I'm sitting next to the Woodstock Memorial, feeling the first sting of a nasty sunburn and wondering what I'm going to tell my boss tomorrow. Two people stumble up the hill, dazed, dehydrated and ask me when the Coach USA bus is coming. I remember that it was late last time and know that it will come because it has to. The last thing that I said to someone at the festival before I left was, "This is the way to do this, coming under your own power." They told me that it was all in my perspective.
I have to get back to Brooklyn somehow, luckily I bought a two-way ticket because the cashless "Birdie Bucks" drained me and use the last bit of battery on my phone to listen to Little People's remix of "Wonderland," by Blockhead. I make the connection and begin to climb out of the hole I've been in for a month, it could be that quote "Not all those who wander are lost," but not really.
"It's the modern version of 'White Rabbit' by Jefferson Airplane!" I think silently and suddenly I don't feel so confused.
So what's girl to do when she falls for a dirty hippie her first weeks in Brooklyn and it doesn't work out? She goes to a festival to be love bombed by people dancing in the grass, forgets sunscreen and loses her tent until the day that she leaves. Never trust one, but despite the smell of unwashed feet that permeated the air you make friends easily.
I probably sound like Carrie Bradshaw if she liked A-Trak, Richie Hawtin, Griz and not showering for three days. But this story isn't about him and I was willing to ruin a pair of shoes. It's about securing an all access pass the night before, taking the Coach USA bus down by yourself and sleeping in someone else's freezing tent with only an Indian blanket that you bought with your cashless festival bracelet. You can't just write about your feelings all the time… because at some point it's like, "Yeah? Tell me a story."
The bus dropped us off at the Bethel Woods Arts Center, but the will call was closed on Friday afternoon and I began the six mile walk with a boy that I met on the bus. We didn't have to walk far, all we had to do was ask for a ride and two strangers picked us up. There was that weird moment in the car where this nice couple who'd traveled thousands of miles to be wild in the woods couldn't figure out just how we knew each other.
He'd forgotten his bracelet in California after a final community college presentation and was hoping to get a new one. I had come here alone to meet people I'd only known a month to camp out for the weekend. These nine to five souls seemed uncomfortable with the information and dropped us off in the parking lot with a tight, friendly smile goodbye.
I thought that I was late as I waited to go through the Gauntlet also known as the Holy Ground entrance, a shit-pit of campers trying to push their equipment through, yelling things like "This sure ain't the 60's!" It was in that moment I realized how much the music landscape had changed, Mysteryland USA is the epitome of how electronic music has taken over… even reaching the hallowed grounds of Woodstock. The boy and I laughed about this just a little, and I felt the slightest sense of loss when he went to meet his friends.
I overheard a girl with Crayola red hair say, "I don't come here to figure out people's intentions, I come with my own. If they collide… great. If not… fuck it," as I burst through the final stretch by myself.
It was beautiful and breezy on the other side, all green green grass and wind whistling through the trees. I headed towards the Pineapple which was the North Star for anyone camping on the Holy Grounds, you could follow it back from the hill and see where it connected to your tent.
I was through the Gauntlet now and it was so, so beautiful on the other side as I danced in the grass. The Pineapple was for the people who'd arrived early and they danced to dirty trap music. I transferred some cash onto my festival wristband and bought myself a few beers as I waited to find my tent, which wouldn't be until I found the people I was camping with at Richie Hawtin's performance in the Big Tent.
"Be safe and stay close to your friends," I remembered security saying, but they said it with a smirk as if they knew we'd all be on our own journey.
There were tables piled with books set up near the Pineapple so I went and sat down, and scribbled some of what I've written here in a notebook. A festival-goer approached me, wild-eyed with trap music and asked if he could sign my book. He said, "Don't rip that page out, when I see it in print I want to know that I signed it." I kept hearing things that I didn't want to.
A slight terror began to set in, that fear of being in a strange place when you're already feeling weird and wondering where you'll sleep that night. I met the second boy walking up the stretch of hill to the Big Tent. My phone was starting to die now and it would be off and on the rest of the weekend. He bought me a craft beer and we walked back down the long stretch of hill to his tent. Someone would tell me later that "cute" and "sort of a loser" was the perfect Mysteryland hook-up.
