Music festivals tend to feel overcrowded, clustered, too many cell phones, too many selfie sticks. Forgotten CDs and event flyers flood the sidewalks where the homeless await mercy in the form of a quarter, grace in the form of a dollar. The smell of Axe body-spray mixed with the scent of cigarettes and sativa fill the air, undersized graphic tees and expensive streetwear cling to the biceps of fist pumping gym rats. The women look lovely enough to devour your heart and soul. In a way these events feel like prom – overpriced, overhyped, promises that you’ll be laid or intoxicated by the night’s end.
Having to deal with excess traffic and the pretentious people who only attend to add much needed life to their dull Instagram feeds, it’s the kind of scene that on paper I would find unappealing. So why step into this cesspool when it can be enjoyed from your home? You can live SXSW vicariously through your favorite bloggers tweets, Coachella is simply a YouTube stream away and Vine will bring A3C right to your iPhone, free and without hassle. The internet gives you the chance to be a part of the moment, be a part of the big event, even if you're thousands of miles away. It also completely robs you of potentially unforgettable experiences.
I won’t tell you that my every festival experience has been grand, but each one has led to memories that I won’t forget. I imagine we looked long-faced and poignant walking into The Masquerade that day, a group of South Atlanta misfits attending the second day of their first A3C festival. We were young, excited, venturing into a downtown that was still new and unexplored, despite living on the outskirts our whole lives. The acclaimed festival gave us a reason to leave the comforts of our cul-da-sacs and get thrown into the madness of a city known for Freaknik, Spelman, hip-hop and struggling sports teams. We had rules to learn, I got my first taste of the city with a boot on my car – a simple parking mistake that stung like the first time a wasp commits suicide on your flesh. After waiting 30 minutes and spending $70, the enthusiasm we had while driving toward the meet-and-greet at the New Era on Lucky Street was now battered and bruised. I remember walking into the festival grounds, back when everything was held at The Masquerade, making that left, and immediately being in the presence of DJ Jazzy Jeff, I’ve seen him on my Dad’s He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper album cover, I’ve seen him countless times on The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, but I never imagined meeting him in any fashion.
Living that moment was worth more than the price of any parking ticket. That memory is what motivates me to continue attending events year after year. By being in an environment where anything can transpire, you are rewarded with stories that couldn’t be lived elsewhere. The experience is enriching, the congested mayhem opens the doors to meeting incredible people. I’m not interested in spending too much time seeing recording artists that will tour in my city months later, my hunt is for the new, the unknown artist on a stage they might never see again. Same with the people, give me the internet strangers and out-of-towners that don’t mind spending an hour eating bacon burgers with and trading life stories. The best moments are the ones that never make it online, they aren’t offered on the flyer, they happen to fast for the camera shutter, are too intimate to soil with a selfie.
I wanted to meet K.R.I.T. It was during the Return of 4eva era, and he was one of my favorite rappers. At the time he was even more criminally underrated and it gave me hope that he was still new enough to be walking amongst the ordinary people. My friends were aware of how enthused I was about potentially meeting him, so when I got the phone call he was at the entrance I began moving faster than Tyga in a room with Chris Hansen. When I got there they were grinning with an accomplished demeanor. At the entrance was a large black man, wearing a large black tee-shirt, in the middle of an interview. I looked around but there was no Krizzle in sight. I didn’t realize it then, but it turns out they weren’t aware of what the Mississippi emcee looked like. They overheard whispers of a “Big” rapper being interviewed out front and embarrassingly confused Big K.R.I.T with Mike Bigga. I couldn’t do anything but laugh. I later met K.R.I.T the following day, wanting to disclose what happened, but I couldn’t sell my boys out like that.
My favorite A3C K.R.I.T story would happen two years later, in 2013, but it’s a testament to his growing acclaim. We were at the backdoor of Bun B’s performance at a tiny bar that couldn’t accommodate the underground king’s massive following. "Is that Talib Kweli?" a friend whispered. I look over and standing just a foot away was one-half of Blackstar. He seemed irritated, seemingly having a problem gaining entrance into the over-capacity event, much like myself. When I saw Cyhi The Prynce standing behind me in line at Starbar for Ab-Soul’s show I wasn’t surprised, but there’s no way Talib should be on the outside of this show. We spoke briefly, I asked him did he prefer A3C over SXSW, he graciously broke down their pros and cons, the nice guy I imagined he would be. After a few minutes, Big K.R.I.T. with a decent size entourage stormed the back door, spoke to the door man, and was soon squeezing everyone through including Talib and his few guests. Sadly, Talib and I weren't best friends and I was left standing outside, amazed that Krizzle's clout had flung open the gates. It was like watching B.o.B get Andre 3000 into Magic City.
It’s not just the hip-hop festivals, experiencing my first EDM festival opened my closed eyes to a scene that I would have dismissed. Reminiscing on my Counterpoint experience, all 72 hours of festival madness is both a gleeful blur and a scrapbook of memories. Imagine thousands being sequestered into a secluded, North Georgia forest. You feel isolated from the world, a temporary vacation where money means unlimited supplies of food and beverage, multiple genres of musical acts, all prominent in their respected fields, playing for your entertainment, every kind of vice at your fingertips to abuse. Does this not sound like heaven for a raver? This bacchanal utopia embodies the rebellious spirit of rock-n-roll, the swagger of hip-hop and the unorthodox energy of EDM. This fuels the magic that is Counterpoint – the gathering of cultures in harmony. Where else could you go and see Rich Homie Quan and Foster the People? Janelle Monae and STS 9? Outkast and Flosstradamus? Music vibrated on the tip of the April’s breeze, sinking into ear drums demanding bodies to move. Hoards of people stampeding from stage to stage trying to catch the holy ghost of every performer, I couldn’t believe the diversity and how easily one could have his hands up for J.Cole and then walk across the field to jam with XXYYXX.
My favorite moment from the festival happened on the last day. Unfortunately, I didn’t camp (my only regret) so I wasn’t able to immerse myself in the complete experience. Every day I got there a bit late, missing several early acts but Sunday the traffic was horrendous, bumper to bumper – everyone eager to see Outkast I presume. By the time I arrived at the camp grounds a woman informed me that a storm was forthcoming and that no one would be allowed access inside. A safety hazard, the festival was being evacuated while an ominous cloud stretched across the sky taunting to ruin the party. Some departed; others stood outside and dared the rain to fall, as if they would greet lightning with lightning. Parked next to us were two sweethearts from Paste magazine that offered refuge in their SUV with plenty of beer and champagne to hold us over. Not to mention an additional 12 pack supplied by a generous man from Heineken. We drank, traded stories, more people arrived (DJ Buhay from Chicago, his model girlfriend Carly, and Jonathan Landrum – a writer from the Associated Press) it soon became our own private fiesta. What was once a dreaded waiting period became exactly what one could desire from a festival setting, simply enjoying the company of new friends I’ll likely never see again.
Festivals are simply more fun, especially while you’re young. Hopefully by my thirties I’ll mature into a person that won’t find these adventures as enthusing. I recommend everyone spend some time in these camp grounds and festivals, even if it means leaving the comfort of your beanbag chair. This is the season, where the excitement is everywhere, awaiting you. Even if SXSW has gone corporate, despite A3C being one big traffic jam, and unfortunately Coachella is nothing like Frank Ocean’s "Novacane," but they do offer something that you can’t receive anywhere else - an experience. Technology can give us so much, but it hasn’t learned to download the thrills of being in the company of good people and live, great music.
* Photo by Darius Askari, @the.chronicles.
[By Yoh, aka Yohchella, aka @Yoh31]