That favorite festival memory. We’ve all got ‘em. Maybe it was the time you made it to the rail and danced your ass off under a glorious summer sun to your favorite band. Maybe it was that time you ducked in to a small café for a drink and a breather and stumbled across some unbelievable, but undiscovered, talent. Maybe it was a midnight rendezvous with that fan you met while waiting for your organic Chai latte with the splash of soy milk. However it came about, that favorite festival memory is still stuck in your head, a little gem that will last a lifetime.
Considering that we published our festival guide this month, I thought it appropriate to reach out and gather some festival memories from folks I know. These friends are musicians, fans, and folks in the music business. Enjoy these and get out and make a new favorite memory for yourself this season.
I played a blues themed side stage set at the Falcon Ridge Festival with Greg Brown around 2004. The festival employed some American Sign Language interpreters to stand on stage and sign the lyrics. Ours looked like Santa Claus on holiday; a florid man with a white beard and Hawaiian shirt, sweating in the sun. Greg launched into a tune I didn’t recognize and, just before he reached the chorus, I realized it was Ani DiFranco’s song “Untouchable Face,” with the memorable chorus, “Fuck you!” I had just enough time to wonder if Greg would actually sing it – this was a folk festival and the front row was dotted with small children sitting in the grass – before he did. The heads of the crowd all swung in unison toward Santa Claus, who was a few seconds behind in signing the lyrics. As he finished the phrase, Santa shrugged and gave the whole crowd The Finger.
— Jeffrey Foucault, Singer/Songwriter, Northampton, MA
The biggest Millennium Eve concert in the world was my baptism by Everglades swamp water into the world of Phish. Driving 24 straight hours from my home in Indiana (only to be stuck in traffic for 14 additional hours), the Big Cypress National Preserve might as well have been located on another planet. Over the sixteen hours of music during the two nights there were many highlights, but the one that sticks out the most to me occurred right before the final set, when the band was brought to the stage by a fan-boat. While approaching the stage to a pre-recorded version of “Meatstick,” the fan-boat broke apart to reveal the same giant hot dog vehicle that had been used in the New Year’s Eve 1994 gag. Seven-and-a-half hours later, my first Phish experience was over. It was one of the biggest jam bands in the world at its peak, and a musical adventure I will never forget.
— Brent Treash, Music Fan, Abingdon, VA
One of my favorite festival moments was seeing Levon Helm play at Floyd Fest in 2010. Listening to him perform some of my favorite songs from The Band was definitely a highlight of my life.
— Justin Venable, Folk Soul Revival, Knoxville, TN
Bonnaroo in 2012. It was my first time doing publicity for an artist at such a huge festival and I had Colin Hay in tow with me at the time. It was also my first time getting VIP access anywhere. We found our way to the top of the scaffolding above the main stage where we all watched The Roots perform for 80,000 sweaty hippies.
— Emily Amos, Compass Records, Nashville, TN
Hornings Hideout in 2004 was easily the best music festival I have ever attended in my entire life. It was a magical three days spent nestled in a gorgeous Oregon forest with peacocks roaming around, a lake to swim in, and spectacularly designed theme camps consisting of supersized mushrooms, tree-forts, mazes, lights, and even a gigantic dome. Friday night had Xavier Rudd open and then sit in during SCI’s two sets. Sunday had Keller Williams do the same. But it was the magic of Saturday night at Horning’s that made it the best festival ever. After STS9 opened, The String Cheese Incident ripped through four full sets of music that included a HUGE set-long jam with STS9, Keller Williams, and SCI being directed by cue cards. It was difficult re-acclimating to regular society after this festival ended; it was pure musical and spiritual magic. Heady times indeed.
— Jason Collier, Music Fan, Crozet, VA
Standing onstage at the first Festy Experience, ‘Duster fans from 38 states pressed against the rails. That was the first time I saw the emerging family that was growing up around our music (they call themselves the Jamily) all in one place and it was the first time so many of them had met. Music festivals are one of the most primal communal experiences available and to contribute to that culture and to create that experience has been the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. Long live the Jamily!!
— Travis Book, The Infamous Stringdusters, Nelson County, VA
A few years ago, I saw Richie Havens participate in an all-star set at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, alongside a pretty heavy list of folk musicians. I think Janice Ian and David Bromberg were up there too and maybe even Arlo Guthrie. All big heroes of mine. They were taking turns playing their most well-known songs and backing each other up, when it was Richie’s final turn, he played “Freedom.” I don’t know if anyone else tried to play with him or not. He was so powerful that he just laid that entire festival – including his stage mates – flat. It was the last song of the last set of the festival. After he was done, they turned off the lights and sent everyone home. That was the only thing they could have done.
— Jeremy Darrow, Bad Ass Bassist, Nashville, TN
Last year, Lauren was a finalist in the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition at Merlefest. We got to hang out there all weekend and were backstage with the likes of Doc Watson. Tony Rice, Bela Fleck, Chris Thile, Jim Lauderdale, and others. It was pretty surreal to be around so many amazing musicians who have inspired us so much. It was also Doc Watson’s last festival before he passed away, so we felt really lucky to have been able to see him perform one last time.
