I’m Not A Wook

Just wrapped up a 12-day trip across Bonnaroo and Electric Forest. Truthfully I was hesitant about doing any of this shit. I’m not a wook. I’m a stand-up comedian who signed up for this opportunity to do silly videos and learn about festivals in the hopes of creating a comedy festival one day. Hey, maybe I’ll learn a thing about festival culture along the way. 

Now this story may seem like it’d start with me having my walls up and end with me leaning into festival culture, but it’s actually not about me — and that’s the point. 

Maybe it’s the years of doing comedy in dodgy dive bars and laundromats that’s made me cynical, but I really needed a second to adjust to the slap of positivity I was hit with as soon as I stepped on festival grounds. Strangers in colorful rags grinning at me and saying “Happy Roo.” One guy bumped into me and gifted me a rock. Felt rude to set it on the ground — you know, where it lives — so I tossed it in my back pocket. Maybe I just didn’t get hugged enough as a kid, but it all seemed a bit cult-y if you ask me. 

As soon as we got to camp, I realized I hadn’t packed a sleeping bag. I saw others setting up air mattresses, mats, and such in their tents. Meanwhile, my unprepared ass only had a tent and floor for the weekend. I ended up sleeping on the loaf of bread I bought on night one. 

The next morning I had to bite my tongue as I walked towards the port potties while overhearing dozens of people use the term manifest in one way or another. On the way back I was bombarded with more “happy Roos” and affirmations. Again, I know I’m the grump, but it was just too early for all that for me. 

I was scheduled to do some comedy in a few hours, so I found a chair and looked for inspiration as I gazed towards the Cracker Barrel promoted stage. Not too long after, I was notified that the show was canceled for the day. With nothing left to do, I decided to do a solo trip around the festival. 

First DJ I saw kept mixing EDM with grungy 2000’s music. At one point, a really intense song came on and a young girl rallied her entire group into a huddle. She then proceeded to bounce and sing every word of a pretty dark song. I felt like a suburban geezer at a rap concert. Wasn’t for me, so I walked back to camp. 

On my way back, I heard a woman ask out loud where a certain stage was. No one answered. I turned and said, “I don’t know. but thought someone should at least answer.” She invited me back to her camp to meet her friends and offer me some snacks. She had a colorful rave outfit, two thick braids on each side, and a big blue bubble gun. Her custom Nike Blazers really stood out as it was decked out with Bonnaroo logos and beads. She later told me she was an exotic dancer who has been going to festivals for 10 years. Her name was Sophie. She was jubilant and apologetic.

We started walking back to the festival, interacting with everyone along the way. Whether it was the snacks in my system or the sun coming down, I was definitely in a more giggly mood. Although I can’t say I was excited when we got to the first stage where Sophie let me know she wanted to ride the rail. I don’t like drawing too much attention to myself, so the idea of walking through a packed crowd to squeeze to the front railing of a concert wasn’t great. Nonetheless, I let Jesus take the wheel and followed her into the crowd as she shot bubbles and flashed a nude polaroid at those interested (although a girl from one couple we met wasn’t too pleased).

In other settings this would be a lot for me. I’d probably distance myself, as I’d assume nobody wants this. Then I watched. The space we took up started to feel like a community. I watched as Bubbles recruited those nearby to help someone who dropped a small baggie of what I’m assuming is their bag of salt. Strangers passed around water bottles and checked in on each other. There was a guy to my right who looked like his address was the parking lot to the next Phish concert. He had a fan in his hand and teamed up with Sophie to fan the bubbles across the crowd. That’s when I decided I could either have fun with everyone else or act too cool for school and go home. So I leaned in.

By the time we got to the headliner, I committed to going into the deep end. I was watching my favorite rapper, Kendrick Lamar, on his birthday, while getting twerked on and yelling “bish don’t kill my vibe” as I shot bubbles in the air in my left hand, joint in my right. I don’t know if that counts as being immersed in festival culture, but I was loving it. So much so, I was smooth talked into taking on the challenge to party til sunrise (it’s a tradition to try it out one night of Roo). 

On the walk to the late shows, we spoke to others at the festivals who shared different stories on why they come. There was a group of guys there to honor a late friend who introduced them to festivals. We found a “fest mom” who brings her adult children and friends to festivals to pass down the experience of live music. One group consisted of gamer friends who were meeting each other in real life for the first time. We even came across a couple who met at a festival and got engaged right in front of us. Everyone had a unique story that brought them there. 

Of course, along the way, my new friend and I got to learn about each other. I told her about my passion for comedy and which doors I hoped to open from this opportunity. She told me about her love for her son and why she participates in the festival culture. In short, she’s going through a lot in her personal life. Through all trials and tribulations, she still takes on life with strength and optimism — Bonnaroo seems to reignite that positive fuel for her each year. 

As I met more of her friends in the chaos of the late night sets, I started to hear more similar stories. I met people who aren’t accepted by their families, solo travelers looking for a community, and others using festivals as a mental recharge. There were people unapologetically dancing offbeat while wearing clothes that’d have Joan Rivers rolling in her grace. They didn’t give a shit because none of it was for me. 

I started to realize the people I was around didn’t judge each other because they know what it feels like to be judged themselves. People genuinely listened to each other because they know what it’s like to not be heard. I suddenly realized the importance of festivals. 

I won’t try to over romanticize what this festival experience meant to me. Truthfully, I met a ton of fun people and partied. What’s interesting is the varying levels of significance festival culture brings to all walks of life. You’re not required to have a profound aha at these things, but it’s important to allow others the opportunity to use the environment for their unique journey. Each person might leave with something unique and useful to them. This time around, I’m leaving with a free sense of curiosity and a rock in my back pocket. Now it’s time for me to get to manifesting some dick jokes. 

– Leiroy

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