A festival creates a space, a portal for a rite of passage for so many people. It opens that first door where we are stepping out of what we thought we had to do for the rest of our life and realize there is a whole world of opportunities.
- Hope Medford (Nahko and Medicine for the People)
“This ain’t my first rodeo - or is it?”
Upon our arrival at Wakarusa, each of us takes a moment to ourselves in order to get things straight from within. Whether we are about to pass through the front gate, make a sandwich or attempting to set up our tent. Wherever we are, there is that point where we pause to take a deep breath. To align ourselves. To pull up our boot straps. To hopefully go forward, not backwards. To maybe even jumpstart our evolution. One way or another, we drop what we’re doing to reflect on what is coming together all around us. It’s a frontier of possibilities out there. So why not channel that pioneering spirit?
Maybe you look out over Mulberry Mountain with a glint in your eye, a piece of Ozark wheat in your mouth and an oil can of High Life in your hand. Or for you city slickers ~ one of them fancy “e-cig” Nancy cigarettes and some Skittle vodka (don’t act like ya don’t like it). All the while you soak in the festival horizon unfolding between your two, and if you’re lucky, soon to be three eyes. And deep down in your salty loins, you gotta hankerin’ for some kind of hardcore truth-ism. A Lil Debbie of wisdom that will perhaps unlock that tasty after-school treat of a path for your extended weekend. But before you can even begin to arrive at the intersection of darkness and light, there is a progression (and in some cases slow digression) of internal detective work that must take place, ala Carmen San Diego or maybe even McGruff the Crime Dog. Where the clues meet the cluelessness. And there are quite a few clues and questions alike floating through your head. All of which will hopefully (no guarantees), but rather tediously yield some kind of eventual resolution within your state of being:
- “Why am I here?”
- “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”
- “Is it too late to go back?”
- “Where the fuck are my car keys?”
- “Better yet, how on Earth did I manage to misplace my car already????”
- “Son of a bitch, what did that little Ewok hippie put in my beer down at Riverside!?!?!?”
Inevitably, you reach rock bottom, attempt to make peace with yourself, realize the quest at hand and things begin to look up for ya:
- “How many bad decisions can I make in four days?”
- “Is there such a thing as too much bass music?”
- “What will happen if I spend the entire festival down at Satellite Stage?”
- “Will I finally find Karl?”
- “Which minority will Wayne Coyne piss off this weekend?”
- “How do I get my own lasers?”
- “What time does the orgy happen?”
- “Where do I sign up?”
And before you know it, you have almost reached the end of the inner questionnaire rainbow. But before stepping forward within the festival into Lord knows what (actually, I don’t think even he/she knows), the only thing that lies between you and a festival full of bad decisions is some hearty beef jerky stick of honesty within your core of Truthy Mc-truther-ness. And that burning, primal truth comes in the form of an eternal, maybe even mystical question:
“Is this my first rodeo?”
Now, before you proceed, you may have been led to believe that there are somehow multiple answers to this question. But contrary to popular belief, and by way of the scientific method, the Pythagorean theorem and a game of naked Twister, there is an explanation to this madness. Indeed, only four true responses to this question are known to man. They are as follows:
a.) “I think this is my first rodeo”
b.) “This is my first rodeo”
c.) “This ain’t my first rodeo”
d.) “This most definitely is NOT my first goddamn rodeo, people!”
If you answered a.) then I’m sorry, but you are a dumbass. That was only meant as a decoy. There is no “think” in rodeo. You either have been to a rodeo or you have not. You are either experienced in rodeo or you are not. Because there’s no pussy-footin’ around with this rodeo business. Even a gawl-dang rodeo clown could tell you that, ya big dummy! Anyways, I’m already digressing here.
