Sunday, June 05, 2005

COLUMN: Festivals

Flashback: January 2005. I distinctly recall sitting around my way-too-cold apartment, glancing outside at the snow meagerly trying to fall onto the bleak grey expanse of wintertime Rock Island. "Gee," I distinctly recall myself thinking, "I wish it were summer and I was outside at a festival or something." Chalk this up as one of the DUMBEST thoughts I've ever had.

I enjoyed the 2005 festival season for eight whole minutes this year. That's how long it took for some random drunken yahoo in the District the other night to lose half his beer down the front of my shirt. In that swift moment, I suddenly remembered what I hate about summer festivals: EVERYTHING.

As soon as the weather gets a heartbeat above freezing, why do we as human beings have this unnatural compulsion to gather together in celebration, revelry, and lemon shake-ups? It's something I've never understood. Look around you -- there are parks, trees, fields, hills, caves... a SURPLUS of interesting, outdoors-y type settings wherein one could get lost in thought and commune with nature from now until winter.

But nooo, we as a people would rather spend our weekends uniting en masse in a concentrated effort to create one pure, complete, and all-consuming body odor.

The ingredients for a successful summer festival are easy to understand. Step one: assemble the tacky souvenir vendors. Make sure that the vendors know that they can't charge less than a 200% mark-up on all items, including 5 cent necklaces for no less than $8 apiece. 50% of all displayed items must be tie-dyed. Encourage the vendors to burn patchouli incense at alarmingly lung-endangering levels.

Step two: bring in the food. Festival food can come in any shape and size, as long as said food item is incomprehensibly messy and impossible to eat. I have NEVER figured this one out. You're standing outside. There are few if any tables at your disposal. Napkins are an endangered species. Is this REALLY the time to eat ribs oozing with barbecue sauce and corn dogs dripping with ketchup and mustard?

The other day I was at an outdoor fest and looked down at the black shirt I was wearing to find it covered in tiny white flecks. I was about two seconds away from racing off to Walgreen's for some emergency Head & Shoulders when I realized what had happened. Note to self: If you're wearing black at a festival, keep a wide berth of the funnel cake trailer. The white on my shirt was powdered sugar, rising and floating through the air in a last-ditch effort to avoid its cholesterol-sealed fate.

But let's be honest, what I hate the most about festivals is the people. As a general rule, I'm a fairly nice guy. I don't dislike most people. Well, okay, I only dislike about 1 out of 10 people, which I've always considered to be a reasonable average. And when I'm standing in the middle of a festival with 2000 others, that means there are 200 people out there that I can't stand. And, yep, those people ALWAYS seem to find me.

I am a hopeless magnet for Weird Hippie Dancers. You know the sort, right? They could look just like you and me. They could be fine, upstanding members of society. They could be your friends, business colleagues, or trusted civil servants. But hand that person 1+ beers and present them with a funky bassline, and suddenly the gloves are off. Arms flail, feet stomp, twirling begins, and faster than you can say "damn dirty hippies," your personal space is non-existent and their 1+ beers are half on your shirt... and they don't care because they can feeeel the muuusic, maaaan. I, for one, am neither lookin' for fun nor feelin' groovy.

That's why I usually spend my festivals off in the corners, mocking the sorry excuse for society that we've become. Yet I strangely keep going to the things every year. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. Maybe I like the combination of B.O. and stale beer. Or maybe I just need inspiration to be able to go, "Gee, I wish it was January and I was sitting around watching it snow."

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