heat wave all across the country. It was like 110 degrees, not a lick of wind. Even the Atlantic ocean was so warm it wasn’t helpful in cooling you down. It was all we could do to get to a tree to lie under and try not to move (and then every time I was about to doze off, a freaking horse fly came and bit me– EVERY TIME!!!!). It was like, so miserable you can’t imagine. And yet, it brought every single person there together because we were all just human bodies that wanted the same thing (cold beer– I mean, a break in the heat!). It was the great equalizer and everyone, rich or poor, was experiencing the same thing (okay, for purpose of this statement I’ll ignore the fact that there were people in RV’s camped quite comfortably, probably with ice-cold air conditioning. That’s not real camping.)
When it rains, you’re going to get your feet CAKED with mud like you’ve never seen. You’ll wonder if they’ll ever come clean again (and you’ll be surprised that that kind of mud comes off more easily with water than dirt). You can step in mud up to your calves in some of those mud pits (and it kind of feels good!). You won’t get to wash your hands that much and you’ll be amazed when you don’t get sick from it. You might come to enjoy the amazing refreshment of a cold beverage if you’re lucky enough to come across one, and everything tastes better when eaten outside, so you’ll probably even enjoy that ant-crusted peanut butter and fluff (it helps if it’s too dark to see). You may be forced to survive the elements when there’s a thunder storm followed by a tornado warning and you’re in the middle of the largest field you’ve ever seen (under a metal tent) and the worst concern you have is whether or not you left the tent flap open and all your clothes will get wet (just kidding…that never happened to me) and when you think your tent just may blow away in the biggest winds you’ve ever seen during a rainstorm at the beach. There are things you can’t appreciate unless you are out there to experience them first hand, without an immediate comfort cushion or back-up plan. These things will make you grateful for all the comforts you have every day that you probably didn’t even know you were lucky enough to take for granted and they will also give you a newfound respect for what humans’ lives were like before all these crazy inventions like walls, refrigeration, and iPads.
Like the earthly beauty of an acoustic musical set, at a camping music festival you get to experience yourself unplugged. This is a compilation of many of the other reasons to love music festivals, but to me, aside from the music, it’s the single greatest reason to at least once a year, somehow find yourself sweaty and miserable in an ocean of thousands of people swilling $12 per ounce beer and yelling out the wrong lyrics to their favorite songs.
Wait, did I say miserable? I meant…Well, okay, maybe that’s what I meant. Because if you’re anything like me, there WILL be a small (or large, if you ignore #4 and lock your keys out of your car) moment in your trip when you’ll wonder what on earth convinced you to pry yourself away from your Mac to be out here stranded with just an iPhone, in such in-climate weather with such a rowdy group. But trust me, you made the right choice. Hang in there. Maybe take a nap, eat a cookie, and wait till the next set. And if by the end of it all you aren’t already planning your next trip to Tennessee, well… then this whole post was pretty ironic, eh?