Editor’s Note: Most of us involved in festival culture are familiar to the tension between escape and engagement, recreation and sacrament, consumption and creation. We publish Eugene’s personal account of his festival experience from last summer not because we condone his personal decisions, but to provide insight into the experience of many young people attending these events – opening up to transformational experiences without the wisdom of elders or an adequate container. This is not an apology or an alarm. This is an invitation to step inside and understand. Names have been changed to protect someone’s privacy.
During The Fungineers’ set, I opened my wallet to fetch my one remaining hit of acid. This time I chewed it for much longer, to the point that my mouth felt a little numb. My small group was more cohesive on Saturday evening, but I felt less confident than on Friday that people would appreciate my efforts to lift the energy and mood. Greg and I ran into Felicity near the main stage, and she laughed to see how we were dressed: Greg wore a green leprechaun outfit; I had on bright blue pajama pants covered in bright red birds, a bright purple t-shirt that said “Bingo Night” on it, and cut-off bright yellow sleeves tied around my wrists. My attire must have repelled her, I thought. I wasn’t dressed like the alpha males at the festival, in garbs of leather and linen that made me look something like a forest shaman. As in all areas of human life, appearance matters as much as anything, and in this case something as superficial as an outfit seemed important to people hoping to portray themselves as “transformed” or “evolved.” (Really, I’m speaking from the part of me that remains uncomfortable with my attempts to portray myself as “weird.” So at least in this case, I was projecting on Felicity a bit.)
Felicity told Greg that she was mega-tripping on mushrooms, and hadn’t been that high in a long time. She was certainly in “Felicity Land,” as Greg put it – inhabiting her own world, or her own cosmos even. Greg turned to me and said, “She’s where we were last night…we wouldn’t want to be that high every night.” By his tone I wondered if he was a bit annoyed with me when I noted the difference in collective energy between Friday and Saturday. I was not yet wise enough to avoid taking it personally when people around me have spells of irritability. Felicity didn’t seem capable of (or interested in) interacting with us, so Greg wandered off. But I stuck near her a bit longer to observe this creature’s behavior. I was continually overtaken by her beauty and power, but I didn’t feel comfortable approaching her again.
I wandered around the main stage area by myself for a while once the sky turned totally dark. This was at the start of Tipper’s headline set – the main event on Saturday night. I went to the Evolver tent and put more fingerpaints on my face, trying to recreate some of the grandeur of the previous night. I used only blue and red that time, not realizing the maroonish hue it would leave all over my face. Shortly after that, I happened to run into Kara’s roommate from back at home. During our brief, awkward interaction, she said I looked bruised – without any idea (I imagine, because she and Kara didn’t share much personally) how metaphorically true her statement was. As I stood face-to-face with her, tripping on acid once again, I remembered that Kara had dumped me in part because she disapproved of my use of cannabis and psychedelics, and more generally, my interest and involvement in the counterculture. I doubt Kara’s roommate knew these details. We separated and I walked toward the toilets near the main gate, where I was shocked to see a young woman with blood running down her face being escorted into the festival grounds. She must have fallen out there in the gravel parking area. Some people chose to camp there, where they could possess and consume their own alcohol and not have to worry about it being confiscated. Apparently blood and bruises were in “the field” of this event.
I brushed off this frightening image and returned to the source of music, reminding myself of Dosha’s advice for when the experience gets too hairy and “Remember to bounce.” I passed through a grove of trees where glowing jellyfish hung above people’s heads, and I sensed a purely sexual energy pulsing through the crowd – a tingling on the back of my neck – and wondered how many around me were also feeling horny and frustrated. Looking back I can see the polarity present: wanting to be alone when I was with the group, and wanting to be with the group when I was alone. This pattern kept repeating in my life. It seemed like my chances of meeting a woman, and of having a fresh opportunity for real connection, were greater if I hung solo. But as usual, I couldn’t figure out how to interact or engage with people I didn’t already know in that noisy and chaotic environment. A couple sitting on a small blanket behind a tree captivated me for a while. They seemed very intoxicated and practically on the verge of intercourse. They seemed to have trouble coordinating their movements, perhaps because the effects of some unknown drugs continually distracted them from any intentional aims. They were doing a “one step forward, two steps back” sort of motion on the path between entropy and sexuality. Someone had to be having sex some place at this festival, but I’m still not exactly sure who or where. With the lack of privacy we all faced, they would had to have been mild to extreme exhibitionists. Frankly, I was disowning the completely animal part of myself that wanted to fuck, regardless of any social norms or moral imprints against it, and even if that meant right out in the open where everyone could see.
