Lessons learned from two hours of rock stardom

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My college roommate Kelsey was (and still is) one of my favorite friends to adventure with. We had a “before we graduate” bucket list during our four years of school, full of your typical “college no parents” aspirations…

A list of bands we wanted to see, festivals we wanted to attend, road trips we wanted to take and tattoos we wanted to get. I’m pretty sure that in those four years we knocked out almost all of them, too.

There was this one unchecked item on the list, though: Dance on stage with Girl Talk.

If you’re not really into the electronica/dance party scene, allow me to educate you: Girl Talk is a DJ. At all of his shows, he pulls 20 or so people out of the crowd to dance on stage during his set. They get to shoot the toilet paper/confetti guns, throw beach balls and giant balloons into the crowd — it’s epic.

Well it just so happened that our “last hoorah” festival in May 2012 had Girl Talk on the lineup. It was the weekend before graduation. I was getting married and moving away in six weeks. This was our chance.

So Kelsey and I, with a few other friends, were walking across the festival grounds at Beale St. Music Fest on our way from the Florence + the Machine show (which I highly recommend if you ever have the chance to see her) to where Girl Talk was going to play. As we passed by the stage and headed towards the crowd that was already gathered, we noticed that on the other side of the fence was the group of people they had selected to go on stage.

Dang it. We missed it.

Or maybe we didn’t. They’re not on stage yet. We have to get back there.

So we did what made logical sense, and we ran around to the back, where the trailers and tour buses were.

Lesson Learned No. 1: If you act like you know what you’re doing, people will believe you.

So one of our friends told the security guard that we were supposed to be with the group going on stage, and they let us in. It was that easy.

We got to the crowd, tried to blend in, and caught the last little bit of instructions from the production manager.

“Don’t stop dancing! If you stop moving, we will pull you off stage. You are a part of the show. We will bring you water. Leave your phones back stage. Have fun.”

Seconds later, we were on stage. It was pitch black, you could literally feel the screams of thousands of people, and the whole time I’m thinking, “this can’t be real.”

Then all of a sudden the lights went up, the bass dropped, and the show had started. For a split second Kelsey and I looked at each other like deer in headlights — and then we did what we knew must be done. We danced like crazy.

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So maybe I broke the “no phones on stage” rule for a few seconds.

Lesson Learned No. 2: When you find yourself in a place you never thought you’d be, embrace it. When there’s an open door (or in our case security gate), run through it. When there’s music, dance. (I realize there are probably a few exceptions to this, but you get the point)

We danced for the entire two hour set. Two hours! I’ve never sweat so much in my life. It was a blast. I was busting moves I didn’t even know I had (you run out of ammo after like 45 minutes!). I had adrenaline pumping like never before.

Lesson Learned No. 3: I totally understand now why so many rock stars have drug problems. That adrenaline high several times a week cannot be easy to come down from.

Here’s what that whole experience taught me, in all seriousness. Pushing boundaries can be worth it. I hope I’m pushing all your rule following buttons just by saying that. And hear me when I say, in your relationship with God, let Psalm 16 be your compass. The boundary lines have fallen for you in pleasant places.

But God knows my heart, He lives there. And when there’s a tiny opening for me to do something crazy that I’ve always wanted to do, I’m taking a risk and blowing right through that opening, believing that He left it open for a reason.

Usually taking a risk involves breaking some ideal or principle or rule we’ve set up for ourselves, and we question it because “this is the way it’s always been done.”

A bleeding woman pushed through crowds she wasn’t supposed to be in and touched Jesus. That was countercultural and totally boundary pushing. (Matt. 9:20-22)

Zacchaeus climbed a tree just to see Jesus pass by. How many rich dudes have you seen climbing trees lately? (Luke 19:1-10)

Mary washed His feet with her hair. OK, that’s just kind of weird, right? (John 12:1-8)

But the reward was great for all of these people! They saw an opportunity to do something a little crazy, but worth it, and they went for it without looking back.

I dare you to break a rule today. Don’t break a law or a command, but break a rule. I think you’re all wise enough to find the difference. Break a rule and dance like crazy. 

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Found this photo taken by someone in the crowd on instagram. That’s me at the end of the arrow.

Farmers, hippies, sister and Walmart — to the rescue!

Bonnaroo. The place where music fans’ dreams come true. Where all your favorite bands gather in one weekend and play for you and your 99,999 closest friends. The smell of summer bliss floats through the air (among other unnecessary-to-be-mentioned aromas). Freedom has a whole new meaning when you step on the grounds (as does debauchery, but I won’t go there during this story).

It was the summer of 2011. Our last college summer before graduation and grown-up life would slowly begin to rob us of our youth. We. MUST. Go. So me and my college roommate and best pal Kelsey made a pact that Christmas that when tickets to the festival went on sale in January, we would be purchasing them and scratching “attend Bonnaroo” off the bucket list.