So it may not be your first rodeo, but this ain’t your grandpappy’s rodeo either. This one is rather “multi-faceted,” which is an understatement if there ever was one. And although it might not indeed be your maiden voyage, there will be plenty of times over the course of the weekend, due to something you see or think you see, where you either re-state this assertion to yourself for inner resolve (“This ain’t my first rodeo damn it!”) or you might even question yourself (“This ain’t my first rodeo, or is it?”). Either way, it’s still a rodeo. So grab a handful of glow sticks, a can of High Life and whatever you do, take care of your shoes. Because even when you think you’ve seen it all - guess what - you sure as shit have never seen it all. Every time we step foot on the hallowed grounds of a festival, each one of us is leaving behind a world of structured indifference and entering a world of structured shit-show, where, whether you realize it or not, you are here to make a difference. And you might think that the use of “structured” in terms of a festival is a misnomer. But actually - the sun still rises, the music is scheduled at designated intervals, the sun sets, the freaks come out at night, shit-show ensues. (Correction - the freaks are always out and the shit-show is always ensuing. What the hell was I thinking?) Everything else is up to you though. Here is your coloring book and an infinity-pack of crayons for your soul. Go to town on that shit. And that’s the beauty of it. Ultimately, no one is in charge of you but you. No one is telling you what to drink, what to eat, what to put in your body, what to put on your face, who you sleep with, what music you take in, how many times you crème your pants during Sector 9, where to use the bathroom, when you go to sleep, whether you sleep at all, what constitutes a good time and what constitutes a bad time. These are only suggestions and guidelines. There are no rules. There is no “supposed to” in your vocabulary for these four days. The only concept that you must hold dear is to take care of yourself and take care of one another. Otherwise, whether you know the game, you are still familiarizing yourself with the game or it really is your first time - it’s a fucking rodeo out there. Those 8 seconds on that cosmic bull ride is your weekend. So use them wisely.
“You are now entering the Wild West of Weird”
I grew up in a small town in Southeast Oklahoma. So pretty much any of the shit I see at a festival is the craziest thing I've ever seen. Because I can't ever really tell what the hell is going on out there.
- Evan Felker (Turnpike Troubadours)
I don’t know about you, but there is a certain “surreality” sometimes to things that I cherish in my life. Whether it is an event, a show, a happening, a meeting, getting ice cream or even a music festival, there is always a build up to it. And when it eventually comes to be that time, there is such an aura about what you are about to experience that you actually have to pinch yourself as a way of realizing that it is finally upon you. Maybe even slap yourself in the face a few times. You might say to yourself, “I made it…I’m here…Ok…So now what?” Or, if you needed any help, you just might get it. Because in the case of a festival, before you are even allowed to enter, they will be the ones to do the pinching for you. As in – “If you think you are coming in here, just hold on a gosh darn minute now.” As we all know, any festival staff is going to have to thoroughly search your vehicle first for certain “undesirables” before you can mosey on in. It could feel like a coffee enema or it could feel like a cool Serengeti breeze full of careless whispers. It just depends on what level of stupid you subscribe to. Because there are the “Do’s” and the “Don’ts” of what is deemed acceptable to be an accompaniment on this journey. And granted, there are plenty of items that have no place whatsoever within the space of a festival. Guns, knives, real pirate swords, nun-chucks, switch-blades, nitrous tanks, fake spray tan, Michelob Ultra Light and coach’s shorts to name a few. I mean, come on now, someone has to be the last filter of common decency and/or the voice of reason here folks. And yes, in the previous paragraph I mentioned how there are no rules at a festival. Well, technically, there are some rules because it can’t be total anarchy out there. In many ways, it is a relative “free-for-all” in the fun department. But with fun (and anything in life for that matter), comes the natural selection factor. As in, there is always a healthy level of stupidity on hand. And don’t get me wrong, there is good stupidity and there is bad stupidity. Good stupidity is a grown hippie in a Bavarian beer wench costume walking around serving fruity alcohol nectar straight from taps attached to fake breasts that look like fish bowls. (Yes, that really happened at my campsite.) However, in the case of bad stupidity, there is a percentage of any population that will find new and interesting ways to harm themselves and/or one another out of sheer, blatant ineptitude. Darwin award kind of shit. For example, “I’m going to dip this tampon in some Captain Morgan and horse tranquilizer, stick it up my ass and see what happens next” (Also known as “boofing”). I mean, if you’re going to go that route, you might as well make it interesting and go with Skittle vodka (reference #2). So whether you are a nominee for this dubious trophy of Darwinian proportions or not, there is no reason why we can’t let loose, unwind and deeply appreciate each other’s presence without packing heat or having a boofing tournament. But in the process of doing so, it doesn’t really do people any favors to celebrate life and hurt one another along the way. And for the most part, everything is peaches & cream and the bad stupidity factor is kept to a tolerable minimum. But going back to my original thought. And before I go on, let me preface things - ultimately the festival staff has to do what it has to do for legitimate safety reasons. I get that. We get that. We all appreciate that. No one is discounting that. But it was brought to my attention (I just sounded like an adult right then) that this year among the list of “Don’ts” included such items as no pacifiers, no sand masks and no “Furries” or “Fursuits.” Now maybe I’m just a little