There’s nothing quite like being able to take your time.
I was changing my flight in the 11th hour. My friend Cassey had just found out that if I landed at midnight on Thursday, I wouldn’t make it into the campground in time. Monday was a holiday and I had just gotten back to work Tuesday morning, and here I was changing my flight to fly out the next day. Two days of recovery after Nocturnal Wonderland was not enough and my whole body was telling me that. However, I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to not feel rushed going into another camping festival.
Anticipation was mounting the entire way to the airport.
I left work around 3 PM to make the 2 hour drive to LAX. I needed to check my bags, so avoiding traffic and flying down the highway was a necessity. I made it just in time, an hour before my flight was boarding so that I could check my bags. Still exhausted and clearly fighting off a cold, I passed out on the plane almost as soon as I had boarded it. The next thing I knew, we were touching down at MCI and I was walking to the baggage claim. My phone came alive with text messages. Cassey was already outside waiting for me.
Catching up with old friends was almost like no time has passed at all. The drive back to her place went quickly and we caught up on everything that had happened over the last few weeks. No time seemed to have gone by since we last saw each other in June at EDC Las Vegas. When we arrived at her house, three people I hadn’t met before were already occupying the couches. Shane, Kelsie and Chase were all attending Dancefestopia for the first time this weekend and would be camping with us. It wasn’t long before the jet lag and travel began to set in and before I knew it I was fast asleep on the couch with all the lights still on.
Day 0 – bring on the rain!
Morning came quickly as I awoke to noises of video games being played from the other room. It was the first day of getting into camping, and we had a few errands to run before heading to the venue. Packing the cars was the same tetris game I had just played last weekend at Nocturnal Wonderland. Once we got to the venue though, we immediately saw the struggle that awaited us. Across the field the mud was glistening through last night’s rain. Workers were directing everyone to drive through the mud and cautioned us not to stop as the risk of getting stuck was high. We plowed through to the edge of the parking area to drop off our things that we would then haul across the mud ridden grounds and into Field Camping. This was going to take quite a few trips.
Let’s get this campsite started…
Sopping wet and fairly covered in mud, we began the camp setup. With 8 people in and around our site, the setup went quickly and before you knew it we were watching the sun set as we cracked open our first beers and box of wine. My friend Joseph had arrived as well and let me know he would be stopping by our tent later that night.
It didn’t take long for our extravagant setup to attract attention, and little did we know that some strangers would end up becoming future friends. We were the only canopy completely surrounded with lights and playing music from a speaker system literally built out of a cooler. People would stop by asking about our setup, where we came from, how many times we had attended Dancefestopia, and of course how we all had met. These kinds of events took place periodically throughout the night, so when Joseph arrived with Jesse and Josh everyone just thought they too were strangers coming to learn about our camping style.
The evening was spent wandering back and forth between the camp site and the Radiate stage, which was actually an RV decked out with controller and a pretty decent sound system. We also spent the time grooving to the music, meeting new people, and getting to know each other a lot better. As the sprinkling slowly became a steady stream of rain, we knew it was time to turn in. We said goodbye to each other and headed back to our tents. It rained the entire night and stopped shortly before sunrise. We awoke to mud everywhere, the areas we had been the night before now looked like they were covered in some sort of chocolate pudding.
I had my last chance for a real shower for a few days, so we had to brave the mud to take it.
Cassey had expected to go back and get clothes from the house which was about a 30 minute drive away. Although festival staff were warning people about trying to leave while the mud was still fresh, we decided to risk it in Chase’s truck. After a minor struggle to get out of the parking area, we knew this might be our only chance to go back and take clean showers with the threat of rain still impending one more night.
Day 1 – Cancelled…
It wasn’t long after returning to the campground that we were again covered in mud, a feeling that would just be persistent throughout the weekend. We gathered our things after pre-gaming a bit and headed in to the catch 4B and NGHTMRE. The main stage was a mess, with a huge chasm of water creating space between the front and back crowd. The middle was filled with those that had chosen to abandon their shoes and embrace the muddy existence. This didn’t damper our spirits as Seven Lions went straight into Adventure Club. It was only about halfway through their set that we saw the lightning in the distance. Expecting rain again, Joseph, Jesse, Josh, a reunited friend Clean Vibe Kari and myself ventured back to the vendors to secure the tent, thinking we would return to the end of Adventure Club and get ready for Excision.
However, our plans were thwarted as halfway there the set was interrupted with a voice, “Yo, yo, listen up. I want you all to know that your safety is our number one concern…” The groaning from the crowd was audible in the distance — they were going to evacuate the venue. Since we were already near the vendor tents, we decided that we would just stay put instead of venturing back out into the campground. The event organizers told us to watch social media for updates and suggested it could be 40 minutes or longer citing lightning distance compliance.
Nothing bonds a group like waiting out a storm under a canopy.
