Every June, I find myself among 100,000 people on a farm in rural Tenn., all seeking the same ideal: escape.
It doesn't matter that we're coming from different realities. For some, it's a world after graduation. For others, impending fatherhood. For folks like me, it's the day-to-day life of adult- and parent-hood. We share this notion, and that's all that matters.
"A weekend to walk places, stay dirty and be part of a community of mostly 'like-minded' people living peacefully," says my friend Jenn. "And now if that doesn't sound like a bunch of hooey hippy stuff, I don't know what does."
And she's right. I can't describe 'Roo without a bunch of "hooey hippy stuff".
For those that don't know Bonnaroo, just imagine a modern-day, commercialized Woodstock. Roughly 100,000 people camping around a central location filled with stages and vendors and aaah...music.
The music is what first draws people. In the past two years I've seen Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Mumford and Sons, Fun., The Infamous Stringdusters, Alice Cooper, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Florence + the Machine, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, The Roots, Foster the People, Danzig Legacy, Puscifer, Iron & Wine, Yelawolf, Flogging Molly, Colin Hay, The Decemberists and Eminem. To name a few.
But once inside, Bonnaroo is more than music. It's about make-believe. This "silly hipster" notion that some frown upon. People running around looking like hobos while their BMWs are parked in a garage somewhere.
"Ridiculous," they say.
But what's so bad about that? Who wouldn't want to embrace an inner hippie for a few days? To pretend to be associated with words like 'spontaneity', 'love', and 'consciousness'.
One of the best things about the farm is the lack of judgment. Everyone around you is wonderfully weird, and content with being so. Where else can you see a grown man wearing only women's thongs (yes, plural) with an iPhone tucked into his cowboy boot? A young girl in Native American headdress? Someone in full Spiderman costume speeding down a 100-foot water slide? Another in Zach Galifianakis "Hangover" attire, complete with a fake baby.
Painted bodies abound, along with bikinis, bare feet, and bandanas. People of all ages lounge and nap under trees. There is no judgment. The guy rockin' out to Puscifer next to me might be an estate lawyer. The girl in front of me buying the beaded sarong might be a drug rep...or a student...or a stay-at-home mom. Who cares? I don't fault them for leaving the normal life at the gate. That's what I did.
"The only thing I really worry about is what time the artist I want to see is playing. Appearance and responsibilty don't exist," says friend Holley.
"I felt like a kid that had ran away from home...like Huck Finn floating away from 'society'", says Brian. "I was completely myself for three days at the first Bonnaroo."
So what's the point of my Bonnaroo? What do I need to prove? Most people think I'm crazy, family and friends included. They can't fathom why I spend four days in the sweltering heat, guzzling water to prevent heat stroke, not showering-on a farm in the middle of nowhere, Tenn. What kind of crazy, outlandish vacation is that?
Simple. A vacation that's crazy, outlandish...and cool.
You see, sometimes the weird, the unexpected, the impractical is what I need, I crave. Especially now that I have a kid. Before I became a mom, I swore I wouldn't be a lame parent. I made a pact with all my friends; "of course we'd still hang out." Nothing would change. Yet that was before softball practice, swim lessons and ballet recitals. Before I was buried in an ocean of bills and research papers and began debating public vs. private school.
Now I plan Pinkalicious birthday parties. I attend classes, work at The Chanticleer and juggle an internship. I schedule and keep appointments with doctors, dentists, and yes, psychiatrists. But it's okay. I take comfort in the fact that I'm a good parent. Because I am a good parent.
But somewhere in the midst of it all, I lost a part of myself. The girl who hung out on the Starbucks patio for hours or threw darts with friends after shift. The girl who got a tattoo and pierced her nose. The me who smoked, who drank beer, who had a great time almost all the time. That girl who lived in the moment.
Now my everyday life is dictated by a date book and somewhere along the way I became (gasp!) responsible. I quit smoking. I rarely have a glass of wine. And although I try not to, I worry about what other people think. This is my reality.
It's inevitable, isn't it? Growing up. And a good thing. But every now and then, I miss the impulsive me. I yearn to be outlandish. I need to find that part of myself and give her permission to let loose.
I need escape. And that, my fellow students, is what Bonnaroo is all about.
Bonnaroovians look forward to June like kids look forward to Christmas. And like the season, we desperately try to keep that 'Roo spirit alive the whole year through. I break out my "silly hipster" any chance I get.
Sure, it's not most people's idea of letting loose. In fact, it's downright weird. Insane. And that's okay. Because for four days every June, I escape. Along with "a community of mostly 'like-minded' people living peacefully".
It is "epic", a word highly overused these days. But the definition of epic is "impressively great", and sorry-I can't think of a better way to sum it up. Bonnaroo is about living in the moment, not by a date book.
It's about being a free spirit. Playing make-believe. Donning my inner "silly hipster". For four blessed days, I'm a 30-year-old badass rather than a soccer mom. For one weekend, I'm not a lame parent.
I escape my label.