out of the loop with what kids are doing these days, but I was apparently unaware of what a “Furry” was supposed to be. I mean, do you know what it is? Okay, so one of us may or may not know what the hell a “Furry” is. Congratulations. But as of my time at Waka this year, I now officially know what a “Furry” and a “Fursuit” are. And clearly for anyone who boldly steps inside of one of those things, it is not their first rodeo. So carrying on (and I don’t want to belabor this, but) I would love to know the reasoning behind banning these items. I know, pacifiers and storm masks are synonymous with rave kids. And last time I checked, I’m pretty sure rave kids are people too. I would venture to say the thinking behind this is perhaps that ravers and the rave gear they adorn themselves with are supposed to be a menace or threat of some kind. Maybe it creates a certain element. I have no idea. But come on, this is not the Bloods and the Crips. And don’t get me wrong, this is not meant to entirely be some “harsh” critique of the festival guidelines. Above all else it is just very, very perplexing, yet still thoroughly intriguing and humorous all at the same time. Perhaps, it even sparks a sociological curiosity within me. Heck, I don’t know. But this I do know – you can take away our storm masks, our pacifiers and god forbid, even our “Furry/Fursuit/Whatever the fuck they are,” but you can never take the weird out of us! And in all fairness, we do have quite a bit of liberty to dress up like complete idiots during our time on Mulberry Mountain. I just never-ever-ever-ever-never want to see this “Don’ts” list roll down a dangerous slippery slope into something that essentially says “Don’t bring in anything that looks weird.” Because weird shit is one of the calling cards of this festival. Then again, come to think of it, weird shit is the calling card of most festivals. But dang it, there should be a merit badge handed out for some of the beautiful weirdness I am honored to see here. And that badge comes with its very own proclamation that says: if a music festival is just one big rodeo, then Wakarusa is the Wild West of Weird! There, I said it. I feel better now. So just as bad stupid people will find mind-boggling and astonishing ways to physically disturb themselves, us good stupid people will always find fresh and rather ingenuitive ways to express our inner beauty. Because ultimately, you just can’t govern weird (otherwise, shit might just get weird). And no one knows that better than a man and his electronic sombrero. “An electronic sombrero you say?” Oh yes, a motherfucking electronic sombrero. “Please go on”…Ok then, I will…
“So you brought an Electronic Sombrero to a Laser Show” (Children making Adult Decisions to act like Children)
A lot of us are insecure about - what we are trying to do, what we think we're doing, what we think we are capable of, if it's working, if it's worth doing - what the fuck am I doing with my life? And you run into other people who are doing it and you're like, ‘Fuck, why was I so scared? Why do I worry about that?’ You want to believe what you're thinking and what your doing...you know, you want to believe in it. You want to think, ‘Yeah! This is why I'm here!’
- Wayne Coyne (The Wayne Coyne Show…I mean, the Wayne Coyne Band…but really this time, The Flaming Wayne Coynes)
It is Friday night on Mulberry Mountain and I’m in my tent sweating my ass off. I’ve been running around all day doing media related activities like a press conference and taking pictures of everything from grown men playing synthesizers, Dogs who are Doctors and crazy people marching in costume parades. Indeed, capturing the awesome-ness of festival life is a lot of work and is not for the lazy fool. Even so, I feel like I’ve been drinking water non-stop since the sun went down along with a few strategically placed coconut waters. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. And if you don’t like it, welllll, that’s just your problem then. Meanwhile, The Wayne Coyne Experience, I mean, The Flaming Lips are off in the distance performing on the Main stage, doing whatever the hell it is they do. As that ripens throughout the Ozark air, I make an “adult decision” to lay down for 30 minutes or so because I had pushed myself a little too hard in the sun earlier. It happens though. As a result, my immediate posse of peoples is off gallivanting at various locales. Cheese is playing under the Revival tent to, from what I later heard, a ridiculously packed house of people hula hooping all over each other while Orgone is probably getting all sorts of freaky funky in the Outpost tent (Damn it, I really had wanted to see them too). Anyways, I’ve been in enough situations at festivals to where I have my own personal rules, if you will, that I am very diligent not to overstep. They all come back to my physical and mental wellbeing. One of which is that I make a very conscious effort to stay plenty hydrated throughout the day. In fact, if you ever happen to notice, I hardly drink any beer, if at all, while the sun is still out. Not because I’m a lightweight, but because I sweat it right out. So what’s the point? Become a sweaty mofo and get dehydrated in the process? I might as well drink freakin’ Coors Cutters or O’Doul’s (it made me cringe just saying that word). One way or another, I do not feel the greatest physically. But damn it, this is not my first rodeo, and there is no effing way that I’m calling it a day before midnight. That would be a cardinal sin. Especially with the spectacle that is spectacle-ing all over itself at the Main stage. Because if you know me, I do enjoy a spectacle that spectacles all over it’s own spectacle. And from the sounds of it, our boy Wayne married a man and shockingly enough, a woman earlier amongst this particular spectacle. Which, when you think of it, was kind of a let down. I mean, for Wayne Coyne standards, I would have at least expected the marriage of a man to another man or maybe even a paper airplane and a horse. But no sir, Mr. Wayne Coyne had to be all normal and shit (I don’t think he got the memo that he is in the Wild West of Weird). Anyways, as much as the spectacle had been trying to pull me in with its tractor beam, I needed an extended moment of clarity within the humid, yet somewhat relaxing confines of my tent.