As we sat under the canopy, we told stories to pass the time. We talked about previous festival experiences and about how we had met each other, myself having only met most of them late last night. Clean Vibe Kari was a friend that Jesse and Josh had met at Camp Bisco earlier this year. Her incredible voice was showcased several times throughout the weekend. That night her soothing a capella under the muffled rain drops created an eerily beautiful calm. It wasn’t long before social media told us two things: first, the event was cancelled the rest of the night, second, Excision would be performing the next night. Bittersweet, but at least the rain was beginning to subside.
We decided that perhaps we should adventure to Kari’s campsite in the forest, but to get there we had to cross one of the largest bodies of water in the venue. Kari offered to carry each of us individually across the water which Joseph, Josh, and Jesse all took her up on. I don’t particularly like being carried so I just walked across. As we approached the forest camping entrance, we noticed that the sign now just read “FO E T.” Kari led us back to her campsite explaining that they had created a living room between their tents. However, when we arrived the living room had become more of a pool. Water had pooled into their canopy and was visibly bulging under the weight, the ground was saturated with water and most of the chairs were wet. We took a few moments to contemplate the situation before deciding that we should just head back into the venue.
We were pioneering through the swamp when we found another new friend.
Back across the sea of water Kari once again carried the other boys. We walked past the main stage, trying to get on the sidewalk but were halted by a small mud pool. It stood about 10 feet between us and the sidewalk. As we were staring contemplating our next move, a voice from behind alarmed us, “What are you waiting for?” A girl had suddenly appeared, we weren’t sure from where but there she stood, now starring in the same direction we were. She walked past us directly into the puddle, turned to face us and said, “don’t you all have shoes on?”, and pointed at each of us and beckoned us to cross.
Jesse was the first to take up the invitation but no sooner had he taken his first step did we hear the slurping noise of his shoe being swallowed in mud. After a moment of shock, he hopped across the way to the sidewalk. We all followed, except Joseph who was then carried by the girl who later introduced herself as Hannah and had been on her way to “start a riot.” She asked us to wait while she gathered her things. Minutes seemed to fly by and we called out to this mysterious girl but received no answer. After a while we decided we should just head back.
As we walked down the sidewalk in the still night air we decided it was the perfect opportunity to take pictures with the giant Dancefestopia letters. An impromptu photo shoot was underway, when suddenly Hannah had reappeared with a group of guys. We all headed back to the campsite and I wondered if a riot would really ensue, but shortly after arriving back at the Radiate Stage we decided to all get some rest and separated ways. In the morning, I would learn about how Hannah ended up going back to where the vendor’s camped and legitimately did try to start a riot, yelling about how it was dry and that the vendors should just start up their grills. Our paths would cross again over the weekend and each time would be as entertaining as the last.
Things began heating up and drying out rather quickly Saturday morning. Luckily for us, Friday night would be the last rain of the festival and even from a distance you could hear the tractors delivering hay that morning. Bale after bale was dropped and both staff and attendees were grabbing and distributing it as soon as it touched the ground. Cassey and I went to the vendors for breakfast and more ice once we got our things together in the morning. She had gotten food to share and wanted to keep it warm, while I was in no hurry so I decided to hang back with Josh and Joseph. We chatted for a while until Joseph decided he needed to get ready for the day.
Opening up to someone you just met can be a very difficult thing.
Josh was very personable but not very big on making conversation, so I sarcastically commented on his inability to stop talking which made him smile. At some point during the conversation he handed me his phone. Many times when you want to show someone something, you hold the phone yourself so that they’re limited to what you want them to see. Handing someone your phone is normally an implication that you want them to gain context, perhaps scroll through. It didn’t take a lot of context to know what I was scrolling through and to recognize it as personal. As I handed him back his phone, I didn’t have much time to comment before Joseph reappeared and we were off to pre-game.
My first Third Eye Pine Cone was something I had my sights on.
The afternoon went quickly, Josh and Joseph went off to work while Jesse had just gotten off his shift. On Friday, I had gone to the Third Eye Pinecone booth to look at their unique pinecones and had my eye on a very specific one. It was expensive, so I didn’t want to just buy it on the spot. Jesse had a pinecone he had received from a friend and since I knew he’d understand I took him with me to make the purchase. It was perfect, symbols of many festivals all rolled into one pendant, a symbol I would carry with me representing the many connections I’ve made over these past two years.
Dancefestopia to me was all about “Headbang and Chill” vibe…
The day flew by and after seeing Liquid Strangers, Borgore, Bingo Players, and finally getting to see Excision, we were ready to chill on the hill and embrace the groovy vibes of Griz. As we sat listening to the live saxophone, I found myself sitting next to Josh again. I told him that I recognized that he was a private person and that what he showed me earlier that day was personal. I thanked him for sharing, to which he replied saying that he didn’t even really know why he shared it with me. As Griz ended it was time to dive back into the crowd for Kayzo. The rest of the night was spent wandering, relaxing, and enjoying the rest of the music.
