Why does Jason festy?
My first concert was Bon Jovi and Cinderella when I was in 6th grade.
That was fairly mainstream, although it was pretty baddass that my Dad dropped my friend and I off at the Spectrum in Philly and let us go by ourselves. A few years later I began to develop my own musical tastes, and a slew of large-venue shows by The Cure, Sugarcubes and Depeche Mode followed. I started to fall in love with the energy that only a stadium full of people blissfully screaming for a band can produce.
At the same time, I was seeing incredibly energetic smaller shows in basements and fire halls. Local bands like 200 Stitches and Uprise, as well as some amazing performances by Fugazi and Samhain showed me the connection a band can make with their crowd, feeding off of their emotions and vice versa.
Live music started to have an effect on me, and as my musical tastes grew and changed, the live performance became an ever important factor in who and what I listened to.
In 1992, on a spontaneous whim, my older sister and I decided to drive 2 hours to the Meadowlands and go check out a little known band called Grateful Dead. I was a casual fan at the time, but I’ll never forget the experience. We went without tickets but easily found them, and I was completely blown away by the community vibe and sharing atmosphere of Shakedown Street. A single Dead show in the middle of the week in New Jersey was like a music festival!
Once in college I began listening to an up and coming band called Phish. I had the chance to see them in a variety of different venues, including the incredibly intimate Rec Hall at PSU. The atmosphere was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Around the same time, I was put in charge of booking the bands at my fraternity (don’t judge!) and really started to feel strongly about live music.
In 1997 I finally attended my first music festival. It was a sudden, last minute decision, and before I knew it I found myself and 2 friends pulling an all-nighter to drive to Limestone, Maine for The Great Went, a weekend of music and partying with Phish and 70,000 fans.
Man, did I need to read a blog like this to prepare for that trip! (although the internet had barely been invented, so that was unlikely) The three of us arrived in Limestone with literally nothing but the clothes on our backs. A friend of a friend lent us a 2 person tent, which, during the first night’s thunderstorms, turned into a broken canvas puddle. We slept in the car after that.
The music was amazing, but the crowds and the activities are what really stuck with me. I remember walking the rows of tents, the countless “streets” of vendors, the impromptu jam sessions in the campgrounds – it was all so captivating and inspiring! I had always been a bit enthralled with hippie culture, and this, I thought, was what Woodstock must have been like! I was in love! Even having our car broken into, shattering the windshield and getting back to PA tired, hungry and sore did not take away from what an amazing experience this was.
After college I moved to Ocean City, MD and became a bartender for many years. Ocean City is a bubble in itself, and opportunities for live music are few and far between, aside from all of the top 40 cover bands that play all over town every night of the summer. The further I was removed from The Great Went, the less I remembered the feeling (pheeling) it left me with – the freedom and joy that only a music festival can provide.
Luckily, in 2001 I was saved. A friend talked me into going to Jazz Fest in New Orleans. A whirlwind of music, late nights, partying and more music, this experience completely changed me. I returned to Ocean City and knew I couldn’t fake being a part of normal society for much longer. Another Jazz Fest and a Halloween in New Orleans came and went. After each trip, I returned euphoric. For weeks the music was in my head, my mood was elated, and all I wanted to do was get back to a music festival! I would find myself seeking out different live bands, trying to relive a little bit of that festival experience. Performances by Robert Randolph, Mofro and Galactic sustained me for a while, but nothing was the same as that festival experience!
In 2003, hungry for change in my life, I moved to Boulder, Colorado. The amount of live music and the love for it in this town is difficult to match anywhere in the world. Live music no longer was an occasional treat or a special event – it was a way of life. Tuesdays at the Fox (for $2!), free shows at the Mountain Sun and bigger bands at the Boulder Theater meant there was never a week without music.
Shortly after my move to Boulder, I made the road trip to Noblesville, IN for several nights of Phish at Deer Creek. The preceding night featured Keller Williams and Darkstar Orchestra, so the weekend was definitely a music festival. Shortly after that I attended my first full-blown, multi-artist music festival. Wakarusa, in Lawrence, KS, was one of the most incredible experience of my lifetime. At this point I was hooked, and there was no turning back!
What did this mean? Well, it meant that there was really only one thing I wanted to do with my vacations, and there were never enough of them!
In the years since, especially lately, I’ve managed to get out of a “traditional” lifestyle. My wife, (my best friend) and I live and work on the road, and have been blessed to see countless shows and festivals all over the country.
So, why do I festy?
Well, the music is pretty instrumental (pun intended!) to my love of festivals, but it’s not just the music.
When I am at a music festival, I am more myself than I am any other time. Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon) has been known to ask the crowd, “How many of you feel more like yourselves now than you did yesterday?” I get this. A lot.
Music festivals connect us to one another. A common goal. A common understanding, appreciation and love. They keep us human, even for just a little while.
The best thing anyone can do is to leave a music festival and take that feeling out into the world with them. Go back to work (if you have to!) with that blissful smile on your face and share it.