Even before I took a little break, I had been recalling the events of the past two days. It never hurts to take stock in what you have accomplished, if you will, and what you know still needs to happen. To gain some perspective without taking yourself out of the moment and living in the yesterday. This is something, especially in the outside world, that I have struggled mightily with at times. And I know I sure as hell am not the only one out there. We all deal with our past and future being at odds with one another. Couldda/wouldda/shouldda meets that subconscious fear of the unknown. Meanwhile, in the midst of all that, you’re just trying to figure out what color socks to wear. But in spite of myself, the one game-changer which always plants me right square in the present is a music festival. There is just something about them that allows me to finally get out of the way of myself for once. And for me, Wakarusa has always been the cure for what ails ya. Once you get up here, nothing else really matters. But somehow, some way, things with this festival just felt out of place. Out of alignment. And when you’re up on the Mountain, this gets compounded quickly because you only get four days of Waka time out of the entire year. So you better make that shit count.
After giving it some comprehension, I realized that it all originated on Thursday night when I told one of my good friends, who I hadn’t seen much of lately, I would meet up with him after the STS9 show over at his campsite. However, right as the Sector 9 set is finishing up, I had realized that Break Science is getting ready to start over at the Outpost tent. I had some other friends that were going to be over there. Plus, I had never seen those guys live before and their set was on my unofficial “official” list of music I wanted to see during the weekend. But choosing not to be a flake, I opted to meet up with my good buddy instead. Even though I kind of struggled with the decision, in my mind I was doing the right thing. Sometimes I am just loyal to a fault. So I walk all the way over to his campsite. Except he was nowhere to be found. Son of a bitch. Things happen though and no matter what, I go with the flow. However, I’m still pretty frustrated with the outcome of my decision. It sucks when you feel like you’re doing the right thing and yet you still end up questioning yourself. I hate that shit. Fortunately though and unbeknownst to me at the time, it turned out that Break Science was playing at the Outpost again on Friday afternoon. So, the next day I go see Deitch and Lee in the tent. Mission effing accomplished. This is one of the many things I love about Wakarusa – even plenty of non-headliners get two sets. Sure enough, after doing this I get swept up in shooting still life of everything from random festival-goers to the costume procession all the way from the fourth street entrance over to the Revival tent. That in itself is a long, winding trip of a meander to be following people on stilts. But while I was out doing that, my friends back at our campsite decided to break out this ill-conceived drinking prop called a “Shot-ski,” which is essentially a snow ski that has been modified with four permanent shot glasses built into it. My friends Tasha and Zack both dressed up in Bavarian beer wench costumes to complement the concept and lead the group. Zack’s costume of course being the aforementioned nonsense incorporating the alcohol filled breast bowls (I saw the get-up on the back end of this effort and it was unsettling in a good way - if there is such a thing). So of course this whole production would be a complete waste if it didn’t involve going out among the Waka faithful and sharing in some booze inspired revelry with any passerby’s that wanted to take a shot off of a circa early 1990’s fiberglass ski and/or be breast fed copious amounts of fruity liquor. Good stupidity all the way. The only problem here was that I was supposed to be with this band of hedonism enablers. Actually, my alter ego, Hans Yolo, was the one who was supposed to be present amidst this Spring Break-esque grab-assery. Hans, who practically invented rodeos in his sleep, is a German yodeler/village idiot I dreamt up that is a cosmic conduit for all things shit-show related. However, he would be M.I.A. for this round. Due to some miscommunication and a classic case of me getting thoroughly distracted, I showed up our campsite well after the fact and felt like a big dummy for missing out on all the stupidly good action.
