It’s a little less than a month removed from my first trip to the Electric Forest music festival, and I, like most festival goers, can see a stark difference how human interaction feels inside such an event as compared to the coldness of ‘reality’.
Some may call it naive to compare the mundane day to day to the undeniable magic many feel at a festival. While I admit that it would be unwise to try and maintain the level and intensity of excitement one experiences during a festival, there is a marked, palpable and incredible difference with how humans treat each other for a brief few days.
There are others that will rush to discredit any experience herein as little more than the wandering interactions of a bunch of carefree kids in a field doing copious amounts of drugs. While I can understand your hesitation with mind altering substances influencing our perceptions or holds on reality, I can tell you that most of the below observations come at times when most all parties are oddly sober. (I don’t agree that drugs necessarily discredit an experience, but in this case, I assure you that’s not really relevant.)
Here are three things we would all be wise to bring back from the Forest.
It often starts tens, hundreds or even thousands of miles from the host site of Rothbury, Michigan. The first time you hear it could be from a friend who’s been in previous years and is sending you off. It could be a group of strangers in an airport, little hints in fashion and accessories tipping us off that we have a shared destination. It’s near certain you’ll hear it should you stop to gear up for the weekend at any one of the local grocery stores. But if you somehow get all the way to Rothbury before you hear it, the lines of cars backed up for miles waiting to enter the camping grounds will provide dozens of opportunities to hear those little two words. “Happy Forest!” rings out between strangers for the full duration of the festival, from the travel the day prior to the last departures.
It may seem unimportant, but if you let it, you’ll find a very deep comfort in it. That strangers from all walks of life (well, many walks of life) come together with a shared goal — to create a weekend full of wonderful memories with people they care about.
Strangers come to the rescue of other strangers, not for any other reason than they have the means to help and its the right thing to do.
But that’s a goal, certainly, that should exist at times other than just festivals, or vacations, or even weekends. That should be one of the core goals of our day to day life. The rings of “Happy Forest” provide a constant reminder that we are all wishing the best moments ahead for each stranger that is in earshot of our well wishes. It also serves as a reminder of uniformity, that we are all, indeed, at a music festival. Which brings me to my next lesson we should take from music festivals:
We’re All In This Together
In some sense, music festivals are a lot like life. They’re pretty expensive, wildly unpredictable, and unfortunate circumstances can quickly affect very large groups of people. While it doesn’t take this level of calamity to witness the importance of community, Tomorrowworld 2015 is a great example of just how much you may have to rely on strangers. (Tomorrowworld was a Georgia based festival that folded after their 2015 event saw 5 days of rain flood the festival site in mud, three feet deep in places.)
Even when everything goes right, you’re still out in a field camping for days, subject to the whims both of nature and festival organizers, neither of which are perfect. You’ll have needs, be it gum, a lighter, a hoodie or poncho, an extra tent stake, a rain fly, a chair, a shoelace, and on and on and on. While a strong sense of individuality is both important and valued, we can’t reasonably be ready for any of the limitless variables.
When things goes sideways in life, people struggle to find a support system to help them. At a festival, pardon my intensity, people step the fuck up. People are looked after, taken care of. Strangers come to the rescue of other strangers, not for any other reason than they have the means to help and its the right thing to do.
Why that can’t be a cultural norm may be a question I will struggle hardest with until my last breaths.
Something kind of interesting happens with large festivals. Most of them require a large tract of land, which means going quite rural. Even a well developed rural area like Rothbury, with 3 Wal-Marts within half an hour, you’ll quickly find tens of thousands of people trying to ping off a single cell tower. (Even at major festivals in cities, connectivity often gets tricky as networks are pushed to their capacity.) While it appeared AT&T had a wide edge at this years Forest, their customers reporting near full service, most others find their phones to be little more than cameras and memo pads.
And I dig it.
I’m a proud member of the Magenta Mob over at T-Mobile, and I’m a big fan. That said, I lost service about a mile from my eventual campsite and didn’t regain it until Monday, save for a few rogue messages. While this made connecting with others harder, to the point of not seeing a few good friends who were also attending, it forced me to be present in the moment. The present is all I had.
I didn’t have Facebook to distract me with an endless stream of content that was, by nature, depictions of the past. I didn’t have my news apps, nor any new information to ponder the future I lived my life moment by moment. Sure, there’s some planning and foresight as to a day’s events to ensure you can see all that you want to see, but by and large, most of my five days was spent just experiencing.
The mantra of be present is not new, or novel. It might be one of the oldest ideas in all of human thought, predating most of our history in many eastern religions. But we often miss just how powerful that idea is. I won’t try to get too profound on this; many authors and philosophers have said better whatever I could come up with.
Why not bring these seemingly small moments into our modern day, daily lives? What kind of reaction would you have if a stranger, leaving a credit union as you entered, hit you with a “Happy banking!”?
How different would you feel if every time you found yourself lacking a pen, or quarters for the parking meter, or the change at a register needed to not break a big bill, a stranger stepped up and filled the need?
How much better do you think you’d feel if you were able to stop, take a breath, center yourself, and get back to the present moment?
We’re more divided than ever, and I am as exhausted as I can possibly be with a record number of Americans. But it would seem denying them civility is not likely to move the both of us, all of us, forward. Maybe I’m naive, but I truly believe a sense of community and common civility would go a long way in rebuilding a broken nation so that it serves us all.
What are you waiting for?
What am I waiting for?