Music festivals are great, and rock music festivals in particular are something special. It’s not just about the music, it’s the attitude, the excuse to clock out of reality for a couple of days and slob around in a field with all of life’s troublesome quandaries temporarily reduced to finding beer and food before the drum solo ends. For a mercifully brief period you can live like you are surviving a particularly well sponsored apocalypse, with just enough of a barrier between you and everyday society to create the illusion of freedom, but without the horrible realities that true freedom entails.
But who is the festival going man? What are his hopes, his dreams? Where does he begin and what will he become? Where can he find cigarettes? Cut off those cargo pants at the knees, fellows, for it is time to observe the life cycle of the Rock Festival Goer.
Stage One: The Newbie
If music be the food of love, then it’s time to eat until you either choke or get a boner. You’re not sure where that analogy went wrong and nor do you care, because you’re on your way to your very first rock festival! If your research is correct, then you know you’re about to enter a whirlwind of music, drugs and free love, and while you may have started this summer as a wide-eyed innocent boy, damn it, you’re going to leave with a ton of stories and at least two venereal diseases, only one of which, you hope, will be contracted from a toilet seat.
With your parents dropping you off and with the whole four cans of beer you stole from those very same parents smuggled in your underpants, you arrive with big expectations and suitably chilled genitals. This is your chance to unleash your inner rock god, to immerse yourself in a shared experience with like-minded people, to bare witness to events that will surely change your life.
You can be whoever you want to be. You can testdrive the carefree stud you aspire to become. You will fight your way to the front of the crowd to see “Love Tornado” in the sincere belief that being crushed between a gaggle of likewise sweaty adolosents is vital to the festival experience. You will shout “Whoooo!” a lot, and later you will throw up behind the hot dog stand. Your friends will think you are dead, and they will react to this assumption by running away. You will awake cold, alone and covered in sick. “Whoooo,” you shout, weakly. “Whoooo.”
Stage Two: The Cocky Regular
You’re out of your festival Huggies now. Overclogged toilets and dubiously attired drug-dealers are no more a terrifying surprise, but a terrifying expectation. You’ve worked double shifts at the Chicken Shack so you can walk into this festival like the illegitimate lovechild of Hunter S. Thompson and Duff Man. The training wheels are off, and you’re ramping this sucka.
You’ve got it all planned out — a careful itinary of what bands to see, where to be, how to beat the crowds and where the least poisonous hot dogs are. You’ve practiced your cool guy bought-the-t-shirt attitude. In fact, you’ve actually bought the genuine “Love Tornado” t-shirt. You worry that maybe you should have also bought a life-preserver because you’re fairly certain you’re going to be drowning in ladies.
Later on you will most certainly pass out in a puddle of your own puke, but you know how to fall this time and you probably won’t wake up with a dislocated shoulder like you did the other time.
Stage Three: The Maturing Regular
Man, now that you manage the Chicken Shack it’s getting harder and harder to find the time to just unwind and let go — and a rock festival is exactly the best place to extremely do both of those things.
Is it just you or does everybody look a little young to be here? Do those idiots really believe that being crammed out at the front with somebody else’s shoe in their nose is the best way to appreciate “Love Tornado”? And why are they screaming for the new stuff? Don’t they realize that everything released after “Check Your Sexy At The Gate, You Will Be Searched” was corporate rock filler?
And who are all these jerks wearing the overpriced festival merchandise t-shirt? Don’t they know where they are? Are they worried they’ll forget what bands they came to see? Idiots.
You worry that maybe you’re getting a little old for all this, but you console yourself that at least you’re not one of those sad-cases wandering around with their kids like this was all a company picnic.
“Whooooyeah!” you shout, but you realize with an uneasy dread that you are being ironic.
Later on, with the technique of a practiced master, you still throw up behind the hot dog stand, but you tip the hot dog guy five bucks because you know what it’s like to deal with drunken asses.
Stage Four: The Returning Son
Since you became senior partner at Chicken Shack Incorporated, you rarely get a chance to do things with your family. Your wife suggested taking little Timmy fishing, but then you saw an ad in I Can’t Believe We Still Use Paper magazine that “Love Tornado” are playing a reunion tour — with the original drummer, no less! It’s time you introduced Timmy to the world of awesome, where his old man was once Commander and Chief.
You rummage through your wardrobe and find your old festival t-shirt, surprised that, after cutting the arms off and running a seam up either side, it still fits.
You return to the open fields and overflowing toilets of your youth, and find it a changed kingdom. Shower blocks? Juice bars? Vegan food stands? This is all great for the guys who can’t survive solely on chemicals and beer anymore, but where did they come from? Are they new, or were they always there, merely hidden from the eyes of youth, waiting for the focal shift of age? You realize that while you may return to a place, you can never truly go back. You can never go back.
“Love Tornado” are even better than you remember, maybe something to do with the fact that the lead singer has long since stopped putting meth on his breakfast cereal. “Whoooo!”says your son, and you exchange your first sincere high-five in years.
Timmy has a great time until, after one too many colas, he throws up behind the hot dog stand. You share a sheepish shrug with the hot dog vendor as he hands a mop and bucket to his own son.
Stage Five- Old Friends
Since Chicken Shack Global Trading was bought up by Chinese speculators, you’ve had more time on your hands than ever before. Your marriage is strong, your children grown, and you have all the time in the world to paint your feet and chase your thoughts. There is something missing, though, something unresolved. When your vintage-style newspaper is delivered by your robot servant, you see that the lead singer of “Love Tornado” has been found dead in a hot tub in what is largely believed to be a tragic auto-fellatio-related fatality. There is a tribute band playing at a festival. You leave the breakfast table, not bothering to tell your wife where you are going, barely bothering to dress. You know you will buy a t-shirt when you get there.
You arrive, wondering if the kid that walked past you with the cocky grin was a ghost or a memory, wondering if the beer was always this watery, this thin, this wonderful. Wondering if the sun always felt this good on your back.
You look around and see all the different faces, all the feet that have walked through all their many roads, all here, all now, all united by something so simple yet so indefinable.
You walk towards a hot dog stand with faded signage and with each step toward it your head becomes lighter, the sound more distant, the light brighter and brighter still. You pass out behind the hot dog stand, and a familiar face appears over yours, etched with sadness.
“My friend,” you say, “what was it we were looking for here, all those year ago? What was it that our spirit cried out for?”
The hot dog man smiles, tears in his eyes. “Peace, dude. Peace.”
“And did we find it, here amongst the shouting and the litter and the awful, awful hot dogs?”
Looking for more rumination on manhood? Check out Steve’s Six Things that Make You a Man (and Don’t Matter). Or stare mortality in the eye yet again with his look at aging in The Five Stages of Hair Loss.