I am recovering from what has been the best weekend of my life. On Thursday I met up with my friend Mark in Hood River, and after sleeping in our cars at Post Canyon and cooking our breakfast at The Hook, we drove to Horning’s Hideout to hang out in the woods with String Cheese Incident. Nothing cleanses the soul like three solid days of music, love and mossy forests. The entire experience was absolutely surreal, but the cultural shock slowly evaporated over the course of the weekend, such that when we left at 11:30 on Sunday night after SCI’s last set, the outside world had become the surreal one.
Words can hardly describe the euphoria I felt over the course of this festival. Through my years I’ve done a number of music festivals, including a few micro Phish tours and Big Wu Family Reunions, but nothing would have prepared me for the atmosphere at Horning’s. The space alone is enough to make it a magical place, with streams gurgling through fern-covered valleys, campsites scattered through mossy forests, and peacocks meowing at all hours of the day. To this you add the kindest, happiest people you’ll ever meet in your life, who range from young to grey, and who are all hanging in the woods for a common purpose: to kick back and chill with their fellow man, spread some mind, and dig on excellent music.
It is one of those experiences that you can hardly relate to people unless they themselves have personally experienced it. When I hit up the climbing shop today after work to pick up some components for building a slack line, I struck up a conversation with a few people who were hanging around. As it turns out, Eva and Cody were up from California and had been at Horning’s Hideout as well. They were still wearing their sparkling red bracelets. Just like me it had been their first time at Horning’s with String Cheese, but we instantly connected on the absolute beauty of our weekends and babbled like drunken fools. Our words were clumsy and awkward, riddled with smiles, laughs and sighs, but the three of us understood each other completely. We all knew that we had been personal witnesses to something magical.
A music festival has a different vibe than a concert. When compared to a festival, even a wonderful concert comes off as hollow and vapid. It feels like an abstraction, a departure from your typical reality, a glaze you coat yourself in for a scant three hours of a particular day. In comparison, a festival gives you the necessary time to arrive, grab your bearings, and fully settle in to the groove. While the music on Friday night was excellent, and Michael Franti was a master of channeling the crowd’s energy, I didn’t really feel it. The music was great and I loved every second of it, but I was still on edge for various reasons, whether it was stress, shock, exhaustion or boredom. As hard as the bands try, too, you can tell that the first day is just a test-run for what is to come. They may hit the ground running and tear up a wonderful concert on Friday night, but for every person at the festival it is a necessary run-up for what is to come.
Friday night was good, but it was Saturday night when I finally arrived, and I got completely out of control. We broke out the 70’s suit, the kimono, the pink sunglasses. We broke out the rubber chicken and stuffed him full of glow sticks. I danced, we all danced, and we danced hard. We threw our arms into the starry sky and cried in elation. With time the sights, sounds and smells of the festival had soaked through my skin into my bones, and they were beginning to tinge my marrow. With the sudden hot embrace of life, all the little anecdotes of the weekend came flooding into my head.
At one point I was standing with Mark at the top of the vendor hill, listening to Sound Tribe Sector 9, both of us eating sushi for the first time ever. I remember tasting little bits from a pile of uncomfortably pink flesh, and trying to figure out what spice it was flavored with. After realizing it was ginger, definitely ginger, we began pondering what the raw meat actually was, and why they found it necessary to flavor it so strongly with ginger. Playing fast and loose with my desire to live as vividly as possible, I took it upon myself to eat the entire wriggling pile of flesh, and after I did it may as well have been my greatest accomplishment ever.
I don’t know what that means, but at the time the scene felt so significant that it must have been influencing my life up and down the fabric of time. And even the hugeness and joy I felt on Saturday night cannot begin to compare to what I felt Sunday during String Cheese’s last show for the weekend. Mark and I raced down the hill to participate in the World’s Biggest Group Hug (about 3,000 people strong, with a giant puppet, too!) which gave way to the best String Cheese Incident show I’ve ever seen. I flailed hard with some of the most energetic dancing I’ve ever done, even though I needed to strongly favor my unmunched left leg on all those bluegrass grooves. By the end of the night my eyes were ready to pop out of my head, and my face ached from smiling for three days straight. On the walk out I couldn’t help but dart in and out of the crowd, smiling and yawping as my kimono fluttered behind my energies.
Perhaps the most important thing, though, were the people we met. We had incredibly kind neighbors, and when Mark set up his slack line we met all sorts of exciting people. Two Japanese fellows who had flown over here just to attend Horning’s Hideout. Ben, who works for a climbing gym up in Olympia and is a formidable entrepreneur. April. Jason. Rachel. Dave. Tim. Fox. People who were high. People who were drunk. People who came bearing watermelons. We loved them all the same, because they were all interested in testing the stabilizing powers of their inner ear under formidable conditions.
And with the help of Mike, our neighbor who in his other life directs a homeless shelter in North Carolina, we finally named the rubber chicken. In honor of the peacocks at Horning’s Hideout and the ubiquity of the sound they make, the chicken will henceforth be known as “Meow.”