So laying here, I realize that everything is just a bit out of sync to whatever degree. Call it first world problems. Call it whatever you want. But I feel like I’ve been trying to do too much and as a result have been missing out on “friend time.” And then you throw in the fact that I’m having to take it easy back at camp, essentially removing myself from even more action. One way or another, the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), which usually is only associated with missing much desired sets of music, had crept its way into the entire festival landscape for me. This is just a microcosm of the struggle to be in the present. Not a good feeling. But I have got to get it together. Because it all comes back to the overall experience. To partake and not just be a bystander. You know, getting out in the thick of the melee and being inspired by the happiness and bad decisions of friends, old and new. Making it a point to spend high quality time with my people. Because that’s why we are here, right? I mean, don’t get me wrong, the music plays a significant role and all, but ultimately it’s just a point of entry. It’s a vehicle but not always the destination. Whatever the destination, damn it, I am determined to get back on track. For when I consider how I was able to navigate my way through last year’s swampy mess at Waka (and still have a blast), this is nothing. I got this one. But first I will need to make a few adjustments before re-emerging into the wild. One of which being, I decide to leave my increasingly heavy camera bag at the campsite and traverse the festival with just one lens (live and die by the 24-70mm all the way). I swear, one of these days I’m going to need an assistant. And as much as I wanted to have a nice, cold PBR or six, I make an “adult decision,” opting to stick with water for the rest of the night. Because it really just comes down to making smaller compromises with yourself over the course of the festival so that you do not make the ultimate compromise.
I decide to go check out my friend Tom’s campsite over in Main camping to see what his crew is up to. It isn’t very far at all from where I am located and will be a quick jaunt over. He is a good friend of mine who I met at Rootwire last summer up in Ohio. We both had volunteered and sure enough were assigned on the “Security” team, which is an oxymoron in itself. Almost exactly halfway between our campsites on the main road is an old telephone stand that someone set up which apparently has a direct line connected to a “SpaceGoat” of some kind. I guess if you feel you really need someone or thing to talk to, you can dial up this goat who lives in outer space and chat. I am half tempted to pick up the phone and gain some insight, but decide instead that it would only complicate matters. I veer off the main path and as I’m walking down the somewhat gravel, mostly muddy road, I must constantly remind myself to pay attention to what I’m doing. “Don’t get cocky.” Otherwise, I will end up on my ass all covered in mud. After last year, that would be an injustice. That would be no bueno right about now. Instead, I maintain the bueno and successfully make my way over to Major Tom’s camp only to discover that it is barren. No one to be found. It’s all good though because I must go with the flow in order to get back to the flow. Whatever that means. Regardless, there are still a few friends’ campsites somewhat nearby that I can go visit. I’m pretty sure that my buddy Jesse’s place is somewhere over in the vicinity, but I’ve never actually seen where it is located. Although I vaguely recall the instructions he had given me, I make a compromise with myself right then and there that I will look around for a good 10 minutes or so. Because when it comes to locating a campsite in the dark with a cheap headlamp, it is quite the crapshoot. It could be right next to where you are or it could be like finding a needle in a haystack full of Wookies. Nevertheless, I begin my quest and while I am carefully walking through the mud, I try as hard as I can to put 2 and 2 together. According to Jesse’s directions, all I can remember is that his campsite is somewhere behind the port-a-potties a few rows back. Ultimately, what I end up coming back to is that he told me it is “on the corner” of whatever row it’s on. So, if it’s on a corner then essentially it is where two straight lines, that in theory go off into infinity, converge to form a right angle. As much as I’d like to make this into something practical, I am quickly finding that there is nothing highly relevant or useful about this information. Corners are a fucking dime a dozen out here. Next thing I know, I am back out on the muddy gravel path having to continuously remind myself to be vigilant of each step I take. And as I am doing so, all the while lost in the amorphousness of my own mind, I start thinking about the press conference I had attended earlier in the day. Even though it was somewhat good, it paled in comparison to the one I had attended the day before. When it comes to these conferences, usually there is a healthy assortment of artists who are playing over the course of the weekend. You could have musicians from up to 10 different bands sitting up there answering the most random and at times, pointless questions (“When you’re on tour, do you sleep on your stomach or on your side at night?”). However, this particular press conference had members from just 2 bands present: Vintage Trouble plus Nahko and Medicine for the People. Although it was only 2 bands, this was far and away the best one I had ever attended. It was this big cohesive, uplifting and highly informative conversation that actually held my attention. And I’m not trying to sound all important or anything here. It’s just that any of my friends that know me well are quite aware of my struggles with focus and how easily I get distracted. In a festival environment that becomes over-stimulation rather quickly. So you put a camera in my hands in this setting and you get the idea. But that effing press conference. It had my attention well beyond 100% and reminded me why I do this. It was that life-affirming kind of