At festivals, sometimes the action chooses you…
The sun rose too quickly on the last day, and we needed showers but they were still surrounded in muddy water. After going on an adventure to see if we could make the purchase just to find out that the box office was not going to be open for another hour, we decided that hippie showers from the water supply would be our best bets. Finally feeling clean and with the ground substantially more dry, I headed back to meet up with Joseph and Josh before their shift. Joseph had decided he also wanted a pinecone so we set off to look at them. Josh and I stood off to the side as we waited for him to find one.
After a while I asked Josh why he wasn’t looking at any. He replied that he didn’t think he had the money, and proceeded to literally check his bank accounts just to make sure. I told him to that he should still take a look just in case, so he wandered over to the pinecones, looking until he stopped at a very specific piece. A piece that had a symbol I didn’t recognize, so I grabbed the information sheet and saw that he had settled on a piece representing the 4th chakra, heart. How appropriate I thought to myself – this pendant was made for him. As Joseph finished his purchase and we started walking away a voice inside my heart told me to go back, so I returned to the booth and bought another pinecone.
Happiness comes in the small moments – time capsules you can surround yourself with…
The day was filled with more wandering, drinking, and spending time with friends. We found ourselves lying in the air hammock, playing football, and randomly choosing songs on the speaker system. Jumping back and forth between stages as we waited for Josh and Joseph to get off their shifts for the day. While wandering, Kylee and I walked past a huge group who seemed to be watching something, and realized it was a big group of glovers. They were all gloving together and we had arrived just as they were finishing. While facing them it occurred to me that this was the perfect moment for a picture, but no one was standing where I was. A few flashes from my camera and a scramble by them to pose and I was suddenly being bombarded with questions of “where can I get a copy of that?” I handed out info cards and walked away still in shock that I had just been in the right place at the right time. Our whole group was reunited in time for Gramatik and as soon as the set ended, while we waited for RL Grime, everyone disappeared except Josh and myself. They went to get drinks, to get water, to go the bathroom. Jesse and Kylee were the only two who knew what I had done and I knew I had to wait for them to come back before I could give him the gift.
This moment, summed up in one word: PERFECT.
We made more small talk as he smoked a cigarette and cleared photos from his phone so that he could record his favorite artist — he didn’t even notice when I put the necklace on myself. Just as the lights dimmed, everyone started returning, and a deep bassline was now vibrating the crowd. It was now or never and I didn’t have much time. I asked if he knew the raver handshake, which he of course did, but then I asked if he had ever done it with two hands for trading a necklace. He seemed confused but willing to try. We initiated the handshake and I pulled his forehead to mine. I carefully reached down the string to the pendant around my neck and pulled it over his head.
The lights suddenly shot up as RL Grime was about to begin his set. Josh looked down at what I had just put on him. He could clearly see the emblem, the pendant he had chosen earlier in the day. His eyes widened and in a single movement he grabbed me. He shuddered with emotion, tears were streaming down both our faces as RL Grime’s first song began. Everyone around us wasn’t sure what had just happened but you could tell it was important. He took a moment to hold up the pendant. In an instant they all put together what had happened and suddenly we were surrounded in one of the single biggest group hugs I’d ever been a part of. I had never cried at a festival until that moment. The connection I felt with everyone was incredible and the music not only enhanced that connection but solidified it as a permanent memory of human connection. As we walked away from the set, it was perhaps the happiest moment of the entire weekend.
It’s not about what you want to say, but what they need to hear…
We sat for a moment under the tent at the second stage and as we sat there, a still voice in my heart again told me to open up. I knew what I needed to do, but had no idea how to do it. I sat in front of Kylee unsure of what would happen, but I told her I needed to say something. As the words started pouring out of my heart, she grabbed me into a hug. Tears were coming down her face. She wasn’t sure how I knew what to say, and to be honest it wasn’t preconceived but it was something she needed to hear. I stood up and knew that I had one more mission. I walked over to Clean Vibe Kari, again just letting my heart speak. She told me to stop as the tears pooled in her eyes and she too hugged me. These micro moments, uncertain of what I would share or how I would express my thoughts, were these powerful truths that needed a platform. I was just glad that for that instant I could be a conduit for them to hear whatever they needed to hear.
Don’t cry because it’s over… smile because it happened.
We stayed up until the sun rose that morning, mostly just listening to music and laying down staring at the sky. The weekend had gone by so fast. We wandered back into the campsite as the sun began beating down. People everywhere were beginning to pack their things up. Joseph and I sat talking for a long time before finally passing out for about an hour. Throughout the weekend, Jesse had worn my Fire Fox Spirithood, as the weekend came to a close that final voice in my head told me that I needed to do one last thing. I put the Spirithood around Jesse’s shoulders, explaining that it was not a gift. It was a promise that our paths would cross again and that he could return it to me when that happened. We packed up our campsite and walked back to the truck. As we drove away from the festival grounds, I couldn’t help but smile. I would miss each and every person who impacted me that weekend, but I was so very happy with the memories and connections I would be able to take with me forever.