For the final installment of my Summer Music Festival Survival Guide, I’m going to take you on a little safari journey. Only instead of watching a pride of lions tear a gazelle limb from limb, it’s more like a queue of sweat-stained hipsters waiting a half hour to pay $7 for a slice of gluten-free artisan pizza. That’s right, this is a safari of people. Or more specifically, the people that make up the typical festival populace.
If you’re familiar with the Mitch Albom book The Five People You Meet in Heaven, then you’re probably an 80-year-old woman. Or Mitch Albom’s wife. Anyway, think of this as being pretty much the exact opposite. It’s The Five People You Meet at a Music Festival. Or, more accurately, The Five People You Meet in Hell.
If you missed the first installment of this two-part extravaganza, you can find it here. For those of you who are all caught up and ready to roll, please feel free to ride along with me on this journey of a lifetime.
Close your eyes and picture yourself at a typical American music festival. The smells of grass, sweat, thousands of strains of human feces, and something that sort of resembles how the inside of a garden hose smells right after you turn on the water permeate the humid air. You hear sounds of laughter and the low, vibrating bass lines of 10 different bands blending together from their far-off stages.
Now open your eyes. What do you see? That’s right, you see people. So many people! They’re all so similar, yet so different at the same time, scurrying about in semi-straight lines trying to fulfill their basest wants and needs.
There are the people who camp out in front of the main stage all day to wait for the headliner partly so they can say they were front and center for their favorite band and partly so they can bring this up in every conversation they have about that band for the rest of their lives.
The motivations of this particular species of festival-goer perplex: limiting yourself to a single stage for nine or 10 hours is like paying for the buffet at the Bellagio and coming back to the table with a cheeseburger. Sure, you might worship cheeseburgers, but if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be more logical to go to Johnny Rocket’s instead of plunking down house money for a buffet you’re experiencing 1.8 percent of?
In the same genus as these festival-goers are the ones who get much too drunk much too early and end up passed out underneath a tree before 3 p.m. I’m not against having fun. I like to think of myself as a music festival sociologist, but I’m also a music festival sociologist who likes to drink, like if Max Weber funneled his Kräusenbiers two at a time. There’s a difference between drinking to enhance your experience and drinking to negate your experience, and these intriguing souls fall into the latter category.
Make sure not to trip over their semi-conscious reptilian bodies writhing in the grass, as their main form of defense is to vomit on your shoes. Although their oral excretions aren’t venomous, the sensation is still rather unpleasant and can sour your day.
I don’t want to scare you all off, though. Not all of the species indigenous to music festivals are difficult to understand. Many simply attend to relax and enjoy themselves, and there is certainly no harm in that. Sometimes, this means getting within 15 feet of the stage, unfolding large bedsheets in the grass and kicking back with plastic wine glasses like they just set up shop on a Napa Valley hillside. These people want nothing more than to sip on a crisp California white, kick off their Sperrys and appreciate Dawes while eye-assaulting anyone with mud-caked flip-flops who comes too close to their pristine, 1,200-thread-count square of real estate.
Although they can be territorial if threatened, befriending these docile creatures might just score you an invite to their circle, where you may be treated to high-end buffalo jerky, a killer medical indica-sativa hybrid, and interesting stories and anecdotes that provide clues to the unique ancestry of this species. You may be delighted to find that these wonderfully complex creatures are direct descendants of another species of festival attendees known only as “Saw Them Before They Were Big.”
The fact that many people had to have “seen them before they were big” in order for them to become big in the first place is ignored by this species, which is interested only in divulging mythical tales of the band’s inception, tracing it all the way back to the early days when they saw them perform a set in the basement of a Park Slope coffee shop/art gallery/recording studio/skateboard design firm in front of only five other people, two of whom turned out to be very large rats attracted to the sound.
While this species has interbred with other species of music festival attendees over the years and now overlaps with quite a few different phyla, it remains easy to spot in the wild — these animals typically hunt by themselves and possess a powerful ability to chat up anyone standing next to them about how, “(the band) should play more of their older shit, man.”
This concludes our summary. Feel free to use this reference tool when readying yourself to venture into the music festival wilderness this summer. It is by no means a complete list, but it should serve as a usable introductory text to at least keep you alive for a few hours while you get your bearings.
After that, you’re on your own.
For more from Rob…
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