Why Festivals Should Encourage Our Freak Flags to Fly
Beyond the party, after the substances lose their mystery, once our friends have disappeared into the aether of “see-you-at-the-next-one,” we finally arrive home. We put on some downtempo beats, step into that long, delicious post-festival shower, and eventually find our reflection staring strangely back at us in the mirror.
The wristband, the specks of glitter, the costume piece we just don’t want to take off, they’re the subtle reminders of the freak flag flying inside of us. Our return to normal, the “decompression” after a festival, is a stark and sometimes painful reminder that there are facets to our personalities longing to be set free and accepted.
In 2011, I had to drive off-site to pick up some thousand feet of extension cables for The Do LaB. I decided to keep my little pink pig ears on as I walked into the Home Depot. They fit so perfectly, the headband disappearing into my shaggy, wild hair. Upon asking the way to the bathroom, an employee pointed in its direction, and out of nowhere, turned to me with a smile and said, “Do you want to race there?”
I turned, stunned. We raced. It was playful and out of the ordinary. It was one of those strange moments that brings a little bit more magic into the seemingly mundane.
That process of elevating the everyday into something sacred or rare is a special art form. Performance art, maybe. The art of living. And we often look to artists to teach us how to live, how to express our wildest selves.
Don’t Dream It, Be It
In the outpouring of sadness around David Bowie’s death, one particular sentiment stuck out to me, from Medium.com author, Sara Benincasa:
He was the patron saint of all my favorite fellow travelers: the freaks, the fags, the dykes, the queers, the weirdos of all stripes, and that most dangerous creature of all: the artist… He was so marvelously, spectacularly weird, and he gave so many oddballs, including this one, hope.
Throughout time, festivals have served as a crossroads of the sacred and profane, marking challenging human experiences with ceremony beyond the realm of mortal understanding. They are an invitation to figuratively dance with death, to try on new faces or personas, to slip into another gender or even play the role of the gods (see, for example, Donald Cosentino’s compendium Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou ).
That’s why, in the face of hate or bigotry, in light of a certain festival co-opting the language of transformative festivals in favor of the medieval values that repress free expression, we celebrate the freaky weirdos who teach us how to live, and inspire us to be better.
Opening the Portal
Festivals are that gateway to discovering the artist within. It’s the job of a festival to create a safe space for self-expression and experimentation. Festivals and their festies create new maps and chart new territory. We cannot leave breadcrumbs to the prisons of our past. We have to move forward, onward, upward, bravely through our fears.
Discovering a whole world ready to accept you exactly as you want to be is liberating. It’s also alienating, leaving you gasping for more. Alas, festival-goers are a fractured bunch, nomadic, each on their own journey.
You’re ALL In My Squad
So this is an invitation to praise and honor the neon hair, the anthropomorphic, the geek, the well-dressed dandy, and the guy in jeans and an awesome metal band t-shirt.
Let's roll back the flaps of our Eazy-Ups, tear up the VIP Guest List, power up the OPEN sign and welcome in the strangers, wandering through the desert on their search for something more inclusive and meaningful in their own lives.
Here’s to the tattooed crusty punk, dog in tow. Here’s to the mohawk and the dreadlocks, the counterculture and the mainstream, the beatniks, the permaculture masters, the tech mavens and the guy who busts out, I swear, the best dance move you have ever seen and you’re not sure if anyone else even saw it.
Here’s to the minimalists and the pack rats, the crew that’s been with you for 15 years and the new friends that you feel like you’ve known your entire life. Here’s to inclusion and love, an embrace of the wacky and a resounding "YES" to the uncomfortable and challenging.
Here’s to David Bowie, gender-bender to Young American. Here’s to Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show, dressed in drag, floating in a pool, whispering to us, “don’t dream it, be it.”
And while we embrace and love the Rainbow and the Unicorn, we grapple with the darkness of these old paradigm beliefs. We look into our dark histories, as a nation and as individuals. We feel shame and guilt. Comedian Louis C.K. wonders, while reading Tom Sawyer to his kids, “How do you cope with sh*t in your past that’s bad? How do you feel like a good country when you’ve done sh*tty things as an entire nation? How do you take your past and still feel good?”
We look in the mirror and we see the whole picture. We see that we have choices laid out in front of us, to continue to live and act within the norm, to be just the person we’re expected to be, or to become the person we know we’re capable of becoming.
We are finally emerging from that post-festival cleanse. We look fabulous and we smell fantastic. We feel close and connected, even if we’re not in the same room. And when we look in the mirror, we see in our own reflection the colors and madness of all of our fellow Freaky Weirdos.
This article was originally published in January 2016.