What If I’m Not a Festival Guy?
This past summer, my wife and I and our young son were visiting family in Colorado and we decided to stop by the Greeley Blues Jam, a festival not far from where we were.
There were compromises from the beginning. Our son is only six years old and has an early bedtime and even the festival organizers didn’t recommend bringing children to the evening shows. So, going in, I knew we’d miss Tab Benoit, who I had never before seen and about whom I had been hoping to learn more.
Upon arriving, there was also some confusion, as it wasn’t at all clear where we were supposed to go. We parked near the address we’d been given and soon found some campers who were there for the same purpose. They pointed in a general direction of where we were supposed to wait for a bus to get to the festival grounds. After some time, we found the bus, with its very friendly driver, and all was seemingly well.
We checked out the scene — essentially a small city main street, closed, with a stage in the middle. Our thought was to find a place to sit, relax, and listen to the music. It never quite worked out that way and the whole experience left me wondering if festivals are really for me.
I should explain that this is entirely about me. It’s not as though the festival organizers or musicians did anything especially wrong. To begin with, we were on vacation, so of course we hadn’t brought folding chairs or any such equipment that would have allowed us to truly relax.
The chaos of the street scene made me nervous — a condition that was exacerbated by a couple of factors. First, because we had our six-year-old with us and I tend to be a hyper-aware parent, I was constantly on the lookout for dangers, both real and imaginary. Maybe of greater import was the noise level. If you were anywhere near the stage or even within a good view of it, the sound was nearly deafening. It hurt my ears and I didn’t want to damage my son’s, so we moved to what we thought was a safe distance, though the view wasn’t great. Given that the entire viewing area was essentially the city sidewalks, there were people milling around every moment — friendly enough, buy chaotic nonetheless.
After just a few minutes of checking out the music, we found a place that was serving food. Eating outside where one could hear the festival would require a 90-minute wait, so we chose to dine indoors, missing the music but content with an opportunity for relative quiet.
After eating, we headed back outside to check out the next band. They were decent musicians, but again, there was no good place to just sit and listen. We found a small, quiet place on the sidewalk some distance away, gave it a good, not-quite-respectable 15 minutes, then headed back for the bus to the car.
Are we pathetic?
It’s long been a dream of mine to spend a summer going from festival to festival, perhaps camping, taking in a wide variety of acts, seeing ones I love and getting to know a few I’d never heard of. Sure, to be realistic, this vacation would likely come after retirement, but that was always okay. Anticipation would just make it better, right?
The truth is, while I love music, I don’t always love these events. I could blame it on the family situation. Having a child to care for does make a difference, especially if you want to keep him on a schedule. But, that’s not really the issue. I love music and often enjoy seeing it live, but it has to be in a situation where I can relax and just listen. A great performing arts center is nice, though not available in the impoverished small city where we live, so we travel for concerts when we can.
I don’t mind a good outdoor venue either, as long as I come prepared, able to sit and relax in a camp chair or at least a blanket, where there is a minimum of foot traffic. We recently saw John Fullbright in Pasadena and had a great time. I had to agree with my friend who had told me that he is even better live than on his albums. But I get nervous around large crowds — the constant input, the chaos, the overall noise level, all make me uneasy.
I’m not a stick in the mud, just an introvert.
Introverts aren’t necessarily shy, but events like this, with their attendant chaos and noise, tend to be wearying. Conversely, extroverts seem to thrive on these situations, gaining energy. A quiet day at home would drive them stir-crazy.
Perhaps my festival dream is more about the grass being greener. Mostly, I am perfectly fine being an introvert. It suits me and it’s hard to imagine the alternative. But, like everyone, I do imagine being a different kind of person — a relaxed and carefree extrovert, one who would spend his summers at music festivals, taking in the scene and engaging with artists and other attendees. I don’t know if we’ll ever do the festival vacation, but now I imagine that bizarro “Extrovert Mike” would enjoy it far more than the real me.