The following article appears in the October issue of Liberty + Vine.
Nowhere do Jimi Hendrix’s words ring more truely than at a music festival.
For three days and nights I camped at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Emmylou Harris sang me to sleep as I slow-broiled in the Colorado summer heat.
I walked on one flip-flop for eight hours at Austin City Limits, the other sandal having been kidnapped by mud. Jack Johnson willed me to “Go On.”
At Lollapalooza I battled kids half my age, dressed head to toe in neon, for a spot closer to the stage. The Red Hot Chili Peppers rewarded me with songs released before these living glow sticks were even born.
Music festivals: no matter how different the vibe is at each, the underlying spirit remains the same. It’s where people from all walks of life, all colors, sizes, and ages, come together on a giant field for the sole purpose of feeding their souls with the music that moves them. Where else can this many people gather, and the media isn’t reporting chaos, destruction, and conflict as a result? Here, it’s about peace, love, and happiness.
It’s been more than 40 years since that first peace project ushered in the era of the music festival. Ever since Woodstock, each event, no matter how big or small, has served as a cultural touchstone: the lyrics, dress, and behavior meld together to tell the story of the time.
From hippie to hipster, each rock worshipper is bound to feel a similar religious-type experience at a music festival. My most recent: Calvin Harris spins Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been” out into the moonlit sky at Lollapalooza in Chicago. Each beat of heavy bass reverberates through my body, seizing in tune to the epileptic stage lights. The thousands around me are just as energized; we bounce off one another like electrically charged particles, creating one colossal living, breathing organism. I now understand why Plato and the other great philosophers likened music to the soul’s breath.
And then the music stops. And the utopian bubble—in which no fear, judgment, competition, or control exists—breaks.
It’s a shock to the system. We walk away, deaf, dehydrated, drained, yet more full and alive than ever before, ready and waiting for the next gathering to take place.
Jimi Hendrix would be proud.
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