talk, where the beauty of it was having these two completely different bands from very divergent walks of life, yet they were completely on the same page with each other. It was like the Showtime Lakers of the ‘80’s. Except instead of a basketball, they had this spiritual substance they were running the fast break with (that is my lone basketball analogy, so I hope it worked). But with regard to seeing their actual performances, I unfortunately did not get a chance to check out Vintage Trouble. However, I was fortunate enough to witness what Nahko and Medicine for the People unleashed on the Revival tent that day in just the opening song. In the five years I have been to Wakarusa, maybe with the exception of My Morning Jacket, never had I seen a collection of musicians come firing right out of the gate, guns-a-blazin’, with such a full head of steam and raw energy. I was in the photo pit right below the stage while this was taking place and all I could do was try to absorb the full weight of the moment. There was definitely a whopping dose of medicine coming through those speakers. It was passing through my body into everyone behind me. When I wasn’t taking pictures, I would just look back and admire the crowd as the band whipped, what felt like a near capacity tent, into an exhilarated, mesmerized frenzy. We were all - Hanging.On.Every.Note.Together. In fact, that is one of the few times I’ve ever seen that in my life. Which speaks volumes considering I’ve seen quite a bit of music over the years. And while I am trudging away down this dark, muddy pathway looking for Jesse’s camp and Karl, I keep thinking about that damn show. The image that had really burned itself into my psyche was while I was attempting to document everything that was happening onstage with my camera, I had turned away to catch something that one of the members in the band was doing off to the side. The guitar player was standing on a speaker in front of the stage, riling up the whole left side of the VIP section and beyond. I was trying to get into position to capture a nice shot while the chance was there. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Nahko. (If you have ever been around him up close, you know that he is not very big in stature. However, it is the stature of his presence that stands out more than anything. This dude is a warrior of some kind.) And sure enough, as I turn around to face the front, off the top of a speaker he comes flying from the back of the stage right toward me. His guitar lifted high above his head, he curls his legs up underneath his fully extended frame. The hang time on that trajectory was simply epic. Upon reaching its apex, he comes down hard and furious, landing on the floor with this full tilt force that would make Pete Townshend blush. Because Pete had nothing on whatever spirit animal was being summoned in real time right then. And although it happened so quick that I missed the shot, it didn’t even matter. All that did matter at that very moment was - everyone in that tent had just lost their shit. If ever there was a fitting time to deem that tent a Revival, this was it. We all felt truly alive and everything was right in the universe. Who feels it, knows it. And anyone with a pulse under that tent, or even spilling outside of it for that matter, knew it. The feeling of empowerment being delivered in that potent display of sonic goodness could only be summed up with this: at that moment we could have all busted through a brick wall together if we really wanted to. And to think that I somehow managed to get myself off track in the first couple of days here. But alas, this is not my first freakin’ rodeo. All the while, even with the power of that show still fresh in my mind, what went on at that press conference was just as important. When it came to my festival experience, the two went hand in hand. One could not be without the other. There are bits and pieces of the conference which are still coming into the frame of my consciousness. Revelations that are stirring about all kinds of introspection. What is crystallizing to me the most is how even though I’ve spent the better part of the evening by myself while submerged within a sea of 20,000+ people, I am okay with that. There is nothing to be ashamed about and certainly nothing wrong with it. Because I know that I am not alone. None of us are ever alone up on Mulberry Mountain. Sometimes we all just need a little “me” time even in the most dense of populated spaces. We need an opportunity to reflect. We need something that will bring us back to center. We each need a “Shazam” moment, if you will. One that is unmistakably right between the eyes. That connects the dots. And it isn’t so much about whether I’ve been to a damn rodeo before as it’s about how I’m going to maximize it while I’m in it. And at this very instant, no matter where my mind is wandering off to, what keeps bringing me back to center is a nugget of profound truth Dustin Thomas of Nahko shared during the conference. It would prove to hold a certain synchronicity for me that night. It is the one beam of laser light continuing to resonate most bright among my spectrum of thoughts:
“What we all need is someone to hold up a mirror for us and write under that reflection that says, ‘I love you.’ And sometimes we need to look at ourselves and see what we're going through and look at where we're at and realize, ‘Wow, not only am I not alone, but I'm receiving the perfect information at the perfect time.’ “
