Photo: Shutterstock/Melinda Nagy

How Music Festivals Are the Closest Thing to Utopia in Modern Society

by Matt Bonham Aug 8, 2013
Festivals create and take on a life of their own.

A heartbeat starts forming once you join the line-for-miles entering the gates. For Bonnaroo and Coachella, there’s a rush to get off the interstate into either the Farm or the Polo Grounds, a sigh of relief once through the check-in, setting up basecamp in record time, then celebrating with your comrades and neighbors.

Bonnaroo’s carefree atmosphere builds as you approach Centeroo, and if you aren’t swept into the festival’s heart and soul by the time you scan your bracelet, you need to get your pulse checked.

Festivals run on karma and the exchange system.

Helping others pays off. Giving a festival newbie a hand setting up camp for the first time makes for a great laugh over beers later on. Trading tent stakes for sunscreen benefits everyone involved.

Sometimes the deals don’t end up best for both parties. Three years ago at Bonnaroo, I bartered camping supplies and some cash with a neighbor for a brand new GPS. I’m still using the GPS; the neighbor bought acid that day with the cash, and in turn lost the acid in a Tennessee thunderstorm that night.

Reality is turned upside down on the festival grounds.

You don’t sweat the distance between stages (Lollapalooza), the distance between the Bonnaroo farm’s outer fence and Centeroo, or the shuttle ride at Coachella. You bite your tongue when the frat boys spill beer on you or the never-ending line of girls that surges through the crowd towards the front of the stage.

At the same time, Shakedown Street, body painting, sky lanterns, laser pointers, and throwing glowsticks to express joy just won’t cut it on the outside.

You build off others’ creativity.

Creativity is a lifestyle, whether it’s in the way you set up camp, complete with prayer flags, a Bob Marley tapestry, or the flag you spent too long designing on Illustrator, to clothing trends, to the way we sang and clapped as Jack Johnson respectfully covered Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” this year at Bonnaroo.

Along with the music, we as humans come to be engaged with and by others. We join in as a friend highlights the festival on a GoPro, we laugh as we find our moves in the silent disco.

You can find inspiration and motivation for becoming a musician.

There’s no better place to be moved to become a musician or better one’s talents. From the guy with the acoustic guitar crooning to a dozen people seeking shade in the beer tent, to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rocking out to 50,000+, bands in every genre and proverbial rung of success on the musical ladder are at your disposal.

You live for today, but catch sight of an improved tomorrow.

Looking beyond the once-in-a-lifetime performances (Bon Iver and Radiohead at Coachella 2012; Paul McCartney at Bonnaroo 2013), cohabitating with tens of thousands of people from different walks of life around the world at music festivals teaches us ways to treat others with respect and to enjoy the life we have…and maybe make improvements.

Sustainability and wellness practices are around every corner, and the etiquette of kindness towards others in making the most of the life we’re given is paramount.

Festivals create a sense of stopping — or turning back — the clock.

I can’t deny the youthful vibrancy I feel over the course of a weekend spent with scantily clad college kids and freewheeling 20-somethings during the spring and summer festivals. Although I’m only a youthful 33 years of age, each year I feel like I’m slowly becoming the Wooderson of music festivals — I get older and the crowds stay the same age.

Festivals encourage diversity, coexistence, and unity.

Governments should take notice of how the power of music helps everyone get along. Regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, religious denomination, or sexual orientation, there’s a unique openness and acceptance at festivals. High fives, smiles, hugs, and cheering abound.

Nowhere is the unity felt most strongly than at the largest stages at the grandest festivals — the What Stage at Bonnaroo, and the Coachella Stage — living, breathing seas of festival-goers cheering and holding onto an artist’s every word, together as one.

You get a chance to experience something new.

Offering up a slew of new bands, friendships, relationships, trends, foods, experiences — natural or chemical-induced — music festivals can get you out of your rut / comfort zone: Hearing Macklemore & Ryan Lewis this year at Sasquatch and Bonnaroo after their breakout release The Heist, catching The Killers during their Midwest swing into Lollapalooza…

The same goes for food; take this chance to try the range of festival cuisine, from a stuffed veggie wrap to a famed piece of Spicy Pie pizza.

Festivals = freedom.

Over the course of a weekend, the burden of rules is lifted, though on your own terms, at your own risk / reward. Music festivals are an escape from reality, the daily grind, the stresses of life.

Your most important decisions are as follows: seeing Florence and the Machine or Matt & Kim? That’s your call. Springing for a VIP ticket to ‘Roo or a Phil Kutno oil portrait of Jerry Garcia? The decision is up to you. Dress codes (the good, the bad, the ugly), micromanaging bosses and authority figures, emails, and most restrictions of life need not apply.

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