“I’m getting too old for this shit,” I caught myself saying out loud and to no one in particular — channeling my inner Roger Murtaugh.
I was in line at the beverage booth at this past weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival. In front of me were hoards of men in their early-20s. Like a well-oiled machine, each man bought the maximum two beers each, dishing out six dollars a piece. I don’t blame them, though, this line sucked. If I were drinking, I’d have definitely stocked up.
Me, though? “Can I get two bottles of water?” I asked the woman behind the counter, handing her four dollars worth of drink tickets.
I spent the next ten minutes or so looking for a place to sit down. Somewhere shaded, not muddy, but still close enough to hear the music.
The decision to go to Pitchfork was made on a bit of a whim late the night before, wondering if I could still keep up with the festival crowd. By night’s end, I’d have my answer.
In college, I majored in music business, and immediately after, I worked for local artist Andrew Bird and his manager for about a year, when he came out with Noble Beast in 2009. During school, I wrote press releases and website updates for a small record label, and during my junior year, I took on my first “writing/editing” gig when I completed a six month internship at Pitchfork — the music criticism website that hosts the annual festival.
From the time I was 18 until 23, concerts and music festivals were everything to me. Whether Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, the Hideout Block Party, local street festivals, or just regular shows at The Empty Bottle, Schuba’s, The Double Door, Subterranean, or The Metro; I was there. Not only was there, but I was usually drunk off my ass.
In 2006, as a 20-year-old, I went with friends to all three days of Lollapalooza, getting there each morning right as the gates opened, and not leaving until the last act has packed it up. Each day, my friends and I would debate which act was least important to us, making that the time where we’d scuttle back to my friend’s place to drink as much Jagermeister (when you’re 20 and can’t buy alcohol, you take what you can get) in as short a period as possible, before wobbling back to Grant Park.
“I think I’ll go hoooooooome and mull this ooooooooover before I cram it down my throaaaaaat,” I annoyingly loud and out of key sang as The Shins played “Kissing the Lipless.” Nevermind that the lyrics I had just sung came from a completely different song (“Caring is Creepy), I was having fun — while being an obnoxious, drunk asshole to everyone else around me.
We pushed our way to the front before the next band took the stage. I sat on the ground, dizzy, wasted, dehydrated, and on the verge of sunstroke. The man on my right tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hey,” he said. “You look like you’re going to heave. I’m letting you know right now that if you throw up on me, I will kick your teeth out.”
“Noted!” I responded, making a mental note: “Vomit to my left, save my teeth.”
I woke up an hour later, roughly 100 yards from where I’d been sitting. According to my friends, I passed out two songs in, and a couple of strangers lifted me up and moved me to a clear spot in the grass. Not exactly a banner day for me. Even so, that didn’t stop us from going back the next day.
Two years later, I managed to snag a VIP pass to Pitchfork. Aside from having significantly easier access to restrooms, VIP folks also got free burritos, free ice cream, and yes, free beer. It was everything that a 22-year-old borderline alcoholic could want.
That weekend netted me roughly 30 or so beers, half a dozen burritos, and who knows what kind of liver damage.
Only a few years later, I find myself lacking the motivation to leave the house for a concert, let alone any sort of desire to binge drink. Just last year, I went to Riot Fest. While there, it started to rain. Shivering cold in the rain, I couldn’t help but think about how nice and warm my bed would feel at that moment. Minutes later, I was in a cab, racing back to my apartment to curl up on the couch and nap.
Which brings me back to last weekend.
I didn’t show up until around 6:30, as there were only two acts I wanted to see. Even so, just three and a half hours of festival would prove to be too much for me.
Standing near one of the vacant stages, I watched as St. Vincent played through her set. Next to me — as though my own ghost coming to haunt me from the past — were two women in their early 20s singing along, loud and off-key. Behind me were two guys talking about how much they’d like to sleep with Annie Clark. In front of me were two people smoking a bowl, and another wildly waving his cigarette over his shoulder, coming dangerously close to burning the man to his side.
I was in festival purgatory, paying for the sins of my youth. Holy fuck.
Watching St. Vincent on one of the monitors, about 30 yards away from the vacant stage, I didn’t notice that a festival employee had gotten up on that stage and started to throw full water bottles into the crowd. As I wasn’t facing the stage, I didn’t see the water bottle flying at my face until it was too late.
The bottle hit me hard, breaking my sunglasses. My nose started to bleed.
“Oh God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you,” my mind started in on.
The loud drunk girls laughed, and as I reached down to pick up the loose lens from my glasses, a smoke from a man’s cigarette hit my face, stinging my freshly bleeding nose.
“And I detest all my sins because of your just punishments, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love,” my mind continued.
St. Vincent’s set ended, and the vacant stage I stood near was moments away from hosting Neutral Milk Hotel — a band I’d have guessed would have had a slightly older audience, and with any hope, would have fostered a somewhat relaxed atmosphere. I was wrong.
People pushed. Hard. I dropped a bracelet on the ground, lost to the stomp of the crowd. My body was repeatedly thrown left, and then right. This was far from the crowd I’d anticipated. A crowd-surfer kicked me in the head, and a man behind me put his hands around my waist, reaching back to grab my ass and then groping my right breast.
“I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin,” I finished, mentally. “Amen.”
At that moment, I pushed away from the man who had been grabbing me, and began fighting the current, trying to make my way out of the crowd, tripping over blankets and chairs and people and bottles along the way.
My act of contrition prayer — something I hadn’t even thought of since eighth grade — complete, I walked out the gates.
“No re-entry, you know that, right?” a security staffer asked me, to which I responded by nodding vigorously.
I walked North on Ashland Ave., trying to process the evening’s events, but mostly reflecting on how I used to be the cause of that sort of mess (minus the groping of strangers or discussion of whether or not I’d sleep with one of the musicians — I never did that). Only there for a couple hours and I was already tired, bloodied, and dreaming of my nice, comfortable bed.
The evening held a type of closure for me. “Well, I tried,” I could always say. “Festivals just aren’t my thing anymore.” By 28-years-old, I’ve gone from a rowdy, energetic, drunk off my ass, obnoxious kid to a boring, introverted hermit. It makes me happy to know that there are others who still have such energy and passion for music, but physically and mentally, I think I’ll just catch the livestream next year.