The ‘event’ is just in getting there

by Brian Clarey

Here is why we don’t go to very many outdoor music festivals these days:

We are now a group of five; my wife and I became outnumbered by our children after the arrival of baby girl a year and a half ago. And when we traveled as a pair we’d hit the fairgrounds like drops of liquid, drizzling through a crowd or sliding to a different stage on a whim. We’d get to the festival whenever we felt like it (often after a luxuriant sleep that lasted into the early afternoon) and leave at our discretion, usually after the last band had hit the final note and maybe a spirited recap with strangers in the parking lot.

With the addition of the kids, our ‘“event’” days have become somewhat more regimented.

We’re up early, make no mistake about that, usually with a 3 year old under the sheets who’s got a bad case of the jimmy leg. And once we’re roused, we must begin the first round of meals ‘— children, my wife tells me, do not like coffee and cigarettes for breakfast. And neither should I.

Then the baby needs her nap, of course. Skipping it is not an option; without it the sweet little thing will morph into a wriggling, flapping, sobbing ball of malcontentedness who will not be consoled.

She’s getting the nap, and the boys must be kept separate during the three-hour stretch lest their subtle machinations for dominance erupt into a brawl which, if it happens one more time, I swear we are not going anywhere this afternoon.

We’ll stay right here. Is that what you want?

After naptime there is another meal to be prepared and served, and then baths to remove said meal from their cute little faces and fingers. And then we move on to wardrobe where generally a debate will ensue with the child who insists on wearing nothing but a Pokemon T-shirt big enough to reach past his scabbed knees paired with Spongebob underwear, also several sizes too large.

Because we’ll be outdoors, there’s a sunscreen station in baby girl’s bedroom. Kids don’t like sunscreen, by the way, reacting to its application as if you were smearing Napalm on their limbs.

And then there’s a hunt for lawn chairs ‘— got to set up a base of operations’… no more slithering through the crowds for us ‘— and dietary accommodations to be made and a diaper bag to be assembled and’…

Honey, did you shower yet?

Everything is packed into the station wagon ‘— yeah, we drive a station wagon, either that or buy a minivan, something we just can’t bring ourselves to do just yet ‘— three kids strapped into car seats in accordance with NC law, cargo rattling in the back as we roll down the street.

Who’s got the tickets?

Then we get there, and it’s a hunt for a parking spot and a hike to the grounds and a tricky negotiation of the crowd. It’s dealing out consumables in perfectly equal portions ‘— no, he did not get more than you. It’s keeping the kids within eyeshot of the chairs and clear of the concession area, where they will undoubtedly come down with a case of the gots-to-haves, and keeping myself away from the coolers of free beer backstage.

As of this point we have yet to watch any music.

Yes, getting there is a huge pain in the ass. But we do it anyway, at least once a year. And here’s why:

The sun is shining and the mood is sweet. The music resonates from the stage and caroms off the building facades. People are dancing. People are smiling. The air smells like cut grass and beer and sunscreen and, at least over in the kids’ tent, bubbles.

And when my wife allows, I can peel my children from the herd one at a time and show them why outdoor festivals are so much fun.

I can see baby girl use sidewalk chalk for the very first time, squealing with delight at the product and then, tentatively, giving the stick of chalk a little taste.

I can sit in front of the stage with my 3 year old and the two of us can get into a blues-induced trance watching Bob Margolin put his guitar through its paces.

I can walk my 5 year old through the crowd, watch him shake hands with grownups like a big boy ‘— choke ‘— and then take him to the playground where he goes into unbridled hysterics at the antics of Shiela Klinefelter’s sons.

And I look at them at the end of the day, all sunburned and grimy, with sticky fingers and cheeks, their neurons fried from sensory overload. I smile. The image ‘— and the feeling ‘— is imprinted in my mental festival scrapbook. We’ve made a memory.

And we know, my wife and I, that they’ll sleep tonight like we slipped roofies in their juice boxes.

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