I went to my first large outdoor electronic music festival in 1996 when I was 21. The event was called “FutureSoul Festival” and I spent a significant portion of the weekend rolling around in a sleeping bag on the grass, trying to keep my brain from exploding from what’s known as “candyflipping.” By the time I was finally in stable enough condition to dance, I got in about an hour of flailing before the cops showed up and shut the event down for lack of appropriate permitting.
In the decades since, I’ve attended dozens of music festivals in various states of inebriation and ridiculousness, not just in the US but abroad… the Glastonbury in the UK, Love Parade in Berlin, Roskilde in Denmark. One of my all-time favorites that I attended for years was Shambhala in British Columbia. Man, those were some good festivals. Dancing your ass off surrounded by a sea of sweating people in the open air? Camping with friends and stumbling in and out of tents that shivered with bass being blasted a half mile away? Good times in my 20s, and good times in my 30s.
Miraculously, here I am, almost 20 summers after my first big music festival… building my summer yet again around a festival, this time, Oregon’s Beloved Festival. This time, I’m 40 years old. 40, you guys. It’s time to confront that I may be the equivalent of the old guy at the club, and why I’m totally ok with that. Here’s why.
Dancing outdoors is still the best
Yes ok fine: in my early 20s music festivals were as much about getting fucked up as they were about dancing. The reality of my life is this, though: I LOVE DANCING, and I love dancing outdoors best of all. While there be some aspects of any music scene that are best enjoyed in your youth, I would argue that “moving your body to music” should never EVER be considered one of them. For those who truly love dance (and I love it so much that I used to capitalize the word Dance, because it was Very Sacred and deserved Special Emphasis), there’s no age limit on that. Some cultures are better at recognizing this than others, and mainstream American culture is still working on it.
Depending on the festival, I’m in great company
Certainly this is where picking the RIGHT festival starts to be the most important factor. Shambhala was my jam for years, and then suddenly it was some combination of it being too coked up and me being too old. Picking the right festival is extra complicated because of course festivals shift year to year, but when a friend in her 40s told me a few years ago about Beloved in Oregon, I was hopeful. I looked at pictures of previous years and could see that the attendees came in a range of ages. Sure, the bulk were 20s and 30s, but children and The Olds were also well represented.
Having attended now for three years, I can say that I don’t even feel old at Beloved — culturally, the event does a great job of having day music and workshops for folks who want that (who often skew a bit older) and then late night music for those who want that (who usually skew younger). Last year, I found myself getting down on the outdoor dance floor with a guy who’s dance style reminded me of something — turns out he’d been raving in London in the late ’80s (old school!) and had lived in SF in the mid-90s (like me) and his dancing was totally that SF style I remember so well. Plus, he was even older than I was.
Not high? Doesn’t matter
At 40, I am no longer that person gurning half-naked on the dance floor, stumbling around with dilated pupils. Now I’m the person who offers that person a sip of water helps them find their friends on a blanket. During my gurning years, I had hundreds of high encounters with kind strangers who kept me hydrated, made sure I was safe, and helped me out. As the older, less high person at the music festival, it’s my turn to pay back the kindnesses paid to me back in the day.
The people-watching OMG
Yes, dance (with a capital D or not) is still very important to me, but without a doubt my second-favorite thing to do at music festivals is watching people. I live in a dense urban Seattle neighborhood known for its hipsters and gays, so I get some decent people-watching in my daily life… but there’s no denying that people are decked out and in rare form at music festivals, and the people-watching gets elevated to some next-level shit. Eavesdropping, too!
Be a living example that life doesn’t end at 29
If I worry that mainstream American culture doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to examples of older folks having fun dancing, then isn’t it my responsibility to be the change I wish to see? Look, young friends: you can be 40-years-old, reasonably successful and competent, have a family and run a business… and still manage to get out on the dance floor every once in a while!
At 40, I celebrate different things on the dance floor than I did when I was 21… but it still feels important to celebrate. I don’t go to music festivals to regress or pretend I’m younger than I am (I looooove sleeping at music festivals omg I’m like the best rested day-dancer everrrr), but it feels important to be both very adult, and very committed to getting down and celebrating. At music festivals now, I’m responsible about eating well, sleeping well, taking care of myself, AND enjoying myself. I was still learning those skills in my early 20s, but now I know how to do all these things! Isn’t adulthood awesome?!
My kid gets to learn stuff
I’ve written about how much I love bringing my son to Beloved, but as he gets older, going to music festivals with him is getting even more awesome. Sure, dancing with him is great, but I also love people-watching with him, and music festivals give us an amazing opportunity to have very natural, early conversations about substance use and abuse. I’m a firm believer in harm reduction, and while my kid’s only 5 and likely won’t encounter friends using substances for another 5-10 years, I love that we can have conversations NOW about why that bug-eyed girl is rolling around in the dirt, and if that sweaty and crying guy in the ripped pants looks like he’s having fun.
This is also where picking the RIGHT festival to go to is critical. I wouldn’t take my kid to a festival where everyone’s top priority was getting fucked up. In part because it wouldn’t be much fun for him, but also because it’s disrespectful to the other attendees. Beloved Festival makes it clear that children are welcome, while also having a late-night dance floor that’s clearly intended for adults.
And yeah, ok: the music is awesome
I can’t believe I’m saving this for last because of course it’s most important: music is fucking awesome, and hearing new music at festivals is the best. A few years ago, after hearing her sing at Beloved, my son became obsessed with C.C. White, a singer who rocks a niche known as “Soul Kirtan.” Toddlers love repetitive music, and devotional soul music (it’s a thing!) hit a sweet spot for him that I never would have thought to introduce him to. Last summer, I danced my ass off to Odezsa, who I’d never heard of (despite their being from Seattle). Why? Because I don’t go out as much as I used to, duh! (Too busy sleeping!) Dancing myself into a sweaty pump to Odezsa for two hours was a high point of my summer, and their music carried me through a dreary fall.
Look, I totally get that music festivals aren’t everybody’s jam, and that for some of us they stop being fun. Hell, I wrote a post called I left the music festival because it was too loud! But for those of us who are able to find music festivals, at the right time, that fit and feel good? Age ain’t got no limit on celebrating that.
Tickets are on sale now for the Beloved Festival, August 7-10 2015. Maybe I’ll see you there this summer?