— Jason Morrow, The Whiskey Gentry, Atlanta, GA
I will never forget arriving at the stage for Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings during the 2008 Austin City Limits Music Festival. I was the very first person in line for the VIP section. The security gave me a playing card, the king of spades, to help her keep count of how many people were on the VIP riser. I was playing the festival the following day, but little did I know that I would be making my ACL debut in less than an hour. I had never seen Sharon Jones live before and I was excited. Before the set began, I spied her from my vantage point. She was backstage, praying and changing out of her flats into heels. When she took the stage, it was electric. Her whole body appeared to give itself to the music and her voice was out of this world. Then it happened. Between songs, she stopped to say she needed a volunteer – a man – to come join her on stage. I felt my arm jerk into the air, but I don’t consciously remember moving it. I waved it and she turned her head, looked right at me, and motioned for me to come down. I rushed down the metal staircase, turned the corner, and went on stage. As the music kicked in, my body began to move and Sharon and I began to dance. I didn’t know all the words to the song, but something came over me as we were dancing and when I got close to Sharon something clicked. She put the microphone in my face and I began to sing. The look on her face was priceless. The song drew to a close and we hugged before I walked off the stage and fell to my knees in tears. And that’s how I met my friend, Sharon.
— Nakia, Singer/Songwriter, Austin, TX
When we played at Savannah Stopover Festival this past March, we had a late night set on the second floor of a local burger restaurant. During the set I noticed the gradual increase of condensation on the windows by which the drums were set up. I also noticed that the floor seemed to be bouncing during the show. Apparently there were some worries about the audience breaking through to the ground level. Thankfully, the structure remained secure, but it was great to be part of creating such a sweaty, fun, high energy time.
— Andrew Gibbens, this mountain, Johnson City, TN
I went to the very first Bonnaroo in 2002. I was seventeen and a rising senior in high school. Bonnaroo sold out with $100 weekend passes and the promise of two nights of Widespread Panic and one night of Trey Anastasio. On the first night, I saw Les Claypool, who was playing with the Frog Brigade. Late in his set, he played “David Makalaster,” which breaks into what he called a “yo-ho-ho” section. Look up the tune and you’ll see what I am talking about. He asked the audience to remember that section and sing it back on Sunday night during Trey “Antipasta” Anastasio’s set. When the weekend wound and Trey played the final set on Sunday, he took a particularly long break between songs. It started very quietly but spread quickly. Before long, the majority of the audience was delivering Claypool’s “yo-ho-ho” message to a very confused Anastasio, who waited a few minutes for the interruption to stop before continuing his set.
— Ian Solla-Yates, WNRN, Charlottesville, VA
My first festival was actually the first Bonnaroo back in 2002. I was 19 years old and had a wild time, risking understatement. But my favorite – or at least most vivid memory – is the first real shower I took once I got home from Tennessee. It was one of those “Top 5” showers of all time. Reliving the memories and watching the dirt wash away was pretty heady, brah. I’ll save my #1 shower of all time story for another day.
— Tom Daly, Photographer, Charlottesville, VA
After finishing my emcee duties on Friday night of the 2012 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, a couple came up to me and offered greetings. The following exchange ensued.
“So, you’re from England,” they said.
“I am,” I replied.
“We were in England a few years back for the Fairport Convention’s festival in Cropredy. Do you know it?” they asked.
“Yes, I do,” I said, “I live a short drive from Cropredy.”
“Really?” asked the couple.
“Indeed,” I said, “And better than that, we met there. How are you doing, Bobbie?”
We may live over 4000 miles apart and hadn’t spoken in a while, but that’s how I got to meet Tom and Bobbie Bier again. They were playing at the Reunion with astonishingly talented Carson Peter.
— Stu Vincent, International Jet Setting Music Fan, England
My favorite festival memory has to be the first big one I ever played. In 1980, just a few months after forming Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, we were on our way overseas to play in England and Holland. Once in Holland, we drove all night to some little town and checked into our hotel. A couple hours passed and there was some pronounced banging on the door. I was staying with the tour manager, who I soon discovered was friends with one Lemmy Killmeister, the head honcho of Motorhead.
Lemmy bounded into the room and, after some unintelligible greetings were exchanged, he reached over and took the full length mirror off of the room wall. White powder of the type favored by bikers and such at the time was dumped on the mirror and there was an attempt at some kind of party.
We quickly realized that the alcohol component was dearly missing from this party type situation. There was none to be found at the hotel, so we soon found ourselves careening towards the festival ground in a Volkswagen van with Lemmy and Filthy Animal Taylor, the drummer from Motorhead. When we got there, we found a building that seemed like it would be the one holding the hooch. The guys, upon deciding I was the youngest and smallest, boosted me through a window into the hopeful hooch building. Once inside, I secured several cases of Heineken and two very good new friends.
That was pre-festival. Here’s the festival story.
Once we were playing for the crowd of 28,000 people later that day, our energy level really ramped up. While I was playing, I was looking over the crowd in this fantastic natural valley waving banners and going wild. I realized that there was a big stop coming in the song we were playing – “Black Leather,” the fantastic b-side from The Sex Pistols – where the band slammed to a halt at the beginning of my guitar solo. I walked up to the edge of the stage in front of all those people and the band hit that dead stop. I looked the crowd in the collective eye and took off with my solo and the fists of the crowd shot into the air.
That’s the rock festival feeling for me.
— Eric Ambel, The Del-Lords, NYC