I start with a shot of whiskey. I’ve got a big day ahead of me. I have to keep my wits about me. Be light on my feet. I’m about to enter a gated area with thousands of anemic teenagers.
But I’m going to take it easy today. Tomorrow is Monday and I’ll have to be back at work. Besides, I’m too old to really lose my shit on a Sunday night and then drag myself into the office five or six hours later.
So I have another shot of whiskey and then a beer, and I think I’m basically going to take it easy from this point on. Just needed a little something to put the wind in my sails.
Today we drive to Exposition Park because it’s a casual Sunday and the likelihood of being too impaired to drive, six or nine hours from now, is not great. But because we are driving, that also means we have to park.
What I missed yesterday is the staggering poverty that surrounds all the dudes with top heavy flat tops and beards that are rich with whatever is in beard oils. We cruise down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and it looks like every over MLK Jr. Boulevard in America – fucking ghetto. The first two lots we see are thirty bucks to park in, so we pass, thinking we’ll find a cheaper lot.
There’s an open spot in front of a gravesite/memorial, complete with the Virgin Guadalupe candles from the grocery store. I don’t know if the spot was left open in “Memory Of” or simply because no one else is willing to park right in front of where someone was recently shot, but I’m happy to take it. I stride north on Vermont and I get catcalled by a small black man who is sitting on the curb drinking a Clamato Budweiser. He thinks I’m a handsome woman. He says so.
We pass two liquor stores and probably the most packed Carl’s Jr. in America. I don’t know if it’s packed because of FYF, or because it states clearly that they accept EBT. However, you can’t go through the drive-thru. EBT is only available inside.
We glide into the festival. There are no lines to speak of. The result of which is people are drinking their contraband at a much faster rate. Sweaty teenagers chug handles of vodka paired with Simply Orange in broad daylight. Guys with neck tattoos take pulls of something brown out of a Crystal Geyser bottle. They wince and offer me some. For some reason I say no. Which is weird because I’m eating a Balance Bar, which is disgusting in its own right, but almost impossible to consume without copious liquids. Regardless, I survive the Balance Bar. I also survive the sort of heavy groping from security that some people are willing to pay good money for in massage parlors.
We get inside and make our way to the Main Stage just as Mac DeMarco is starting. He’s wearing a toque, as I believe they call it in his homeland, and strumming along, making jokes about how much he loves New York City and how he’s so happy to be here.
Later on, Blood Orange comes on stage and I’m shocked that they’re old and they play instruments. Lately, I’ve become accustomed to just watching teenagers spin knobs and dance. But the novelty of a band that plays actual instruments wears quickly. The sun is setting behind them and from my vantage, they could be playing doubles ping pong for all I can see.
Festival goers gain momentum as the sun drops. I see a pregnant woman dancing two feet from a girl who is taking key bumps and refusing to share with her friends. She’s dancing aggressively, even though at that exact moment, Tanlines isn’t playing a song. They are actually just talking, sans melody, about how much they like LA or this festival or something else that’s unmemorable. This is the problem with “doing it for the fans.” The fans aren’t actually listening. They’re hoarding their coke. They’re getting ready to go into labor.
We end up following a guy holding a sign that says “Here”. I follow him because he’s easy to spot. However, he’s not easy to follow. The route is behind food trucks and between trash cans. At one point there is some shuffling between the hood of a truck and a pillar that anyone with a waist size larger than 33 would not have fit through. We continue to follow the guy to the gate of the Arena where we are squeezed like toothpaste through turnstiles. Everyone is talking about getting crushed, toppled, stomped to death, this fear is common I learn pressed against panicked strangers. I’m wondering if they sell beer inside.
Apparently, I’ve wondered this aloud because a woman turns to me, and says that they do. She gives me detailed directions, but the current of humans pushing inside takes me where it sees fit. This happens to be the lower level beer garden.
The area in front of the stage is packed, but where I’m standing is spacious. Plenty of elbow room. So much in fact that a couple aggressively make-outs right next to me while moving their hands around as if they are search for a door handle in the dark. I admire how much this couple loves each other. The guy takes his shirt off, then takes a step back so she can have a look. She squints her eyes, shrugs, then walks away. His buddies come over and slap him on the back. They tell him he had a good run.
The Darkside puts on a good show, but as the set wraps up, the pressing issue is there aren’t any bathrooms. This seems odd for a place that dispenses liquid, but I’m no Event Planner. We decide to leave. I make my way to an exit, but get denied, so instead I walk past another security guard just as the show is breaking. My friends follow me and when they catch up, they inform me that we’re backstage. I crane my neck, and there in fact, right in front of us is the stage, and we’re definitely behind it.
We decide to further press our luck, but we get denied access to the next level of security. But we’ve got nothing else to do, so we open another door and there’s Nicholas Jaar and the Darkside band, hanging out, drinking water in the Green Room. We debate joining them, but then a security guard demands to know how we got in, and then ushers us outside.
He sends us out and into the Artist Area with all of the bands trailers. We walk past band members of The Strokes, Tanlines, Blood Orange. It’s a little confusing because we thought we were getting kicked out. Instead we’ve been upgraded.
We end up drinking ciders, which are disgusting but free. And then I’m taking a pull of mescal with some guy who is handing me his business card. It’s all interesting enough, but we came to watch some shows. We did not come to stare at dudes in bands play with their phones while girls take selfies next to them.
We leave the Artist Area and walk through another set of security. We tell each other that we had a good run. It was fun. Then we realize we’re not in the general population, we’re in the VIP beer garden. The VIP Area is now seemingly endless. There’s no way out. Rather than fight it, we accept it and get some of the same beers they sell the regular folk at the same prices. It does not feel VIP, except for the girls back here are prettier and everyone’s eyes are super dilated. People seem friendlier and they seem to talk a lot faster. We’re among friends here.
As it’s Sunday, I’m supposed to already be gone. But now the last band of the night is on stage. Eighty-five percent of the festival going population is wearing a black shirt with the chrome logo of this band from 2002. The shirt is so ubiquitous (except for in VIP where it is entirely absent) that I think they must’ve given it away for free outside of the gates. Or sold it at Target when all of these kids were in middle school.
Yet, here I am, still watching them. Still drinking beer after beer on my casual Sunday night, which according to a stranger’s phone – mine died hours ago – is actually now a casual Monday morning. But everyone around me is so happy. They’re overflowing with endorphins, smiling, fist pumping, dancing while they stare at their unseasonable boots while gritting their teeth, and listening to a band whose last hit came a decade ago.
As we depart, and I’m inhaling a slice of pizza in the Monday morning twilight, I think, I should be thinking something deep and philosophical right now – about youth, the appropriation of indie music, the uniformity of haircuts, the predictably of an evening with drugs, teenagers and dudes singing over drum machines. But instead, I’m thinking about how even though it’s burning my mouth, I’m still eating this pizza.