A festival is, by definition, one of two things: an organized series of acts and performances or a period of time designated for celebration. Both definitions have their places, appropriate times dictated to us by society for each purpose. But sometimes they overlap; sometimes festivals are series of performances that inspire celebration and frivolity.
This summer has seen the term festival bandied about like no other, mostly as it relates to music. Beginning in June with Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee, we see the emergence of peasant skirts, straw fedoras, Ray Bans, and TOMS in all conditions of distress. The summer abounds with similar melodious celebrations, albeit on smaller scales, and while a large portion of the population scoffs at such things, not having the time (but masking the inclination) to participate, we would all do well to take note of what these festivals can teach us.
AmericanaramA is one such event, a sort of microcosm of what Bonnaroo seems to be. This particular festival seeks to bring together those beacons of uniquely American music in an effort to foster appreciation and celebrate art that belongs specifically to us. This year’s performers included Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Bob Weir, a founding member of The Grateful Dead. While it’s interesting to note that these bands span generations, what is perhaps more important to note is how the audience members, who also span generations, interact with each other during each performance.
Audiences at concerts like these are generally composed of a conglomerate of the populace. They scowl and gyrate simultaneously in a way that suggests they want to be both seen and ignored. Wardrobe selection ranges from concert tshirts purchased at actual concerts to tshirts purchased at popular stores in the local shopping malls. The older folks watch the younger folks, comment on their tattoos, deride their life choices, and critique their politics. The younger folks watch the older folks, comment on their politics, joke about the late hour being past their bedtimes, and wonder whether they will eventually become the people they see in front of them. Then the music starts.
It’s important to note here that a music festival is not for the faint of heart. It’s longer than an average concert, and the venues aren’t usually as cushy. But when the music starts, none of that seems to matter. Through six hours of music young and old alike become involved, whether they like it or not, in an art that is transformative and transporting. Through experiencing the music together each generation is allowed temporary access to its antithesis, and for the few brief hours that are designated for the festival, everyone becomes part of the same collective.
By the end of the festival, an entire audience has a fuller understanding of itself and the world outside the festival gates. That’s the goal anyway. Bob Dylan comes back out for his encore and sings “Blowin’ in The Wind,” and the old folks shake their heads at the young ones who have laid down on their dusty quilts and fallen asleep, smiling at the knowledge that they do, in fact, “still got it.”