I’ve been saving this story all month, and editing it all night.
It’s time to live out in the world, little post. Be free.
This summer i went to a music festival and came back happy.
That’s the short of this story. The details are almost immaterial. I left a whiny grump and returned not. Sure, i’ve whined and grumped a little since then, but i can’t summon up the same intensity of either, or of meanness, as i’ve already mentioned.
I can’t say that I can pinpoint a single aspect of the experience that lead to this transformation, but there is at least one specific story emblematic enough to serve for the purposes of this post, and that also – maybe – fundamentally changed the way i think about people and life in general.
It was Friday afternoon at Bonnaroo, and it was hot.
Bonnaroo is a 80,000-person four-day music festive thrown each June in the middle of a dusty farm in Tennessee. When it gets hot at Bonnaroo your forms of recourse are (1) get soaking wet, (2) retreat to your air-conditioned vehicle, or (3) locate shade. There are few other viable options – waiting in line for the internet tent for twenty minutes of cool air and connectivity, for example – but nothing foolproof.
I was dead in the center of Centeroo, the sprawling music-venue and village-center to all Bonnaroo happenings. I was attempting to watch Ben Folds, but it was too hot and he was uncharacteristically terrible – i couldn’t hack it.
The Fountain was jammed with human flesh. The car was a deadly half-mile or more hike away, and i didn’t even have keys.
I had to find shade.
I started to wander around Centeroo, assessing my options. The edges of performance tents and out of the way trees were already monopolized by small cities of beach chairs and towels. The prime spots at my favorite café were snagged. I was starting to despair, and maybe inching towards heat-stroke.
Turning down a particularly wide avenue of vendors, i spotted a wizened old tree with a smattering of ‘Rooers relaxing underneath. It wasn’t superior real estate – it was more akin to sitting on the ground in front of a row of shops at a strip mall. But, at least it was shade.
I sat. I rehydrated and ate a granola bar. I reclined. I fanned myself with my floppy cowboy hat.
I woke up.
The waking up came as a surprise, as i had no recollection of going to sleep. I definitely recalled the reclining, and the the last thing i remembered was fanning myself with my hat.
I had fallen asleep in the middle of an outdoor hippy mall. This is exactly the thing my mother warned me about. I was probably robbed blind, stripped naked, and infected with syphilis.
I sat up with a shot, groping around me to see how many of my possessions had been stolen and sold for glass and chocolates on Shakedown street. Everything seemed to be intact (including my clothing and my dignity).
Somewhat assuaged, i reached into my pack to fish out a walkie talkie so i could re-establish communication with the team.
It was then i noticed them.
Around me, where before there had been a few scattered concert goers having a rest was now a gathering of ‘Rooers, alternately chatting and peacefully sleeping. Not just a handful, but an expanse, the limbs of those on the fringe practically inside some of the adjacent shopping stalls.
It was as if the wizened tree’s roots had suddenly blossomed into a gaggle of reclining hippies fending off heatstroke.
It was beautiful.
I gingerly picked myself up, careful not to disturb the woman napping next to me. Carefully tip-toeing my way out of the mass, i radioed the team.
“You would never believe what just happened….”
I’ve been raised my whole life to believe that if you leave a car unlocked a bum will pee in it, and if no bum is available someone else might do the deed just to teach you a lesson. Yet i went to a four-day music festival in the middle of a giant dusty farm and not only camped out, but took a nap in the middle of a busy thoroughfare only to awake unmolested to find that dozens of people had joined me.
Something fundamental about my outlook on life changed at Bonnaroo. No, it wasn’t just the napping. It was the sheer joy of arriving in one piece and pitching a tent, the sheer desperation of morning number three when i wanted to be airlifted back to the comfort of my own home, and the victory of Sunday night as we crossed back into Virginia. It was the resignation that, yes, i made it home improved by the experience.
My outlook was broken by Bonnaroo. I used to be No-centric, delighting in my ability to deny. Now i just want to say yes … to push myself a little farther each day, and to watch all of my friends do the same.
And that’s the story of Bonnaroo and my (so-far) never-ending positive outlook.
(I swear i really am going to write “The Complete Yuppies’ Guide To Bonnaroo” as soon as this NaBloPoMo dealy is over with. Seriously. Much wisdom will be dispensed.)