And right about then, that perfect piece of information for me would prove to be: HOLY SHIT. Because as I am making my way out of the darkness toward the bustle of the main road, I begin to see a faint menagerie of color approaching me from off in the not-so-distant distance. At first gaze it looks like a floating saucer (No, I am not talking about an extra-terrestrial. Although, this concept could very well be from another universe). It appears to be some sort of oversized, festive headwear someone is sporting that is rather illuminated. Whoever this clever “do-it-yourself” show-off bastard is, he or she has constructed a “Super-Hat” of some gaudy magnitude. If only Wayne Coyne was here to see this spectacle (he would probably spectacle all over his own spectacle). And as this beacon of neon aglow gets ever closer and near, it becomes obvious that it is surrounded by a merry band of heathens. They seem to be rallying around this creation with much enthusiasm and delight. A creation that I would venture to say does not by any way whatsoever have “NO” within its vocabulary. In fact, its depth of vernacular is limitless. The entire language of the universe can be generated from within this edifice of radiant absurdity. And with that, the moment of truth arrives. Just as this group of beautiful idiots is converging upon me, sure enough, I see who the lead hombre is among them. The one whose colossal freak-hat may or may not be powering the upper half of Arkansas. Its grandeur of stupidity is on full display without even the slightest trace of shame. In fact, it turns out that the human lighthouse boldly announcing his presence wherever he steps foot, is none other than - Jesse. No need to keep looking around for any campsites on some random effing corner. Ohhhhh Nooooo. For the installation proudly sitting atop his modest head is this utterly massive, no apologies made and most definitely no fucks given – ELECTRONIC SOMBRERO. Right as I make eye contact with this beast I immediately know that it has no equal. All other sombreros would only look feeble and hopelessly pathetic up against this albatross of nonsense. You could easily go on tour with this damn thing all over Latin America (Africa too). And surely nothing at this festival could possibly take on this monster. Not Bassnectar. Not Godzilla. Not Mothra. Not a Furry. Not Megaman. Not Pokemon. Not Pikachu. Definitely Not Squirtle. And last but not least - Not Even A Giant Hermaphroditic Wayne Coyne With Fucking Laser Eyes! I know that last one might be hard for some of you to believe right now, but damn it people - this is Wild West of Weird.
But really, with all small talk and gibberish aside, when you get down into the heart of the real matter here, this electronic sombrero is like the shark in Jaws. Because no matter how well equipped you think you are for this battle royale, you will always need a bigger boat. However, this prehistoric beast is not out to devour you whole, but only to speak to your soul. And what it says is – HOLY SHIT. Although this could very well be his first foray into the world of electronic sombreros, only one truth remains: This most definitely is NOT his first goddamn rodeo! Ohhhh no, rodeos only have wet dreams about this level of shit-show extradonnaire-ism. And just as I am taking in everything that is excellent about this situation, Jesse notices my presence, immediately coming over and embracing me. Making me a part of the group. “Cremerica! Where the hell have you been, brother?!?!” And as much as I attempt to muster up a response, I am pretty much speechless. In fact, I can’t stop laughing. We are standing right in the middle of a minor swamp and I’m about to fall into it because I can’t maintain any composure whatsoever right now. Nevertheless, trying to contain myself, I eventually manage to step back and take an even better look at this invention firsthand. It is a jet black sombrero, from Lord knows where, that has strands of glowing El wire carefully interwoven around its brim like a cheap, but brilliant Mexican Christmas tree. This is just the flare though. It’s just a complementary set-up piece. Because the true centerpiece of this artwork is a perfectly sized rectangular LED panel that has been custom fitted to sit within the front of the brim. This screen is the personal message board of Jesse’s soul for all of the festival to read. And the unmistakable truth that keeps scrolling in bright red from left to right across its screen is – HOLY SHIT. Pure astonishment is all that must read on my face right now. “What in God’s name are you wearing on your head???”- is all I can say. “Ohhhhhh, this? It’s just a sombrero I made,” says Jesse in a very matter of fact way. Of course this warrants an immediate response. “Don’t be coy with me. This is not just any sombrero. You’re…you’re some kind of goddamn exhibit. You are a walking art installation, dude!” Again, I start to laugh my ass off. And everyone else can’t help but join in too. But in all seriousness though, it has to be one of the most stupid, yet genius ideas I have ever come across. It wants to be complex, yet it is so effing simple and pure. Jesse is with a handful of Oklahomies from Tulsa that he’s camping with. Instead of standing there in the mud, we decide to walk over to his mysterious corner campsite he had told me about earlier. Of course, there is really only one thing to talk about during the trip. “Yeah, a couple months ago I came to the realization that I needed to do something special for Waka this year. So I made an adult decision to construct this hat,” he calmly explains. Apparently he had presented the idea to our friend Chandra, who is a graphic artist. She is actually camped with Jesse and is contributing to the explanation as we make our way down the path. Of course, I give her props. Leading up to the festival, they exchanged emails back and forth for awhile as the concept continued to build momentum. I would like to think that during the process there was a Powerpoint presentation, complete with flow charts and bar graphs, that was highly integral within the creative process. Although we joked about it costing two months worth of rent, it actually came out to be about $120 for this glorified art project between them. Which I can certainly appreciate being that I may or may not have once spent approximately that same amount on a custom made replica Jon Fishman muumuu. One that I may or may not wear to Phish shows across the country. But that is neither here nor there. Ultimately though, you can’t put a price tag on good stupidity. No matter how amazing it is. Nor can you put one on this moment in time. This is what is getting me back into alignment with everything. This is what is anchoring me down into the exponential. That ever-elusive moment that we find ourselves chasing after. This is what I came here for.