I picked up some extra shifts at the restaurant I was working at to rake in the $300 I needed in one weekend. And, alas, a dream was birthed. Kelsey and I were going to the ‘Roo. 

Fast forward to this week two years ago. It was Wednesday, the night before the festival started. The eve of the weekend I’d romanticized for years. We packed up the car with all the essentials: coolers full of food & drinks. Tent. Sleeping bags. Frisbees and other games. Lawn chairs. Sun screen. Wet wipes (who wants to pay for a shower!?). Enough water to hydrate a small army (which is ironic considering the way this story will end).

We rendezvoused with a group of friends in Nashville where we would make the rest of the trek to the Bonnaroo farm in Manchester, Tenn., together. We started driving into the night,  and I felt the most free I’d ever felt. Windows down. Best friends. Music of all the bands we’d be seeing all weekend blaring. Laughter. 

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About half way there, we finally reached festival traffic on I-24. Thousands of cars, waiting to get into Manchester. We literally parked on the side of the interstate in a line that seemed like it went on forever. At one point I just rode on top of the car to get some fresh air. There were people throwing frisbees and hula hooping. It was hysterical. For the first hour or so, anyway.

Six hours later we made it. I had just pulled an all-nighter in the car, and at 5:30 a.m., as the sun came up, we pulled into our camping spot and set up. Now, let me paint a picture of what a “camp site” looks like at Bonnaroo. You pull in bumper-to-bumper to other cars, and you camp in the 10 square feet behind your car. So no one leaves until everybody else does. If you have even a hint of claustrophobia, just don’t ever do it. And this was the first year the festival had ever sold out. 100,000 people. Yikes.

Here’s a visual of the entire farm for you:

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So the open area in the top of the photo is where the festival happens, and the rest is camp ground. This back corner at the bottom right of the photo — that’s where we were.

Well we slept about 4 hours, got up at like 9 and went exploring. I felt a little woozy but I thought it was probably just grogginess from lack of sleep and I’d shake it off. I tried drinking water all day long to get past it, but I just kept feeling worse and worse. I’m sure the 100 degree heat on top of the 100,000 people didn’t help much.

I remember going to see Best Coast play that night and trying to pretend I didn’t want to pass out the entire time, but I was finally reaching a point of misery. The next day, things just got worse. I couldn’t keep food down. I was dizzy. I had visited the First Aid tent where they told me I was dehydrated (gee thanks guys, couldn’t tell) and needed to keep drinking lots of water.

So into the evening, I was just frustrated. I wasn’t enjoying the shows. I felt awful. I was hot. I was holding my friends back. But the problem was, I was trapped. The only way out was in the car I’d rode in with Kelsey, and it wasn’t going anywhere until this thing shut down in two and a half more days. 

Luckily, my sister lived in Knoxville at the time. I had just enough phone battery and cell service to get out a broken-up phone call with her, where she told me if I could wait until the next morning, she would come get me. 

Well that sounded great, but I was going to have to get off the farm and into town if she was ever going to find me. I spent the rest of the evening figuring out how to do that. Since we were in the back corner of the camp grounds, we backed up to another farm, where the farmers had set up showers, food and shuttles in to Walmart for people to pay for. I went and talked to the nice man in charge about the shuttles, and he told me it’s $10 round trip. I told him I only needed to get out, not back in. He looked at me like I had three heads.

Whatever. Ten dollars it is. I had to get out of there. I was not going to die in a tent on a farm in Manchester, Tennessee. That, I knew, was not my portion.

So I got what little sleep I could for one more night in that horrendous, hot tent. In the morning I packed up my stuff and walked up the road to the kind farmer I’d met the day before. Kelsey and my now brother-in-law, Logan, walked me up there. So the shuttle arrives, and of course it’s an old beat up pick-up. $10 to hop in the back with the crowd of hippies standing there with me.

I’ll admit this was a terrible experience, and I would have to have a VIP pass and an RV for camping if I was ever going to do it again, but my only regret from the entire thing is that no one took a picture of me in that truck with all those dudes. Kelsey and Logan had a look of “Well, this is goodbye. Wonder if we’ll ever see her again,” on their faces.

I waved goodbye and off we went. Fifteen minutes of “what the heck is my life right now” later, we arrived at Walmart. I kindly told the driver he didn’t need to wait for me, I wouldn’t be coming back, and I walked inside. 

There was a Subway inside, and I thought I should probably try to eat something. Fail. Couldn’t get a sandwich down. I still felt awful. Meanwhile, my phone was dying, and I had to find a place to plug it in so my sister could find me when she got there an hour and a half later. So I’m looking around, in somewhat of a panic because my phone is blinking “low battery” at me.

Ah ha! There it was. Out the window, in the part of Walmart before you actually get inside, where the grocery carts, Red Box and those weird claw games are. Those have to be plugged in to something.

Yep, I did it. I still am not sure what I unplugged, but I think it may have been the little horse ride. I plugged my phone in, threw my bag down and sat on it, and waited. 

