Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Are we having fun yet?

(Making a case for music festivals)



I like to think I'm laid back about most things.

I mean, there has to be a reason I've moved back to the west coast three times. As far as I'm concerned if you miss a flight, there's an airport bar; if it takes you longer than half a day to pack up your belongings to move, you have too much stuff and if you feel the need to meticulously plan out a trip of any kind it's probably not going to be much fun.

There is one exception: I get festival anxiety. So much so that it could probably convince the American Psychiatric Association to add a new diagnosis to the next DSM.

If a festival is good there are wrenching time conflicts that send you running from stage to stage in mass panic. When you get there, chances are you'll be stuck at the very back and the band will be smaller than the ants crawling around your tent until you rudely elbow your way to the front. I realize these are all very much #firstworldproblems, but when you: a) love live music as much as I do and b) pay an arm, leg and week of lunch to attend (which you will once you factor in $20 burgers and $8 beer) they seem like very real problems in the moment. You just want everything to go right.

But it will not. Here is just a short list of the things that can happen (and have, though luckily not to me this year at the Squamish Valley Music Festival, where this is all eventually heading): you get separated from your friends amongst thousands of drunk people, discover puke all over your car when you wake up in the morning, fight with your boyfriend, suffer from heat stroke and get sent to the chillout tent (see The Hold Steady song of the same name for more), miss the band you came to see, become generally annoyed by the throngs of people who seem collectively insufferable as a throbbing, sweaty, shouting mass... but are probably mostly lovely people on an individual level (right?).

Fine, maybe that last thing happened on Friday in Squamish, but only a little and only for a short time. Still, my irritation sent me into another panic — this time an existential one — where I wondered if I had suddenly outgrown something I always thought I loved.

Not having encountered the traffic disaster that many Vancouverites did on the way up to the festival Thursday, I had no complaints until it came down to a semi-planned opportunity to interview Friday's headliners, Vampire Weekend. I have been a fan of this band since they were just a group with a really bad name and some very catchy afro-inflected pop songs and I was very much looking forward to chatting with them, in person, as their publicist tentatively promised I would be able to do before their show.

I spent all afternoon going over questions, revisiting their obscure reference-laden songs in my head and obsessively checking my phone to see if the publicist had confirmed a time and location. When I finally reached him, he said, yes, it could happen at 8:15 p.m. I packed up my tape recorder, calmed my nerves and began to look forward to it, catching Dan Mangan then heading to the media tent to sort myself out.

By 7:30 p.m. when a location hadn't been pinned down I began to suspect things weren't going to unfold smoothly. An email popped up: "Come back stage and meet me at the hospitality tent."

Unfortunately, my media pass didn't offer that kind of access, I told him. Could he come get me at the entrance? Ten minutes went by, then 20. I risked annoying him and called, then texted and emailed again. His phone went straight to voicemail. As luck would have it, the phones crashed — presumably all the Instagrams, texts from lost friends and iMessaged videos floating through the air weighed the poor ol' system down (yeah, I leave the tech stuff to Andrew Mitchell's Cybernaut column) and I was going nowhere but to the back of the crowd with the chumps who could barely see Macklemore on the main stage.

I was angry. And hungry. I sat down in the grass next to a 15-year-old kid smoking what was maybe the first cigarette of his life. "Tough night, eh?" he asked me, in his best cool-guy tone.

I waited about 40 minutes for a veggie burger, missing half of Vampire Weekend's (very good) set, but with my belly full, some time to cool off and realize I didn't want to drag anyone I was with (I eventually relocated when the phones were working again) down, I was able to enjoy the show.

Saturday was better. Divine Fits was an excellent opener, all rock 'n' roll swagger and wailing guitars; Gogol Bordello was a crazed dance party with a pit full of flailing bodies; Band of Horses attracted a flock of happy crowd surfers and by Pretty Lights I had had enough over-priced beer to enjoy just about any dance music.

There are still a few weeks of festival season left, so my advice: when things get hairy — and they will — take a deep breath and remember, your only task in that moment is to have fun.