I swung back around to the fire sculptures at stage left and hung out with Phil for a while. We ate some of his molly and danced like crazy for the remainder of Tipper’s set. I liked that the crowd in that area was spaced out more evenly and respected others’ needs for unlimited creative expression. Once again I felt like I was on top of things – wiggling and waving and bouncing, with the bass permeating my body tissues and tickling my insides. The music gave me the sensation that I was made out of rubber, and I danced that way. I can still hear the spastic baayyoowwAAYYOOWWaayyooww coming from the speakers. I tried to engage a little bit more with the people around me, even if just non-vocally with eye contact and hand gestures. I waved at people across the flame sculptures as though I knew them. It suddenly felt like Phil and I had a heightened standing at the festival, even if it was contrived, or drug-induced. Either way, it was a major bonding moment for two relatively new friends. Like my Thursday acid experience, Saturday’s prime time trip didn’t have as much specific take-home content as my mushrooms-and-MDMA adventure on Friday night. Maybe all the juice had already been squeezed from my dreambody.
It’s strange that the word “adventure” didn’t enter my notes about the festival – or this story – until Saturday night. I heard people use that term constantly throughout the weekend. Each time more than one person set out to do anything, they were likely to say something like, “Let’s go on an adventure,” or afterwards, “We just had ourselves a little adventure.” I found myself on one of these wandering excursions later on Saturday night, walking with Greg and Phil to the Buddha Lounge, a small DJ performance space on the south side of the pond. I only ever saw Jonathan Zap at the festival when I walked through that area. Even late at night, he remained at his station performing readings from the Zap Oracle. I caught part of VerDarLuz’s amazing set at Buddha Lounge around 10:30pm – and the digital recording of it has lit me up many times since the festival.
Then some time after midnight, I spotted Felicity in a lounge-y dome space near where Zap was stationed. She sat with a young man in what seemed to be some sort of tantric pose – cross-legged, face-to-face, swaying, and touching each other sensually. It caught me so off guard that I stopped walking and just watched them from the darkness outside the dome. All my so-called “will power” dissolved and I slipped into an emotional meltdown. I felt pins and needles in my chest and throat…but somehow contained the tears. My investment of romantic emotions in her and my interpretation of our time together on Friday night were clearly gross mistakes. It only existed in my mind – or in my heart; either way, it was a delusion. Greg and Phil had proceeded to the Buddha Lounge, and they returned after realizing I didn’t make it all the way there. They both looked in the dome and, grasping the weight of the situation, Greg said, “It’s all good, man.” Apparently that was all the compassion either of them could muster to the lone single guy in our group. We walked back the way we came, toward main stage, me still fighting off tears.
Regardless of locus of control considerations, this had definitely been an unspoken teaching of my youth – to swallow emotions and pretend they don’t exist. I actually apologized to Phil and Greg: “Sorry, it was just a head trip when I saw her.” It would have taken much more trust to cry in front of these new guy friends. A part of me had been waiting for that to happen all weekend – a physical manifestation of Kara’s choice to move on, right in front of me to see instead of just imagined in my visual mind. I wondered if Felicity knew that guy beforehand or just connected with him that night. It seemed to be a test of everything I “realized” on Friday evening. For instance, Felicity wasn’t doing harm to me for being with a guy like that, even if she had sex with him. Not to mention that I was having something of a pseudo-relationship with Felicity in my imagination – even if I called it a “crush.”
Paradoxically, this was the time when the tone and voice of whatever I wanted to write about Sonic Bloom began forming in my mind. I began to see outside my own worldview (i.e., Catholic programming to be a traditional monogamist) and take a much less judgmental perspective on the worldview and actions of others. People seek out the warmth wherever they can. Things don’t have to proceed in the certain order that has always seemed “normal” to me. Different things work for different people. It might be impossible (or useless) to find someone who has had experiences consistent with my own. So much more advantageous to find and interact with people who have walked totally different paths to the one I’ve traversed!
It would have been better to learn these lessons before the age of 29 – but to be honest, I’m still not completely certain of their validity. The real issues were the shame and inadequacy I felt – and continue to feel – over my inability to obtain human connection and creature comfort when I’m not in a committed relationship. More importantly, it was about my own twisted relationship with myself. Everything had become such a swirl, where before I just saw straight lines and boxes. Only swirls of perception and whirrs of embodied perception happen at such a rapid vibration of existence. This festival felt like a hyperactive bee hive, compared to the slow ooze of “real life” and “normal states of consciousness.” How would I find any sense of balance or constancy in such an ever-changing lifescape? It seemed better to approach life like a surfer than a construction worker – to flow with the aqueous surface below my feet rather than impose a structure in opposition to nature. These thoughts streamed through my mind in the early hours of Sunday morning. Should I have thanked the heartbreak for these revelations?
To be continued…