Not let’s remember that I’m ghostly white because I’m so sick, I haven’t showered in three days and I’ve been sleeping outside in June, and my feet look like I’m wearing dirt socks. And as I sat there for over an hour, watching people walk in and out, I thought, “Wow. So this is what homelessness feels like. I’m really doing this.”

The only person that talked to me was a teenager who asked if I would buy her beer. I politely declined.

Finally my sister came, and after stopping to point and laugh at how awful I looked, she was comforting and sweet and drove me all the way back to Nashville where my car was. I am forever indebted to her for that — it was like a seven hour day round-trip for her to go from Knoxville to Manchester to Nashville and then back to Knoxville. Thanks Steph. 🙂

Well I got back to where my car was at a friend’s house, and I took the most glorious shower of my whole life. I finally got some food and gatorade down. I should have stayed the night there, but I was so ready to get to my own bed that I drove myself four hours back to Jonesboro.

I’ve spent the last two years trying to figure out what God was teaching me in that experience, but I’m still not really sure what it was besides that it’s a perfect example of my expectations being completely different from the actual outcome. And it was terrible and I missed all the best bands of the weekend that I’d been looking forward to for months. But something about the story that came out of it and the fact that at least I went, at least I did what I’d dreamed of doing for years even though it was completely different from expected, made it somewhat worth it. Sometimes the risk and the cost doesn’t pay off completely, but the experience makes it valuable in some way anyway.

And those are the things in life you have to learn to laugh off and learn from. I think that trip did a lot in me as I had to swallow my pride and just get out of there. 

I learned about handling my failures. Those times that you get ahead of yourself and then circumstances knock you right on your face, and all of a sudden the farmers and the hippies and your big sister have to come to the rescue. And it’s OK. 

 

A longing for eternity

Ah, festival season. It truly is one of the most wonderful times of the year.

There aren’t many things I enjoy more than a good music festival. (Although there was that one time I almost met Jesus a tad early due to heat exhaustion at Bonnaroo — but that’s a story for another time.) There is just something about the blissful, carefree atmosphere of a festival. It draws my heart out in the best kind of way.

Thousands of people together, united under one purpose: for the love and fun of a great concert. Hula hoops spinning and ribbons twirling — a longing for childhood written all over myriads of adults who have escaped for a few days. Kites flying — a picture God so often speaks to me through. Embrace your child-like faith. You must be grounded to fly, but all you have to do is let out a little line at a time … and then you soar. It’s this mysterious relationship between us and the wind that creates such a phenomenon.

The breeze carries with it the smell of funnel cakes, corn dogs, and almost anything that can be fried and put on a stick. Along with, of course, a hint of body odor and beer. (Yum) Oh, but the scent of youthful delight far outweighs it — like a ribbon of purity left over from our childhood, woven in somewhere between all the ways we’ve polluted ourselves and our world along the way. There’s laughter and singing in the air, and the sound of music coming from every which direction.

In May of last year, I was at the Beale St. Music Festival in Memphis. The setting was perfect. A breezy, picturesque spring night, with the sun setting over the Mississippi River and an excellent line-up of Needtobreathe followed by Florence + the Machine. Just look at the beauty:

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As I swayed and sang along to the music of some of my favorite bands with my best friends, watched as girls popped up on shoulders all over the place and American flags waved across the crowd, I started thinking…

There’s something beautiful happening here. People united, singing the same song, waving the flags of their nations and enjoying the glory of a sun that only a God who truly delights in us could have crafted. But it’s only a substitute of what we were really made for.

This longing in me to be in the carefree environment of a festival, enjoying the company of my closest friends and dancing and singing to the music I love most — God made that longing. And there’s a reason that when it ends and it’s time to go home, there’s a disappointment felt. Because the only thing that will satisfy that longing — which is really just a longing for eternity — will be the day I step on the shores of the new earth, into the glory that He created us for.

And there, I really believe it will be somewhat of a redeemed music festival. There will be people running, dancing, playing — hula hooping and ribbon twirling and flying kites — or perhaps just being kites. 

Flags will be flying — the flags of every nation. And we will be singing the same song in unison — with every tribe, in every tongue. And the photo I snapped with my iPhone of the Memphis sunset won’t hold a candle to the glory of the light of His presence that we’ll be in when we get there.

I won’t stop going to festivals this side of Heaven, because they are one of my favorite pastimes. But I also won’t stop longing for the real thing — knowing that this is what I was made for. It’s what we were all made for.

Cheers to a season of loud music, dancing, and blissful adventures with the people we love most. If you’re a fellow fest-a-holic, may it be a reminder that nothing short of the glory of God we’re made for will ever satisfy. But have a blast nonetheless. You were made for it. May it increase your appetite for eternity, and may it spur you on to seek more of the open Heaven that’s promised to us here until He returns to take us all home. (Which, by the way, should also spur you on to be an evangelist in that environment — but that’s also a post for another time! 🙂 )

Happy Festival Season, my friends.