It's a really beautiful opportunity for people to be in a place where there is no habitual - this is how I act, this is how I respond, this is what I'm going to get in return for my actions. So people can come here and experience something that is so ancient and so close to what actually fuels the human spirit. And then to also connect to something which is just under the surface. Where if you take off the mask and if you take off the illusion, everyone is actually aching to connect to each other. And the best way to have a connection is to have a medium for that connection to be made safe. And music is the greatest medium known to man. And so if you gather a bunch of people together - all of a sudden this place becomes church.
- Dustin Thomas (Nahko and Medicine for the People)
That night, we would venture out into the fracas to see shows by the likes of Infected Mushroom at the Main stage and eventually watch The Floozies grow up before our eyes under the Revival tent. And of course both of those dance parties had their own share of spectacle to offer up. On one hand, you had the “FUNGUSAMONGUS” with these two giant kind of shape-shifting orbs that looked as if they were floating amidst a backsplash of projection mapped psychedelia. While on the other, you just had a good old-fashioned, all-out laser-light show assault on the senses. And despite all the over-the-top aesthetic pleasure these levels of production wizardry were capable of inducing on us, all I could keep coming back to was Jesse and that damn sombrero. I don’t know, maybe you just needed to be there, but it had this magnetism to it. And as it turns out, the LED panel on that thing could be programmed to display anything. Here we have the entire English language at our freaking disposal and Jesse had only set it up to read “Holy Shit” and “Derp” of all things. We could’ve put in an entire play by Shakespeare if we wanted to. (Full disclosure, “Balls Deep” and “Go Funk Yourself” were my only suggestions. True story.) Bottom line, that houseboat of a sombrero is just an inner conduit of expression, whatever it may be. The source that fuels the exhibit, whatever you want it to be. It’s ultimately up to you. And the same goes for this festival. It too is whatever you want it to be. It is whatever you make of it. Any color you like. You have this little world of absurdity at your disposal to tap into. It’s all around you. Whether it’s a grown man wrestling an inflatable alligator midday on the midway or some chick in a squirrel outfit stacking rocks down at Riverside or that one guy over at Satellite who will run over you, your 300 pound friend and a tree just to cradle a goddamn bubble between his hands (“Who the hell keeps feeding this guy bubbles?”). Or you could be the guy who may or may not have shit himself while yelling unintelligible babble at rolling thunderstorm clouds, only to be seen carried off on a stretcher 30 minutes later. Or you could be dancing to the “License to Drive” theme song under the tent one minute and the next being tricked by a shiny, metallic object that some mischievous little prankster has attached to the end of a damn fishing line (“I got you good!”).
I mean…you just can’t make this shit up.
This place isn’t so much of a rodeo as it is a safe haven. One where we can come and find the sanctuary that we need to stretch out our imagination. No matter how far and wide. No matter how stupid and simple. If you don’t come across any other truth over the course of the weekend journey, there is still that one which holds everything together. Because we all came here on the same mission, whether we realize or not. This mission is to not just find something deeper within ourselves while we are here, but to find ourselves in each other. To hold up the mirror for one another and embrace the inherent beauty each of our souls warehouses. That we are all in this ridiculous shit-show of a rodeo together and ain’t nothin’ gonna change it. One day maybe there will be a monument somewhere on Mulberry Mountain dedicated to this total and utterly beautiful nonsense we get ourselves into four days every year. And the plaque will simply read: HOLY SHIT