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Losing and Finding Myself at Bonnaroo

Attending Bonnaroo has been life changing
Attending Bonnaroo has been life changing

Updated January 21st, 2020

I have a tradition that I've managed to stick to nearly for the past decade. Every June I pack myself up into a camper and head to Bonnaroo, the Arts Festival that takes place in Great Stage Park TN. With 100, 000 of my closest friends, I search for the same ideal: escapism.

That's always been the power of a festival experience. It doesn't matter where you come from, or what you do - all that matters is that you're in this place. You see young kids, wide-eyed and terrified of the world after graduation. For some, it's the steps before marriage, before careers. For me, it's a chance to remember life before parenthood.

There is no Life I Know Like a Bonnaroo of Pure Imagination

Trying to explain the draw of somewhere like Bonnaroo can sometimes feel a little bit like explaining the attraction of a cult. You walk. You camp. You listen to music, and you love on art, with other dirty people who do the same. Great Stage Park TN any other time of the year is NOT my idea of a good time. But Bonnaroo? Sign me up.

It's the music that got me first. You can't name a band I love, or a musician I admire, or a pop song I've jammed on to that I haven't seen. The Arcade Fire. Eminem. fun.

If the music is what gets you in though, Bonnaroo is what keeps you there. It's a place of fantasy and make-believe. It's youthful and uncareful about how affected we are. Everybody is pretending to be something that they aren't.

And what's so bad about that? Just for a weekend a year, getting to put aside all the worries about being silly, all of the worries about what the people at work or the parents or the teachers might think. Bonnaroo is a chance to be a hippie for a day and live those 1960's obsessions I've always had, safe in a world of other people doing the same.

The Greatest Arts Festival on Earth

There are painted bodies everywhere, people experimenting with their bodies and their outfits. You don't know if someone is your next door neighbor or an extra from a David Lynch movie. That guy next to me might be a bank manager, the person over there with the amazing haircut and no fixed gender?

And I don't have to be a stay-at-home mom anymore. Just for a weekend I get a break from the life I so dearly love, and the family I'm so grateful for. My husband and I can spend three days being the people we were when we fell in love. Before the mortgages and the gas bills took over. Before we had to be sensible.

We get to become the art, and in doing that I get to be every version of myself I've ever been. Just for a hot minute. At Great Stage Park TN I can be the girl who used to wait tables for pennies, and steal smokes in the parking lot to flirt with boys. The one who has a tattoo that most of my friends have never seen.

The one who could listen to a live band and give herself over totally to the feeling of four chords and the truth.

A Four-day Vacation from Myself

The thing is, I don't miss that life. I would never want to be that broke 20-something college kid again. I don't want to give up the things about my life that I love, which is everything. I just want a vacation that's a little bit wild, and a little bit crazy, and that helps me feel cool.

For a few days I want that contact to the life I had before baby classes, and parenting worries. These days, in my life, I arrange birthday parties. I go to classes, and endless parent groups. I'm the PA to my family, to make sure everything is done and on time.

If I'm so happy, why do I need a break?

It's a good question. I get asked it a lot, from my parents who are the joyful babysitters, to my friends who have long outgrown the days of dust, heatstroke, no showers and sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere.

Living In The Moment

This is the truth: I'm a good parent. I love my family. I have a wonderful life. But sometimes I need a reminder of the pieces of myself that I put back on the shelf, and I know my husband feels the same way.

Every now and then we just want to let loose and be the couple who met at a gig, ten years ago, and fell in love. We want to drink too-warm beer out of plastic cups, and sleep on the ground that thumps from the heavy bass of the main stage. We want to live in the present, in the right here, and right now.

More than the music, more than the drinking and the dancing and the questionable body art. More than the bankers letting loose and the college students satisfying a rite of passage. More than the chance to have conversations with like-minded people. Bonnaroo for me is the chance to be myself, in that one second, without interruption.

And for those of you who've never tried it, you'll never find anywhere more soothing, more beautiful and more welcoming than your tidy home and your comfortable bed and your indoor plumbing after four days in a farm in the middle of nowhere.

They say you don't know what you've got till it's gone, but this is just my chance of making sure that I don't have t lose something to know how special it is to me.

So until the festival stops (or my back gives out), that weekend in June is the chance for me to check in on that girl I used to be.

And then I get to come home.


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