But he bored me and I felt drawn to walk up the hill towards the thumping beats and flashing lights because that is what I came to do. You could hear it all through the weekend, even in the morning as you waited in a mile-long line for your iced mocha. We started to walk past the Pineapple and he wanted to go back to his tent, so I left him… his eyes looked strange and sad like he wanted me to stay, when I was really the one who needed someone that night.
I drifted up the winding hill and could feel my dress flutter in the breeze, it was frigid at night and the temperature was dropping quickly. I still hadn't found my tent yet but knew that I'd find it later. The Big Tent was warm and I went up to the front just in time to see Richie Hawtin, and the true snobbery of techno as he spilled a drink on his mixer and recoiled in disgust, but to his credit (but to his credit it is a DJs worst nightmare) as the entire crowd watched. I wouldn't have noticed as much if it weren't for that music, which was obviously just perfect if you know him as an artist.
I found my tent after the show and lay on the cold, hard ground shivering myself to sleep as the wind whistled through the trees around us. Pain shot through my lower back, shoulders and neck when I woke up because I'd slept on top of a rock. "Hello!" One of the people I was camping with said as I stumbled out of my tent and I was just a little startled in the bright, hot sun. I lost them when we all walked down the hill towards the Pineapple and the coffee that would revive us. For a split second I had this overwhelming desire to be alone and let them just drift away.
As I walked back up the hill I ran into the boy I left behind last night, he was drinking something strong and his face was already sunburned. For a minute I wanted to go sit with him under the canopy but something held me back.
"Did you find your friends?" He asked and when I shook my head no and admitted that I'd lost my tent again he laughed a little and said, "You're crazy." And maybe I was but in a way I felt calmer than I ever had.
I texted someone I knew and walked up to the top of the hill. We drank tequila in the heat and my sunburn began, I'd worn a backless leotard under jeans. Then we drifted up to the Boat, which was a mish-mash of festi-kids in brightly colored hats dancing in the hot sun. It seemed that day that we went everywhere and I stayed out because I still wouldn't find my tent until the next morning. Night began to fall as we sat on yet another rolling expanse of grass and watched the hoards of festival goers hold signs up, some said offensive things like "I just came for the gang bang." Again, it's all in your perspective.
Once the bitter cold crept in, we retreated into the Verboten tent and all of sudden I felt like I was back in New York dancing in the late night clubs that I'd seemingly inhabited for the past month, when I wasn't up on a graffiti laden roof or hanging in art lofts. The thing about Mysteryland is that when you see one thing… you always have to see another and the best thing that you can hear is "You're with me tonight."
And suddenly we wandered into Wonderland, with a furry bear blanket on the ground that we curled up in and stared at the stars. I was almost dead in my leotard in the 30 degree weather so I lay there for awhile in the fur and almost never wanted to leave. There was a teddy bear swing that I sat in for a bit to collect myself and watched a lone festival goer walk towards us with a vacant expression. I knew how he'd felt on that first day, with that piercing, all encompassing loneliness and wondering why you're there… until you just watch the night sky.
After some of the group I was with drifted away back to the campgrounds I bounced between the Boat where I watched Griz live and danced to the funky saxophone. I overhead someone say, "Stay away from the boat, it's dusted today," but just kept moving. The Skream stage was just as wild as he has the power to put you in that intense, driven mindset.
Finally at the Big Tent I saw one of the people I was staying with in the crowd, who seemed aglow underneath the purple lighting. I saw a number called "Rave Booty" pop up on his phone when I took down his so that I could finally find place here before I left. I watched the freak art dancing with women wearing black n' white balloons to Paco, it was warm under the canopy.
I again had that overwhelming desire to be alone as I wandered through the grass. I wasn't scared of where I would sleep tonight and I didn't care that I never found the people that I came with. I ignored the texts in my phone from boys asking me to cuddle and wondered what I would see next.
What I saw was the carnival ride and the people spinning around, as if their lives were a revolving door. It was terrifying but knew that I had to let go so I ran up the steps and leaped on, fastening the metal bars between my legs for security. I was shaking with fear as the ride began to lift off, because I had no way to control what happened after this.
The heights were coming and I knew that now I was on the ride I could never stop it. It lifted higher and higher, spun faster and faster and my hands hurt as I gripped the handlebars. I could see the entire expanse of Mysteryland, the bright lights and the echoing music and looked behind me for just a second.
I almost threw up when I saw the blur. "Don't look back!" I screamed into the night, because now I could only move forward.